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After millions of eggs have been withdrawn from supermarkets in the Netherlands and Germany over fears they contain a toxic insecticide, a Romanian connection to the scandal is now revealed.

 

 

Millions of eggs across retailers in northern Europe have been withdrawn from shelves over fears of their contact with a toxic insecticide, in a case now involving Romanian veterinary product companies, FarmaVet and Pasteur Romania.
 
The scandal began when Netherlands based farming company Chickfriend, through its Belgian supplier Poultry Vision, bought a substance in 2016 that contains the controversial insecticide Fipronil, to use for treating lice in chicken farms.

However the product is toxic and hazardous to health in large quantities - so should not be sprayed on products destined for the kitchen table.

An investigation is now ongoing.

An invoice below - seen by Dutch Newspaper NRC and The Black Sea - from 8 May, 2016, shows that a Patrick R. placed an order with veterinary supplies company Farmavet in Bucharest for transport of goods to Belgium's Poultry Vision. 

 

 

He bought 3,000 liters for 108,000 Euro of Fiprocid, a product understood to be manufactured by Romanian company Pasteur Romania, as an insecticide. This contains ten per cent of the active ingredient, Fipronil.

Three months later, Patrick R. mailed representatives of both Romanian companies about a larger order. 

"Hello Patrick," writes Farmavet's commercial director Lucian Gabor on August 11, 2016. "We are trying to find a solution for fiprocid." 

Farmavet's proposal is that the businessman first orders 5,000 liters, and two weeks later Patrick R. could buy another 10,000 liters of Fiprocid. 

The director is "urgently" waiting for his answer, "because I have to start production". 
Whether the order actually took place is not known [the commercial director did not reply to an email request for an explanation].

However, last Tuesday, 6,000 liters of Fipronil was found in a warehouse belonging to Patrick R. in Belgium.

We also have documents which show that a Patrick of Poultry Vision also sold 6,508 Euro worth of a product called 'fypro-rein' to Chickfriend, a key source in the outbreak scare. 

 


 

Insecticide effect
 


This week, German retailers Aldi withdrew all of its eggs from stores on Friday, after German officials said up to three million eggs were at risk in Germany

This follows the temporary closure of 138 Dutch poultry farms - a fifth of the total number in the country - due to the Fipronil scare. 

The fear is that an insecticide could pose a threat to children. The WHO has declared that the insecticide is “moderately hazardous” to human health - and high doses can lead to nausea and dizziness.

In general, Fipronil is used as a component in animal health products to combat fleas and ticks on dogs and cats.

Bucharest company Pasteur Romania has manufactured a product, Fiprocid, as an insecticide, which is now no longer available on the market. The company also continues to advertise the sale of Fipronil in its flea-busting product Spor Forte, for dogs.  

The brand Pasteur Romania includes the state-owned producer of veterinary immunological products SN Pasteur Institute in Bucharest, and the private Pasteur, Filipesti Branch, a veterinary medicine factory in Prahova county. 

We tried to contact Pasteur representatives by phone and email, but we received no answer.

"Fipronil should not have been used in chickens,” says Leif Miller, CEO of Germany’s environment association Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU). “That a new scandal comes to us, however, is not surprising - and he will not be the last. It is only when the EU fundamentally changes its agricultural and nutritional policies that scandals such as this will be prevented.”

 

NB: This article has been corrected to outline the precise nature of the relationship between Patrick R, Chickfriend and Poultry Vision

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30 year-old Uzbekistan journalist Ali Feruz is on the verge of deportation from Russia, and risks torture in the Central Asian country

The journalist is homosexual - a crime in Uzbekistan - and has previously been beaten up by the Uzbek authorities

UPDATE: Following a decison of an appeal court in Moscow on Tuesday 8 August, the deportation of Ali has been suspended until a final decision by the European Court of Human Rights. Ali will be kept inside a deportation center in Russia until then

Ali Feruz has been fighting for the right to stay in Russia for six years (copyright: Vlad Dokshin, Novaya Gazeta)

 

A Russian journalist from newspaper Novaya Gazeta is on the verge of deportation to Uzbekistan, where journalists and their families risk imprisonment and disappearance.

On 1 August, a Russian court ordered the compulsory deportation of 30 year-old Ali Feruz, who was previously tortured by the powerful Uzbek security services, the SNB.

His colleagues believe the deportation could put his life in danger because he is a journalist, a profession brutally suppressed in the Central Asian country.

Feruz is openly gay, and in Uzbekistan sex between men is illegal and can be penalised with up to three years in prison.

He is registered as an Uzbek citizen, but has made a life for himself in Moscow for the last six years.

His deportation is part of a ‘fast-track’ deportation measure, although the legal means allowing his appeal have not yet been exhausted.

Vladimir Putin himself has been solicited by Novaya Gazeta editor in chief Dmitry Muratov to prevent the deportation of Feruz.


 

Media Freedom “non-existent”


An independent republic since breaking free from the USSR in 1991, Uzbekistan is southeast Asia’s most populous state - of 32 million people.

From 1991 until 2016, it was run by President Islam Karimov, and was known an authoritarian state where torture and arbitrary detention were widespread, and the media was under constant attack.

If journalists wrote critical investigations into the leaders and their entourage, they risked torture and imprisonment. If these journalists were outside the country, their families in Uzbekistan also faced reprisals.

