Portrait mural of Job Maseko

The South African WW2 hero who didn’t get a Victoria Cross


A mural now commemorates Job Maseko in his hometown of Springs

South African World War Two hero Job Maseko was denied the highest military award because he was black, campaigners believe, and his family have backed a push to get him the posthumous honour.

War hero Lance Corporal Job Maseko died a poor man in 1952.

Struck by a train in a tragic accident aged just 36 his exploits were in danger of being forgotten.

A decade earlier, while a prisoner of war, he used an improvised explosive to blow up a German freighter docked in Tobruk, Libya.

Once back in South Africa, his treatment, compared to white veterans, reflected the racist policies of the time – and there are some who believe this extended to how he was honoured for his act of bravery.

He was awarded the Military Medal “for meritorious and courageous action” but Bill Gillespie, who thinks he was blocked from receiving the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest honour, is campaigning to get it upgraded.

‘Sorrow and pride’

Maseko’s family support the move.

“I’m very proud of what he did but at the same time, there’s sorrow. If he were a white soldier we believe he would’ve received the [higher] award,” his niece Jennifer Nkosi Maaba tells the BBC while laying flowers at his grave.

Woman by a headstone

Maseko’s niece Jennifer Nkosi Maaba believes that racism played a role in her uncle not receiving the Victoria Cross

About 80,000 black South Africans served in the Native Military Corps (NMC). After the war, they were given bicycles and boots, and sometimes a suit, as a reward. White soldiers received housing and land.

The South African authorities were also reluctant to celebrate and highlight Maseko’s action as it “represented the possibilities of empowerment offered by military service that the state wanted to curtail”, according to historian Suryakanthie Chetty.

Members of the NMC were not issued firearms, but could carry traditional weapons, and served as non-combatants, working as labourers, guards or in a medical role.

Maseko, himself, was a stretcher bearer for the allied forces in North Africa, where he rescued wounded men often under heavy fire.

Blowing up a ship

But he became a prisoner of war in June 1942 when his commander surrendered to the Germans in Tobruk. There he was put to work on the docks unloading supplies.

Using knowledge that he had picked up working in gold mines in South Africa, on 21 July Maseko filled a small tin with gunpowder and placed it near some petrol drums in the hold of a ship which sank after the explosion, according to the official citation that went with his Military Medal.

He “displayed ingenuity, determination and complete disregard of personal safety from punishment by the enemy or from the ensuing explosion which set the vessel alight”.

“He deserves more than a pair of boots and a bicycle for his bravery… He deserves the Victoria Cross because his courage put South Africa’s military prowess on the map,” Ms Nkosi Maaba says, reflecting on her uncle’s actions of nearly 80 years ago.

Mr Gillespie, who is behind efforts to get a VC for Maseko, believes that the veteran’s skin colour meant the highest possible award was blocked by South Africa.

“I’m absolutely certain of that… the Military Medal was just a consolation prize,” says the campaigner, whose father also fought for South Africa in World War Two.

Neville Lewis, South Africa’s official war artist during the conflict, alleged that Maseko was “recommended for a Victoria Cross but being ‘only an African’ he had received the Military Medal instead”, according to JS Mohlamme, writing in South Africa’s Military History Journal.

Memorial programme for Job Maseko

Job Maseko was remembered in a memorial service a few months after his death

The curator of the National Museum of Military History, which prominently displays Maseko’s portrait, agrees that he should have got a higher award.

“The sad reality is that black South Africans who volunteered to be part of the army just like their white counterparts were treated unfairly. Personally I think that Mr Maseko should’ve got the VC,” Alan Sinclair tells the BBC.

But according to the head of the Victoria Cross Trust, which works to preserve the memories of those awarded the medal, there may have been other reasons for him not receiving the highest honour.

“There’s no doubt that what Job did in terms of the sabotage of the ship was exceptionally dangerous and would’ve probably have led to his death had he been caught,” Keith Lumley says.

“However at the moment it doesn’t seem to quite hit the level of a VC because it wasn’t witnessed. While there’s no doubt that he did what he did… but nobody actually saw him do it. I just get the sense from what I’ve read that his Military Medal was a reflection of his actions.”

As for the UK’s ministry of defence, it seems unlikely that it will at the moment upgrade the award.

While acknowledging the bravery of all African servicemen and women in World War Two, a spokesperson told the BBC in an email that “we cannot consider retrospective awards because we are unable to confirm the circumstances or compare the merits between cases that took place so many years ago”.

‘Statue for Job’

Mr Gillespie’s efforts to get the ministry to change its mind hit a setback when a petition to try and raise the issue in the UK’s parliament was rejected on a technicality. It was turned down as these types of petitions cannot call for someone to get an award.

But he believes more should be done to commemorate Maseko’s gallantry.

“We’re busy arguing about removing statues but how about we put one up for Job… that way he’ll always be remembered.”

