Three veteran Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, including well-known publisher Jimmy Lai, pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking part in an unauthorized rally in 2019 that led to violence between police and participants. The charges carry prison terms of up to five years.
Lee Cheuk-yan, an ex-legislator, and Yeng Sum, former chairman of the Democratic Party, were released on bail. Lai was returned to jail as he is already being held on other charges related to his outspoken opposition to China’s crackdown on civil liberties in the former British colony.
Walking out of the courthouse in Wanchai district, Lee said that despite pleading guilty, he and the others saw no fault in their actions.
“Today we plead guilty to the charges, but we have done no wrong. This is an act of civil disobedience. We want to reclaim our right to demonstration, and we affirm the right of people, that we have the right to come out to march,” Lee said.
“And we believe that history will absolve us, because we believe that any political progress, and the progress and rights of the people, have to be reclaimed by the people by exercising their rights to come out to march,” Lee said.
The court was shown videos of the three at the Aug. 31, 2019, event that led to clashes in various parts of the cramped city of more than 7 million that was roiled by anti-government protests at the time.
The pleas appear to be another blow against the opposition movement after seven of Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy advocates, including Lai and an 82-year-old veteran of the movement, were convicted last week of organizing and participating in a march during the 2019 protest movement.
Separately, one of a group of activists detained at sea as they sought to flee Hong Kong by speedboat was brought to court Wednesday amid extraordinary security. A fleet of motorcycles and police cars along with helmeted officers toting shotguns and machine guns accompanied Andy Li, who is charged with collusion with foreign forces under a new national security law, as well as unlicensed possession of ammunition and conspiracy to assist offenders.
Li was first charged with collusion last August under the national security law imposed last year. He had been one of 12 Hong Kongers detained by mainland Chinese authorities on a boat in late August 2020, sentenced to seven months in prison, and returned to Hong Kong on March 22.
Li’s story then took a twist reflective of China’s opaque legal system. His family was unable to contact him for days after his return to Hong Kong. Then, a lawyer unknown to Li’s family appeared to represent him.
That lawyer, Lawrence Law, was also at court Wednesday. Law works at Olympia Chambers, which last week issued a statement saying that “Mr. Law has no duty to inform the press about the details of his instructions, and/or to the family members of Mr. Li.” It said Lawrence Law was “instructed through a private firm of solicitors to appear,” but no other information was provided.
Li’s court appearance Wednesday was his first time in court after completing the mandatory 14-day coronavirus quarantine on return from mainland China. He is now back behind bars until his next hearing on May 18. The national security law requires judges to deny bail unless they are convinced the accused will not again commit the crime of which they have not yet been found guilty.
Eight of the activists had been jailed in the southern city of Shenzhen and returned to Hong Kong in batches, according to a police statement Monday. The group was detained at sea in August last year during an attempt to reach self-ruled Taiwan. Many were facing prosecution in Hong Kong because of their past involvement in the 2019 protests.
The governments in Hong Kong and Beijing have been pursuing opposition figures to exert greater control over the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Hong Kong had enjoyed a vibrant political culture and freedoms not seen elsewhere in China during the decades it was a British colony. Beijing had pledged to allow the city to retain those freedoms for 50 years when it was handed control of the territory in 1997, but recently ushered in a series of measures that many fear are a step toward making Hong Kong no different from cities on the mainland.
The 2019 protests were sparked by opposition to a bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face long periods of detention, possible torture and unfair trials. While the legislation was eventually withdrawn, the protesters’ demands expanded to include calls for full democracy.
Beijing ignored them and responded by clamping down even harder, including imposing the national security law and changes last month that will significantly reduce the number of directly elected seats in Hong Kong’s legislature. As a result, most of Hong Kong’s outspoken activists are now in jail or in self-exile.
Voice of America – English
DNA extracted from remains found in a Bulgarian cave of three people who lived roughly 45,000 years ago is revealing surprises about some of the first Homo sapiens populations to venture into Europe, including extensive interbreeding with Neanderthals and genetic links to present-day East Asians.
Scientists said on Wednesday they sequenced the genomes of these three individuals, all males, using DNA obtained from a molar and bone fragments discovered in Bacho Kiro Cave near the town of Dryanovo, as well as one female who lived roughly 35,000 years ago at the same site.