Karimov even imprisoned his own nephew Jamshid, an investigative journalist, in a psychiatric facility, where he remained from 2006 until this year.

Since Karimov’s death, the new President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has made signals towards a thaw in media freedom and human rights.

But Mirziyoyev comes from the same elite as his predecessor and the power structures remain in place in a secretive country where the mighty security service, the SNB, is a powerful player within the state.

 

Journalist's wife "threatened with rape"

Ali Feruz is the pen name of Khudoberdi Nurmatov, who has written on hate crimes, LGBT and disability rights, and the rights of refugees from Central Asia.

Born in Kokand in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1987, Feruz’s mother is Russian and he graduated in Russia, only later acquiring Uzbek citizenship in 2004. In 2008, he married a Kyrgyz citizen, Dilafruz Shamshiddinova, and moved to Uzbekistan, where he fathered two children.

That year he was kidnapped by the security services, the SNB, who interrogated Feruz and forced him to hand over information about the political views of his friends who practised Islam.

The SNB also asked Feruz to work for them. After refusing to cooperate, the journalist was beaten by members of the SNB, who threatened to rape his wife and imprison him on false information.

He then fled to Kyrgyzstan, and then to Kazakhstan, before moving to Russia in 2011.

In 2013, he came out as gay, and broke up with his wife.

He has repeatedly been refused asylum by the Russian authorities, and in March 2017, the Russian police detained him for 12 hours on no charges. The police officers grilled him on the reasons for his application for shelter in Russia, and he was threatened with deportation to Uzbekistan.

There are cases where Uzbek asylum seekers - and even those with refugee status - disappear in Moscow and are later found in Uzbek prisons.

The staff at Novaya Gazeta fear that even if Feruz gains provisional asylum status in Russia, he could still be at risk of abduction and kidnap to Uzbekistan.

 
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- The Turkish regime''s campaign against journalists is "nothing but a persecution against freedom of thought and expression" says investigative journalist Ahmet Şık, taking the witness stand in an Istanbul court

- He is on trial for eight tweets, five articles and one interview critical of the Turkish President Erdogan''s regime

- If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in jail

- "I was a journalist yesterday," he said. "I am a journalist today. I will be a journalist tomorrow. So the irreconcilable fight between myself and those who want to strangle the truth will never end."

 

 

"We need truth now more than anything," said Ahmet Şık (left) in an İstanbul court today. (Court drawing by Zeynep Özatalay, Twitter)

 

Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Şık was in an Istanbul court today with 17 fellow employees of the oldest Turkish daily, Cumhuriyet.

This was Şık's his first day in court in the case for which he was arrested 206 days ago.

The Cumhuriyet journalists are accused of “aiding terrorist organisations" without "being a member” of those networks, and “employment-related abuse of trust”.

Şık is on trial for eight tweets, five articles and one interview.

The prosecutor has asked for jail time of seven-and-a-half to 43 years for the journalists.

If convicted, Şık may serve up to 15 years behind bars.

This is a summary of what he said:

“Once more, history is on our side. You won’t be able to make a terrorist organisation out of Cumhuriyet or a terrorist out of us.

"What I say here today is not my defence or my testimony. On the contrary, they are accusations. Because, this campaign against us is nothing but persecution against freedom of thought and expression.

"In democracies, the judiciary acts with international standards of law. However, some members of the judiciary in Turkey are the gravediggers of justice.

"What I say here is not a defence at all. Saying that would be an insult towards my journalism and ethics.

"Because journalism is not a crime.

"Totalitarian regimes have the common feature of criminalising journalism. I know from my experience that I managed to become the persona-non-grata of every [Turkish] Government from every political era. I am proud of this inheritance that I will leave my daughter.

"I know this Government and its judiciary also have problems with me. Because I’m trying to do journalism. Today, I’m practising journalism not with the power I get from the government but with the power I get from truth.

"I was a journalist yesterday. I am a journalist today. I will be a journalist tomorrow. So the irreconcilable fight between myself and those who want to strangle the truth will never end."

"What we need in these dark days is not the loss of truth. We need truth now more than anything. This is why I will continue respecting truth more than I respect myself and I will continue refusing to be part of those who deny [the truth]."

"But it is obvious that a price must be paid. But do not think for a second that this scares us. Neither I nor the [group] 'Journalists Outside' - whom I am proud to be a part of - are scared of you, whoever you are. Because we know the thing that scares tyrants most is courage.

"And the tyrants should know that no cruelty can prevent the progress of history. Down with tyranny, long live freedom.”

Some in the courtroom were in tears during the speech, while these last words received spontaneous applause. There was such commotion, the judge had to warn the court to keep quiet.

 

“I haven’t said enough. The state is a serial killer.”
 

The prosecutor mentioned news articles that are the subject of the court case. But Sik defiantly replied that he was proud of writing them.

He mentioned that the statute of limitation for a news article in Turkey to be sued is four months, and suggested that the prosecutor should go back to law school to learn these intricacies of the media law.

At this point, the prosecutor had enough.

He replied to Şık: 

“You have no right to lecture us, we are educated too. We have experience too.”

Şık answered: “Do not ask me questions with [hidden] intentions. Ask me questions.”

The prosecutor then asked Şık about his famous tweet where he said the state is a murderer.

Şık replied:

“I haven’t said enough. The state is a serial killer.”