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And Mr Lumley offers some hope.

He points out that Teddy Sheean of the Australian Navy was awarded a VC in November last year following 50 years of lobbying by his family for an act that took place in 1942.

“So in Job’s case I’m not saying he hasn’t earned the VC but more work needs to be done to find those extra details that would cause the VC to be appropriate.”

But in his home town, the Kwa-Thema township in Springs, Maseko’s legacy lives on. A main road and a primary school have been named after him and a large mural with his portrait has also been painted.

At his graveside, his niece is obviously pleased about the renewed attention his story is getting.

Turning to the headstone Ms Nkosi Maaba proudly says: “Your memory lives on uncle, continue resting in peace.”

Nomsa Maseko is a distant relative of Job but has not played any part in the campaign backed by his close family.

A boy waves a Palestine flag as demonstrators attend a protest in London

Thousands join London march in solidarity with Palestine | Palestinian territories


Thousands of people have begun to march through Hyde Park, central London, in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Organisers say immediate action is needed from the UK government to help end the “brutal” violence against the Palestinian people.

At least 126 people have been killed in Gaza, including 31 children, after a spiral of violence that began with the eviction of Arabs from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in east Jerusalem. In Israel at least seven people have been killed, including one child.

Saturday is the Palestinian Nakba day, marking the anniversary of the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs from their homes more than 70 years ago.

A boy waves a Palestine flag as demonstrators attend a protest in London. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Protesters gathered at Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park, and will march to the Israeli embassy at Palace Green, Kensington. The MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Zarah Sultana and Diane Abbott are among the scheduled speakers.

The demonstration has been organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Palestinian Forum in Britain, Stop the War Coalition, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Muslim Association of Britain.

A spokesperson said: “It is vital that the UK government takes immediate action. It must stop allowing Israel’s brutal violence against and oppression of the Palestinian people to go unpunished.

“The bombardment of Gaza which is killing civilians including children is a war crime. It is occurring in the context of the illegal forced displacement of families in Jerusalem and attacks on Palestinian citizens of Israel by far-right groups including illegal settlers from the West Bank.

“The UK government is complicit in these acts as long as it continues to offer Israel military, diplomatic and financial support. Such support must end with a minimum start being an end to the two-way arms trade and trade with illegal Israeli settlements.”

On Tuesday, there were tensions as thousands of protesters waving Palestinian flags and carrying placards marched from Westminster to the Israeli embassy were met with a small number of pro-Israel counter protesters. Five people were arrested.

The organisers of Saturday’s demonstration said they expected up to 20,000 people.

Schools ditch student mask requirements in growing numbers

Schools ditch student mask requirements in growing numbers


Many parents in school districts where masks have become voluntary also are concerned. AP Photo

