Ban on hard alcohol continues
The Czech Republic took drastic measures Friday and banned sales of hard liquor across the country after at least 20 people died from drinking cheap spirits laced with methanol. But Sunday deputy police chief Vaclav Kucera announced that 22 people have been detained regarding the contaminated drinks.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the poisoned alcohol was sold at a discount in bottles with fake labels calling it vodka or tuzemak. More than 30 people were hospitalized in the last two weeks in serious condition after consuming it, and several people went blind.
The sale and service of any domestic and imported spirits with more than 20-percent alcohol content is still “prohibited until the recalling of this extraordinary measure,” according to the government’s website.
The alcohol ban threatens to have serious economic consequences, as the government collects about $40 million a month in taxes from hard liquor sales, according to deputy finance minister Ladislav Mincic, who said “it would be a challenge for the government” if the restriction had to go on for a long time.
According to Kucera, the suspects face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
An unexplained deatharticle
A decade later, plenty of questions still swirl around Robbie Anderson's death in Maple Grove, Minn. (Supplied)
MAPLE GROVE, Minn. (FOX 9) - For a decade Bob and Sandy Anderson have been looking for answers as to how and why their 19-year-old son, Robbie, died during a night of drinking with friends.
They may finally be closer to getting answers.
An unexplained death
For a decade Bob and Sandy Anderson have been looking for answers as to how and why their 19-year-old son, Robbie, died during a night of drinking with friends.&nbspThey may finally be closer to getting answers.
Maple Grove Police have re-opened the investigation after inconsistencies in the case were recently discovered and brought to the attention of detectives and the Fox 9 Investigators.
At the time, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner ruled it a “sudden unexplained death.” The Hennepin County Attorney declined to file manslaughter charges because it was unclear how and why Anderson died.
Maple Grove Police say they have been presented with new information, and the case is now open and “very active."
A NIGHT OF DRINKING
On December 3, 2009, Robbie Anderson had been partying with two friends he had known since middle school, Paul LeClerc and Matt Scouton.
In the basement of LeClerc’s home, they played video games and did shots of vodka. Vodka that LeClerc had stolen from his parents’ liquor store, according to police.
Police reports and witness statements describe a night of excessive drinking. LeClerc and Scouton did 15 to 17 shots, polishing off their own bottles of vodka. Robbie did about ten shots.
Then, according to LeClerc and Scouton, Robbie Anderson keeled over, suddenly.
Scouton started giving him CPR, while LeClerc called 911. In a chaotic and rambling 911 call, LeClerc says, “I don’t know, we were drinking and he stopped breathing and he fell out of his chair.”
When the first squad arrived at the home, LeClerc told the 911 dispatcher he didn’t want to disturb his parents.
911: “Someone needs to go open the door and let the police officers in.”
LeClerc: “Okay, we’re bringing him outside to 63rd Ave. N.”
911: “I understand that, sir. There’s an officer outside your house. Someone needs to let him in, please.”
LeClerc: 𠇊lright, we’re bringing… we’re bringing him to the door.”
911: 𠇊lright, I don’t want you to bring him to the door, I want you to let the officer in.”
LeClerc: “No, we can’t let him in.”
911: “Why can’t you let the officer in?”
LeClerc: “My parents are sleeping and I don’t want to wake my parents up.”
911: “There’s someone not breathing in your house, police officers are medically trained to help him.”
LeClerc: “Okay, we’re bringing him to the door.”
Police entered a chaotic scene, both LeClerc and Scouton were heavily intoxicated.
In the basement, police found Anderson, not breathing, turning blue, and without a pulse.
The officers on the scene noticed Anderson had two black eyes and bruises on his face. Officers noticed blood on his upper lip and in his nostrils.
As police and paramedics did CPR, LeClerc kept getting in the way of first responders, yelling expletives and looking for his cell phone.
LeClerc went upstairs, where he pulled a kitchen knife on his father, who had just awoken.
Police arrested LeClerc for obstruction and he was placed in a squad car, where he tried to bust out the windows.
While sitting in the squad car, LeClerc seemed to make a startling admission, captured by the squad&aposs video system: “Oh God, Oh God, I killed Rob. I killed him.”
Paul LeClerc screams and cries in the back of the squad after police responded to his home. (Supplied)
Police went to the Anderson home before dawn to notify Robbie’s parents, Bob and Sandy.
When Bob and Sandy Anderson saw their son’s body at the hospital, they noticed his bloody nose and bruising on his face.
The Anderson’s say their son’s friends, LeClerc and Scouton, provided few answers.
“The only thing they told us was that he stopped breathing and there wasn’t too much else, they didn’t want to go into anything,” Bob said.
When Fox 9 reported on the case 10 years ago, a reporter received the same response from LeClerc when she asked him what happened that night: “He stopped breathing, that’s it. I really don’t want to talk about it. I wish you𠆝 be on your way.”
AN UNEXPLAINED DEATH
The autopsy report doesn’t answer the parents’ questions, either.
Robbie’s blood alcohol was point 15, he was acutely intoxicated, but not enough to cause his death.
Besides a prescription antacid, there were no drugs in his system.
There were signs of blunt force soft tissue damage to the right side of his head, but again, the medical examiner said, likely not fatal.
His heart tissue was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to check for any genetic disorders, and the results all came back negative.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner ruled it was a “sudden unexplained death.”
Maple Grove Police submitted the case for possible manslaughter charges, however, Hennepin County prosecutors declined, writing: “There is no evidence to suggest any unlawful conduct of the suspects related to the cause of his death.”
They also wrote that LeClerc’s episode in the squad: “… could be interpreted as either expressions of concern or as expressions of guilt.”
Prosecutors added: “In the final analysis, the cause and manner of death remain undetermined. Without this information we cannot charge anybody with causing his death.”
To this day the Andersons are filled with grief, and are left to wonder what happened to their son.
“We have been walking around for ten years. Three of us died that night. The two of us just haven’t stopped breathing, yet,” Bob said.
A GRAVE REQUEST
Earlier this year, when visiting Robbie at the cemetery, they noticed another grave site and a name they knew, Antonio DeMeules.
