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Media

Facebook is ‘biased against facts’, says Nobel prize winner

The campaigning Philippines journalist Maria Ressa, who was last week awarded the Nobel peace prize, has launched a stinging attack on Facebook, accusing the social media firm of being a threat to democracy that was “biased against facts” and failed to prevent the spread of disinformation.

She said its algorithms “prioritise the spread of lies laced with anger and hate over facts”.

Ressa, who co-founded the news website Rappler, won the Nobel prize on Friday for her work to “safeguard freedom of expression”, along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov.

Ressa said Facebook had become the world’s largest distributor of news, “yet it is biased against facts, it is biased against journalism … If you have no facts, you can’t have truths, you can’t have trust. If you don’t have any of these, you don’t have a democracy.”

Ressa’s rebuke came days after former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen claimed the company placed profits over people. UK politicians are also raising concerns about Facebook’s ability to protect children from harmful content, with one senior Tory MP accusing it of deploying a “ridiculous scouts-honour system” for verifying the age of its users.

There are now cross-party calls for action from Facebook and the government in the wake of Haugen’s explosive testimony, in which she accused the firm of steering young users towards damaging content. She also suggested that the minimum age for social media accounts should be raised from 13 to 17.

Julian Knight, Tory chair of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, called on Facebook to demonstrate that it was capable of enforcing even its existing rules. “It’s less about the minimum age, more about the way social media companies police this at present,” he said. “They rely on a ridiculous scouts-honour system when actually we need them to actively pursue proper, regulated, robust age assurance. Time is long past that they took responsibility.”

Other parties also called on the government to step in and strengthen measures in its online harms bill, which is designed to protect children from dangerous content. The NSPCC is among those claiming that the current plans do not go far enough. Ministers insist it will force social media companies to remove and limit the spread of harmful content or face fines of billions of pounds.

Jo Stevens, the shadow culture secretary, said that Facebook had proved “time and time again” that it could not be trusted and the government now needed to step in. “It has entirely lived up to its internal strategy to ‘move fast and break things’ no matter what the cost, provided it doesn’t affect its bottom line,” she said.

“Four years on from the Conservative government’s promise of tough legislation against online harms, all we have is a weak and watered-down bill that will still allow Facebook to self-regulate. It doesn’t matter what age limits are adopted, Facebook cannot be trusted to put public safety before its profits.”

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, called for schools to teach children about how to use social media safely and responsibly.

Revealed: anti-vaccine TikTok videos being viewed by children as young as nine
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “Our pioneering online safety bill will make the internet a safer place and is the most comprehensive in the world at protecting children. It will require internet companies to enforce age limits so underage kids can’t access pornography or content that is harmful to them, such as promotion of self harm and eating disorders.”

Facebook denied that the company put profits above people and said it was using sophisticated methods to weed out children not old enough to have an account. “Protecting our community is more important than maximising our profits,” it said. “To say we turn a blind eye to feedback ignores these investments, including the 40,000 people working on safety and security at Facebook and our investment of $13bn since 2016.

“We use artificial intelligence and the age people provide at sign-up to understand if people are telling the truth about their age when using our platforms. On Instagram alone, these processes helped us remove over 600,000 underage users between June and August this year. We will continue to invest in new tools as well as working closely with our industry partners to make our systems as effective as possible.” by Michael Savage

Science & Technology

Birds Have a Mysterious ‘Quantum Sense’. Scientists Have Now Seen It in Action

Seeing our world through the eyes of a migratory bird would be a rather spooky experience. Something about their visual system allows them to ‘see’ our planet’s magnetic field, a clever trick of quantum physics and biochemistry that helps them navigate vast distances.

In early 2021, scientists from the University of Tokyo announced they had, for the first time ever, directly observed a key reaction hypothesized to be behind birds’ (and many other creatures’) talents for sensing the direction of Earth’s poles.
Importantly, this is evidence of quantum physics directly affecting a biochemical reaction in a cell – something we’ve long hypothesized but haven’t seen in action before.
Using a tailor-made microscope sensitive to faint flashes of light, the team watched a culture of human cells containing a special light-sensitive material respond dynamically to changes in a magnetic field.