As a lengthy, bitter fight over mask requirements for students neared its conclusion, the chairperson of a Florida school board announced that she would agree to lift a mandate that had been in place since September even though she preferred leaving it in place until the end of the academic year. Parents hurled insults in response.
“Communist! Democrat!,” opponents of making children wear masks in school shouted as Ueberschaer and the district superintendent said at a May 3 meeting that they still considered masks advisable. “This is Santa Rosa County, America, not China!”
Moments later, the Santa Rosa school board voted unanimously to make masks optional for all grades effective immediately, joining dozens of other U.S, communities in declaring that masks were or would soon no longer be mandatory for students.
The debates have been emotional and highly divisive around the country, in some cases leading to the involvement of police. A few beleaguered school boards, caught between the demands of anti-mask parents and the appeals of employee unions, eliminated student mask rules only to reverse or revise the decisions. Where many see a continued need to protect children who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19, opponents argue that masks make students uncomfortable and mandates impinge on freedom.
“The mask is a personal choice, and I wore it at the beginning, but I just decided that it wasn’t about the mask anymore,” said Cynthia Licharowicz, a Milton, Florida, parent who opposed Santa Rosa County’s rule. “So I decided to take it off, and I wanted my child to have the same choice.”
The dustups highlight competing risk narratives 14 months into the pandemic: Even as a number of US schools remain closed to minimize infections, districts in states from Alabama to Wyoming decided to ditch student mask mandates. Many more are likely to do the same before the next school year starts, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance that schools “should prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing.”
Some public health experts are alarmed. While the Food and Drug Administration this week approved Pfizer‘s Covid-19 vaccine for children as young as 12, it’s unlikely that many young adolescents will be vaccinated before the end of the academic year. Data from the CDC shows infection rates among US residents ages 14-17 are now higher than for Americans, while the rates among children 6-13 are getting closer to the national average.
“We know that masks work to reduce transmission,” Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said. “This is really not the time to remove one of the best tools we have to reduce transmission.”
Many parents in school districts where masks have become voluntary also are concerned. School districts in the South, Midwest and West have done away with mandatory masks. In Arkansas, a law will make it illegal by the end of the summer for schools, or any government entity to require masks.
“I am so frustrated… I don’t see any harm in wearing masks, and there is potential harm in not wearing a mask,” said Christie Black, the mother of a kindergartner and a third grader in Mesa, Arizona, who was puzzled by the decision of the state’s largest school district to make masks optional indoors starting earlier this month.
There’s little US data about the spread of the coronavirus in schools where students didn’t wears masks since most reopened schools required them, said Adam Hersh, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah. Mask supporters point to worrying examples, including high transmission at a maskless summer camp in Georgia.
Evidence from earlier in the pandemic found children less likely than adults to be infected with the coronavirus and less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19. The CDC has said that while schools haven’t been associated with substantial spread, outbreaks in schools not following infection-prevention measures “tend to result in increased transmission among teachers and school staff rather than among students.”
Black continues to send her two children to school with masks but says “they flung their masks off” as soon as they saw classmates no longer covering their faces.
“I feel like because the governor and the school board caved to peer pressure, it’s now up to my children not to cave to peer pressure,” Black said. “It just feels like we’re more concerned with our own freedom and rights than doing what’s best for the most vulnerable.”
In Santa Rosa, east of Pensacola, mask opponents dominated public debate even though surveys of parents and teachers showed divided opinions in the 28,000-student district. A small majority of teachers wanted to require masks at least through the end of the school year, while a small majority of parents wanted the requirement lifted immediately.
The school board’s April 20 discussion about the issue nonetheless grew so heated that sheriff’s deputies escorted multiple attendees out of the meeting, including at least one who was shouting profanities at board members.
Jennifer Hensley, a Santa Rosa County parent and middle school teacher, was the only member of the public at the meeting who spoke in favor of keeping the mask mandate versus the 18 who spoke against the requirement. She said she was worried about the health of her fellow teachers and of her 15-year-old daughter, who has an autoimmune disorder.
“The atmosphere was so charged,” Hensley recalled later. “I don’t think they were expecting that level of emotion to be involved.”
Critics of the mask policy started organizing months earlier. Hailei Smead, a mother of three students, runs a Facebook group called Santa Rosa County Parents SPEAK UP that was created in September to oppose mask requirements and has nearly 900 members registered.
Smead said her fifth-grade daughter was repeatedly isolated in the school office for refusing to wear a mask and eventually obtained a medical exception allowing her to forego a face covering. Smead declined to state the medical reason.
“It’s not society’s job to protect every other individual,” Smead said. “It’s your own job to protect yourself and your own family.”
Santa Rosa County district leaders emphasized they were following public health guidance, but state officials undercut that position even as public pressure built locally. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on April 14 urged local superintendents to make masks optional for the 2021-2022 school year.
On April 29, Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees rolled back a series of health advisories that had been cited by the Santa Rosa district. So the school board called the May 3 meeting at which its five members voted to revoke the mask mandate.
“I still strongly recommend the use of facemasks, especially for those who are not fully vaccinated,” board chair Ueberschaer said before the vote, raising her voice to be heard over shouting parents. “My hope is that the families will have a conversation with their children that face masks are now a personal choice, and that students should respect the choice of their peers.”
Some of the insults hurled at Ueberschaer, a longtime school volunteer who is of Asian descent. included references to China.
“It truly does make me sad that face masks have morphed from a virus-prevention strategy to a political statement,” she said.


Children play chess in Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria - Wednesday 5 May 2021

Africa’s top shots: 30 April-6 May 2021


A selection of the week’s best photos from across the continent:

A girl ponders a chess move in Makoko, a slum in the Nigerian city of Lagos, on Wednesday…

A kola nut seller in Lagos, Nigeria - Saturday 1 May 2021

In the city on Saturday, a woman sells kola nuts for people attending a workers’ day parade.

Two girls looking at out a mobile phone in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Friday 30 April 2021

Two girls check out a mobile phone on Friday during a religious gathering for Orthodox Good Friday in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa…

A poultry seller holding two birds in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Saturday 1 May 2021

In the city the next day, Orthodox Christians flock to a poultry market to buy a bird to prepare for an Easter feast.

War veterans and other marking patriot day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Wednesday 5 May 2021

War veterans in Addis Ababa mark Patriots Day on Wednesday, which is a national holiday in Ethiopia that commemorates the end of the Italian occupation in 1941.

A woman lights a candles at Ghriba Synagogue, Djerba, Tunisia - Friday 30 April 2021

A Jewish pilgrim lights a candle at Ghriba Synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba on Friday…

A woman writes prayers on an egg at Ghriba Synagogue, Djerba, Tunisia - Friday 30 April 2021

The annual pilgrimage includes the age-old tradition of writing prayers on eggs.

A nurse holding up a syringe in Tunis, Tunisia - Monday 3 May 2021

A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at a Covid-19 centre in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, on Monday.