The Anderson’s had seen a Fox 9 Investigators story about DeMeules, killed while riding his skateboard and how his aunt, Sheila Potocnik, found missing clues detectives overlooked, that led to charges against the driver who fled the scene.
The Andersons wrote a letter and left it on DeMeules’ grave.
A portion of it read: “We would like you to know you are not alone in your grief. We lost our son almost 9 years ago and haven’t received any answers to his cause of death.”
“I asked them if they could point me in the direction, if they could help me find out what actually happened to my son,” Sandy said.
Potocnik received the letter, but didn’t know if she could offer assistance.
“It took me a few months for me to get back to them. I was taken aback. I wanted to help, but not every case is like Antonio’s case.”
As she had done before with her nephew’s case, Potocnik meticulously went through the police file, the crime scene reports, detectives’ notes, and interviews.
“The majority of the information that I shared with them (the parents) they had no idea,” Potocnik said.
The Andersons had never heard the 911 call and they didn’t know about LeClerc’s episode in the squad car where he said he killed Rob.
Potocnik was struck by the inconsistent stories LeClerc and Scouton gave detectives just hours after Robbie died.
THE POLICE INTERVIEWS
LeClerc was interviewed in jail.
LeClerc told detectives: “He laid down and watched a movie, and he got up and threw up and I was sitting there in the sink in the basement. And he laid down and he was still breathing and everything, and all of sudden we noticed he wasn’t breathing.”
Detective: 𠇍id he say anything to you guys when he got up?”
LeClerc: “No, he just got up and puked.”
Detectives sounded skeptical.
Detective: 𠇋oth my partner and I have, we’ve talked to a lot of people so far, and some of your story’s not adding up.”
Detectives had a more detailed story from Scouton, who said after Robbie passed out on the bed, they began “messing with him.”
Scouton: 𠇊nd basically just made a mountain of clothing and shoes on top of him, put a blanket over him.”
“I’m sitting there flicking him in the head wake up, wake up, wake up. ਊnd he kinda wakes up, ‘screw you’ and pushing the s—t off of him and he gets up and then, you know, hold on, you need to throw up? It’s like alright and he’s not moving and he’s not getting off the bed, really.”
In a departure from LeClerc’s account, Scouton said they actually carried Robbie into the laundry room and placed him over a utility sink to throw up.
Scouton: “Paul’s on the right side hitting him on the side of the head trying to you know wake up, wake up, and trying to puke and stuff.”
“He’s sitting there like pushing his head, shaking his head, and I’m like, I think you might of hit, he must, he had to have hit his nose on the faucet or something, cuz like I said, after that his nose was starting to bleed.”
LeClerc didn’t mention any of that in his statement to police, but in a second interview he admitted to striking Robbie in the face a half dozen times, with an open and closed hand.
Detective to LeClerc: “Okay. Can you explain how there’s blood on the sheets then?”
LeClerc: ”I was (inaudible) trying to wake him up.”
Detective: “Punching him like pretty hard?”
LeClerc: “I was just trying to wake him up.”
Detective: 𠇋y slapping, open hand or did you…?”
Detective: “Okay. Now was there any type of argument or anything that, because it seems like if you were going to wake somebody up you𠆝 just kind of, ‘hey, you knucklehead come on.’”
LeClerc: “No, the reason (inaudible) is because he wasn’t waking up.”
To Potocnik, the statements were riddled with inconsistencies.
“How LeClerc is admitting his physical role in this, the punches, how Scouton is discussing how Rob just lays down and he goes to put a mountain of items on is body,” she said.
And during that frantic 911 call, LeClerc and Scouton later admit they were hiding the bottles of vodka.
LeClerc lawyered up and stopped talking to detectives. His attorney offered that LeClerc could speak with detectives, but would need immunity from prosecution.
And the story is still changing to this day. ਊ couple months ago, a friend communicating with LeClerc on Facebook messenger, asked him to remind her what happened that night.
LeClerc wrote: “I woke up as he was turning blue laying on the bed. I tried to do the Heimlich to make him puke, accidentally dropped him. And started CPR til the police showed up. Had to stop CPR to call the police because Matt was in freakout mode.”
STILL NO ANSWERS
LeClerc and Scouton have both moved from Minnesota, but both were back recently for a funeral.
The Fox 9 Investigators approached them: tween the two of you, you know what happened and that is all Bob and Sandy want to know. You can imagine being in their position, right? Waiting 10 years and not having any answers?"
“I have gone into great detail with Sandy many times,” Scouton replied.
The Fox 9 Investigators: “That&aposs very different from what Sandy has told me. She says she never heard an explanation.”
“That is false, that will be all.” Scouton said, ending the interview.
“He said Robbie stopped breathing and that was about it,” Bob said after watching the interview.
“Just sort of shocking,” Sandy responded.
“Shocking the way they have no answers. The arrogance of both of them, actually,” Bob said.
Looking at this case 10 years later, Potocnik and the Anderson’s thought police, prosecutors, and the medical examiner never really got the big picture. Never saw the inconsistencies in the various accounts.
The Andersons and Potocnik approached the doctor who conducted the autopsy ten years ago, and he agreed to review the case. In a statement to the Fox 9 Investigators the Hennepin County Medical Examiner said they recently reviewed all the available information, but the cause of death remains “undetermined.”
“Should additional material develop that points to a more clear cause or manner of death in this case, the Medical Examiner can always amend the cause and/or manner of death on the death certificate,” the statement read.
Maple Grove Police also met with the family, a couple weeks ago, including the same detectives who originally worked the case.
“I feel more positive than I have in a long time,” Sandy Anderson said after coming out of the meeting.
Maple Grove Police told the Fox 9 Investigators they have “received new information,” and the case is “open and active.”
704 UNDETERMINED DEATHS
Through the cloud of alcohol and time, Robbie’s parents may never know exactly what happened in that basement.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner determined Robbie Anderson’s cause of death was a “sudden unexplained death.” The manner of death (homicide, suicide, accident) was listed as “undetermined.”
