After the Iranian military mistakenly shot down a passenger jet last week, killing all on board including 57 Canadians, residents in Edmonton did what well-wishers often do in wake of 21st-century crises: They launched GoFundMe drives for victims.
But the California-based crowdfunding company suspended at least two fundraisers for Iranian-Canadian families affected by the crash, likely slashing the funds they’d be able to raise.
The reason? U.S. sanctions on Iran.
“Occasionally in the wake of crises like the tragic plane crash, we require additional information from campaign organizers to ensure funds go to the right place,” GoFundMe spokesperson Caitlin Stanley said. “[I]t is because the tragic event took place in a sanctioned country.”
Instagram similarly cited U.S. sanctions when censoring certain content in the wake of the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani earlier this month, highlighting how the complex web of American sanctions on Iran is largely open to interpretation by Silicon Valley.
That pressure from the U.S., coupled with an Iranian regime that has cracked down on social media and pushed homemade internet services it can control, has led many tech firms like Amazon, Apple, and others to restrict access in the country. It’s drastically reoriented how Iranians are able to communicate with one another and the outside world.
‘A blunt instrument’
“Sanctions are a very blunt instrument and it’s very hard to craft them in a way in the 21st century, when everyone is connected, so they don’t have these spillover effects,” said Ryan Costello, policy director for the National Iranian American Council.
GoFundMe also reinstated the two fundraisers for Canadian victims of the plane crash after verifying the funds wouldn’t go to individuals covered under sanctions. While there are legal guidelines for charitable donations to Iranians, the GoFundMe drives in question explicitly aimed to benefit Iranian-Canadians. The confusion still held up the fundraisers.
“Usually it’s left to in-house counsel of these tech companies to determine what they can and can’t do with U.S. sanctions,” said Mohsen Zarkesh, an attorney who focuses on sanctions law for the Washington-based firm Price Benowitz, LLP. “There’s definitely more leeway for tech companies in dealing with Iran compared to, say, the financial sector or trade.”
Those decisions are crucial in shaping how conflict with Iran plays out in real-time. Social media users across the Middle East have shared popular outcry and propaganda alike since the American assassination of Soleimani. President Donald Trump has since warned the regime against shutting down the internet like it did during violent crackdowns on public protests in November.
But the Silicon Valley companies that dominate the internet have tended to approach the country with extreme caution in recent years. Apple blocked Iranian users from the App store in 2018. Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and GitHub have similarly slashed access in the country, cutting off key infrastructure for web hosting and development. (Amazon and Google have also recently vied for multibillion-dollar U.S. defense contracts.)
Richard Nephew, the lead sanctions expert for the Obama administration team negotiating with the country, told VICE News that while U.S. companies are prohibited from providing services to sanctioned individuals or entities, defining “services” in terms of media or communication is more difficult.
“It is a pretty serious gray area that often times can be subject to over-interpretation and, indeed, under-interpretation!”
“It is a pretty serious gray area that often times can be subject to over-interpretation and, indeed, under-interpretation!” he wrote in an email.
On Friday, the nonprofit publication Coda first reported that Instagram was removing certain posts mentioning Soleimani and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including from state-aligned news outlets and human-rights activists. The Facebook-owned platform is among the few still available to Iranians without a VPN, though the regime polices it aggressively.
“We review content against our policies and our obligations to US sanctions laws, specifically those related to the US government’s designation of the IRGC and its leadership as a terrorist organization,” a Facebook spokesperson told VICE News. She added that the U.S. government has asked Facebook to take action against specific Iranian accounts in the past but declined to provide details.
The spokesperson said that Facebook reviewers with Arabic and Farsi language expertise evaluated the content based on whether it sought to represent, encourage, or otherwise further Soleimani or the IRGC’s goals. She acknowledged that making those calls is squishy, adding that Instagram has since restored some content upon appeal. That included posts from Iranian journalist and activist Emadeddin Baghi, who had written that Soleimani’s assassination ran “contrary to the principles of international law.”
Some First Amendment experts have since said that Facebook misinterpreted its legal obligations to police speech related to sanctioned individuals.
“Companies over-comply on this all the time,” said Jillian York, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director for international freedom of expression. “The penalties are huge.”
There is some legal room for Iranians to use U.S. platforms to communicate with one another and the outside world. Instituted in 2014, one key carveout allows for Americans to export to Iran “Certain Services, Software, and Hardware Incident to Personal Communications.”
But tech platforms have changed dramatically since then, expanding globally at breakneck speeds.