The trial will last until Friday this week.

Other jailed defendants in the case are Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gürsel, Turhan Günay, Güray Öz, Hakan Kara, Musa Kart, Önder Çelik, Bülent Utku and Mustafa Kemal Güngör, while another six are on trial without arrest or in absentia. 

 

Turkey: "Gulag of the Free Press"

Ahmet Şık is charged with creating "propaganda for a terrorist organisation" and insulting the Turkish Republic, its judiciary, military and security forces.

It began last December when 46 year-old journalist announced on Twitter [below]: "I'm being detained. They're taking me to the prosecutor due to a tweet." 

It has been seven months until his case was brought to trial.

 

 

Several of his tweets are now being used as "evidence" that Ahmet created propaganda for the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), DHKP-C (Marxist-Leninist terrorist organisation) and FETO (Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation). FETO is the name given to a 'network' organised by a exiled former cleric, Fetullah Gulen, whose followers were deemed responsible for the failed coup against Turkish President Erdogan's regime in July 2016.

This last allegation is bizarre, as Şık has been one of the staunchest critics of Gulen and his Islamist sect, and even wrote a book exposing their organisation.

Ahmet is now held under the Turkish government's state of emergency powers, adopted following the failed coup.

This decree is being exploited by the state to jail dozens of journalists, academics and lawyers, as well as the closure of human rights organisations.

According to a 2016 report by the Journalists’ Association of Turkey, in 2016, 780 journalists had their press cards revoked, 839 journalists were brought before court over news coverage.

Now many hundreds of journalists are in jail - making Turkey a 'gulag of the free press'.

 
"Terror" tweeter

Ahmet was arrested over several tweets he made between late November and early December 2016.

 

 

Tweet 1: "If Sirri Sureyya Onder is guilty of these charges, then don’t many people including the ones sitting in the [Presidential] Palace need to be charged too?"

Onder, MP for the People's Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political party with seats in the Turkish parliament, was detained in November for terrorism-related charges because of a photograph taken of him with a member of the PKK's media team.

The HDP, however, were part of the group negotiating a peace deal between the Government and PKK, which also including members of AKP - hence the questioning tone of Şık's tweet.

 

 

Tweet 2: "Instead of comparing people burned to death in Cizre and people blown up in Istanbul, why don’t you get angry about both of them? It's violence either way."

In February last year, 60 people burned to death in an apartment basement in Cizre, southeast Turkey, when they took shelter during Turkish army bombing campaign against the PKK.

The military claimed it "neutralised" several PKK soldiers, but others, including HDP members, said civilians were among those killed. 

Hence Şık's appeal to moral equivalence, which he makes at the same time as not condoning either terrorism or Government-backed arson.

 

 

Tweet 3 "Instead of arresting Tahir Elci [lawyer] they chose to murder him, you are a murderous mafia."

Elci was a human rights lawyer who defended the rights of Kurds in Turkey.

He was shot and killed in November last year moments before being due to issue a press statement calling for an end to the violence in the south east of the country. 

No one has been arrested for the assassination, but the family and some HDP members blame the Government.

 
Fierce critic of Gulen and Erdogan

In 2011, Ahmet was previously jailed for 375 days, along with fellow journalist Nedim Sener.

They were accused of being members of a so-called terrorist organisation called "Ergenekon", which the AKP said was plotting to overthrow the Government. 

Ahmet's unpublished book, 'The Imam's Army', about the infiltration of Turkey's institutions by followers of Fetthulah Gulen caused his prior arrest.

In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish government violated the rights of Ahmet and Sener.

Two years later, Turkey's supreme court quashed the Ergenekon convictions, stating that the prosecutor - who fled Turkey last year - failed to establish that the 'terrorist organisation' had ever even existed.

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- Editor of Turkish newspaper Evrensel is under investigation by public prosecutor over allegations he "insulted the President" by republishing an article by The Black Sea on the business dealings of Turkish President Erdogan''s family

- The journalist is under fire for asking the question: “What does the Erdogan family say about these allegations?”

 

A Turkish prosecutor has launched an investigation into the editor of left-wing daily newspaper, Evrensel, over a report he re-published by The Black Sea about the secret financial affairs of the Erdogan family.

The Turkish President's lawyer lodged a complaint against editor Fatih Polat, who faces the charge of "insulting the president", a criminal offense in Turkey. This is one of the most common legal tools utilized by Erdogan and his government to silence his critics and attack free journalism. 

On 28 May, Polat published a column on the paper's website titled “What does the Erdogan family say about these allegations?”. It included the full text of the #MaltaFiles investigation published two days earlier that revealed how two rich Turkish businessmen close to the president paid 25 million USD for an oil tanker secretly owned by the family's offshore company.  

The news organisation was ordered by an Istanbul court to remove the column, and they soon filed an appeal against the decision. Two days ago, lawyers announced their motion had been rejected by the Turkish court of appeals.

The legal justification for this was a single line:

“The appeal is to be rejected.”

The news magazine pledged to fight the issue in the Consitutional Court. But now Polat also faces a lenghty criminal process, which could take years to resolve. 