He is not the first undermined death, The Fox 9 Investigators discovered he is one of 704 undetermined deaths, ruled by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, in the last decade. Many of those cases appear to be deaths in hospital settings or drug overdoses.
“It is the first thing I see when I wake up and the last thing when I close my eyes. And when I wake up out of a sleep that is what I see is my wonderful son gone,” Sandy said.
The Andersons have never cleared out Robbie’s room in the basement of their townhouse.
“I can’t get rid of anything, can’t go through anything,” Sandy said. “This will stay like this till we die or move.”
There’s a partially restored Buick Regal in the garage that Bob and Robbie worked on before Robbie’s death. Ten years later, it’s untouched, as if time had not gone by.
“Love everything about my son and everything he touched is a treasure to us, Bob said. “I can’t get rid of it, it’s his.”
If anyone has further information relating to this case, contact the Maple Grove Police at 763-494-6184.
Briefly: Militants kill a marine and an Afghan soldier
KABUL — A U.S. marine and an Afghan soldier were killed during battles with militants in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. military officials said Friday.
Four Afghan soldiers were wounded in the clash Thursday in Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. The forces were conducting operations ahead of legislative elections next month, which Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt.
Also Thursday, two U.S. soldiers were killed when a homemade bomb hit an American convoy supporting crews working on a road from the southern city of Kandahar to its outlying mountains. Twosoldiers were wounded, themilitary said. (AP)
Havel urges support for Belarus democracy
Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president, and several other dignitaries called on the European Union, the United States and other democratic countries Friday to adopt a common strategy to support pro-democracy forces in Belarus.
In a statement entitled "The Last Totalitarian Country in Europe," Havel and others condemned the rule of President Alexander Lukashenko and his authoritarian government for abusing "basic human and citizens' rights" on a "daily basis." (AP)
Vigil leader leaves camp after mother has stroke
Cindy Sheehan, the woman who is camped out near President George W. Bush's ranch to protest the death of her son in Iraq, has temporarily left the site to be with her mother, who suffered a stroke.
In a statement issued Thursday, Sheehan said her mother, Shirley Miller, 74, was in a hospital emergency room in Los Angeles.
Sheehan said she would return to Texas as soon as possible, and that while she was gone mothers of others killed in Iraq would keep pressure on Bush and continue to demand a meeting with him. They also say they want all U.S. troops immediately withdrawnfrom Iraq.(NYT)
Police hold key suspect in deadly resort blast
Egyptian police officers have detained a suspect who they assert was behind the deadly attacks last month in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, an Interior Ministry official said Friday.
Hassan el-Arishi was arrested Thursday at a house in the northern Sinai Peninsula, the official said on condition of anonymity.
He had been using identity documents that the police said belonged to a farmer in the Nile Delta, the official said.(AP)
Military drills advance to 'practical phase'
Chinese and Russian commanders on Friday began the "practical phase" of their first-ever joint military exercises, creating a combined unit that will stage a landing on a Chinese peninsula to practice stabilizing a fictional country.
The chiefs of staff from both militaries departed early Friday from Vladivostok to return to their capitals after inaugurating the drills Thursday, a spokesman at Russia's Pacific Fleet command said on condition of anonymity.
The exercises, which end next week, involve about 10,000 troops. Most of them are Chinese and about 1,800 are Russian.(AP)
ANKARA:A Kurdish rebel group fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey on Friday announced a unilateral, one-month cease-fire and said it planned to pursue indirect negotiations with Ankara. The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, said it was ordering its forces to hold fire from Saturday until Sept. 20 - a dramatic step following ambushes of Turkish troops in the southeast as well as a string ofbombings at Aegean resorts.(AP)
AMSTERDAM:The Dutch Agriculture Ministry on Friday ordered all commercial poultry farmers to bring their fowl indoors by Monday to prevent them from catching Avian flu from wild birds. The decision followed reports from the Russian government that a strain of bird flu was moving westward and was likely to reach Europe.(AP)
Does Absinthe Really Cause Hallucinations?
When absinthe — also known as the Green Fairy — was banned in France, Switzerland, the United States and many other countries in the early 1900s, it had become associated with illicit behavior. In fact, it was accused of turning children into criminals, encouraging loose morals and inspiring murders. That regular old alcohol received similar treatment during the Prohibition period in the United States turns out to be pretty apropos: We now know that properly manufactured absinthe — an anise-flavored, alcoholic drink — is no more dangerous than any other properly prepared liquor.
What about the tales of hallucinations, Oscar Wilde and his tulips, family massacres and instant death? Not absinthe's fault, technically speaking. Absinthe does have a very high alcohol content — anywhere between 55 and 75 percent alcohol by volume, which equates to about 110 to 144 proof. It makes whiskey's standard 40 percent (80 proof) seem like child's play, which is why absinthe is supposed to be diluted. Absinthe is not a hallucinogen rather its alcohol content and herbal flavor set it apart from other liquors.
Traditional absinthe is made of anise, fennel and wormwood (a plant), and various recipes add other herbs and flowers to the mix. The anise, fennel and wormwood are soaked in alcohol, and the mixture is then distilled. The distillation process causes the herbal oils and the alcohol to evaporate, separating from the water and bitter essences released by the herbs. The fennel, anise and wormwood oils then recondense with the alcohol in a cooling area, and the distiller dilutes the resulting liquid down to whatever proof the absinthe is supposed to be (based on brand variations or regional laws). At this point, the absinthe is clear many manufacturers add herbs to the mixture after distillation to get the classic green color from their chlorophyll.
The chemical that's taken all the blame for absinthe's hallucinogenic reputation is called thujone, which is a component of wormwood. In very high doses, thujone can be toxic. It is a GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) inhibitor, meaning it blocks GABA receptors in the brain, which can cause convulsions if you ingest enough of it. It occurs naturally in many foods, but never in doses high enough to hurt you. And there's not enough thujone in absinthe to hurt you, either. By the end of the distillation process, there is very little thujone left in the product. In the U.S., thujone levels in absinthe are capped at 10 milligrams per liter, while absinthe in Europe may have 35 milligrams per liter. Modern science has estimated that a person drinking absinthe would die from alcohol poisoning long before he or she were affected by the thujone. And there is no evidence at all that thujone can cause hallucinations, even in high doses.