A man diving into the sea in Tripoli, Libya - Friday 30 April 2021

A Libyan dives into the sea from rocks in the capital, Tripoli, on Friday.

Swallows flying by a bridge over the River Niger, Bamako, Mali - Friday 30 April 2021

On the same day, swallows swoop by a bridge over the Niger River in Mali’s capital, Bamako. The area is the site of a Sufi community in the city.

MMA champion Francis Ngannou parading through Bafoussam on a vehicle, Cameroon - Saturday 1 May 2021

Francis Ngannou, the new world champion of heavyweight mixed martial arts who is known as “The Predator”, parades through the Cameroonian city of Bafoussam on Saturday on a triumphant return home.

A woman pours camel milk from a dish into a plastic container near N'Djamena, Chad - Tuesday 4 May 2021

After milking some camels, a woman carefully pours the liquid into a plastic container in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, on Tuesday.

David Ngwerume with a face-masked sculpture in Harare, Zimbabwe - Friday 30 April 2021

Zimbabwean sculptor David Ngwerume poses with his work of a woman wearing a Covid-19 face mask in the capital, Harare, on Friday.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan in Kenya's parliament, Nairobi, Kenya - Wednesday 5 May 2021

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan prepares to address Kenya’s parliament on Wednesday wearing a face mask – something she doesn’t use at home…

Kenya's police band in the rain in Nairobi, Kenya - Wednesday 5 May 2021

There is much pomp and ceremony during her state visit, though the Kenya police band gets drenched waiting to perform on Wednesday.

A protester being manhandled by a police officer in Nairobi, Kenya - Saturday 1 May 2021

In the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Saturday, a man is arrested during a protest demanding better living conditions for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Crowds gather at night holding phones to provide light at the funeral of Zubair Ahmed al-Hassan, the secretary general of the Islamic Movement in Khartoum, Sudan - Saturday 1 May 2021

On the same day in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, people gather for the funeral ceremony for Zubair Ahmed al-Hassan, the secretary general of the Islamic Movement and an ally of ousted President Omar al-Bashir. He had been in custody awaiting trial for corruption.

A man sitting on a chair outside and holding a radio in Lukodi, Uganda - Thursday 6 May 2021

A man in northern Uganda holds a radio on Thursday to listen to the International Criminal Court’s sentencing of Dominic Ongwen, a child soldier-turned-rebel commander, to 25 years in jail.

Nomuzi Mabena at a SA Fashion Week event in Midrand, South Africa - Saturday 1 May 2021

It is all glitz and glamour at a South Africa Fashion Week event in Midrand on Saturday where Nomuzi Mabena, a rapper and TV presenter better known as Moozlie, poses for the cameras.

A moon seen behind a minaret at night in Cairo, Egypt - Tuesday 4 May 2021

And more beauty is on display on Tuesday as the moon is seen behind a mosque’s minaret decorated for Ramadan in Egypt’s capital, Cairo.

All photos subject to copyright.

Princess Frederica Tuita speaks at a candlelight vigil held in Tonga for Polikalepo Kefu, the president of Tonga Leitis Association, an organisation dedicated to the country’s LGBTQ+ communities, who was killed in May.

‘We’re seen as dogs’: death of Tongan LGBTQ+ activist sparks calls for reform | Tonga


The large hall of the basilica in the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa, hasn’t seen many crowds since Covid restrictions were introduced a year ago.

But on Thursday night, people from across all parts of society packed every inch of available space in the venue, clad mostly in black and the traditional woven ta’ovala dress.

Tongan authorities have granted an exemption to the 50-person cap on indoor gatherings, so that people from across the Pacific country can come together for a candlelight vigil in memory of LGBTQ+ and humanitarian activist Polikalepo “Poli” Kefu.

Kefu, 41, a beloved leader in Tonga, was killed on Saturday on a beach near his home in Lapaha. Police have charged a 27-year-old man with his murder. The death has sent shock waves through the small country and through its LGBTQI+ community, who hope that it will spur action to tackle homophobic attitudes and to repeal thediscriminatory laws in the country.

Among those who have come to pay tribute is a member of the country’s royal family, Princess Frederica Tuita, who struggles through tears as she speaks about her close friend of nearly 20 years.

“Being Tongan means living as Poli did, embodying our society’s values of love, humility, respect, and loyalty,” said Tuita.

Princess Frederica Tuita speaks at a candlelight vigil held in Tonga for Polikalepo Kefu. Photograph: Broadcom fm Broadcasting

As diplomatically as she can, considering her high-profile position, Princess Tuita proceeds with an indictment on Tonga for allowing Kefu’s death to happen.

“Our society has yet to take command of the responsibility required to truly commit to those [Tongan] values, and implement them where it counts.”

Where it counts, Tuita implies, is in the greater protections of leitī people against the threat of hate crime.