 

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- UPDATE: Editor of Turkish newspaper Evrensel is being investigated by public prosecutor over allegations he "insulted the President" by republishing an article by The Black Sea

- The news site is battling a court decision to censor report on business dealings of Turkish President''s family, first published in The Black Sea 

- Press freedom faces new attack from the Turkish judiciary as any news story against the Government "faces an immediate takedown order"

Offensive language: An Istanbul court upheld decision to force Turkish website Evrensel to remove content of article stating: "What does Erdogan family say about these allegations?"

This story has been updated

Left-wing Turkish newspaper Evrensel is planning to fight a case in the country’s highest court against a gag order demanding it removes content from its website detailing the The Black Sea's report about the secret business dealings of President Erdogan's family.

On Tuesday 11 July, the publication lost an appeal to keep the article's contents online in a court decision that came with no legal justification.

Evrensel’s lawyer Devrim Avci fears this is setting a dangerous precedent for media freedom.

“Any article, critique, news story that is against the Government faces an immediate takedown order,” she said in a statement. “These orders come so fast, that there will be nothing on the web criticising the Government. This is very dangerous for the freedom of the press.”

The #MaltaFiles story, which details the Erdogan family’s hidden of ownership of a 25 million USD oil tanker, was originally published by EIC members in late May.

Evrensel’s editor, Fatih Polat, republished the article in its entirety with the title “What does the Erdogan family say about these allegations?

The Istanbul 14th Penal Court of Peace then issued an order shortly after, at the request of a state prosecutor and an as-yet-unknown complainant, forcing the paper to remove the story from its website. Then access to the specific web address of the article was blocked by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA), a body which censors the internet in Turkey.

The court provided no details on what legal grounds it took its decision to issue a take down order against Evrensel. It occurred around the time that another Istanbul court issued an order blocking stories on the blacksea.eu site revealing the wealth and assets of Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s family. This injunction was made at the request of the Yıldırım family lawyer.

Evrensel challenged the gag order in the Court of Appeal, but on Tuesday 11 July the court denied the media's request to lift the ban.

Again the court gave no arguments for its decision, and instead issued a one-line statement:

“The appeal is to be rejected.”

The website claims that the Turkish courts are greenlighting all requests from Erdogan and his closest political allies - the Justice and Development Party (AKP) - without using legal arguments.

In a statement issued on its website, Evrensel’s lawyer Devrim Avci said:

“With this last verdict, the ruling is final, which means the content will be removed. This is how the courts work, they work to obstruct justice. They rule, then you appeal and they reject your appeal with only one sentence, and without any legal reasoning… If the request comes from the government or people close to the government, these content removal requests are automated. No appeal is ever accepted.”

This is in stark contrast with the official line of the President. In a recent interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, Erdogan stated: “Our judiciary is independent…And we are talking about an independent judiciary, an impartial judiciary. And it does what the constitution of the Turkish Republic and its laws require of it.”

Evrensel says it now plans to take its case to the Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest judicial body, to argue that the Turkish public has a right to know about the secret financial dealings and wealth of Turkey’s politicians and business elite.

The appeal is an important test case for freedom of speech. It will show the courts’ ability to uphold the law and act independent of Turkey’s president. At the same time, it will offer insight into the current state of the country’s press after years of Erdogan's aggression, which intensified after last year's failed coup against his leadership. Now Turkey is the country with the highest number of jailed journalists in the world.

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While grand residential projects help regenerate the outer centre of the Spanish capital’s district of Delicias, Romanian beggars build shanty-huts in the dirt

Madrid favelas: Each nationality of homeless has its own separate community (Picture: Michael Bird)

 

Delicias. In English this means ‘Delights’. A district in outer central Madrid. A warm Wednesday. Huge new apartment complexes of brick and concrete tower either side of a railway. Connecting the two estates is a wide footbridge, with a smooth incline to allow the passage of bicycles. Below the shining new buildings are fenced-off tennis courts, where buff players sport fancy designer wear, and serve aces across the clay.

But alongside the railway is a plot strewn with rubble, overgrown bushes and two massive rusting water towers, separated from the new blocks by a white wall. Under the footbridge are shacks of wooden boards nailed together and covered with tarpaulin. A mini favela takes shelter in the shadow of this huge development. On a sofa outside a shanty-hut sits a man in his late fifties, listening to the radio and drinking beer from a glass teacup. Next to him is a stroller filled with aluminium foil.

This is Costică, from Băilești, a small town in Romania’s arable heartland close to the Danube. He won’t talk to journalists. So we pretend we’re researchers for a university. He will not let us take his picture.

Before the 1989 revolution, Costică worked as a store manager and his family lived well, because he had access to food and goods. “Back then I used to work with a pen in my hand,” he says.

When communism fell, the local economy collapsed. Farming in his town turned from a collective employing every resident into a mechanised industry that ran on profit. “They don’t need people anymore,” he says.

In the 1990s, the post-Communist Government gave back land seized by the state to millions of families, hoping to create a new peasant class of smallholders. But each citizen received barely more than an acre. Costică was not impressed by this amount.

He takes a stick, leans out from the sofa and maps out a small square in the dust.

“How can you make farming on that?” he says.

So three years ago, Costică moved with his wife, his son and his sister-in-law to Spain. “As I didn’t have a job anymore, I had to come here,” he says. “God brought us here.”

He has a house and relatives in Băilești, including three grandsons. But he can’t bring them here. This is because the local social services would take the kids away, as Costică isn’t allowed to grow up children between four pieces of wood nailed together underneath a bridge.