In view of modern analysis of the drink and its ingredients, any absinthe-related deaths can most likely be attributed to alcoholism, alcohol poisoning or drinking the cheap stuff, which, like moonshine, can have poisonous additives in it. Do not buy absinthe from some guy in an alley — you're looking at the same dangers you'd face drinking moonshine sold off the back of a truck. And unless you have a distiller in your garage, those make-it-yourself kits sold on the internet are going to help you create a really terrible tasting liquor-soaked-herb beverage, not absinthe.
For the record, that man who killed his family in Switzerland in 1905, spurring a whole slew of absinthe bans and even a constitutional amendment, was under the influence of absinthe — which he'd been drinking since he woke up that morning and throughout the rest of the day (and the day before that and the day before that). And Oscar Wilde? Well, no doubt the poet did see tulips on his legs as he walked out into the morning light after a night of drinking absinthe at a local bar — chalk it up to creative license.
Absinthe is now perfectly legal in every country in which alcohol is legal. In 2007, the United States lifted its 100-year-long ban. So once again European distillers are importing the Green Fairy stateside, and once again mixologists and absinthe enthusiasts are debating whether the newest version is truly authentic [source: Time].
Can You Really Drink Yourself Blind?
For the sake of your optic nerve, beware what you drink
A New Zealand man recently went blind after drinking lots of vodka while on diabetes medication. Thankfully, doctors were able to restore his sight by administering him Johnnie Walker Black Label whiskey. Can you really drink yourself blind?
If you’re drinking moonshine, yes. Although alcohol that’s properly manufactured and regulated does not by itself cause blindness, people sometimes do go blind from drinking bootleg beverages. One common concern with moonshine is lead poisoning, which has been linked to blindness. Since moonshine is unregulated, it has sometimes been manufactured using lead pipes, lead soldering, or even car radiators, which can contain high levels of lead. A 2003 study found that more than half of moonshine drinkers have enough lead in their bloodstream to exceed what the CDC calls a “level of concern.” However, most manufacturers of moonshine these days are aware of this danger and will avoid using lead in their distilling process.
Today the most common cause of blindness from drinking is methanol. Methanol, otherwise known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol, can damage the optic nerve and even kill you in high concentrations. During Prohibition, bootleggers were known to sell moonshine that contained methanol, and the practice continues abroad. Some bootleggers add methanol in order to increase the hooch’s potency or to mask when it’s been watered down. (Methanol has a strong taste and smell, though with modern manufacturing methods it’s not always as noticeable as it was before the 20 th century.) Some people will drink products that contain methanol—including antifreeze, paint thinner, and other denatured alcohol products—in pursuit of a cheap buzz. As little as 4 milliliters of methanol has been known to cause blindness, and as little as 30 to 60 milliliters has been reported to kill drinkers. A more common lethal dose would be 70 to 100 milliliters. A 1922 report by the National Committee for the Prevention of Blindness documented that during the first half of that year, wood alcohol caused 130 deaths and 22 cases of blindness, though the group warned that there must have been many more cases that were hidden from authorities.
Methanol continues to cause occasional outbreaks of blindness among moonshine-drinkers abroad. In 1989, the New York Times reported that 125 people died in India after drinking moonshine. Many victims complained of blindness among other symptoms after drinking the illegal booze but avoided going to the hospital for fear of being arrested. In 2011, several Russian tour guides were killed after consuming bootleg alcohol on a trip through Turkey, and police reportedly found methanol in the whiskey sold on the yacht. In September, the Czech government became concerned with bootleg liquor after cheap methanol-tainted spirits left 20 people dead and at least one man blind.
The phrase blind drunkdoesn’t derive from either methanol- or lead-related blindness. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase has been used for more than 350 years to refer to the more figurative meaning of being “so intoxicated as to see no better than a blind man.” (The Spanish ciego, for blind, can also be used to mean “very drunk.”) Similar phrases, including blind-wearyand blind-hearted, have been used in English for about a millennium.
Bonus Explainer: If you drink yourself blind, can you really be cured by drinking whiskey? Yes. Methanol poisoning occurs when your body metabolizes dangerous quantities of methanol, resulting in too much acid in the blood. This acid can then damage or kill cells in the optic nerve. However, the body prefers ethanol (regular drinking alcohol) to methanol, so drinking whiskey or other unadulterated liquor can help prevent the body from metabolizing more methanol. No one who suffers from methanol poisoning should self-medicate with whiskey. If you suspect you’ve consumed methanol, you should call poison control immediately. But if you go to the hospital, don’t be surprised if the doctor tries to cure you with a few shots of the hard stuff.
How the free press worldwide is under threat
From Mexico to Malta, attacks on journalists and publishers have proved deadly to individuals and chilling to broader freedoms. And now Covid-19 is being used as an excuse to silence more voices. By Gill Phillips
Last modified on Wed 3 Jun 2020 10.37 BST
J ust after 7am on the morning of 23 March 2017, journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea, a 54-year-old mother of three, was driving her 14-year-old son to school in the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, when a man walked up to her car and shot her eight times. According to reports, her son was not injured, but Breach died on the way to hospital.
The Mexican newspaper la Jornada reported that a cardboard note was found at the scene of the murder, which read: “For being a snitch. You’re next, Governor – El 80.” According to Mexican police, “El 80” was Carlos Arturo Quintana, son of the leader of an organised crime syndicate known as La Línea, which in its heyday controlled one of the lucrative smuggling routes for the supply and transfer of drugs from Colombia to the US. Three days before Breach was murdered, Quintana’s father had been killed in a confrontation between rival gangs.
Breach worked for la Jornada and for the regional paper Norte de Ciudad Juarez, covering politics and crime she had also set up her own news agency, Mir. She had reported extensively on the links between organised crime and politicians in Chihuahua state. On 4 March 2016, Breach wrote in la Jornada about the alleged criminal connections of mayoral candidates in several small towns in western Chihuahua. Breach had received threats to her life on at least three occasions as a result of her reporting. In October 2016, she had told a meeting of the Federal Mechanism for Journalists and Human Rights Defenders that she had been threatened. Nevertheless, on the day she was killed, she had no protection.