The Tongan word leitī is one of the many descriptors across the Pacific region to recognise the diverse sexual and gender expressions in their populations.

“It’s more of a comfort word for the LGBTQ+ community. We just call everybody leitī, whether you are trans, a lesbian, or however you identify,” says Joey Joleen Mataele, founder of the Tonga Leitīs Association, who passed down her presidency to Kefu in 2018.

A man handed himself in to police on Monday and has been charged with Kefu’s murder. Tongan Police have not commented on whether they believe Kefu was the vitim of a hate crime, or not.

The hashtag #JusticeForPoli has stayed trending as communities from around the South Pacific gather to host their own vigils. Specifically, the justice the Pacific LGBTQ+ groups are calling for is sweeping law reform, including the repeal of Tonga’s Criminal Offences Act, which makes sodomy punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

President of Tonga Leitis Association Polikalepo Kefu who was killed in Tonga.
President of Tonga Leitis Association Polikalepo Kefu who was killed in Tonga. Photograph: Twitter

These legal issues are not unique to Tonga. In popular tourist destinations like Samoa and Cook Islands, homosexual sex acts are punishable by a prison sentence.

Samoa, which has hosted fa’afafine – understood in western terms as the third, non-binary gender – beauty pageants since the 1970s, only repealed laws criminalising the “impersonation” of females in 2013.

According to Phylesha Brown-Acton, a fakafifine (a Niuean gender identity designation) woman and executive director of F’ine Pasifika, these discriminatory laws empower some members of the community to feel comfortable acting in hateful ways toward leitī people.

“It gives people the permission to further treat leitī worse than dogs. I’m sorry to say, but in Tonga, Tonga has a Dog Act. Dogs have vets and doctors that look after them. There’s absolutely nothing for the leitī, we’re seen as a lower class of animals such as a dog,” said Brown-Acton.

Ymania Brown, the co-secretary of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA World), works hand-in-hand with LGBTQ+ groups in the Pacific to help lobby for law reform.

“There are many, many variables to successfully change laws and some of those variables include the cultural attitudes of different countries, which are different between Pacific nations. To know what’s right for Papua New Guinea, is not right for the Solomon Islands, or for Tonga, or Samoa,” said Brown.

‘The police told me it was my fault’

Police in most Pacific nations do not specifically record incidents of hate crime, so getting conclusive data on how frequently these cases occur is difficult, but Brown-Acton has her own harrowing story of how bad it can be.

She says in 2007 she was the victim of an attempted gang-rape by a group of about 10 men.

She says they pinned her down and tried to tear her pants off, but she was able to get free and run for help. Brown-Acton immediately went to the police to file a charge, but says her complaints were met with ambivalence.

“Basically the police were just like, ‘this is your fault, you should never have been there.’ Nothing eventuated. Nobody was held accountable,” said Brown-Acton. She believes she was attacked because she is queer and that police did not take her seriously for the same reason.

“I’m not isolated to being the only person that has had experienced this, leitī endure and experience violence, day after day”

Tongan Police deputy commissioner, Tevita Vailea said he wasn’t aware of this particular case but invited Brown-Acton to come forward to provide more information about the incident.

“Tongan police have come a long way in trying to develop our capacity and development of Tonga police,” said Vailea. “And part of that you see, is treating people in our society in a more fair and equitable way. So we are doing our best to encourage all victims of crime to come forward and report to us.”

By all accounts, police work into Poli’s death has been thorough and efficient. The accused murderer is remanded in custody and is due to appear at the magistrates court on 19 May. Investigations into the death are ongoing.

‘We must win our battle before the church’

Beyond policing, Brown-Acton says the fraught relationships between Pacific Island nations and their LGBTQ+ communities largely stems from the introduction of Christianity into the South Pacific from the 18th century.

Before missionaries arrived in the Pacific, all Pacific cultures were known to have wide acceptance of leitīs, fa’afafine, and the many other sexual identities that make up the Pacific.

For religious institutions, which are a fundamental cornerstone of life in the Pacific Islands, the road to accepting these cultural practices has been long and complicated.

Joey, the founder of the Tonga leitīs Association, and a trans woman, remembers the shock on the faces of the congregation when in the late 1970s, she plucked up the courage to wear a dress to a busy Sunday mass. As far as she knows, she was the first first leitī to ever do it in Tonga.

“It was an electric blue pleated dress and I remember walking in that I turned a lot of heads, I was the biggest show of the day,” said Joey. “I don’t know if I was trying to make a statement, but I was just wanting to be me.”

Today, leitī in Tonga can mostly feel free to dress as they please in church, and they’re seeing acknowledgment by some religious institutions.

At Kefu’s vigil, Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tonga, spoke of the community that “mourn together with the leitīs’ association.”

Ymania Brown, from ILGA World, says that while there may be some progress, there’s a long way to go.

