Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to walk free in coming days

Public prosecutor orders release of former president as early as tomorrow following court acquittal.
Hosni Mubarak ruled for 30 years until 2011 [File: Mohamed Hossam/EPA]-Hosni Mubarak ruled for 30 years until 2011 [File: Mohamed Hossam/EPA]-
Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown as president of Egypt in an uprising in 2011, will be released from detention in a military hospital after a six-year legal battle over accusations of involvement in the killing protesters.

"He will go to his home in Heliopolis," Mubarak's lawyer Farid el-Deeb said, adding the ageing former president would likely be released Tuesday or soon after, but would be barred from leaving the country pending an ongoing corruption investigation.

The prosecutor's decision came on Monday, days after an appeals court acquitted Mubarak on March 2 of involvement in the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising that ousted him.
His acquittal, which is final, has angered relatives of those killed in 2011.   

"Our son's blood was spilled for nothing," said Mostafa Morsi, whose son was shot dead aged 22 on January 28, 2011.

The president who ruled for 30 years was accused of inciting the deaths of protesters during the 18-day revolt, in which about 850 people were killed as police clashed with demonstrators.

Mubarak, 88, was sentenced to life in 2012, but an appeals court ordered a retrial, which dismissed the charges two years later.

Amid public anger, prosecutors had levelled various charges against Mubarak following his February 2011 resignation.

In January 2016, the appeals court upheld a three-year prison sentence for Mubarak and his two sons on corruption charges.

But the sentence took into account time served. Both of his sons, Alaa and Gamal, were freed.

Six years after his overthrow, most of the charges brought against his regime members have been dismissed while the country struggles to recovers from the aftermath of the uprising.

The revolt ushered in instability that drove away tourists and investors, taking a heavy toll on the economy.

Mubarak's elected Muslim Brotherhood successor, Mohamed Morsi, served for only a year before the military toppled and detained him in 2013, before launching a deadly crackdown on those who backed him.

Hundreds of Morsi's supporters were sentenced to death after speedy trials. Morsi himself has also stood trial in several cases.

Critics say that the abuses they fought under Mubarak have returned with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army chief who toppled Morsi.

Mai Mogib, a politics professor at Cairo University, said times have changed since the Middle East uprisings six-years ago.

"Talk of the Arab Spring has completely stopped," she said. But "discussing Mubarak and symbols of his era has become acceptable in the media and in the street".

"He's in a better position than all other presidents who faced the Arab Spring," Mogib said.

Sisi's pardon

Also on Monday, Sisi issued a pardon for 203 youths jailed for taking part in demonstrations against his rule, according to state news agency MENA. No official list of names was immediately available.

Since seizing power, Sisi has presided over a crackdown on his opponents that has seen hundreds killed and many thousands jailed.

Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein has been detained in Egypt without charge for more than 83 days.

Hussein, an Egyptian based in Qatar, was stopped, questioned, and detained by the Egyptian authorities on December 20 after travelling to Cairo for a holiday.

Brexit: Nicola Sturgeon plans new independence vote

Citing threat from Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon says she will move to give voters a chance to make Scotland independent.
Nicola Sturgeon will seek approval for a second Scottish independence referendum [File: Robert Perry/EPA]
Scotland's leader on Monday said she would seek authority for a new independence referendum because Britain is dragging Scotland out of the European Union against its will.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon demanded an independence referendum to be held in late 2018 or early 2019, once the terms of Britain's exit from the European Union have become clearer.

A vote that could rip apart the United Kingdom just months before Brexit adds a tumultuous twist and highly uncertain consequences to the two-year process of leaving the EU after more than four decades.

"If Scotland is to have a real choice - when the terms of Brexit are known but before it is too late to choose our own course - then that choice must be offered between the autumn of next year, 2018, and the spring of 2019," Sturgeon told reporters.

Her demand comes just as British Prime Minister Theresa May is poised to launch the Brexit process, something opposed by most Scots in last June's vote on leaving the bloc.

Ultimately it is the UK parliament in Westminster - where May commands a majority - which makes the call on whether Scotland can hold a second referendum. But if May refused to approve such a vote she could provoke a constitutional crisis.

May's government said in response to Sturgeon's announcement that it is seeking "a future partnership with the EU that works for the whole of the United Kingdom. The UK government will negotiate that agreement, but we will do so taking into account the interests of all of the nations of the UK."

The British government didn't say whether it would give approval, but said an independence ballot "would be divisive and cause huge economic uncertainty at the worst possible time".

This month, May accused Sturgeon's Scottish National Party of sacrificing not only the United Kingdom but also Scotland with its "obsession" with securing independence.

Sturgeon has previously said she wanted Scotland to be allowed to strike its own deal with the EU to keep access to the bloc's tariff-free single market. But on Monday she said her efforts had hit a "brick wall of intransigence" in London.