A protest in Mexico City after the murder of Miroslava Breach in 2017. Photograph: Daniel Cardenas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Breach’s story is not an isolated one. She was one of six journalists killed in Mexico in 2017 more than 150 journalists have been killed there since 2000, 22 of them in the state of Chihuahua. In 2019, according to data compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Mexico had the seventh-highest number of unsolved murders of journalists in the world, behind Somalia, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, the Philippines and Afghanistan. On 18 May this year, gunmen killed the owner of a newspaper, Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos, and one of the policemen assigned to protect him, following earlier threats. Armenta, who is at least the third journalist to be murdered in Mexico in 2020, was attacked in broad daylight while leaving a restaurant.
According to the World Press Freedom Index for 2020, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and released in March, journalists in Mexico face a dire situation: “Collusion between officials and organized crime poses a grave threat to journalists’ safety and cripples the judicial system at all levels. Journalists who cover sensitive political stories or organized crime are warned, threatened and often gunned down in cold blood.”
A ttacks on journalists around the world take many forms, some of which are sanctioned in law. Legal or quasi-legal mechanisms include the use of civil or criminal legal actions, covert surveillance, overt censorship and financial threats (such as withdrawing state advertising), as well as more direct intimidation and threats.
In recent years, another way of silencing journalists has proliferated: the use of what are known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, or Slapps, where defamation or criminal lawsuits are brought with the intention of shutting down forms of expression such as peaceful protest or writing blogs. Originally regarded as an American legal mechanism, such lawsuits are now fairly widespread in Europe. Before she was killed in 2017, the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was facing around 40 libel lawsuits filed by companies, government officials and individuals, which were described by her son Matthew as a “never-ending type of torture”.
Věra Jourová, the vice-president of the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, has been working on introducing protections against Slapp lawsuits, the defence of which can cost individuals a fortune and tie up their time and resources. Justin Borg-Barthet, a legal academic at Aberdeen University, has called for EU law to be changed to prevent “forum shopping” to countries with claimant-friendly laws, so that defamation suits would have to be filed in the courts of the country where the media organisation or journalist was based. Slapp lawsuits are commonly used against journalists investigating government corruption or exposing corporate abuses, but are also used against civil society organisations, activists such as environmental campaigners, trade unionists and academics, to shut down or silence acts of criticism and protest.
In France, media organisations and NGOs have been hit with what they view as Slapp suits for publishing accusations of land-grabbing from villagers and farmers in Cameroon by companies associated with the Bolloré Group. In the UK, fracking companies including Ineos, UK Oil & Gas, Cuadrilla, IGas and Angus Energy have since 2017 sought and been granted wide-ranging court injunctions, often directed against persons unknown, to prevent protests and campaigning activities at drilling sites. These injunctions had a chilling effect on the right to protest and free speech, until the court of appeal ruled in April 2019 that parts of an Ineos injunction prohibiting protests on the public highway and against the Ineos supply chain, and which had been used as a template for similar orders granted to other oil and gas companies, were unlawful.
Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered by a car bomb in 2017. Photograph: Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters
Alongside Slapp suits, there are more traditional ways to keep journalists quiet. More than 150 countries retain some sort of criminal defamation laws, many of which include the possibility of imprisonment. Blasphemy and insult laws remain commonplace in many countries, and are often used by politicians and government officials against any critical media. A number of countries including Turkey and Egypt have expansive definitions of “terrorism” that allow them to arrest and detain anyone who voices political dissent or opposition, including journalists.
In countries such as Hungary and Poland, governments and political allies exercise quasi-legal control of public information. Media owners can be pressured on what content to publish by threats to limit access to finance and advertising revenues.
Separately, the lack of legal protections for journalists against those who attack them acts as a strong deterrent. Impunity fuels a vicious cycle of violence, bolstering those who aim to silence public debate and block sensitive information.
In 2013, the UN published a plan of action on the safety of journalists, and the problem of impunity for perpetrators. The plan provides a framework for co-operation between UN bodies, national authorities, media actors and NGOs. Spearheaded through Unesco, the plan was incorporated into the Declaration of the Council of Europe in April 2014, and in guidelines published by the EU soon after. In April 2016, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors.
By the end of 2018, the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, set up to record information on serious concerns about media freedom and the safety of journalists in Council of Europe (CoE) member states, had registered more than 500 alerts, with year-on-year rises of incidents in every year except 2017. Nearly half of all alerts are marked as category 1, covering the most severe and damaging violations of media freedom, such as murder, direct threats to life and physical assaults. The majority of threats came from the state, with physical attacks and detentions making up nearly half the alerts. Since 2015, only 11% of all alerts have been marked as resolved, a figure that goes down to 1.82% for alerts entered in 2018. Interviews with journalists echo these statistics. In 2017, a study that interviewed 940 journalists from all CoE member states found that a staggering 40% of them had suffered slander.
According to a May 2020 report by Peter Noorlander on the implementation of the 2016 CoE recommendation, attacks against journalists remain insufficiently investigated, and a very high percentage of incidents go unpunished. “Journalists have little confidence that attacks or threats against them will be investigated, and often do not report them,” the report said. “This has a grave effect on them, and many no longer report attacks but instead self-censor and shy away from potentially controversial issues … [CoE] Member States have committed to creating an enabling environment for freedom of expression, yet, what journalists experience on the ground is increased violence, threats, denigration, arbitrary arrests and detention.”
S ome of the most high-profile cases of attacks against the media in the last few years have involved journalists in countries where neither democracy nor the rule of law is respected. Many of the more recent attacks have been perpetrated or encouraged by heads of state.