“We need to win the battle in front of the church before we can win in front of the law reformers, because if we win it in front of the clergy, they will stand in front of us. They will actually argue for us, for our inclusion,” said Brown.

In the meantime, the Tongan Leitīs’ Association and various other LGBTQ+ groups are looking to push reform urgently in the legal system.

“It’s hard for me to say, yes, Poli’s death is going to result in wide sweeping changes, because a lot of it depends not on us, because we’re ready, it depends on legislators and parliamentarians in the Pacific to stand up and develop a backbone. They need to care enough about humanity to say, yes, this is a group of people that need protection and then we can have changes,” said Brown.

In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support for rape and sexual abuse on 0808 802 9999. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html

Facebook oversight board upholds Donald Trump's suspension

Facebook oversight board upholds Donald Trump’s suspension


Former US President Donald Trump

Facebook Inc’s oversight board on Wednesday upheld the company’s suspension of former US President Donald Trump in a much-awaited verdict that may signal how the company will treat rule-breaking world leaders in the future.
Facebook indefinitely blocked Trump’s access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts over concerns of further violent unrest following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the former president.
At the time of the suspension, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post that “the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.” The company later referred the case to its recently established board, which includes academics, lawyers and rights activists, to decide whether to uphold the ban or restore Trump.
“Both of those decisions are no-win decisions for Facebook,” said Kate Klonick, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University who embedded at Facebook to follow the board’s creation. “So, offloading those to a third party, the Oversight Board, is a win for them no matter what.”
The binding verdict marks a major decision for the board, which rules on a small slice of challenging content decisions and which Facebook created as an independent body as a response to criticism over how it handles problematic material. Facebook has also asked the board to provide recommendations on how it should handle political leaders’ accounts.
Tech platforms have grappled in recent years with how to police world leaders and politicians that violate their guidelines. Facebook has come under fire both from those who think it should abandon its hands-off approach to political speech and those who saw the Trump ban as a worrying act of censorship.
Trump was permanently banned from Twitter Inc, where he has more than 88 million followers.
Trump, who has been sending out short, emailed press releases, continued to promote election misinformation in one on Monday, saying “the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!”
On Tuesday, he launched a new web page to share messages that readers can then re-post to their Facebook or Twitter accounts. A senior adviser has said Trump also has plans to launch his own social media platform.
Facebook has said Trump, who has 35 million Facebook followers, would be subject to the same policies as ordinary users after the end of his presidency. This means that if Trump returned to the platform, his posts would now be eligible for fact-checking. Following a widening of the board’s scope in April, Facebook users would also be able to appeal the former president’s posts to the board.
Trump’s suspension was the first time Facebook had blocked a current president, prime minister or head of state. Facebook’s oversight board said it received more than 9,000 comments from the public on the Trump ban, the most it has had for a case so far.
Several academics and civil rights groups have publicly shared their letters urging the board to block Trump permanently, while Republican lawmakers and some free expression advocates have criticized the decision.
Since taking action on Trump, social media companies have faced calls from some rights groups and activists to be more consistent in their approach to other world leaders who have pushed or broken their rules, such as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Leader Ali Khamenei, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and lawmakers linked to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I would hope that they’re also thinking about the precedent-setting of this,” said Katie Harbath, a former Facebook public policy director and a fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center. “What does that look like internationally, what does that look like in the long term?” she added.
The Oversight Board, an idea that Zuckerberg first publicly floated in 2018, currently has 20 members, including former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and several law experts and rights advocates. Decisions need only majority approval.
The board, which some have dubbed Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” has been hailed as a novel experiment by some researchers but blasted by other critics who have been skeptical over its independence or view it as a PR stunt to deflect attention from the company’s more systemic problems.
It is funded through a $130 million trust created by Facebook and has so far made rulings on a small number of cases from hate speech to nudity.
Facebook’s head of global affairs Nick Clegg told Reuters in January that he was “very confident” of the company’s case on Trump’s ban and said “any reasonable person” looking at Facebook’s policies and the circumstances would agree.


Richard Ratcliffe, pictured with daughter Gabriella, hailed the statement from Iran that his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, could be freed as ‘a better sign’

Family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hail reports of £400m deal for her freedom


Richard Ratcliffe, pictured with daughter Gabriella, hailed the statement from Iran that his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, could be freed as ‘a better sign’

The family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hailed Iranian reports that a £400 million deal had been secured for her release as a “good sign”, as Britain insisted talks were ongoing.

Iranian state media claimed on Sunday that Tehran had struck a deal in which London would repay a 1970s arms debt to secure her freedom.

“The release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in exchange for the UK’s payment of its £400 million debt to Iran has … been finalised,” an Iranian official said.

Richard Ratcliffe, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, told The Telegraph that the family had not yet heard anything from London or Tehran, adding: “It’s probably a good sign that it’s being signalled, just as last week’s sentence was a bad sign. But my instinct is it is still a negotiating tactic.”