At the same time, the Iranian regime has aggressively censored social media and other digital tools. Facebook and Twitter have been banned since 2009, and the government has at various points restricted the likes of Google and the messaging app Telegram.
The regime has instead pushed citizens toward internet services that have its approval, if not outright backing. The upshot is more opportunities for state surveillance and less political freedom for internet users inside the country.
“If you use this network, they can disrupt you,” said Amir Rashidi, a digital rights researcher based in New York, who argued that U.S. sanctions should be updated to increase openness. “We have to do something to make the cost of an internet shutdown much higher for the Iranian government. The only way to do that is to improve access to the international infrastructure.”
Cover: People hold smartphones in their hands while walking outside along a street in the Iranian capital Tehran on November 23, 2019. (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Chinese city stops outbound flights, trains to fight virus
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese state media say the city of Wuhan is shutting down outbound flights and trains as the country battles the spread of a new virus that has sickened hundreds and killed 17. The official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday that the city also asked people not to leave Wuhan without specific reasons.…
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese state media say the city of Wuhan is shutting down outbound flights and trains as the country battles the spread of a new virus that has sickened hundreds and killed 17.
The official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday that the city also asked people not to leave Wuhan without specific reasons.
The state-owned People’s Daily newspaper said in a tweet that no one would be allowed to leave the city starting at 10 a.m. and that train stations and the airport will shut down. It said that city buses, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses would also be temporarily closed, citing Wuhan authorities.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization said it had put off deciding whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency and asked its expert committee on the issue to continue their meeting for a second day Thursday. The organization defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
Chinese health authorities urged people in the city of Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings, after warning that a new viral illness that has infected more than 400 people and killed at least 17 could spread further.
The appeal came as the World Health Organization convened a group of independent experts to advise whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.
The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, the center of the outbreak. Seventeen people have died, all in Hubei province, since the outbreak emerged in its provincial capital of Wuhan late last month, officials announced Wednesday night. They said the province has confirmed 444 cases there.
“There has already been human-to-human transmission and infection of medical workers,” Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, said at a news conference with health experts. “Evidence has shown that the disease has been transmitted through the respiratory tract and there is the possibility of viral mutation.”
The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people. Some experts have drawn parallels between the new coronavirus and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus that does not spread very easily among humans and is thought to be carried by camels.
But WHO’s Asia office tweeted this week that “there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission,” which raises the possibility that the epidemic is spreading more easily and may no longer require an animal source to spark infections, as officials initially reported.
Authorities in Thailand on Wednesday confirmed four cases, a Thai national and three Chinese visitors. Japan, South Korea, the United States and Taiwan have all reported one case each. All of the illnesses were of people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.
“The situation is under control here,” Thai Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters, saying there are no reports of the infection spreading to others. “We checked all of them: taxi drivers, people who wheeled the wheelchairs for the patients, doctors and nurses who worked around them.”
Macao, a former Portuguese colony that is a semi-autonomous Chinese city, reported one case Wednesday.
Some experts said they believe the threshold for the outbreak to be declared an international emergency had been reached.
Dr. Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Oxford University, said there were three criteria for such a determination: the outbreak must be an extraordinary event, there must be a risk of international spread and a globally coordinated response is required.
“In my opinion, those three criteria have been met,” he said.
In response to the U.S. case, President Donald Trump said: “We do have a plan, and we think it’s going to be handled very well. We’ve already handled it very well. … we’re in very good shape, and I think China’s in very good shape also.”
In Wuhan, pharmacies limited sales of face masks to one package per customer as people lined up to buy them. Residents said they were not overly concerned as long as they took preventive measures.
“As an adult, I am not too worried about the disease,” Yang Bin, the father of a 7-year-old, said after buying a mask. “I think we are more worried about our kids. … It would be unacceptable to the parents if they got sick.”
Medical workers in protective suits could be seen carrying supplies and stretchers into Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some of the patients are being treated.
Travel agencies that organize trips to North Korea said the country has banned foreign tourists because of the outbreak. Most tourists to North Korea are either Chinese or travel to the country through neighboring China. North Korea also closed its borders in 2003 during the SARS scare.
Other countries have stepped up screening measures for travelers from China, especially those arriving from Wuhan. Worries have been heightened by the Lunar New Year holiday rush, when millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad.
Officials said it was too early to compare the new virus with SARS or MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, in terms of how lethal it might be. They attributed the spike in new cases to improvements in detection and monitoring.