They include cases such as the politically sponsored harassment of Philippines journalist Maria Ressa, the editor of Rappler, a social news network. Under Ressa, the site has revealed the activities of the online “troll army” that supports the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte and spreads disinformation about his opponents. Rappler has also reported critically on extrajudicial killings, human-rights violations and the rising death rates from Duterte’s war on drugs. The law suits that would follow were presaged during Duterte’s state of the union speech in July 2017, when he declared that Rappler was “fully owned” by the Americans, and therefore in violation of the constitution.
In January 2018, the Philippine securities and exchange commission revoked Rappler’s licence. The government then investigated Rappler for tax evasion, and a warrant for Ressa’s arrest was issued in November 2018. In February 2019, Ressa and Rappler were hit with another lawsuit alleging libel relating to a story published in 2012, using a law enacted four months after the story was published.
Other infamous cases of state-sponsored crimes against journalists include the brutal murder, on 2 October 2018, of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The CIA have concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the journalist’s assassination. On 19 July 2019, the office of the UNHCR released a report describing Khashoggi’s death as “premeditated extra judicial execution”.
In many western countries, there is a risk that intimidation and violence against the media is becoming normalised. On Czech election day in October 2017, Czech president Miloš Zeman held up a mock assault rifle with an inscription that was translated as “At journalists”. Donald Trump has regularly shouted at and abused journalists, and a BBC camera operator was violently shoved and abused at a Donald Trump rally in 2019 in May 2017, a Guardian reporter was assaulted by a Republican candidate, now an elected congressman. Most recently there have been threats against reporter Glenn Greenwald from the far-right government of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. This sort of hostility towards journalists by political leaders has global as well as domestic repercussions.
Czech President Miloš Zeman holds a mock assault rifle with “At journalists” inscribed on it in October 2017. Photograph: Miroslav Chaloupka/ČTK/Alamy Stock Photo
The Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently held in HMP Belmarsh, while the UK decides if he can be extradited to the US, where he has been charged with violating the Espionage Act, and faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison if he is found guilty. As Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of the Guardian, has written, the charges against Assange are “attempting to criminalise things journalists regularly do when they receive and publish true information given to them by sources or whistleblowers”.
According to the RSF, “the next 10 years will be pivotal for press freedom because of converging crises affecting the future of journalism: a geopolitical crisis (due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes) a technological crisis (due to a lack of democratic guarantees) a democratic crisis (due to polarisation and repressive policies) a crisis of trust (due to suspicion and even hatred of the media) and an economic crisis (impoverishing quality journalism).”
It is easy to dismiss concerns about press freedom as relevant only to countries led by repressive, unelected regimes. But that would be a mistake. In 2007, Thames Valley police searched the home and office of Sally Murrer, a local journalist. “I was just pottering around doing typical local stories and in May 2007, eight police officers swooped at my home while eight swooped simultaneously at the office,” she told reporters from the Press Gazette. “They seized all my computer equipment, searched my house, phones, laptops. They took me into custody where I stayed for a couple of days, strip-searched me. I honestly had no idea [why]. They said the charge was aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office and it carried life imprisonment.
“It was only later when they interviewed me, which they did copious times, and played me tapes and showed me transcripts of texts, that I realised I had been under surveillance for the previous eight weeks. It was just a ghastly feeling.”
Thames Valley police had secretly recorded a conversation that took place between her and a police officer. Murrer was accused of receiving sensitive stories from the police officer and selling them to the News of the World. “The stories were about a local GBH committed by a footballer, and the murder of a local man where there was a link to cannabis and his wife was the secretary of the then-MP.” After 19 months, during which she had been on police bail, Murrer’s trial collapsed after the judge ruled police had breached her rights.
More recently, in August 2018, the police in Northern Ireland arrested two journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, over the alleged theft of documents from the Northern Ireland police ombudsman into the 1994 Loughinisland massacre, when members of a loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, burst into a pub with assault rifles and fired on the customers. Six were killed and five wounded. Birney and McCaffrey’s homes and offices were raided. In May 2019, three appeal judges quashed the search warrants.
Journalists Trevor Birney (left) and Barry McCaffrey in Belfast last year after judges ruled police search warrants against them illegal. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
In the US in 2019, San Francisco police officers investigating the leak of a police report following the death of a public defender, Jeff Adachi, obtained a warrant “to conduct remote monitoring on a journalist’s telephone number device, day or night, including those signals produced in public, or location not open to public or visual surveillance”. In May 2019, the police raided the journalist Bryan Carmody’s home and office, and seized computers, phones and other electronic devices. A court has now ruled that the raid was unlawful, and the San Francisco police department has reportedly paid a substantial amount of damages to the journalist.
In Australia, in June 2019, police launched raids on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sydney HQ, with search warrants naming two reporters and a news director and on the home of a News Corporation journalist. The ABC raid related to articles published in 2017 about alleged misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan, “based off hundreds of pages of secret defence documents leaked to the ABC”. The raid on the home of the News Corporation journalist was in response to a story she had written about how the Australian Signals Directorate was seeking new powers to spy on Australian citizens. In February, a court ruled the search was legitimate as the police were investigating valid national security offences. ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, described the decision as “a blow for public interest journalism” and argued that it highlighted a “serious problem” with Australia’s national security laws.
S ince the outbreak of coronavirus, protections for journalists have become more urgent than ever. According to RSF’s secretary-general, Christophe Deloire, “The coronavirus pandemic illustrates the negative factors threatening the right to reliable information, and is itself an exacerbating factor.”
“Both China and Iran censored their major coronavirus outbreaks extensively. In Iraq, the authorities stripped Reuters of its licence for three months after it published a story questioning official coronavirus figures. Even in Europe, prime minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary had a ‘coronavirus’ law passed with penalties of up to five years in prison for false information, a completely disproportionate and coercive measure.” RSF also say reporters have been arrested in Algeria, Jordan and Zimbabwe while reporting on lockdown-related issues, and that Cambodia’s prime minister has used the coronavirus crisis to bolster his authority.