He added: “It doesn’t feel like things are resolved yet, even if the parameters are clearer and clearer.”

Referring to the debt, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We continue to explore options to resolve this 40-year-old case and will not comment further as discussions are ongoing.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already completed a five-year prison sentence in Iran over dubious spying charges. She was sentenced to an additional year in prison last week on charges of plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic, which she strongly denies.

The fresh sentence came after a UK High Court hearing to resolve the £400 million debt payment was postponed without explanation. British sources said on Sunday night that the trial had been delayed at the request of the Iranian Ministry of Defence.

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, will meet with Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, tomorrow at the G7 in London, where Iran will be on the agenda.

The United States strongly denied separate Iranian claims on Sunday that a deal involving a US-Iran prisoner swap had been agreed.

Iranian treatment of Nazanin ‘amounts to torture’

It came as Mr Raab said Iran’s treatment of the British-Iranian aid worker amounted to “torture”, the strongest rhetoric from the Government on the case so far.

Dominic Raab told the BBC's Andrew Marr that Iran had an to release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe 'immediately and without condition'

Dominic Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that Iran had an to release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘immediately and without condition’

“I think it amounts to torture the way she’s being treated,” Mr Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme. He added that there was an “obligation on Iran to release her immediately and without condition”.

He also said it was “very difficult to argue” against claims that she was being held by Iran as a hostage.

“It is clear that she is subjected to a cat and mouse game that the Iranians, or certainly part of the Iranian system, engage with and they try to use her for leverage on the UK,” he said.

Mr Raab went on to stress that her imprisonment was “not solely” related to the arms debt. “We’ve said that debt is something we want to have resolved,” he added.

Iran is facing elections in June that will choose a successor to President Hassan Rouhani and is engaged in key talks in Vienna on restoring the Obama-era nuclear deal.

The dispute over the arms debt dates back to the 1970s, when the Shah of Iran paid the UK £400 million for 1,500 Chieftain tanks. The UK then refused to deliver the tanks after the Shah was toppled in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said last September that “the Government acknowledges there is a debt to be paid”.

US denies deal to swap prisoners

The United States poured cold water on Iranian claims that Tehran and Washington had agreed to swap four US prisoners for four Iranian prisoners as well as the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds.

Ron Klain, Joe Biden’s chief of staff, told CBS’ Face the Nation that “unfortunately, that report is untrue. There is no agreement to release these four Americans.”

“We’re working very hard to get them released,” Mr Klain said. “We raise this with Iran and our interlocutors all the time, but so far there’s no agreement.”

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said the US had “not yet reached agreement” with Iran, adding that “there’s still fair distance to travel to close the remaining gaps”.

Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP who is in close contact with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family, praised Mr Raab for increasing the pressure on Iran.

“I am aware there are news reports circulating about the debt being paid to #FreeNazanin. I have spoken to her family and they have heard nothing confirming any of these rumours,” she wrote on Twitter.

“It was however welcome to hear Dominic Raab refer to her torture this morning on Marr. I hope the Government is doing all it can to get the hostages home.”

Stuart Brooker

Anxious unionists in little mood to celebrate Northern Ireland centenary | Northern Ireland


Covered up and boxed in a storage vault in the town of Enniskillen, two historic oil paintings gathered dust. King William III commissioned the portraits of himself and Queen Mary after he routed Catholic forces in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a turning point in Irish history that established Protestant ascendance.

Unionists revere King Billy, also known as William of Orange, as a hero who saved their settler ancestors. The portraits used to gaze down from Enniskillen town hall, a reminder of their link to the crown, until the council voted to remove them in 2002.

For some unionists in this corner of County Fermanagh, it felt like a foreshadowing of their own fate. Next week they were supposed to celebrate Northern Ireland’s centenary, the 100th birthday of a state made from six of Ireland’s 32 counties in 1921 with one overriding goal: a permanent Protestant and therefore unionist majority.

But instead of festive, the mood is anxious and focused on loss – loss of power, cohesion, confidence – and with fear of worse to come, of history closing the lid.

“Northern Ireland has been a success story in many ways but people now see their Britishness being eroded. We feel diminished. It’s a lonely position,” said Stuart Brooker, an assistant grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

The portraits’ banishment – at the behest of a nationalist-controlled council – reflected a wider erosion of unionism, he said. “Things like that hurt. They hurt.” Though the paintings emerged from mothballs in 2018 and now hang at the county museum, they will not be returning to the town hall.

Stuart Brooker: ‘People now see their Britishness being eroded.’ Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

The centenary comes at arguably the most fraught moment for unionism in the state’s eventful 100 years. Catholics are on the cusp of outnumbering Protestants for the first time – a demographic shift apparent in Catholic majorities in schools and universities. Opinion polls suggest Sinn Féin could lead the next governments north and south of the border. A referendum on Irish unity seems a matter of when, not if.