Homo sapiens first appeared in Africa approximately 300,000 years ago and later trekked to other parts of the world, sometimes encountering Neanderthals — close cousins to Homo sapiens — already inhabiting parts of Eurasia. The three Bacho Kiro Cave males represent the oldest securely dated Homo sapiens individuals from Europe.
They had 3% to 3.8% Neanderthal DNA and had Neanderthal ancestors about five to seven generations back in their family histories, evidence of interbreeding, said geneticist Mateja Hajdinjak of the Francis Crick Institute in London, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.
Interbreeding, known as admixture, between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals before the extinction of Neanderthals sometime after 40,000 years ago has been previously shown, with present-day human populations outside Africa bearing a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA.
The prevalence of this interbreeding and the relationship and power dynamics between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals has been harder to understand, including any role Homo sapiens played in the demise of the Neanderthals. The new study suggests interbreeding was more common than previously known for the first Homo sapiens in Europe.
It is an “amazing observation” that all three individuals had Neanderthal ancestors in their recent family history, said geneticist and study co-author Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.
“This makes it likely that the earliest modern humans frequently mixed with Neanderthals when they met. It may even be the case that part of the reason Neanderthals disappeared is that they were simply absorbed into larger modern human groups. It may be just part of the reason they disappeared, but the data supports such a scenario,” Pääbo said.
The researchers detected a genetic contribution among present-day people from the group that included these three, but unexpectedly it was found particularly in East Asia, including China, rather than Europe. This suggested that some people from this group eventually headed east.
“This study shifted our previous understanding of early human migrations into Europe in a way that it showed how even the earliest history of modern humans in Europe may have been tumultuous and involved population replacements,” Hajdinjak said.
The notion of population replacement was illustrated by the fact that the 35,000-year-old individual from Bacho Kiro Cave belonged to a group genetically unrelated to the site’s earlier inhabitants.
Another study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution shed more light on Europe’s early Homo sapiens populations.
Scientists sequenced the genome of a Homo sapiens female using DNA extracted from a skull found at a site southwest of Prague in the Czech Republic. She is believed to have lived more than 45,000 years ago, though radiocarbon dating efforts to determine a firm date were unsuccessful.
This woman carried 3% Neanderthal ancestry and bore genetic traits suggesting she had dark skin and dark eyes, said geneticist Kay Prüfer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the study’s lead author.
“Her skull shows evidence of gnawing by a predator, possibly a hyena,” Prüfer said.
Her group, distinct from the one in Bulgaria, appears to have died out without leaving genetic ancestry among modern-day people.
Voice of America – English
The college admissions scandal that made headlines over the past two years came to a close this week as the last celebrity parent was released from prison.
Fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli is now on house arrest after his role in the 2019 college admissions scandal, according to The Associated Press.
He was released from a federal facility in Lompoc, near Santa Barbara, California, and will remain in home confinement until April 17. He reported to prison in November.
This comes after the recent release of Netflix’s Operation Varsity Blues, which detailed how famous and moneyed parents paid to have applications, exam scores and transcripts fixed and fabricated, including wildly exaggerated stories of sports abilities.
Giannulli and his wife, Full House star Lori Loughlin, paid half a million dollars to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as recruits for the university crew team. Loughlin was released from a two-month stint in prison in December.
They were two of the most prominent figures who received a prison sentence but were not the only parents who faced prison time because of the scandal.
The Department of Justice charged more than 50 people who participated in the nationwide bribery scheme.
Actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to two weeks in prison for paying $15,000 to raise her daughter’s SAT score. Xiaoning Sui, a Canadian, was sentenced to five months in prison after paying $400,000 to college admission consultant William “Rick” Singer to get her son into UCLA.
Singer was the coordinator of the schemes. In March 2019, he pleaded guilty “to facilitating cheating on college entrance exams and using bribery to secure the admission of students to colleges as fake athletic recruits,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Giannulli and Loughlin’s youngest daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli, faced backlash after posting a TikTok video on March 26 where she lamented being publicly shamed. The comments have since been turned off on her video.
Voice of America – English
Prosecutors continued to make their case this week as the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, proceeds through its second week. VOA’s Esha Sarai has more.
Voice of America – English
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