As to why he choose this to come to this country and city, he says:

“We heard about Spain from the TV - and now we’re in the capital!”

A rat scuttles across a barbed wire fence. There is no one else here except Costică’s sister-in-law. They speak Romani together. Most of the shanty-huts are unoccupied, because the Romanians from Băilești have gone to Seville to pick grapes. But Costică is too old for fruit-picking.

Instead he says he makes a living from selling scrap wire and aluminium, as well as begging. “I sit in the street and I stretch out my hand,” he says.

He earns up to seven Euro per day, but his family - of three people - can earn 300 Euro a week.

The cops only come to check their papers. “We don’t steal - that’s the last thing we would need. The police leave us alone because we don’t commit crimes," he sighs.  "God protected us so far.”

But he says other residents in the squat were not so peaceful. “When they drink, all Madrid can hear them,” he says. Costică claims they were Turkish, although he doesn’t seem 100 per cent sure. A woman in the new blocks called the local mayor to complain when they played their music loud or set bonfires alight.

“We have learned to have smaller fires and not to play our music so loud,” says Costică. Now the local residents are used to him - he says.

There are eight Romanian families on the other side of the camp, from Craiova - a large town near Băilești. They live one hundred metres away. But Costică won’t make the short two-minute journey to speak to them.

“Because they are from another race,” he says.

 

Forced beggary “only from Romania”

We were here in Spain last September to examine forced labour run by criminal gangs. In 2013, the Spanish police say the only proven cases of work exploitation for begging came from Romania. From those taken to trial, eight victims were minors between the ages of 13 and 15. In 2014, the sale price a family would cash in selling their child to a begging gang in Spain was between 1,000 and 1,500 Euro.

Vans in Madrid drop off beggars at crowded areas within the city centre at seven A.M and pick them up in the evening. These include old and disabled people - many of whom could not come to Spain on their own. The Catholic Charity Esperanza details one case of a woman and teenage child forced into begging.

“They had to work for 12 hours in the same place every day, and to obtain 50 Euro every day. If they failed - they were not given food, or were beaten up,” says Marta González, general coordinator at Esperanza.

 

Fruit loot: In the middle of ironing a blanket, Romanians left for Seville to pick grapes for cash (picture: Michael Bird) 

 

But among the Romanian beggars of Delicias, the atmosphere is calm, and there are no kids or gang bosses, claim the residents. On the other side of the footbridge, two men are sitting outside a shanty-hut. One is large, almost bald, with blonde-hair, blue eyes and thick black tattoos, the other is smaller, pockmarked, his eyes damp and red. He is smoking red Pall Malls and holding out his thumb, which is bloody, and wrapped in a bandage.

When we arrive, a girl in her twenties hides behind a curtain to a hut, guarded by a  plastic white pony.

These men are Florin and Florin. Both are from Craiova. They don’t want to talk to journalists. But they let us pull up a chair and speak to them - because we 'are Romanian'.

The big Florin says he cannot work in Romania - and he shows us a scar that has cut into his ankle.

They arrived here three years ago. How do they make their money?

“Here we find a piece of metal or we beg,” says Florin.

They says they can earn 400 to 500 Euro in a month from their activities. But even if they manage six to ten Euro every day, “it’s pretty good”.

Sometimes they send home 100 Euro a month.

Both Florins say they don’t steal. “The cops would kill us if they caught us,” says big Florin.

There is no running water, nor is there electricity, but the larger Florin days he does not need it. “We arrive at ten at night and we go directly to bed,” he says.

On this wide abandoned railway siding squat people from around the world. There are Spanish, Romanians, and Turks (although no one here is quite sure they are Turks). But each group keep to their own separate shanty community, and the Romanians here don’t even know how to speak Spanish. Big Florin say they have no problems with the neighbours.

“We are on our field, they are on theirs,” he says.

In the shade of a tree is a black man in his twenties, sitting down, nodding and mumbling to himself. His shirt is open, and there is broad and heavy jewellery in faux-gold around his neck.

“Alaska: 10 degrees,” he says, “Canada: 12 degrees, West Coast America, 20 degrees, East Coast America…”

In Spanish, he is reciting the weather forecast to himself. Florin says he does this a lot. Every day, the guy makes money from begging in the street.

We ask where he is from.

Florin looks over with a mix of disdain and a faint note of sympathy.  

“Somewhere in Africa…” he says.

 

 

This short blog is part of the Eurocrimes project - fieldwork took place in September 2016

 

 

 

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We wanted to expose how Romanians are the main nationality of male prostitutes in Rome… and we did not do it

An elegant setting

 

A taxi driver told us where to find boys. His name was Mario. He wasn’t an average taxi driver. He ran an NGO helping women convicts land jobs after they left jail. Also he was an anarchist. And a former soldier who was incarcerated in a military prison after pouring a pan of spaghetti over his senior officer.

Now in his fifties, Mario knew the streets of Rome. He had socialised with murderers and generals. The high and low life of the eternal city. So he was the perfect man to show us exactly where we could see men soliciting boys for sex.

“It’s the opposite of women,” said Mario. “The client hangs out and waits for the boys to arrive.”

We knew from talking to charities, experts in prostitution and east European ex-pats that young Romanian men were the number one nationality of male vice in Rome.

