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It turns out that among the hodge-podge of paramilitary-style officers wearing no name badges were many from the Department of Homeland Security, established after 9/11 primarily to deal with terrorism. More specifically, the officers were from the department’s Customs and Border Protection agency, which is supposed “to safeguard America’s borders” from dangerous people and materials.  

 “These tactics include deploying federal agents without identifying insignia in an apparent effort to evade transparency and accountability, snatching people off the street with no apparent reason for apprehension, and using potentially deadly munitions to harm peaceful protesters. These actions are out of control. They are more reflective of tactics of a government led by a dictator, not from the government of our constitutional democratic republic,” they wrote, adding they were “chillingly reminiscent of autocratic governments that ‘disappear’ critics and opponents.”

In Egypt, where anti-government protests are essentially banned and forced disappearances are not uncommon, thousands of people were detained at rare demonstrations last year calling for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s resignation. Rights group Amnesty International said more than 100 detained were under the age of 17, dozens of whom faced charges for being members of terrorist organizations.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly describes anti-government protesters as terrorists, and many have been jailed under anti-terror laws, along with journalists, academics and rights activists in the past two years. 
And earlier this month in Hong Kong, a 23-year-old pro-democracy protester became the first person to be prosecuted under China’s new national security law, widely seen as a way for Beijing to seize powers from the semi-autonomous city. Tong Yong-kit was charged with inciting secession and terrorist activities under the law, accused of ramming his motorbike into a group of police officers. 
China also uses its counterterrorism drive well beyond protests. It has used a secessionist movement and bouts of political violence in the autonomous Xinjiang region to justify the detention of more than 1 million people from Muslim-minority groups in “re-education camps,” according to estimates by the US State Departments and several human rights groups
It would be easy to dismiss the US President shouting “terrorist” as Trump just being Trump, but his calls for designating Antifa a terrorist organization shows he has an appetite for new counterterrorism laws to quell dissenting voices. 

Trump has blamed Antifa — short for anti-fascist, a loosely based movement with no formal leader or headquarters — for acts of violence amid largely peaceful protests. There is no legal instrument in the US to designate wholly domestic groups as terrorist organizations, yet Trump continues to insist he will have the group outlawed. 

Who is a terrorist?

Anti-terror laws have been problematic in many parts of the world, and issues often stem from the fact that there is no agreed international definition of what a terrorist is. In Turkey, academic and rights activists seen as supportive of President Erdogan’s rival-in-exile, Fethullah Gulen, have been jailed under terrorism laws. In Russia, a journalist critical of the country’s lack of civil freedoms was recently convicted of justifying terrorism.
After the 9/11 attacks, the UN Security Council passed a resolution urging its member states to devise and update laws to adequately address terrorism. But they left it to individual countries to define terrorism.
What followed was a rash of anti-terror laws that have, in many countries, been criticized for being so broad in definition, sometimes deliberately, that they essentially legalize an abuse of governmental power. In some cases, definitions are so broad that instead of solely targeting ideologically driven people who pose serious security threats, they also allow governments to target their critics. 
The Philippines, for example, has just passed an anti-terror law that the UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged President Rodrigo Duterte not to sign, saying it blurred “important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism” and that it needed “safeguards to prevent this misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy.” 
Police clash with protesters during a LGBTQ pride march in Manila, Philippines, on June 26, 2020. Demonstrators were also protesting the country's new anti-terror law.

Definitions have been a major problem since 2001, Conor Gearty, a professor in human rights law at the London School of Economics, told CNN. 

“What you had was the UN saying ‘Get out there and do counter-terrorism and we’ll let you decide what terror is.’ And that was just a gift horse for authoritarian regimes,” he said.  

While the picture in the US may not be as grim as in places like China, Turkey and Egypt, the events in Portland, as well as an earlier crackdown on protesters outside the White House recently, are just the latest signs that Trump is looking to those countries for inspiration, said Gearty, who describes Trump as an “aspirant authoritarian.”

That should give Americans cause for concern, he said.

“What Americans should also be worried about is the apparent support for this from the rank and file, and the absence of any very senior voices opposing this,” he said. 

Not only does the country’s security apparatus lack vocal opponents of the repression seen in Portland, some of its most senior members are suddenly taking an active part, even though they are supposed to be independent of domestic politics.

On Monday, acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli retweeted videos and images of Portland, describing the situation there as “terrorism.”
The nation’s top military official, Gen. Mark Milley, apologized after criticism over his appearance with Trump in a photo op outside a church near the White House. Police used rubber bullets and pepper spray projectiles to clear protesters only moments earlier to clear a path for the President.

A pre-election gamble

Trump has promised to ratchet up his Portland approach, saying in an interview with Fox News on Thursday that he could send as many as 75,000 federal agents to other US cities, in what he calls “Operation Legend.”