"If the UK leaves the EU without Scotland indicating beforehand - or at least within a short time after it - that we want a different relationship with Europe, we could face a lengthy period not just outside the EU but also the single market," she said.

Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips, reporting from London, said it remains to be seen how the battle over a new vote unfolds for Sturgeon in the coming weeks.

"You could expect quite a political fight over the timing of such a referendum, over the wording of such a referendum," said Phillips. "The initial response from Teresa May and from Downing Street has been quite damning. They are saying that this is divisive."

The results of the June 23 Brexit referendum called the future of the UK into question because England and Wales voted to leave the EU but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay, with an overall 55 percent in favour of leaving.

Scots rejected independence by 55-45 percent in a referendum in September 2014, though the vote energised Scottish politics and support for the SNP has surged since then.

Sterling rose after Sturgeon said the earliest date for a new Scottish independence referendum was in the autumn of next year. British government bond prices fell.

Recent opinion polls have shown support for independence running at close to 50 percent.

At her news conference on Monday, Sturgeon was asked if she believed she could win a second independence vote. "Yes I do. Absolutely, I believe that."

South China Sea: Japan to deploy largest warship

Izumo carrier will cruise the South China Sea with stops in Southeast Asia before heading to India for US war games.
Japan's 249-metre-long Izumo carrier can operate nine helicopters [Reuters]
Japan plans to dispatch its largest warship on a three-month tour through the South China Sea in May, three sources said, in its biggest show of naval force in the region since World War II.

The Izumo helicopter carrier, commissioned only two years ago, will make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka before joining the Malabar joint naval exercise with Indian and US naval vessels in the Indian Ocean in July, the sources told Reuters news agency.

The carrier will then return to Japan in August.

"The aim is to test the capability of the Izumo by sending it out on an extended mission," said one of the sources with knowledge of the plan.

"It will train with the US Navy in the South China Sea," he added, asking not to be identified because he is not authorised to talk to the media.

The 249-metre-long Izumo is as large as Japan's World War II-era carriers and can operate up to nine helicopters.

It resembles the amphibious assault carriers used by US Marines, but lacks their well deck for launching landing craft and other vessels.

A spokesman for Japan's Maritime Self Defence Force declined to comment.

China claims almost all the disputed waters in the South China Sea and its growing military presence has fuelled concern in Japan and the West, with the US holding regular air and naval patrols to ensure freedom of navigation.

Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Brunei also claim parts of the sea, which has rich fishing grounds, oil-and-gas deposits, and through which about $5 trillion in global sea trade passes each year.

Japan does not have any claim to the waters, but has a separate maritime dispute with China in the East China Sea.

Japan in recent years has been stretching the limits of its post-war, pacifist constitution [Reuters]

Nigeria LNG La Mancha Knutsen Escapes Pirates Attack 90 Miles of Port Harcourt

Nigeria LNG carrier La Mancha Knutsen was under attack by armed pirates near the Gulf of Guinea in an incident eight days ago, about 90 miles south of Port Harcourt in Nigeria.

Monitored from LNG World Shipping said Spain’s ministry of defence reported that a skiff containing “a group of armed pirates” approached the 2016-built, 176,300m³ vessel and fired shots at the bridge. La Mancha Knutsen’s master immediately raised the alarm, alerting the Spanish Navy, and increased the sailing speed to prevent the attackers attempting to board.

The attackers then abandoned the La Mancha Knutsen and returned to shore. The vessel was about 100 miles from shore when the incident happened.

We can confirm that there were weapons and some shots against the vessels were observed and there was an unsuccessful attempt to use a ladder near the manifold area.

“Due to quick response from the captain and his crew, by use of various helm orders, the vessel avoided a successful attack. The captain also notified the Nigerian Navy and they were on the scene after some hours.”

Vessel and crew members were unhurt and without damage or injuries in the incident.

Space Exploration: US congress approves $19.5 billion for NASA to get humans to Mars by 2033

United State Congress has passed a huge funding bill that gives NASA $19.5 billion for space exploration and has presented it to the president. The NASA Authorization Act of 2017 is focused on transforming NASA back into the great scientific organization it was during the Apollo Program. The bill authorizes NASA programs like the Space Station, deep space exploration, and asteroid redirect missions for 2017. Also included in the bill is a mandate for human space travel to Mars in 2033.

As part of the mission, Congress has asked NASA to create an “initial human exploration roadmap” by December 2017. The roadmap, which NASA has been working on for a while, is a step by step guide on how to get to Mars. It includes ever expanding stages of space travel starting with low-Earth orbit, then cislunar space, and culminating in the mission to Mars. NASA calls these stages “Earth Reliant”, “Proving Ground”, and “Earth Independent.”

The authorization report;

SEC. 435. MARS 2033 REPORT.

(a) In General.—Not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall contract with an independent, non-governmental systems engineering and technical assistance organization to study a Mars human space flight mission to be launched in 2033.