This was not a sleazy part of the Italian capital. If such sleaze even exists. Here were the austere steps of Piazzale Simon Bolivar. At its summit was a brass equestrian statue of the Venezuelan freedom fighter. Nearby were the grand chambers of the Museum of Modern Art.

At the corner of a stone wall, halfway up the steps, and sheltered by an overhanging tree, stood a short 35 year-old man in sunglasses and an upturned collar. Next to him was a bike.

As we moved close to him, he crouched down with a bicycle pump in his hand, ready to inflate his tyres.

We walked into a small grove of cedars and stone pines. Here was a brass bust of Chilean independence leader Bernardo O’Higgins, taking a less prominent position than his Venezuelan counterpart. In the bushes was a blue one-man tent. It was occupied.

Opposite Bernardo O’Higgins was a broken blue chair. Scattered on the ground were empty packets of Durex condoms, Camel cigarette butts and Lube, trampled into the mud, branches and pine needles.

I took a photo with my phone.

It was a bad photo.

It even had my feet in it.

 

A bad photo

 

This is where Italian men have sex with Romanian boys - thought to be over the age of 16. The men wait near to the entrance of the grove. Usually older men, as younger men don't need to pay for sex. They stand like lost tourists waiting for a guide, the boys come up to them, they negotiate an amount, and go into the bushes.

But right now there was only one man with a bike. We walked past him on our way out of the grove, and he was still crouching down, with the pump in his hand.

I don’t think he was inflating his tyres.

He looked at us, through his sunglasses.

He seemed to be worried (although we could not be sure - because he had on sunglasses).

Perhaps he was thinking ‘you know that I am not really inflating these tyres. But I am going to keep on pretending that I am, so that you won’t think I am waiting for some Romanian boys.’

But there were no boys.

We needed a new strategy. We went to the outdoor Caffè della Arti, part of the National Museum of Modern Art, and ordered some coffee and water. It was a hot day. Refreshment was essential. But these drinks were expensive.

Then we took turns to walk around the area, seeing if we could find old Italian men or Romanian boys.

I carried a bulky camera and stood behind stone walls trying to take pictures in secret with a long lens. But my lens was not long enough. And there was nothing for me to photograph.

Then I spied a 60 year-old thin man in cap and shades and shorts, slightly sunburnt and looking around at the edge of wall with a small bum bag around his shoulder.

I went back to the cafe, and then my colleague took over the watch.

After ten minutes we realised that it looked as though the only people wandering around looking to procure young Romanian boys were us.

Half an hour later, we saw someone we suspected could be a prostitute. A young man, between 18 and 25, with slightly dark skin, short hair at the sides and a small beard.

We took a picture with a phone.

It was terrible.

 

Another bad photo

 

He started talking to the old guy.

The conversation seemed to be neutral, but cordial.

Then the younger man walked into the bushes with his telephone, came back, and showed the older guy something on his screen.

What did this picture show?

We were too far away to see.

Then the 'client' left. And the young man in shorts walked in and out of the bushes, seemingly on the hunt for someone else. Did we talk to him? We were staking him out. So we didn’t talk to him. Which was stupid. Did we talk to the old man? No. But we didn’t speak Italian.

We stayed in the cafe for a long time. The waitress kept asking if we wanted anything else. And we did that thing where you order the cheapest item on the menu. Which was a small water. 

Then she bought us the bill - which we hadn't ask for.

I think she hated us.

Did we hang around to see if more Romanian boys were arriving. Yes, but we were walking around with big cameras - or trying to take pictures craftily with our phones. Either the people looking for boys saw us, and became scared, or they were not there.

It wasn’t happening.

So we walked back to the grove, which was empty. Someone was coming out of the blue tent.

Who could it be?

It was a tramp with a muddy face and torn clothes.

We looked to the other side of the street. Opposite where Italians have sex with men in bushes.

The building that was standing there.

 

An irony

 

The Italian branch of the Romanian Academy. Inspired by the Académie Française, this is an institution that aims to “gather the preeminent personalities of Romania’s intellectual life”  to build progress in science and art through reflection and action.

I took a picture of the gated classical mansion with its mission statement sculpted in Latin.

And we remained without a story, standing next to a broken chair, on a carpet of cigarette ends, used condoms and muddy jars of empty lube.

 
 
 
You can read a more thorough exploration of Romanian prostitutes in Naples here - and thanks to Cecilia Ferrara, who helped us, but was professional throughout
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Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Sik has been in prison for nearly four months, accused on terrorism charges for tweeting criticisms of the Erdogan-led Government. 

Today he was acquitted of a previous charge - but he took the chance in the courtroom to attack Turkey''s controversial justice system

The video in Turkish is here

Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Sik attended the last hearing of the OdaTV trial today. 

He has been in jail for four months in another case. This trial should take place in the next ten days. 

Today in Caglayan Courthouse, after a couple of hours of deliberations, the judge asked for the last words of 13 defendants.

Ahmet Sik said:

“If I said what I am really thinking, it would be the subject of another court case. I am referring to the judiciary who wrote my new indictment. This courthouse has become a symbol of the graveyard of justice. The gravediggers are the judges and prosecutors themselves. At the entrance of this courthouse, you can see the statues of Lady Justice. She is holding scales. Supposedly, these scales are the symbol for justice. 

“But it is a fact that the scales don’t weigh anything for those looking for justice in this graveyard. 