He argues that these cities — all with mayors who are Democrats — have been overrun by criminals, particularly as anti-race protests continue. He has criticized local leaders and police for failing to take a tough line on crime.

Trump uses homeland security agency to fight his political battle against Democratic cities

But his critics say Operation Legend is an unabashed re-election pitch by Trump to project himself as the country’s law-and-order president ahead of the November vote, one that seeks to paint his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, as anti-police. 

What could easily happen is that these protests transform from an anti-racism movement to a wider anti-government movement, according to Luis Schiumerini, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Schiumerini co-authored a recent study on protests in Turkey, Brazil and Ukraine, looking at how aggression by security forces can trigger “backlash protests.” 

“There’s a clear pattern in many countries. Protests can start small, demanding something in particular, but when there’s an attempt at repressing them with so-called ‘less-lethal weapons,’ like rubber bullets and tear gas, instead of suppressing the protests, they grow, and they often grow to become massive movements,” Schiumerini said.

There are many recent examples. In Iran, demonstrations that began last year against a hike in fuel prices that were met with heavy force became months-long wider anti-government protests. Peaceful demonstrations against an extradition bill that began in 2019 in Hong Kong quickly turned into more aggressive pro-democracy protests after police used rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters. 

Experts said that in Trump’s case, he may be provoking such an escalation in the hope that a divisive event will evoke a strong reaction from his base. 

Whether this will work in Trump’s favor at the polls will depend partly on which side comes across as more violent and which side appears to be more reasonable, Schiumerini said. Voters will also evaluate whether the President’s actions are reducing or exacerbating violence, he said.

“Trying to brand protesters as terrorists, it’s something we saw consistently in our study, especially in the case of Turkey. For the government to benefit from this, however, it’s very important to turn public opinion to depict protesters in a negative fashion,” he said. 

“The success of that hinges on how protesters behave. The label of being a terrorist becomes more convincing when the behavior of protesters can be described in a similar way.”

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Amal Clooney Has Resigned As UK Special Envoy Over Boris Johnson’s “Lamentable” Plans to Violate International Law


Amal Clooney has resigned from her role with the UK government over its plans to break international law (PA)

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Amal Clooney has resigned as a UK special envoy in protest at what she calls a “lamentable” plan to “violate an international treaty signed by the Prime Minister less than a year ago”.

The world-renowned human rights lawyer attacked the government over its Internal Market bill, which will unpick parts of the Brexit divorce deal signed with the EU.

She said she was “disappointed” to have to resign because she had “always been proud of the UK’s reputation as a champion of the international legal order, and of the culture of fair play for which it is known”.

But her role with the Foreign Office as special envoy on media freedom “has now become untenable” as she feels she can no longer “urge other states to respect and enforce international obligations while the UK declares that it does not intend to do so itself”.

Ms Clooney said the clauses in the Internal Market bill “threatens to embolden autocratic regimes that violate international law with devastating consequences all over the world”.

The government says the controversial legislation, which is currently making its passage through Parliament, will override sections of the Withdrawal Agreement to protect trade with Northern Ireland.

But it has been widely-criticised, including by senior figures in the Conservative Party, after minister Brandon Lewis confirmed it would breach international law “in a limited and specific way”.

In a letter to foreign secretary Dominic Raab, Ms Clooney wrote: “My role was intended to help promote action that governments could take to ensure that existing international obligations relating to media freedom are enforced in accordance with international law. 

“I accepted the role because I believe in the importance of the cause, and appreciate the significant role that the UK has played and can continue to play in promoting the international legal order.

“In these circumstances I have been dismayed to learn that the Government intends to pass legislation – the Internal Market Bill – which would, by the Government’s own admission, ‘break international law’ if enacted.”

She added: “I was also concerned to note the position taken by the Government that although it is an ‘established principle of international law that a state is obliged to discharge its treaty obligations in good faith’, the UK’s ‘Parliament is sovereign as a matter of domestic law and can pass legislation which is in breach of the UK’s Treaty obligations’.

“Although the government has suggested that the violation of international law would be ‘specific and limited’, it is lamentable for the UK to be speaking of its intention to violate an international treaty signed by the Prime Minister less than a year ago.

“Out of respect for the professional working relationship I have developed with you and your senior colleagues working on human rights, I deferred writing this letter until I had had a chance to discuss this matter with you directly. 

“But having now done so and received no assurance that any change of position is imminent, I have no alternative but to resign from my position.”

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: US Supreme Court judge dies of cancer, aged 87

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People gathered outside the US Supreme Court on Friday eveningf to pay tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an iconic champion of women’s rights, has died of cancer at the age of 87, the court has said.

Ginsburg died on Friday of metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington, DC, surrounded by her family, the statement said.

Earlier this year, Ginsburg said she was undergoing chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer.