“We are still in the process of learning more about this disease,” Gao Fu, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said at the news conference.
Gao said officials are working on the assumption that the outbreak resulted from human exposure to wild animals being sold illegally at a food market in Wuhan and that the virus is mutating. Mutations can make it spread faster or make people sicker.
Jiao Yahui, a health commission official, said the disease “will continue to develop. It has developed different features compared with the early stage, and the prevention and precautionary measures need to change accordingly.”
One veteran of the SARS outbreak said that while there are some similarities in the new virus — namely its origins in China and the link to animals — the current outbreak appears much milder.
Dr. David Heymann, who headed WHO’s global response to SARS in 2003, said the new virus appears dangerous for older people with other health conditions, but doesn’t seem nearly as infectious as SARS.
“It looks like it doesn’t transmit through the air very easily and probably transmits through close contact,” he said. “That was not the case with SARS.”
Health officials confirmed earlier this week that the disease can be spread between humans after finding two infected people in Guangdong province in southern China who had not been to Wuhan.
Fifteen medical workers also tested positive for the virus, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has said. Fourteen of them — one doctor and 13 nurses — were infected by a patient who had been hospitalized for neurosurgery but also had the coronavirus.
“This is a very profound lesson, which is that there must not be any cracks in our prevention and control,” Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang said about the infections of the medical workers in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV.
Experts worry in particular when health workers are sickened in outbreaks by new viruses, because it can suggest the disease is becoming more transmissible and because spread in hospitals can often amplify the epidemic.
The Lunar New Year is a time when many Chinese return to their hometowns to visit family. Li, the health commission official, said measures were being taken to monitor and detect infected people from Wuhan, and that people should avoid going to the city, and people from the city should stay put for now.
Associated Press journalists Dake Kang and Emily Wang in Wuhan, China; Tassanee Vejpongsa in Bangkok, Thailand; Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea; Maria Cheng in London; Yanan Wang in Beijing and Alice Fung in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
China virus death toll jumps to 17, officials say avoid epicentre city
Beijing (AFP) – The death toll from a new SARS-like virus that has infected hundreds in China rose to 17 on Wednesday, as authorities urged people to steer clear of the city at the centre of the outbreak. The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed…
Beijing (AFP) – The death toll from a new SARS-like virus that has infected hundreds in China rose to 17 on Wednesday, as authorities urged people to steer clear of the city at the centre of the outbreak.
The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission announced measures to contain the disease — including sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.
In Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, large public events were cancelled and international football matches were moved to a new location. Visitors were urged to stay away, while residents were advised to not to leave the central city, which is home to 11 million people.
“If it’s not necessary we suggest that people don’t come to Wuhan,” Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told state broadcaster CCTV.
The illness is mainly transmitted via the respiratory tract and there “is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease”, health commission vice minister Li Bin told a news conference in Beijing.
More than 500 cases have now been reported, with the majority in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.
The virus has now infected at least 444 people in Hubei province alone, said provincial officials at a press conference, adding that the death toll had risen from nine to 17.
Major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing have also reported cases, as well as provinces in northeastern, central, and southern China.
The World Health Organization started an emergency meeting Wednesday to decide whether or not to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has now been detected in the United States, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Macau.
The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the SARS epidemic, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the illness and the potential to implement quarantine measures.
But they still have not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.
“We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease,” Li said, adding that “the cases are mostly linked to Wuhan”.
Countries have intensified efforts to stop the spread of the pathogen — known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Passengers are facing screening measures at five US airports and a host of transport hubs across Asia. Britain and Italy on Wednesday also announced enhanced monitoring of passengers from Wuhan.
– Virus source –
A prominent expert from China’s National Health Commission confirmed this week that the virus can be passed between people.
However, animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak.
A Wuhan market is believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak.
A price list circulating online in China for a business there lists a menagerie of animals or animal-based products including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies and rats. It also offered civets, the animal linked to SARS.
“We already know that the disease originated from a market which conducted illegal transaction of wild animals,” said Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention.
He said it was clear “this virus is adapting and mutating”.
Hong Kong and British scientists have estimated that between 1,300 and 1,700 people in Wuhan may have been infected.
– Containment –
Health authorities are urging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid crowded places, get plenty of fresh air and wear a mask if they have a cough.
Anyone with a cough or fever was urged to go to hospital.
In Wuhan, city authorities made it mandatory to wear a mask in public places on Wednesday, according to state-run People’s Daily.