The change the researchers observed in the lab matched what would be expected if a quirky quantum effect was responsible for the illuminating reaction.
“We’ve not modified or added anything to these cells,” said biophysicist Jonathan Woodward.
“We think we have extremely strong evidence that we’ve observed a purely quantum mechanical process affecting chemical activity at the cellular level.”
So how are cells, particularly human cells, capable of responding to magnetic fields?

While there are several hypotheses out there, many researchers think the ability is due to a unique quantum reaction involving photoreceptors called cryptochromes.
Cryptochromes are found in the cells of many species and are involved in regulating circadian rhythms. In species of migratory birds, dogs, and other creatures, they’re linked to the mysterious ability to sense magnetic fields.
In fact, while most of us can’t see magnetic fields, human cells definitely contain cryptochromes. And there’s evidence that even though it’s not conscious, humans are actually still capable of detecting Earth’s magnetism.
To see the reaction within cryptochromes in action, the researchers bathed a culture of human cells containing cryptochromes in blue light, causing them to fluoresce weakly. As they glowed, the team swept magnetic fields of various frequencies repeatedly over the cells.
They found that each time the magnetic field passed over the cells, their fluorescence dipped around 3.5 percent – enough to show a direct reaction.
How can a magnetic field affect a photoreceptor? It all comes down to something called spin – an innate property of electrons.

We already know that spin is significantly affected by magnetic fields. Arrange electrons in the right way around an atom, and collect enough of them together in one place, and the resulting mass of material can be made to move using nothing more than a weak magnetic field like the one that surrounds our planet.
This is all well and good if you want to make a needle for a navigational compass. But with no obvious signs of magnetically-sensitive chunks of material inside pigeon skulls, physicists have had to think smaller.
In 1975, a Max Planck Institute researcher named Klaus Schulten developed a theory on how magnetic fields could influence chemical reactions.
It involved something called a radical pair. A garden-variety radical is an electron in the outer shell of an atom that isn’t partnered with a second electron.
Sometimes, these bachelor electrons can adopt a wingman in another atom to form a radical pair. The two stay unpaired, but thanks to a shared history are considered entangled, which in quantum terms means their spins will eerily correspond no matter how far apart they are.

Since this correlation can’t be explained by ongoing physical connections, it’s purely a quantum activity, something even Albert Einstein considered ‘spooky’.
In the hustle-bustle of a living cell, their entanglement will be fleeting. But even these briefly correlating spins should last just long enough to make a subtle difference in the way their respective parent atoms behave.
In this experiment, as the magnetic field passed over the cells, the corresponding dip in fluorescence suggests that the generation of radical pairs had been affected.
An interesting consequence of the research could be in how even weak magnetic fields could indirectly affect other biological processes. While evidence of magnetism affecting human health is weak, similar experiments as this could prove to be another avenue for investigation.
“The joyous thing about this research is to see that the relationship between the spins of two individual electrons can have a major effect on biology,” said Woodward.
Of course, birds aren’t the only animal to rely on our magnetosphere for direction. Species of fish, worms, insects, and even some mammals have a knack for it. We humans might even be cognitively affected by Earth’s faint magnetic field.
Evolution of this ability could have delivered a number of vastly different actions based on different physics.
Having evidence that at least one of them connects the weirdness of the quantum world with the behavior of a living thing is enough to force us to wonder what other bits of biology arise from the spooky depths of fundamental physics.
This research was published in PNAS.
by MIKE MCRAE

Wildlife & Biodiversity

US says ivory-billed woodpecker, 22 other species extinct

By Associated Press

It’s a rare move for wildlife officials to give up hope on a plant or animal, but government scientists say they’ve exhausted to find these 23. And they warn climate change, on top of other pressures, could make such disappearances more common as a warming planet adds to the dangers facing imperiled plants and wildlife.