In March, the Guardian journalist Ruth Michaelson was forced to leave Egypt after she reported on a scientific study that said Egypt was likely to have many more coronavirus cases than have been officially confirmed, and the New York Times Cairo bureau chief was reprimanded over supposed “bad faith” reporting on the country’s coronavirus cases. The Columbia Journalism Review, in an article entitled “Covid-19 is spawning a global press-freedom crackdown”, reported at the end of March that police in Venezuela had violently detained a journalist in reprisal for reporting on the pandemic, and that in Turkey, seven journalists were detained in reprisal for their reporting. In South Africa, the government has enacted a new law that makes it a crime to publish “disinformation” about Covid-19.
In light of the pandemic, the UK and other members of the executive group of the Media Freedom Coalition (Canada, Germany, Latvia, the Netherlands and the US), agreed a statement on 6 April 2020, reaffirming the fundamental importance of media freedom, and calling on all states to continue to protect access to free media and the free exchange of information. The statement said that the executive group were concerned by the efforts by some states to use the crisis to put in place undue restrictions on a free and independent media: “Such actions deny societies critical information on the spread of the disease and undermine trust in responsible government”. It also urged “governments to continue guaranteeing the freedom and independence of media, the safety of journalists and other media professionals, and to refrain from imposing undue restrictions in the fight against proliferation of the coronavirus”.
O n the day of the murder of Miroslava Breach Velducea in 2017, Mexico’s federal special prosecutor for crimes against freedom of expression stated that a federal investigation had begun. Seven days later, according to la Jornada, Chihuahua’s attorney general said that two suspects had been identified in the shooting, and that Breach was killed because her reporting affected the interests of organised crime.
Later that year, the finger of blame for the killing was pointed at “Los Salazares”, a criminal organisation linked to the Sinaloa cartel, led by the Mexican drug lord El Chapo, who has since been convicted in the US for trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies, and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison . A hitman linked to Los Salazares – Juan Carlos Moreno Ochoa, alias “El Larry” – was arrested by authorities on Christmas Day 2017 during an early morning raid. Surveillance cameras had captured him walking in the vicinity of the murder scene.
In March 2020, a federal court judge found Moreno guilty of overseeing the journalist’s murder. Testifying under the alias “Apolo”, the son of the leader of Los Salazares gave evidence about how his father was upset that a relative lost a mayoral election in the town of Chinipas, el Heraldo newspaper reported. The judge found that Moreno supervised the crime and enlisted the help of two other people, Jaciel Vega Villa, who allegedly drove the car to Breach’s home, and Ramón Andrés Zavala Corral, who was suspected of having fired the shots that fatally wounded her. Zavala had been found dead in December 2017, a few days before Moreno Ochoa’s arrest. Vega remains at large, a fugitive from justice.
I. Alcohol in the 19th Century
- Early in the 1800s, French chemist Jean-Autoine Chaptal recommended adding sugar to crushed grapes. He said it be either before or during fermentation. This increases the alcohol content without affecting the taste of the resulting wine. The process, which is legal in France, is Chaptalization 1
- People had accepted drunkenness as part of life in the eighteenth century. 2 But the nineteenth century brought a change in attitudes as a result of increasing industrialization. This created the need for a reliable and punctual work force. 3 Employers wanted self-discipline instead of self-expression. They wanted task orientation in place of relaxed conviviality. It followed that drunkenness was a threat to industrial efficiency and growth.
- In Australia, spirits drinking dominated the colonial period in the absence of a native brewing or distilling industry. There were also technical difficulties in importing any alcohol other than spirits. Consequently Australians developed a local brewing industry. In addition there were improvements in the transportation of beer. This led to the transition from a spirits-drinking to a beer-drinking culture in the late 1800s. 4
- In the early nineteenth century the consumption of spirits dominated drinking in the U.S. 5
- The continuous still made the distilling process cheaper and easier to control. 6
- ‘The mid-1800s witnessed the birth of the first temperance movement in Poland. Polish temperance combined religion and national character. 7
- “Until the mid-nineteenth century, virtually all sparkling wine was sweet.'” 8
- People blamed alcohol for problems caused by industrialization and urbanization. Thus, they blamed it for problems such as urban crime, poverty and high infant mortality. However, gross overcrowding and unemployment contributed greatly to these problems. 9
- People also blamed alcohol for more and more personal, social and religious/moral problems. And not only was it enough to prevent drunkenness. Any consumption of alcohol was unacceptable. Groups that began by promoting temperance – the moderate use of alcorhol – became prohibitionists. They demanded the prohibition of beverage alcohol. This was a major event for alcohol in the 19th Century. 10
- Until the 1870s schnaps, a distilled spirit, was a part of wages in Denmark. 11
- In the 1890, the movement for the independence of India began. It combined nationalism with prohibition goals. 12
- In the 1890s, an influential temperance movement developed in Iceland. 13
German police bust gang suspected of smuggling Syrians from Turkey and GreeceRefugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are seen inside a new temporary camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Elias Marcou
German police arrested 19 people believed to be Syrian, Lebanese and Libyan on suspicion of smuggling migrants into Germany, mostly from Syria.
Prosecutors in the southern state of Bavaria said the suspects, aged between 21 and 44, were a professional gang who brought migrants to Germany in vans using the so-called Balkan route from Turkey and Greece to Austria.
The suspected smugglers, who face charges of human trafficking, had since at least April 2019 brought to Germany about 140 migrants in exchange for large sums of money, the prosecutors said.
Germany is home to more than 800,000 Syrians who fled the civil war in their country. Their numbers peaked in 2015, when a record of one million people entered Germany seeking asylum.
Thousands of Syrian live in refugee camps in Greece , Turkey and Lebanon, where many dream of a new life in Europe, making those who have money easy prey for smugglers.
Federal police discovered the gang in August 2019 when smugglers driving migrants in vans were arrested on a highway in the south on the border with Austria.
Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as Europol were involved in an investigation that led to the arrest of the gang’s chief in Austria in December. Germany is seeking his extradition.
More than 400 police officers and investigators took part in Tuesday’s raids in the German states of Berlin, Lower Saxony, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia. (Reuters)
Epilogue: The Age of Ambivalence
Following repeal, alcohol sales helped pay our way out of the Great Depression.