She was a prominent feminist who became a figurehead for liberals in the US.

Ginsburg was the oldest justice and the second ever woman to sit on the Supreme Court, where she served for 27 years.

“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement on Friday. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her – a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”

As one of four liberal justices on the court, her health was watched closely. Ginsburg’s death raises the prospect of Republican US President Donald Trump trying to expand its slender conservative majority, even before this November’s election.

In the days before her death, Ginsburg expressed her strong disapproval of such a move. “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she wrote in a statement to her granddaughter, according to National Public Radio.

President Trump is expected to nominate a conservative replacement for Ginsburg as soon as possible, White House sources told BBC partner CBS News.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a passionate champion of women’s rights, was the oldest judge on the US Supreme Court

Mr Trump reacted to Ginsburg’s death after an election rally in Minnesota, saying: “I didn’t know that. She led an amazing life, what else can you say?”

Later on, Mr Trump said Ginsburg was a “titan of the law” and a “brilliant mind” in a tweeted statement.

Ginsburg had suffered from five bouts of cancer, with the most recent recurrence in early 2020. She had received hospital treatment a number of times in recent years, but returned swiftly to work on each occasion.

In a statement in July, the judge said her treatment for cancer had yielded “positive results”, insisting she would not retire from her role.

“I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam,” she said. “I remain fully able to do that.”

Why was Ginsburg important?

US Supreme Court justices serve for life or until they choose to retire, and supporters had expressed concern that a more conservative justice could succeed Ginsburg.

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Media captionJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg remembered

The highest court in the US is often the final word on highly contentious laws, disputes between states and the federal government, and final appeals to stay executions.

In recent years, the court has expanded gay marriage to all 50 states, allowed for President Trump’s travel ban to be put in place and delayed a US plan to cut carbon emissions while appeals went forward.

Ginsburg’s death will spark a political battle over who will succeed her, spurring debate about the future of the Supreme Court ahead of November’s presidential election.

President Trump has appointed two judges since taking office, and the current court is seen to have a 5-4 conservative majority in most cases.

The US Senate has to approve a new judge nominated by the president, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday evening that if a nominee was put forward before the election, there would be a vote on Mr Trump’s choice.

But the Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden said: “There is no doubt – let me be clear – that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.”

A high-stakes political fight looms

Ginsburg’s death injects a level of unpredictability into a presidential race that had been remarkably stable for months. Now, not only will the White House be at stake in November, but the ideological balance of the Supreme Court could be, as well.

It all depends on what President Trump and the Republicans choose to do next. They could try to fill the seat before the end of the year regardless of who wins the presidency in November, replacing a liberal icon with what in all likelihood will be a reliable conservative vote. Or they could wait and hold the seat vacant, a prize to encourage conservative voters – particularly evangelicals who see an opportunity to roll back abortion rights – to flock to the polls for the president.

Filling the seat would outrage Democrats, who will note that Republicans denied former President Barack Obama the chance to fill the vacant seat in 2016 for months. Waiting, on the other hand, would risk letting Biden name Ginsburg’s replacement in 2021.

All signs point to Republicans trying the former. Concerns of hypocrisy will melt away when a lifetime appointment to the court is in play.

Either way, it sets up a brutal, high-stakes political fight that comes at a time when the nation is already rife with partisan discord and psychological distress.

What is Ginsburg’s legacy?

Over an illustrious legal career spanning six decades, Ginsburg attained unparalleled celebrity status for a jurist in the US, revered by liberals and conservatives alike.

Liberal Americans in particular idolised her for her progressive votes on the most divisive social issues that were referred to the Supreme Court, from abortion rights to same-sex marriages.

Born to Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1933, Ginsburg studied at Harvard Law School, where she was one of only nine women in a class of about 500 men.

Ginsburg did not receive a single job offer after graduation, despite finishing top of her class. But Ginsburg persisted, working in various jobs in the legal profession throughout the 1960s and far beyond.

In 1972, Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). That same year, Ginsburg became the first tenured female professor at Columbia Law School.

In 1980, Ginsburg was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia as part of former President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to diversify federal courts. Though Ginsburg was often portrayed as a liberal firebrand, her days on the appeals court were marked by moderation.

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Media captionTrump is not a lawyer – Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks exclusively to the BBC

Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, becoming only the second of four female justices to be confirmed to the court.

Toward the end of her life, Ginsburg became a national icon. Due in part to her withering dissents, Ginsburg was dubbed the Notorious RBG by her army of fans online – a nod to the late rapper The Notorious BIG.

That comparison introduced Ginsburg to a new generation of young feminists, turning her into a cult figure.

What reaction has there been?

Former presidents, veteran politicians and senior jurists were among those to mourn the loss of Ginsburg on Friday. They commended her accolades and hailed her commitment to women’s rights.