The ivory-billed woodpecker was perhaps the best known species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared extinct. The woodpecker went out stubbornly and with fanfare, making unconfirmed appearances in recent decades that ignited a frenzy of ultimately fruitless searches in the swamps of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

Others such as the flat pigtoe, a freshwater mussel in the southeastern U.S., were identified in the wild only a few times and never seen again, meaning by the time they got a name they were fading from existence.

“When I see one of those really rare ones, it’s always in the back of my mind that I might be the last one to see this animal again,” said Anthony “Andy” Ford, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Tennessee who specializes in freshwater mussels.

The factors behind the disappearances vary — too much development, water pollution, logging, competition from invasive species, birds killed for feathers and animals captured by private collectors. In each case, humans were the ultimate cause.

Another thing they share: All 23 were thought to have at least a slim chance of survival when added to the endangered species list beginning in the 1960s. Only 11 species previously have been removed due to extinction in the almost half-century since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.

The announcement kicks off a three-month comment period before the species status changes become final.

Around the globe, some 902 species have been documented as extinct. The actual number is thought to be much higher because some are never formally identified, and many scientists warn the earth is in an “extinction crisis” with flora and fauna now disappearing at 1,000 times the historical rate.

It’s possible one or more of the 23 species named Wednesday could reappear, several scientists said.

A leading figure in the hunt for the ivory-billed woodpecker said it was premature to call off the effort, after millions of dollars spent on searches and habitat preservation efforts.

“Little is gained and much is lost” with an extinction declaration, said Cornell University bird biologist John Fitzpatrick, lead author of a 2005 study that claimed the woodpecker had been rediscovered in eastern Arkansas.

“A bird this iconic, and this representative of the major old-growth forests of the southeast, keeping it on the list of endangered species keeps attention on it, keeps states thinking about managing habitat on the off chance it still exists,” he said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a Switzerland-based group that tracks extinctions globally, is not putting the ivory-billed woodpecker into its extinction column because it’s possible the birds still exist in Cuba, said the group’s Craig Hilton-Taylor.

Hilton-Taylor said there can be unintended but damaging consequences if extinction is declared prematurely. “Suddenly the (conservation) money is no longer there, and then suddenly you do drive it to extinction because you stop investing in it,” he said.

But wildlife officials said in an analysis released Wednesday that that there have been no definitive sightings of the woodpecker since 1944 and “there is no objective evidence” of its continued existence.

They said the 23 extinction declarations were driven by a desire to clear a backlog of recommended status changes for species that had not been acted upon for years. They said it would free up resources for on-the-ground conservation efforts for species that still have a chance for recovery.

What’s lost when those efforts fail are creatures often uniquely adapted to their environments. Freshwater mussel species like the ones the government says have gone extinct reproduce by attracting fish with a lure-like appendage, then sending out a cloud of larvae that attach to gills of fish until they’ve grown enough to drop off and live on their own.

The odds are slim against any freshwater mussel surviving into adulthood — a one in a million chance, according to Ford of the wildlife service — but those that do can live a century or longer.

Hawaii has the most species on the list — eight woodland birds and one plant. That’s in part because the islands have so many plants and animals that many have extremely small ranges and can blink out quickly.

The most recent to go extinct was the teeny po’ouli, a type of bird known as a honeycreeper discovered in 1973.

By the late 1990s just three remained — a male and two females. After failures to mate them in the wild, the male was captured for potential breeding and died in 2004. The two females were never seen again.

The fate of Hawaii’s birds helped push Duke University extinction expert Stuart Pimm into his field. Despite the grim nature of the government’s proposal to move more species into the extinct column, Pimm said the toll would probably have been much higher without the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s a shame we didn’t get to those species in time, but when we do, we are usually able to save species,” he said.

Since 1975, 54 species have left the endangered list after recovering, including the bald eagle, brown pelican and most humpback whales.

Climate change is making species recovery harder, bringing drought, floods, wildfires and temperature swings that compound the threats species already faced.