“A Congressman was once asked by a constituent to explain his attitude toward whiskey. “If you mean the demon drink that poisons the mind, pollutes the body, desecrates family life and inflames sinners, then I’m against it,” the Congressman said. “But if you mean the elixir of Christmas cheer, the shield against winter chill, the taxable potion that puts needed funds into public coffers to comfort little crippled children, then I’m for it. This is my position, and I will not compromise.”—Popular anecdote.
The Decline of Temperance
Prohibition killed temperance.
“Choate and others in the Roosevelt coalition were by no means sure that their liquor control policies would prove popular over time. Acclaim for repeal let them set to work amid a burst of popular support—but what would happen if this initial enthusiasm cooled? Many wets frankly predicted a continuing fight with the prohibitionists: The magnitude of the proliquor triumph was not entirely apparent even by the late 1930s.”
Efforts to revitalize temperance as a patriotic measure during World War II “fell on deaf ears.” The ASL’s call for a new constiutional prohibition in the forties never got off the ground. The WCTU, by the mid-sixties, was down to about 250,000, “a number that has risen slightly since then.” The ASL struggles on as the National Council on Alcohol Problems, “but with few members.”
The Return of “the Traffic”
Taxes are apparently a good way to deal with the problems of drug use—as long as we’re willing to collect them.
“The national government estimated that its $2.60 per gallon tax on distilled liquor would bring in close to $500 million a year. The windfall went largely to fund depression relief projects under the National Industrial Recovery Act.”
After personal and corporate income taxes, levies on alcohol are the largest single source of federal revenue today.
Drinking in Modern America
I wonder how much it would cost nowadays to re-enact and enforce alcohol prohibition? It would, I suspect, dwarf prohibition of little drugs like marijuana and probably even cocaine.
“There was, in fact, no dramatic post-repeal increase in annual per capita consumption, which rose only slowly from approximately one gallon of absolute alcohol per capita in 1934 to roughtly 1.5 gallons in 1941. The figure then climbed to pre-Volstead levels of about two gallons per capita (1916-1919) by the mid-1940s.”
“Trends in beverage preferences since repeal reflect a gradual shift toward distilled spirits at the expense of beer.”
“Annual financial losses attributed directly or indirectly to alcoholism and problem drinking have climbed to some $43 billion—roughly $13 billion in health care costs, $20 billion in lost production, $5 billion in traffic accidents, $2 billion in social attempts to deal with drinking-related problems, $3 billion in violent crime, and another $430 million in fire losses.”
The Posttemperance Response
Saying that Alcoholics Anonymous is more impressive than other approaches doesn’t say much unless we know how well these other treatments work.
“One of the most notable efforts [to help alcoholics] was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an organization with an unlikely beginning. William Wilson, an alcoholic stockbroker, and Dr. Robert Smith, a besotted surgeon, met in Akron , Ohio, in 1935 by coincidence. They spoke at length about their drinking problems and of the notion that they suffered from a disease. The two men concluded that they were powerless in the face of alcohol—and so was any other alcoholic. Resolving to help one another remain sober, “Bill W.” And “Dr. Bob” then carried their message of self-help and hope to other alcoholics…. the name Alcoholics Anonymous was adopted in 1939.”
“AA has consistently produced more impressive results than any other alcoholism treatment approach.”
Briefly: Fast appeal demanded for condemned nurses - Europe - International Herald Tribune
The Bulgarian government insisted Friday on a speedy appeal for five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor sentenced to death in an AIDS case in Libya.
Libya, meanwhile, denounced Western criticism of the case, saying it was politically motivated and biased against Muslim values.
Diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Libya have been strained since 1999, when the medical workers were jailed on charges that they had intentionally spread HIV to more than 400 children at a hospital in Benghazi during what Libya asserts was a botched experiment to find a cure for AIDS. Fifty children have died, and the rest have been treated in Europe.
The tensions intensified earlier this month when the nurses and the doctor were sentenced to death despite evidence that the children had the virus before the medical workers arrived in Libya. (AP)
EU welcomes move by Turkish Cypriots
The European Union's enlargement minister welcomed on Friday a decision by the Turkish Cypriot leadership to tear down a footbridge in Nicosia that has been seen as an obstacle to efforts to reunite the Cypriot capital's commercial district.
Nicosia is divided by a UN- patrolled buffer zone. One of the city's main thoroughfares linking the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities was Ledra Street, in the city's main shopping area, but a 60-meter, or 195-foot, section of that street is in the buffer zone and has been closed for more than 40 years.
The EU enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, said on Friday he hoped that the announcement by Turkish Cypriots would "lead to the rapid start of the necessary works to allow for the opening of a crossing-point there as soon as possible." (AP)
RIO DE JANEIRO: More police officers patrolled the streets and bus routes were cut back Friday as Rio de Janeiro reeled from a day of gang violence that killed 19 people. Tourism officials expressed concern that Brazil's image — and revenue — could suffer from the attacks Thursday, in which drug gangs set fire to buses and opened fire on police stations. (AP)
YEREVAN, Armenia: Security officers in Armenia have detained a man who the allege was part of a coup plot by opposition activists, officials said Friday. The suspect, Vaan Aronian, was arrested at his home in the village of Lusatar in western Armenia, where security officers found weapons and ammunition, the National Security Service said in a statement. It said the detention was linked to an inquiry that led to the arrest this month of two men who are accused of plotting a coup. They have denied the charges. (AP)
PRAGUE: The Czech authorities on Friday charged a Russian man with endangering security when he tried to hijack an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Geneva, and said he could face up to 15 years in jail. The man's name was not released. He has been held in Prague where the Russian Airbus A320 made an emergency landing Thursday. (Reuters)
LOS ANGELES: The former antiquities curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum has asserted that the institution is trying to make her the scapegoat in a looting case that has resulted in agreements to return 30 contested works to Greece and Italy. In a letter to the J. Paul Getty Trust that was obtained by The Los Angeles Times, the ex-curator, Marion True, asserted last week that her superiors were aware of the risks of buying antiquities and had approved the acquisitions. True is on trial in Rome on charges of trafficking looted objects. Greece has also began legal action against her. (AP)