Former President Jimmy Carter called her a “truly great woman”, writing in a statement: “A powerful legal mind and a staunch advocate for gender equality, she has been a beacon of justice during her long and remarkable career. I was proud to have appointed her to the US Court of Appeals in 1980.”

Praising her “pursuit of justice and equality”, former President George W Bush said Ginsburg “inspired more than one generation of women and girls”.

Hillary Clinton, a Democrat who ran against President Trump in the 2016 presidential election, said she drew inspiration from Ginsburg.

Conservative politicians also paid their respects to Ginsburg.

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Justice Ginsburg,” Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said on Twitter. “Justice Ginsburg was a trailblazer who possessed tremendous passion for her causes. She served with honour and distinction as a member of the Supreme Court.”

Eric Trump, the son of President Trump, said Ginsburg was “a remarkable woman with an astonishing work ethic”. “She was a warrior with true conviction and she has my absolute respect! #RIP,” he wrote on Twitter.

Within hours of the news emerging, hundreds of people had gathered outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC to pay their respects.

The BBC’s Alexandra Ostasiewicz at the scene said the mood was sombre but the crowd occasionally broke into chants of “RBG!” and “Vote him out!”.

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Poisoned Navalny plots his return, but Russia’s opposition activists wonder who might be next

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It’s not just Navalny who has been under attack.

Just one day after he emerged from his medically-induced coma, at least three volunteers linked to his team were targeted at their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

Two masked men were recorded by security cameras, bursting in to the office of “Coalition Novosibirsk 2020,” which is also headquarters of Navalny’s local team.

One of them threw a bottle containing an unknown yellow liquid — described to CNN as a “pungent chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses — at volunteers who were there for a lecture about the upcoming local elections, before running off.

The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.

“Russia has a track record of sudden deaths among the Kremlin’s critics: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name but a few,” says longtime Russia analyst Valeriy Akimenko from the Conflict Studies Research Centre, an independent research group. “If this wasn’t a murder plot or assassination attempt, it was an act of intimidation.”

Which raises an important question: How much immediate danger is Navalny in, if and when he does return to Russia?

“I don’t think the words safety or security apply to anyone who is opposition in Russia,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, who has been poisoned twice in the past five years.

“I can have as much protection as I like, but I have to touch doorknobs and breathe air,” he says. “The only real precautionary measure I’ve been able to take is to get my family out of the country.”

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in either of the attacks on Kara-Murza, though his wife has directly accused the Russian government of bearing responsibility.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has also denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning, but Akimenko points out that the language coming from the Kremlin in the weeks since has hardly been reassuring, given the near-death of a prominent politician.

“Just look at what’s been coming out of Russia,” he says. “Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying no need for Putin to meet Navalny; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying no legal grounds for a criminal inquiry; Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin talking instead about an investigation into possible foreign provocation; and on state TV, ceaseless attempts to muddy the waters by blaming anyone but the Russian state.”

As if being an outspoken opponent of the government wasn’t enough of a risk for Navalny, other Putin critics believe that what is being seen as a failed assassination attempt, in order to scare opponents, might have backfired.

“Now that Alexey Navalny has survived, this may prove to be a spectacular miscalculation that only empowers the opposition and Navalny,” says Bill Browder, a prominent financier who became a thorn in the side of Putin after leading the push for a US sanctions act named after Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in a Russian prison.

Kara-Murza points out that in the very area of Siberia where the campaign office attack took place, Navalny’s allies made gains against Putin’s ruling United Russia in elections this past weekend.

“When Russians have a real choice, they are very happy to demonstrate how sick they are of Putin’s one-man rule,” he told CNN.

Whenever he does return to Russia, the risk both to him and his supporters is likely to remain very high; has this affected the opposition’s morale?

“Putin rules by symbolism,” says Browder. “To take the most popular opposition politician and poison him with a deadly nerve agent is intended to scare the less popular ones into submission.”

So, will it work?

Kara-Murza says the Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015, just days before he was due to take part in an anti-government protest in Moscow, used to tell his allies: “We must do what we must and come what may. Of course, we understand the dangers, but we are determined, not scared.”

And while Akimenko says: “If Russia’s opposition leaders aren’t worried, they should be,” he adds that: “They have been fearless in the face of both personal physical attacks against Navalny and persecution disguised as prosecution.”

The Navalny episode revealed the dangers of political opposition in Russia to the world.

But for those actively involved in that fight, it has merely underscored the threat they already knew existed, says Kara-Murza

“I was poisoned twice,” he said. “Both times I was in [a] coma. Both times doctors told my wife I had 5% chance of living. Boris Nemtsov had 0% when he was shot in the back. But it’s not about safety; it’s about doing the right thing for our country. It would be too much of a gift to the Kremlin if those of us who stand in opposition gave up and ran.”

CNN’s Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report from Moscow

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