(b) Contents.—The study shall include—

(1) a technical development, test, fielding, and operations plan using the Space Launch System, Orion, and other systems to successfully launch such a Mars human space flight mission by 2033;

(2) an annual budget profile, including cost estimates, for the technical development, test, fielding, and operations plan to carry out a Mars human space flight mission by 2033; and

(3) a comparison of the annual budget profile to the 5-year budget profile contained in the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2017 under section 1105 of title 31, United States Code.

(c) Report.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report on the study, including findings and recommendations regarding the Mars 2033 human space flight mission described in subsection (a).

(d) Assessment.—Not later than 60 days after the date the report is submitted under subsection (c), the Administrator shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress an assessment by the NASA Advisory Council of whether the proposal for a Mars human space flight mission to be launched in 2033 is in the strategic interests of the United States in space exploration.

NASA has often been criticized for being slow to adapt to change and advancements in technology. They have their old ways of doing things and are traditionally very hesitant to explore new options. This has given rise to the private space industry and companies like SpaceX.

Ever since Apollo 11, NASA has had its sights set on Mars as the new final frontier. The Curiosity and 2020 rovers are key tools in discovering what resources Mars has to offer. This funding bill and Mars mandate has the space community rejoicing; and for good reason. We’re one step closer to what will arguably be the greatest event in human exploration, ever.

World Wide Web Inventor calls for crackdown on fake News

The inventor of the World Wide Web,  and British computer scientist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has raised concern on three new trends that have negatively impacted the world wide web over the years. The three major concerns are fake news, “unethical” political advertising and data mining.

Sir Berners-Lee in an open letter to mark 28 years anniversary  of the world wide web, said the misuse of data has created a “chilling effect on free speech” and warned of “internet blind spots” that are corrupting democracy.

Here is the full text of the letter

Today marks 28 years since I submitted my original proposal for the world wide web. I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries. In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open. But over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of humanity.

1)   We’ve lost control of our personal data

The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this – albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents – but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realise if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it. What’s more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data we’d rather not share – especially with third parties – the T&Cs are all or nothing.

This widespread data collection by companies also has other impacts. Through collaboration with – or coercion of – companies, governments are also increasingly watching our every move online, and passing extreme laws that trample on our rights to privacy. In repressive regimes, it’s easy to see the harm that can be caused – bloggers can be arrested or killed, and political opponents can be monitored. But even in countries where we believe governments have citizens’ best interests at heart, watching everyone, all the time is simply going too far. It creates a chilling effect on free speech and stops the web from being used as a space to explore important topics, like sensitive health issues, sexuality or religion.

2)   It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web

Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And, they choose what to show us based on algorithms which learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on – meaning that misinformation, or ‘fake news’, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases can spread like wildfire. And through the use of data science and armies of bots, those with bad intentions can game the system to spread misinformation for financial or political gain.

3)   Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

Political advertising online has rapidly become a sophisticated industry. The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data, means that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users. One source suggests that in the 2016 US election, as many as 50,000 variations of adverts were being served every single day on Facebook, a near-impossible situation to monitor. And there are suggestions that some political adverts – in the US and around the world – are being used in unethical ways – to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls. Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?

These are complex problems, and the solutions will not be simple. But a few broad paths to progress are already clear. We must work together with web companies to strike a balance that puts a fair level of data control back in the hands of people, including the development of new technology like personal “data pods” if needed and exploring alternative revenue models like subscriptions and micropayments. We must fight against government over-reach in surveillance laws, including through the courts if necessary. We must push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem, while avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is “true” or not. We need more algorithmic transparency to understand how important decisions that affect our lives are being made, and perhaps a set of common principles to be followed. We urgently need to close the “internet blind spot” in the regulation of political campaigning.

Our team at the Web Foundation will be working on many of these issues as part of our new five year strategy – researching the problems in more detail, coming up with proactive policy solutions and bringing together coalitions to drive progress towards a web that gives equal power and opportunity to all. I urge you to support our work however you can – by spreading the word, keeping up pressure on companies and governments or by making a donation. We’ve also compiled a directory of other digital rights organisations around the world for you to explore and consider supporting too.

I may have invented the web, but all of you have helped to create what it is today. All the blogs, posts, tweets, photos, videos, applications, web pages and more represent the contributions of millions of you around the world building our online community. All kinds of people have helped, from politicians fighting to keep the web open, standards organisations like W3C enhancing the power, accessibility and security of the technology, and people who have protested in the streets. In the past year, we have seen Nigerians stand up to a social media bill that would have hampered free expression online, popular outcry and protests at regional internet shutdowns in Cameroon and great public support for net neutrality in both India and the European Union.

It has taken all of us to build the web we have, and now it is up to all of us to build the web we want – for everyone.  If you would like to be more involved, then do join our mailing list, do contribute to us, do join or donate to any of the organisations which are working on these issues around the world.

Happy Family

  Aisha Buhari the wife of Nigerian president with her younger brother and her son are looking bright and beautiful.