“Actually, these are scales for judges and prosecutors; on one side, there is honour and integrity, and on the other side there is lack of honour and improbity. For these judges and prosecutors, the latter always weighs more.”

After Ahmet’s words, the judge asked for a recess. 

On his return, the judge ruled to acquit all 13 defendants in the OdaTV case. 

The case has first started in 2011 when Ahmet and his colleagues were detained for a year, accused of being members of a clandestine terrorist organisation, which was later found out to be fictional.

As Ahmet was leaving the courtroom to be taken back to jail, his supporters were shouting: “Ahmet will be free, he will write again.” Ahmet stopped the military police dragging him outside and turned to the spectators and said:

“This decision should be a lesson for the judges and prosecutors who wrote the [new] indictment against [us]. We will achieve a life where our children’s smiles will be real. This mafia government, this organised evil, will get the ending it deserves. They will face the inevitable.” 

Previously, Ahmet has used his time in the courthouse to launch attacks on the Turkish regime. In February he stated:

"We [the journalists] were tried in courts because we refused to bow down to a government which has normalised totalitarianism. We chased the truth. The biggest legacy we inherited is the idea that saying what the powerful wants told is not journalism. The people who taught us this were or are still being punished with jail or exile. When this was not enough, they were silenced with bombs or bullets. The fight waged by the powerful against journalists in order to censor the truth has been going on since the dawn of journalism in this land.

"But this fight is futile. Because, whoever you are, you cannot fight an idea that has truth at its base. If you think you’re fighting it, you should know that you cannot win. You will lose again and again.”

Turkey currently imprisons almost half of all detained journalists worldwide. At least 134 journalist are currently in jail in Turkey, all of them under anti-state charges. 

 

 

 

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Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Sik has been in prison for two months, accused on terrorism charges for tweeting criticisms of the Erdogan-led Government. Today he made a rare venture back into the public eye - speaking as a defendant in a different trial

This is what he said

 
Investigative Journalist Ahmet Sik hugs his daughter at his trial today. He remains in custody (Credit: Sinan Karahan - Twitter)
 
 
Ahmet Sik 15 February 2017, Istanbul. OdaTv trial

Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Sik was brought in front of a judge today to defend himself in the OdaTv trial. This is part of an investigation which started in 2011 when he was first detained for a year, accused with membership of a clandestine terrorist organisation, which was later found out to be fictional.

He is currently in jail waiting for the indictment in another case.

On 14 December 2016, the prosecutor wanted Ahmet Sik and other 13 defendants to be acquitted on the grounds of lack of evidence.

Sik refused and asked for extra time to defend himself in front of the court for the last time. The judge had postponed the hearing to 15 February 2017.

 

This is what Sik said in court today:

“Turkey is a strange country and has experienced many absurdities before now. But there has never been an era where universal democratic norms are thrown out and re-defined to serve the benefit of an organised evil which currently encompasses the country.

"George Orwell’s '1984' is frequently used to describe today’s Turkey, but Orwell would turn in his grave today. If you find this an exaggeration, I will give you a couple of examples.

"I’ll start with the most recent events. The [President Recep Tayyip Erdogan-backed leadership] are trying to sell us a one-man dictatorship as though it is democracy.

"The referendum [on 16 April to grant Erdogan more powers over the legislative branch of power] will be held under unequal circumstances, where everyone is sure there will be fraud, and where a person is branded a terrorist if he says he will vote 'no'.

"And the [leadership] present this referendum to us as the 'will of the nation'. They did not hesitate to turn the country into a bloodbath when the July 2015 general election result threatened their power and the oligarchic system they represent. At the end of the [Kurdish] peace process, the whole country turned into a graveyard.

"They want us to believe this is an advanced democracy and that press freedom is in its best ever era, and they say they have freed us from chains. But national and international organisations tell us: 'Turkey is the biggest prison for journalists in the world'.

"In the last ten years, pro-government loyalists liberally used the terms 'coup' and 'plotter' very liberally. Every anti-government movement was a 'coup' and every dissident was a 'plotter'. In fact, the actual military regimes and coups were welcomed by political Islamists in Turkey.

"The Justice and Development Party (the Erdogan-backed AKP Party) is itself the biggest example of this paradox of the illusion of democracy. They represent the mentality of darkness, but their logo is a light-bulb. They turn the country into a republic paved with cement, while destroying the environment and natural resources, and they call it development. And this trial itself shows their understanding of justice.

"Two of my lawyers are not here today. And not just them. My colleagues Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gursel, Guray Oz, Turhan Gunay, Hakan Kara, Musa Kart and Onder Celik aren’t here either. They are in jail.

"When evil prevails, we need truth more than ever. Because when facts are written down, evil ceases to be the last word. Not speaking, not remembering and not allowing ourselves to remember is denying ourselves the truth.

"We [the journalists] were tried in courts because we refused to bow down to a government which has normalised totalitarianism. We chased the truth. The biggest legacy we inherited is the idea that saying what the powerful wants told is not journalism. The people who taught us this were or are still being punished with jail or exile. When this was not enough, they were silenced with bombs or bullets. The fight waged by the powerful against journalists in order to censor the truth has been going on since the dawn of journalism in this land.

"But this fight is futile. Because, whoever you are, you cannot fight an idea that has truth at its base. If you think you’re fighting it, you should know that you cannot win. You will lose again and again.”