How they are saved also is changing. No longer is the focus on individual species, let alone individual birds. Officials say the broader goal now is to preserve their habitat, which boosts species of all types that live there.

“I hope we’re up to the challenge,” said biologist Michelle Bogardus with the wildlife service in Hawaii. “We don’t have the resources to prevent extinctions unilaterally. We have to think proactively about ecosystem health and how do we maintain it, given all these threats.”

Development

Yak farming in Arunachal Pradesh gets a boost as banks chip in with credit supportPrasanta Mazumdar|

GUWAHATI: Yak farmers in the mountainous Arunachal Pradesh can now afford a smile, thanks to a novel initiative of the ICAR-National Research Centre.

Convinced by the proposal, banks have come forward, showing interest in giving loans to yak farmers as well as others willing to earn a livelihood through the farming of this bovine species.

The ICAR centre, based in Arunachal’s Dirang, described the approval of its proposal by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), as ‘historic’.

“The credit plan vetted by NABARD was found to be feasible for credit support by the lead banks and has been included in the Potential Linked Credit Plans of Tawang, West Kameng and Shi Yomi districts of Arunachal,” the ICAR centre Director, Dr Mihir Sarkar told The New Indian Express.m

He was confident the support will promote yak husbandry and boost economic dividends for yak herders.

Dr Sarkar said anyone could avail the loan, to be given for anything related to yak farming, such as housing for the animal, its feed, treatment, procurement etc. He said an effort would be made to put in place this scheme in Ladakh where a regional centre on yak research had been approved.

He had conceptualised this scheme and submitted a proposal to NABARD which is the prime organisation in matters related to agricultural commodities. Anything that it says is binding on the banks, Dr Sarkar said.

Under the scheme, a yak farmer can avail a loan up to Rs 5.65 lakh.

“We are calling a meeting with banks in our region in November where we will discuss everything. There should be a low interest rate, a period of moratorium as well as subsidy,” Dr Sarkar said.

India has around 58,000 yaks, found on the heights of Arunachal, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. In Arunachal, their population is estimated to be around 24,000. They are found in Tawang, West Kameng and Shi Yomi districts.

As the animal is susceptible to harsh and inclement weather conditions due to climate change, diseases, attack by wild animals etc, the highlanders used to incur regular losses. But Dr Sarkar came to their rescue.

He played a key role in ensuring an insurance scheme for the animal. For the first time, the National Insurance Company Ltd a few months back had decided to insure the highly-valuable Himalayan cattle.

Yaks are one of the most prized animals of the Himalayan region due to their multifarious roles. They strengthen nutritional security through milk and meat, provide shelter and clothing through fibre and act as a “beast of burden” by carrying loads through hard trek.

The animal has intense socio-cultural importance for the pastoral rearing communities due to centuries-old transhumance practices. However, the past few decades witnessed an unprecedented decline in its population.

Although factors such as inbreeding, cross-hybridization and unscientific farming practices precipitated the worsening trend, disillusionment of the younger generation due to the hardships of yak rearing stands out as one of the prime reasons for mass desertions from the occupation and the consequent declining population.

“To promote sedentarization in yak farming, which entails rearing the animal at a particular location in mid-altitude regions and in a semi-intensive production system, the extension of credit support by banks is crucial to encourage scientific and remunerative yak farming,” Dr Sarkar added.

Economy

Monetary Authority (RMA) With a CBDC Project

By Siamak Masnavi

California-headquartered FinTech firm Ripple has announced a partnership with the central bank of the Kingdom of Bhutan, which is a landlocked country in the Eastern Himalayas.

According to the blog post Ripple published last Wednesday (September 22), the basic idea of this partnership is to help Bhutan’s central bank (aka “Royal Monetary Authority”) “use Ripple’s CBDC solution to pilot a central bank digital currency (CBDC) in phases.”

