Sanction Putin directly, relax COVID rules, Mekong species

👋 Gruezi!*

Welcome to Wednesday, when the United States threatens Vladimir Putin with personal sanctions, COVID restrictions ease from Beijing to Copenhagen, and we count newly discovered wildlife in the Mekong region. Weekly news magazine Young Africa also examines Morocco’s unique, council-centric response to Islamic extremism.

[*Swiss German]


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• US warns against sanctions against Russia: United States warned Moscow of damaging sanctions, including measures aimed personally at Russian President Vladimir Putin, if the country proceeds with an invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin replied that the sanctions would not hurt Putin personally, but would “politically destructive”. A day after the United States announced it was putting 8,500 troops on alert for possible deployment to Eastern Europe, the Russian military started to conduct new exercises near Ukraine and in the Crimea region.

• COVID update: A new variant called BA.2 is spreading to at least four continents, but US experts say it should stay relatively soft. Meanwhile, China relaxed a COVID-19 testing requirement for participants in the Beijing Winter Olympics despite a growing number of cases. The European Union is also set to relax travel rules for citizens vaccinated from February 1, removing additional restrictions such as testing or quarantine while traveling in the bloc.

• Boris Johnson prepares for publication of Sue Gray’s report: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s future hangs in the balance ahead of today’s forecast results of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s investigation at the Downing Street parties that sparked a criminal investigation.

• Russia places Navalny’s brother on wanted list: Russia issued an arrest warrant for Oleg Navalny, brother of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, as he faces a suspended sentence that could be converted to a jail term. The activist, whose whereabouts are unknown, was given a one-year suspended prison sentence for breaking coronavirus safety rules after taking part in a rally against his brother’s arrest.

• Gathering of pro-coup supporters in Burkina Faso: Supporters of the Burkinabe army rallied in the capital Ouagadougou to show support for the junta, a day after army officers dissolved the West African country’s government and detained President Roch Kaboré. The UN condemned the power grab and called for the president’s immediate release.

• Dozens missing after smuggling boat capsizes off Florida: US Coast Guard officers are looking for 39 people who are feared dead, after their vessel, suspected of being part of a “human smuggling business”, carrying them from the Bahamas capsized off the Atlantic coast of Florida. A passenger was rescued.

A tourist banned from Venice after posing topless on a war memorial A tourist from the Czech Republic was expelled from Venice for 48 hours and fined $513 after being caught posing topless for pictures on a memorial dedicated to women who died in their struggle for freedom under fascism.


Copenhagen everyday Jyllands-Posten bids ‘farewell to restrictions despite high infection rates’, as Denmark’s health minister announced government efforts to remove all coronavirus-related restrictions by February 1.



The new World Wildlife Fund report on the Mekong region (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Burma) lists 224 new species of fauna and flora recently identified. Among them are the ghostly monkey, reptiles, frogs and newts, fish and 155 plant species, including the only known species of succulent bamboo, found in Laos. Species listed were found in 2020 but last year’s report was delayed, The Guardian Explain. The Mekong region is known to be a biodiversity hotspot, home to rare animals such as tigers, Asian elephants, giant rays and saola and thousands of other species.


Morocco is waging a ‘soft’ war against Islamic extremism in prisons

Launched in 2017 to fight radicalization, the Moussalaha program has been successful in helping those incarcerated for terrorism by providing them with counselling, reducing their prison sentences and providing follow-up after their release, report Fadwa Islah and Soufiane Khabbachi in a weekly news Young Africa.

🇲🇦 In Europe, deradicalization policies are often highly contested and their effectiveness regularly questioned. But Morocco, a predominantly Muslim country, has become a pioneer in such programs. To deal with the terrorist threat on its territory, the North African kingdom is not content with preventing attacks and neutralizing the actors. The Moussalaha program (reconciliation in Arabic), launched in 2017, is the most original practice in Morocco in the fight against terrorism. Its principle: care for and support detainees imprisoned for reasons related to terrorism.

⚖️ Of the first 25 people in the program, 15 have had their sentence reduced. To date, only one person who has participated in the program has reoffended for a common law offence. The release is accompanied by individualized psychological support. According to Damir, a 48-year-old Moroccan, father of three and former beneficiary of the program, all the released detainees have “found the path to peace”. It is an undeniable success, far from the controversies raised in Europe by de-radicalization programs.

📚 Since its creation, 207 prisoners have participated in Moussalaha and 116 have received a royal pardon. Damir says he never lost faith during his detention: “What changed was my way of reading and interpreting sacred texts,” he says. Today, he believes that reading has allowed him to free himself from his ideological shackles: “Without reading, you have no access to anything. Released from prison at the age of 41, he was able to obtain a master’s degree and is currently preparing a doctorate at the Hassan-II University in Casablanca.

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It’s hard to overstate how devastating – and terrifying – the return of Taliban rule has been for LGBT Afghans.

– J. Lester Feder, senior researcher for emergencies research at OutRight Action International, co-authored a 43-page report released today on the situation of LGBTQ people in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over last August. The report is based on 60 interviews with Afghans, many of whom report that Taliban members have attacked or threatened them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Laure Gautherin

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