In response to skyrocketing demand for masks — which were starting to sell out at pharmacies and on some popular websites — China’s industry and information technology ministry said it would “spare no effort in increasing supply”, state media reported.
“These days, I wear masks even in places that are not too crowded, although I wouldn’t have done so in the past,” said Wang Suping, 50, who works at a Beijing arts school.
At the capital’s main international airport, the majority of people were wearing masks.
Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific said it had agreed to allow staff to wear surgical masks on mainland China flights, and that passengers from Wuhan would be offered masks and antiseptic wipes.
In Wuhan, police were conducting vehicle spot checks for live poultry or wild animals leaving and entering the city, state media said.
Officials also screened people on roads, the airport and the train station for fever.
The local government has cancelled major public activities and banned tour groups from heading out of the city.
Women’s Olympics football qualifiers scheduled for February 3-9 in Wuhan have been moved to the eastern city of Nanjing.
Fact Check: Adam Schiff Falsely Claims Trump Conditioned Meeting, and Aid, on Investigations | Breitbart
CLAIM: President Donald Trump withheld a White House meeting, and military aid, from Ukraine until it agreed to announce investigations. VERDICT: False. There is no direct evidence of that in the entire House record. Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) laid out the case against President Trump in opening arguments on Wednesday in…
CLAIM: President Donald Trump withheld a White House meeting, and military aid, from Ukraine until it agreed to announce investigations.
VERDICT: False. There is no direct evidence of that in the entire House record.
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) laid out the case against President Trump in opening arguments on Wednesday in the Senate impeachment trial. The core of his claim was that Trump withheld a White House meeting from new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as essential military aid, unless and until Ukraine announced investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 interference in the U.S. election.
Every part of that claim is untrue, and directly contradicted by the evidence that emerged in the House’s own inquiry.
Schiff is clearly relying on the testimony of U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland, who made the surprise announcement in his prepared statement for the public impeachment inquiry in the House Intelligence Committee that there had been a “quid pro quo” — a White House meeting in exchange for an announcement of investigations.
Under questioning, however, Sondland admitted that he had no direct knowledge of a “quid pro quo.” In fact, he testified that when he asked President Trump what he wanted from Ukraine, he said “nothing” and “no quid pro quo.”
Moroever, as the transcript of Trump’s first call with Zelensky in April showed, the president had already invited Zelensky to the White House with no conditions whatsoever — a fact that Schiff neglected to mention in the Senate.
As for the second call, there was never any discussion of withholding aid, or of the 2020 presidential election. The U.S. aid that was temporarily withheld was “security assistance” — not the all-important Javelin anti-tank missiles, which Trump provided earlier (and President Barack Obama had not). The hold had to do with future funding and had no effect on the flow of funds to Ukraine during the summer of 2019, when the temporary hold was in place.
(It is also odd how gung-ho Schiff and his colleagues have suddenly become about helping Ukraine resist Russia when they were silent when President Obama appeased Russia for years and denied aid to a Ukraine under attack.)
As numerous witnesses testified, and as the Ukrainian president and his aides have since said repeatedly, Ukraine was never aware — at least on the senior level — of the hold on aid, nor did they feel any pressure from Trump.
And the aid was delivered in September — before the deadline — without any announcement of investigations.
The president did ask about investigations, but it is untrue that all he was interested in was an “announcement.” One possible reason for an announcement — alluded to in the testimony — was that there was no confidence that Ukraine would undertake the investigations unless it had committed to doing so publicly. Lev Parnas, a witness whom the House Democrats wish to call though he is facing federal indictment, made a similar suggestion on CNN last week.
In sum: there is not one bit of direct evidence to substantiate Schiff’s central claim. The impeachment should fail.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
Crime5 years ago
Death of Baltimore man Freddie Gray in custody sparks call for independent inquiry
Politics5 years ago
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback Bans Cruises for Welfare Recipients in Sweeping Crackdown
Health5 years ago
8 Ways to Naturally Boost your Energy Without Caffeine
Science5 years ago
Twenty-five years on: Hubble’s unsung heroes
Real Estate5 years ago
Comcast’s towering ambition collides with Philadelphia’s street-level reality
Politics5 years ago
New Bill Seeks To Ban Former Lawmakers From Becoming Lobbyists
Politics5 years ago
Obama signals support for medical marijuana bill backed by Rand Paul
Politics5 years ago
In Spanish-Language Interview, Marco Rubio Says He Believes Obama’s Executive Amnesty ‘Is Important’