As you may remember, on March 3, Ripple announced via a blog post that it was “piloting” a private version of the open-source public XRP Ledger (XRPL) to allow central banks to create and manage their own digital currencies. The XRP Ledger was created in 2012 by David Schwartz, Jed McCaleb, and Arthur Britto, and XRP is the native currency of the XRP Ledger.

Back then, Ripple said:

more than 80% of the world’s central banks are “actively exploring some form of sovereign-backed cryptocurrency”
eventually there would be a wide range of central bank digitial currencies (CBDCs).
existing public blockchains cannot meed the needs of CBDCs since “a Central Bank requires more transaction privacy and control over its currency than a public ledger can offer,” which means that it is “most likely opt to create a CBDC on a private ledger that can also operate at the required scale.”
Ripple also explained in that March 2021 blog post why interoperability is crucial:

“Additionally, interoperability – the ability for a private ledger to connect with today’s existing global financial infrastructure, as well as other CBDCs and other digital currencies– will be critical. In fact, in its 2021/22 innovation program, the Bank for International Settlements identified interoperability for cross-border payments as a major priority for CBDCs.“

Ripple’s proposed solution to this problem is the CBDC Private Ledger, which uses the same distributed ledger technology as the XRP Ledger, which means that it is “built for payments” and “designed for issuing currencies”; XRP could then serve as “a neutral bridge asset for frictionless value movement between CBDCs and other currencies.”

Ripple also said that transactions on the CBDC Private Ledger would be low-cost, reliable, and fast.

In last week’s blog post, Ripple mentioned that that this new initiative, which builds on top of the country’s payments infrastructure and capabilities, will tap use Ripple’s CBDC solution to “support seamless retail, cross-border and wholesale payment use cases for a digital Ngultrum.”

Ripple went on to say that the RMA “believes that easier, faster and more affordable payments, both domestically and internationally, will help it reach its goal of increasing financial inclusion by 85% by 2023.”

Finally, apparently, Ripple’s “commitment to sustainability was important for Bhutan.” As Ripple points out, its CBDC solution is “carbon-neutral and, because it’s based on the public XRP Ledger, is 120,000x more energy efficient than proof-of-work blockchains.”

According to data by TradingView, on crypto exchange Bitstamp, currently (as of 07:20 UTC on September 27), XRP is trading around $0.9637, up 4.3% in the past 24-hour period

Communication

Six remote areas in Arunachal Pradesh to be connected via fixed-wing flights —- Six remote areas in Arunachal Pradesh to be connected via fixed-wing flightsThe flights will be run by Alliance Air using two Dornier DO-228 aircraft under the UDAN scheme

Sumir Karmakar
Sumir Karmakar, DHNS, Guwahati,
SEP 26 2021, 18:16 IST UPDATED: SEP 26 2021, 20:34 IST

The DO-228 aircraft will connect passengers in remote locations like Mechuka, Tuting, Vijaynagar, Ziro, Pasighat and Tezu.
Advance landing grounds (ALG) refurbished by the Indian Air Force (IAF) at remote locations in Arunachal Pradesh will now be used by fixed-wing aircraft for boosting passenger connectivity as well.

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) on Sunday signed an agreement with Alliance Air to lease out two Made in India Dornier DO-228, a 16-seater aircraft, for operation in Arunachal Pradesh under the Civil Aviation Ministry’s regional connectivity scheme, UDAAN.

The DO-228 aircraft, which can land and take off in small airstrips including ALGs, will connect passengers in remote locations like Mechuka, Tuting, Vijaynagar, Ziro, Pasighat and Tezu.

An official statement issued by the office of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu said Pasighat and Tezu will be connected in the first phase while Mechuka, Tuting, Vijaynagar and Ziro will be connected in the second phase. Two more ALGs, which are being surveyed at Dirang and Daporijo will be connected in the third phase, it said.

“It is a big leap in connectivity for Arunachal Pradesh,” Khandu said while virtually taking part in the agreement signing programme.

The ALGs, some of which are situated close to border with China and Myanmar have remained unused since the 1962 war with China. They were recently refurbished by the Union Defence Ministry to upgrade India’s defence preparedness along the China border. Although these are primarily meant for defence purposes, local residents demanded that terminals be constructed for transportation of civilians as well.