The trial lasted eight hours. This was expected to be the last hearing in the case. The judge, however, annouced a further hearing for 12 April 2017.

As Ahmet was leaving the courtroom, he turned to his colleagues watching the trial and shouted:

“We will demolish this blockade.”

 

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Over 120,000 Romanians protest in central Bucharest, violence breaks out after a few hundred hooligans start chucking flares at the police: eye-witness report

Bucharest 1 February 2017. A kiosk on fire. Tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators leave as violence from a minority sparks up

NB: This has been written down quickly, and may contain errors, so will be subject to change: any criticisms are welcome

 

I was not sure whether it was tear gas or pepper spray. It’s like chilli without the taste. It hits you at the back of throat. Instead of a flavour kick, it irritates you, resembling a cheap flu remedy. Then there is pain. And then the fear it could happen again.

Following a peaceful protest that attracted over 100,000 Romanians to demonstrate opposite the Government building in the capital’s central Piata Victoriei, violence broke out.

This is how it happened.

A group of hooligans started by setting off flares and chucking them at the cordon of armed riot police. The police stood firm, but were prepared. They had even positioned themselves in the exact location where the violence was about to escalate.

Then the plastic bottles started flying in the direction of the police. The crowd began to disperse. And opened up a pitch for a confrontation to take place. This did not happen at this stage. A few of the hooligans then began to pull out the metal cordons and throw them around the empty space. None of them attempted, as a group, to challenge or incite the police directly.

Some members of the rest of the crowd began to challenge the hooligans asking them what the fuck they were doing. This is a peaceful protest. Why are you messing this up? The answer was not to antagonize them further. Everyone from behind me began to shout “Without violence”.

Tens of thousands of people then began to leave the Piata - afraid of what might happen. The zone was then occupied by a few hundred men between the ages of 20 and 40, who began to throw snowballs at the police.

A few people started to sit down in the square. But this was not a university they were occupying with nice middle-class scholars - it was now an open square hosting rioters with an unclear intent.

When the police moved forward a few steps, they ran back, and when people start running, everyone starts running. Slowly the police began to occupy more areas of the Piata.

Then came the tear gas. It carried through the air and smack into the face of a few of the demonstrators who could not see, and had to be assisted by friends out of the central square. A few pockets of violence then began. This included a group who set fire to an advertising kiosk. When the firemen came to put out the flames, they told them to leave it and let it burn. Until I left, what followed were running battles between the riot cops and men chucking plastic bottles, flares and snowballs. It looked to be a few hundred men involved in urging a battle - possibly 500 or more. Since then more fires have started at the end of Calea Victoriei.

For five hours, the capital emptied onto the streets tonight. The crowd was angry and the crowd was peaceful. One could even call the demonstration boring and cold. In parts there was a carnival atmosphere, with drummers - even a man dressed as Dracula. The evolution of this protest was moving into a more creative direction.

One man was giving out plastic cups of popcorn instead of bullets. There were over 100,000 attendees. The media has alleged in the past that many of these were paid to be there. I hate to think who is losing so much money on these people. Their numbers increase with every new decision made by this Government.

No one wanted to come out on a sub-zero Wednesday in February to protest against a change in a legal code in Romania. This is not a fight that the people of Bucharest wanted to have. But they wanted to stand up for their principles. Romania is shuffling off its international stereotype as a poverty-stricken backwater that fuels the shitty jobs in western Europe to become, in only a decade, a model member of the European Union. Its fight against high level corruption is the envy of the rest of the region. Romania now has a brand. The brand of a justice system that is dynamic and effective. Romania is the country that gets results. And the people want to protect that brand, nurture it, and help it nourish the rest of the nation - which still sees huge disparities in wealth and the distribution of power.   

This pitch battle (which is continuing as I write) will only confuse the issue. It is not representative of even a small fraction of the demonstrators. When there is violence, the news will focus on violence. The camera naturally turns to a blaze, or a screaming face, or a fist raised in the air. As journalists, we cannot shake this addiction to such dramatics.

The problem for the crowd was that these hooligans were organised, with a singular purpose, while the protestors were not. 

 

The background 

 

Romania’s Government has declared a war on the war against corruption. The Government, backed by the Social Democratic Party, issued an emergency decree on Tuesday 31 January rendering public misconduct legal if the damages are less that 50,000 Euro.

This also gives amnesty to those who have been convicted or face indictment for these crimes in the past - which means the National Anti-Corruption Department has to drop cases against politicians who are investigated for such crimes. These decisions will affect over 2,000 cases brought by the DNA into official misconduct.

It is likely this would include the current president of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, viewed as the kingmaker of the current Government.

Officially the move is intended to reduce overcrowding in prison, but the focus on official misconduct, rather than minor crimes such as theft, indicates that this will favour an amnesty on public officials.

One of my friends said this will “set fire to the country to save politicians from prison”. So far, only advertising kiosks have been burnt down. As I write, this may have gotten worse.

Romania has become a model in the region for fighting corruption due to the efforts of the Anti-Corruption Department (DNA) which investigates graft and malfeasance among high-level officials.

The President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, said: “The Government has ignored the dreams and aspirations of millions of free Romanians who want to live in a country liberated from corruption.”

One hopes those dreams and aspirations may not have gone up in the flames of a kiosk in Bucharest’s central business district.

 
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