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Facebook faces growing criticism after Australia news ban

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(Last Updated On: February 20, 2021)

Facebook is facing mounting criticism after it blocked news content in Australia amid a dispute with the government over a planned law which will reportedly force tech giants to pay for news content on their platforms.

According to BBC, Facebook says the legislation “fundamentally misunderstands” its relationship with publishers.

But politicians, publishers and rights groups in several countries have accused it of bullying, and raised concerns over access to information.

BBC states that under Facebook’s new rules, Australian users are blocked from viewing and sharing local and international news, while local publishers are restricted from sharing or posting any links on their pages.

However, reports soon emerged that several Australian government health and emergency pages were also blocked. BBC reported that Facebook later said this was a mistake and many of these pages are now back online.

But Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the social media company’s actions to “unfriend Australia” were “as arrogant as they were disappointing”.

He said he was in “regular contact with the leaders of other nations” over the issue and would not be “intimidated”.

BBC reported that Morrison has raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he sought to gain international support, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Other Australian officials have also criticised the move. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the ban on news information had a “huge community impact”. About 17 million Australians visit the social media site every month. It is the most important social platform for news in the country.

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan accused Facebook of “behaving like a North Korean dictator”, BBC reported.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch’s Australia director said Facebook was censoring the flow of information, calling it a “dangerous turn of events”.

A local campaigner with rights group Amnesty International said it was “extremely concerning that a private company is willing to control access to information that people rely on”.

The move also faced criticism outside Australia.

BBC reported that Julian Knight, the head of the British parliamentary committee overseeing the media industry, called Facebook’s action “bullying”.

“I think it’s staggeringly irresponsible – at a time when we are facing a plethora of fake news and disinformation in relation to the Covid vaccine,” he told the BBC.

“This is not just about Australia. This is Facebook putting a marker down, saying to the world that ‘if you do wish to limit our powers… we can remove what is for many people a utility’.”

Global publishers also reacted, with the company behind the Guardian newspaper saying it was “deeply concerned”.

The head of Germany’s BDZV news publishers’ association said it was “high time that governments all over the world limit the market power of the gatekeeper platforms”, BBC reported.

Many Australian users are also angry about their sudden loss of access to trusted and authoritative sources.

“It feels obviously very restrictive in what Facebook is going to allow people to do in the future, not only in Australia but around the world,” Peter Firth, in Sydney, told the BBC.

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Well known cleric shot dead in Kabul while on his way to mosque

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(Last Updated On: March 3, 2021)

Faiz Mohammad Fayez, former head of the Ulema Council in Kunduz province, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in PD17 of Kabul city early Wednesday morning, Kabul police confirmed.

Police said an investigation is underway.

Meanwhile, a number of residents of Kabul’s Sarkutal Golden Township area said Faiz Mohammad Fayez, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen as he walked to a mosque this morning.

Kabul police spokesman Ferdows Faramarz confirmed the killing but said early reports indicate it was not a “terrorist act” but a case of murder.

This comes after a prominent Afghan cleric Mohammad Atif was killed about a month ago in an explosion, along with two others, in Kabu.

Mohammad Atif, a well-known cleric from a Kabul-based charity group, was killed when an IED on the vehicle he was traveling in exploded.

No group has claimed responsibility for that attack.

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Red Cross and Red Crescent reach 35-year milestone of serving communities in need

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(Last Updated On: March 3, 2021)

After 35 years of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) on Tuesday reconfirmed their commitment to continue jointly providing lifesaving assistance to communities affected by war and violence.

In the 35 years of joint cooperation, the movement has reconnected thousands of families separated by disasters or violence; provided vital health care particularly for communities living in remote parts of the country; clarified the fate of the dead and worked to return the remains of the deceased to their families; and restored water and shelter among other vital humanitarian activities.

ARCS has also mobilized all teams and facilities in the COVID response effort over the past year and continues its engagement, including for the COVID vaccine rollout.