On Sunday, Khandu also hoped that all feasible ALGs would be connected with fixed-wing passenger services in the days to come.

Khandu informed that the civil passenger terminal building at Ziro and Tuting are under construction and will be ready by the end of this year. A terminal is also under construction at Mechuka while Pasighat and Tezu already have the required infrastructure.

He suggested that till completion of the Hollongi airport, which can be later used as operational base for DO-228 aircraft, flight services connecting Tezu, Pasighat, Ziro, Tuting, Mechuka and Vijaynagar may be extended to Lilabari in neighbouring Assam’s North Lakhimpur district so that passengers from these remote places coming to the state capital Itanagar can avail the flights.

Further, till completion of the Hollongi airport, he suggested Guwahati or Dibrugarh serve as the operational base of the Dornier aircraft.

Secretary of Ministry of Civil aviation, Singh Kharola, Joint Secretary Usha Padhee, DoNER Secretary Lok Ranjan, Chairman and Managing Director, HAL, R Madhavan, CEO of Alliance Air, Vinod Sood attended the programme.

Arunachal Pradesh CM Kahndu, Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein, Home Minister Bamang Felix, Lok Sabha MP Tapir Gao, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar and other officials virtually took part in the programme.

Indigenous no-state people

Rice Cultivation in Assam
Photograph by Rihaana Akhtar
In Assam, rice is the most significant crop. It covers 2.54 million ha of the state’s gross cropped area of 4.16 million ha and accounts for 96% of the state’s total food grain production. Assam is well-known for its extensive rice genetic diversity. Rice cultivation under a variety of agro-ecological settings has resulted in the formation of a variety of strains with specialized adaptations over time, thanks to natural selection and farmers’ discretion.

The state’s physical characteristics, geographical position, and historical reality have resulted in ethnic mobility and immigration, which has resulted in the introduction of several types of rice genetic stock over time.

The state has three rice-growing seasons due to agro-climatic variance, seasonal variations in temperature and rainfall, and agriculture’s reliance on natural precipitation.

Based on six zones namely Upper Brahmaputra Valley Zone, North Bank Plain Zone, Lower Brahmaputra Valley Zone, Hill Zone, Central Brahmaputra Valley Zone and Barak Valley Zone.

Rice Varieties:
Flood Tolerant Rice Varieties include BINA Dhan 11, Ranjit-Sub1, Bahadur-Sub1 and Swarna-Sub1.

Drought Tolerant Varieties include DRR Dhan 44 and DRR Dhan 46.

Premium Quality Rice Varieties include DRR Dhan 45, Bokul Joha, Keteki Joha (IET – 14390), Kola Joha, Joha (aromatic) rice, CR Dhan 909, CR Dhan310, RNR 15048 and Zinco Rice by Chintu Das

Civil War

Pulitzer-winning Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui killed in Afghanistan clashes:

Danish Siddiqui, a Pulitzer-winning photojournalist with Reuters, was reportedly killed during clashes in Afghanistan’s Kandahar. Siddiqui was in Kandahar over the last few days, covering the internal security situation in Afghanistan. “The Secretary General grieves the journalists killed or indeed harassed anywhere in the world and the case of Danish Siddiqui is one such case,” Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, UN, said at the daily press briefing on Friday. In 2018, Siddiqui, who recently did extensive coverage of the graveyards and mass cremations during the COVID-19 outbreak in India, became the first Indian, along with his colleague Adnan Abidi, to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Siddiqui had been posting updates from his coverage in Afganistan on his Twitter handle. He posted his last thread on July 13, which had pictures documenting what he was witnessing in Kandahar during the rescue mission carried by Afghan Special Forces.
Siddiqui had been posting updates from his coverage in Afganistan on his Twitter handle. He posted his last thread on July 13, which had pictures documenting what he was witnessing in Kandahar during the rescue mission carried by Afghan Special Forces.
In 2018, Siddiqui, who recently did extensive coverage of the graveyards and mass cremations during the COVID-19 outbreak in India, became the first Indian – along with his colleague Adnan Abidi – to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis.
In 2018, Siddiqui, who recently did extensive coverage of the graveyards and mass cremations during the COVID-19 outbreak in India, became the first Indian – along with his colleague Adnan Abidi – to win the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Siddiqui enjoyed capturing the human face of a breaking story, “While I enjoy covering news stories – from business to politics to sports – what I enjoy most is capturing the human face of a breaking story,” reads his Reuters profile page. A Reuters photographer since 2010, Siddiqui’s work spanned covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugees crisis, the Hong Kong protests and Nepal earthquakes.
Siddiqui enjoyed capturing the human face of a breaking story, “While I enjoy covering news stories – from business to politics to sports – what I enjoy most is capturing the human face of a breaking story,” reads his Reuters profile page. A Reuters photographer since 2010, Siddiqui’s work spanned covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugees crisis, the Hong Kong protests and Nepal earthquakes. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Friday said that India strongly condemns the killing of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Danish Siddiqui in Afghanistan. Speaking at an event of the United Nations Security Council, Shringla raised concerns about violence against civilians during armed conflict. The Taliban has said it does know how Indian photojournalist Danish Siddiqui was killed and expressed regret over the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s death in Afghanistan’s Kandahar during clashes between its fighters and Afghan forces. “We are not aware during whose firing the journalist was killed. We do not know how he died,” Taliban’s spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told CNN-News18 on Friday.

Judiciary

Akhil Gogoi set free, slams govt for ‘misusing’ NIA, UAPA
Assam MLA and Raijor Dal president Akhil Gogoi walked out of jail on Thursday after a special court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) acquitted him of all charges in the second of the two cases related to the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act violence in the State in December 2019.

The activist-turned-politician, who represents the Sibsagar Assembly constituency in eastern Assam, was discharged in the first case on June 25. He was in jail since December 2019 and had spent the last few months in the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital due to ailments.

The NIA had pursued the cases filed under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act (UAPA) for alleged criminal conspiracy, sedition, promoting enmity between groups on grounds such as religion, race and language, assertions against national integrity, and support to a “terrorist organisation”.

The cases were registered on the basis of two FIRs lodged with the Chabua police station in Dibrugarh district and the Chandmari police station in Guwahati. The Chandmari case had the additional charge that he had links with a Maoist organisation.

“The court has proven that the government’s charges against me were bogus. This is a historic day for the Indian judiciary,” Mr. Gogoi told journalists after his release.

“A case was filed against me for my links with CPI [Maoist]. In another case, I was charged with inciting violence during the anti-CAA agitation. The court proved these were fake charges that kept me in jail for more than a year and a half,” he said.

He slammed the BJP-led State government for “misusing” the UAPA and NIA. The court’s judgement would influence future cases, he stated.

Visits anti-CAA firing victim’s house
Soon after his release, Mr. Gogoi visited the house of Sam Stafford, a schoolstudent who was among the five persons killed in the anti-CAA violence in Guwahati. He expressed solidarity with the parents of the boy who died in police firing.

Mr. Gogoi’s advocate Shantanu Borthakur said three others – Dharjya Konwar, Manas Konwar and Bittu Sonowal – who were arrested with him were also discharged on Thursday. The three, members of various wings of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti that Mr. Gogoi had founded, had been out on bail.

“The court’s ruling has exposed the State government’s attempts to target our party president,” Bhasco de Saikia, Raijor Dal working president, said.

The NIA court last week granted two days’ parole to Mr. Gogoi to meet members of his family in Guwahati and eastern Assam’s Jorhat. His 84-year-old mother Priyada Gogoi is ailing. She had campaigned for her son in the May 27 Assembly elections.

“My focus will be on working for the development of my constituency besides opposing any anti-people policy the government tries to impose,” Mr. Gogoi said.(The Hindu)