In a statement issued by the movement on Wednesday, they said that ARCS is present and active in all 34 provinces in Afghanistan through a wide network of local branches, volunteers and health facilities.

Every year, ARCS reaches more than 10 percent of the Afghan population through principled humanitarian action, the statement read.

“It has built trust and acceptance across the lines of conflict and with Afghan communities they belong to. ARCS has also the privilege to belong to the Red Cross and Crescent Movement which has been standing on its side always to support its development, meet the needs of people affected by disasters and crises and contribute to build more resilient Afghan communities,” said Nilab Mobarez, the Secretary General of Afghanistan Red Crescent Society, at a news conference.

“Although the shape of conflict and violence may have changed over the last decades, our commitment to protect civilians and promote respect for international humanitarian law has been constant. We’re proud of this and honoured to continue to work with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to provide humanitarian assistance,” said Juan Pedro Head of Delegation for ICRC in Afghanistan.

“In the face of protracted vulnerabilities, including to climate change, the magnitude and intensity of the needs across the country call for enhanced cooperation of Red Cross Red Crescent partners to deepen our support to ARCS’ principled and nation-wide footprint, and to maximise our collective contribution and impact,” said Pierre Kremer, Head of Delegation for IFRC.

Against the backdrop of this milestone, the movement has signed an MoU and a Movement Coordination Agreement setting out their agreement to jointly deliver humanitarian assistance.

“This event aims to ensure a partnership of quality and mutual responsibility that seeks to achieve the highest humanitarian impact. The agreement sets a standard framework for administration, reporting and accountability, within which individual projects and initiatives can take place,” the statement read.

The ICRC and ARCS have worked in partnership since 1986 in addressing the conflict related needs of the Afghan population. The ICRC and ARCS’s commitment to neutral, independent, impartial humanitarian action (NIIHA), enable both partners to respond to emergencies and provide services where others cannot.

ARCS has worked to reduce suffering for people affected by disasters, conflict and violence since its creation in 1934.

The cooperation between ARCS and the ICRC stretches back further to the recognition of ARCS as a national society by movement in 1954 continuing to the present day with adaptations based on evolving humanitarian landscape, needs of the victims and other vulnerable persons as well as the institutional development of the ARCS and the operational ambitions of the ICRC in Afghanistan.

The Federation has had a constant presence in Afghanistan since 1990, to support ARCS and its humanitarian activities.

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Khalilzad meets with key Afghans, explains US position

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(Last Updated On: March 2, 2021)

Zalmay Khalilzad met with a number of influential figures in Kabul on Monday including Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, members of the Jamiat Party, and others.

Some political figures in Kabul said that during the meetings, Khalilzad explained the position of the new US administration on peace in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, US House of Foreign Affairs Committee Member Michael McCaul says that the purpose of Khalilzad’s visit to Doha, Afghanistan and other countries in the region is to amend clauses of the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban.

“Khalilzad has come to announce the new US administration’s approach to Afghanistan and the Taliban,” said Abdul Sattar Murad, a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami leadership council.

Khalilzad may also bring new proposals to Kabul and Doha, the two main centers of decision-making on Afghanistan’s future, sources said.

The US House of Foreign Affairs Committee Member Michael McCaul said that the revision of the Doha agreement, of clauses such as the release of 7,000 Taliban prisoners, the reduction of violence and the extension of the mission of foreign forces after May, is Khalilzad’s responsibility.

The US special envoy has also reportedly noted the views of Afghan government officials and the Taliban on the outcome of the Doha Agreement and negotiations between Afghans.

Some politicians said that Khalilzad did not come to Afghanistan and Qatar to announce the decision of the Biden administration but is rather initiating amendments to the US’s plans for Afghanistan.

“The United States wants to establish a partnership in Afghanistan, and this is not far off, and it wants to convince the Taliban to continue their presence,” said Sayed Ishaq Gailani, head of the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan.

Khalilzad who started his trip in Germany will continue on to Doha and other countries in the region.

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