Brexit has produced a trade border down the Irish Sea, which in unionist eyes economically decouples the region from the rest of the UK. Unionist parties are in disarray. The Democratic Unionist party (DUP) has just dumped Arlene Foster as its leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister, blaming her for the sea border, but party sources admit there is no masterplan, no new strategy to unpick the Northern Ireland protocol. The Ulster Unionist and Traditional Unionist Voice parties lack heft. In the vacuum hover loyalist youths and shadowy paramilitaries who recently rioted.

Little wonder few have appetite to celebrate the centenary. “I think it’s more something to be recognised,” said Tom Elliott, a former Ulster Unionist leader and MP. “I’m very pleased and proud to be in the UK and feel it’s the best way forward. It would have been better if all of Ireland had stayed in the UK.”

Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew won Elliott’s Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat in 2017 and held it in 2019, in effect ending his political career and consolidating nationalism’s ascendance in the constituency.

Elliott worries about the union with Great Britain – the possibility of Scotland seceding heightens concern – but he thinks that could galvanise unionists to sell the union to voters. “If you have some nerves going into a big game it makes you more diligent.”

Tom Elliott
The former MP Tom Elliott at Enniskillen’s war memorial. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

In Enniskillen for a long time, his side kept winning. A totemic unionist bastion, it was the site of a King Billy victory named in the ballad The Sash. Its castle symbolised loyalist preeminence. Before the Troubles, gerrymandering and discrimination helped unionists dominate the council.

That changed after a hunger strike by IRA prisoners. Bobby Sands won a byelection for the vacant Westminster seat before dying in the Maze prison on 5 May 1981, which gives Northern Ireland another fateful anniversary next week. Sands’ election was a seismic breakthrough for Sinn Féin, which soon started winning council seats around Enniskillen and across Northern Ireland.

For Sinn Féin, the “Armalite and the ballot box” strategy was a legitimate response to an unreformable, sectarian state, which eventually forced the British government to negotiate, culminating in the 1998 Good Friday agreement, a power-sharing executive at Stormont and belated equality and respect for Irish nationalism.

Others say the violence was unjustified and left open wounds. Of 116 people killed during the Troubles in Fermanagh, 101 were killed by the Provisional IRA, including 11 murdered in the 1987 Remembrance Day bombing. Of those cases, 95 remain unresolved, said Kenny Donaldson, 40, the director of services of the South East Fermanagh Foundation, a victims’ rights group.

Colourful quilts cover his office walls. They seem cheerful until closer inspection reveals each square commemorates murder victims. “The pain of injustice is still very profound,” said Donaldson, speaking in a personal capacity.

Kenny Donaldson
Kenny Donaldson, a victims’ rights campaigner, in front of a tapestry remembering murder victims. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

In 1979 the IRA shot and seriously wounded Foster’s father, a farmer and part-time police officer, near his home outside Enniskillen. Foster was eight years old. “My father came in on all fours crawling, with blood coming from his head,” she recalled decades later.

Last week Sinn Féin held a tribute for Séamus McElwaine, the IRA man allegedly behind the attack, who went on to be killed in an SAS ambush. Nationalists suspect that Foster’s loathing for the IRA and its supporters poisoned her ability to set a conciliatory tone and work effectively with Sinn Féin during her six-year tenure. She famously compared the party to a crocodile.

Some unionists, in contrast, think their leaders were too pliable and lacked the steel of James Craig, Northern Ireland’s first prime minister, who boasted of Stormont being a Protestant parliament for a Protestant state.

They view the prosecution of former British army soldiers for Troubles-era killings as driven by Sinn Féin. When the Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, recently expressed sorrow for the 1979 assassination of Lord Mountbatten, it cut little ice in Enniskillen, which was home to Paul Maxwell, a 15-year-old blown up with Mountbatten and his family.

“When army veterans are being vilified, we see that as an attack on who we were,” said Brooker, who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). He mistrusts Sinn Féin’s push for an Irish language act. “It’s almost being used as a political weapon. Our Britishness is being chipped away.”

Such sentiments simmered for years – and then came Brexit. While many unionists voted remain, others – especially DUP supporters – seized the chance to assert British identity and exceptionalism.

It backfired when Boris Johnson agreed the Northern Ireland protocol, which put trade checks in the Irish Sea. Rather than a manageable technical issue, many unionists and loyalists view it as a constitutional threat. The most radical think now is a time not for centenary candles but petrol bombs.

Denzil McDaniel
Denzil McDaniel, former editor of the Impartial Reporter in Enniskillen. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

Denzil McDaniel, 68, a former editor of the Impartial Reporter, a venerable Enniskillen newspaper, sees a faultline within unionism. Business and civic leaders recognise that change is coming, be it a united Ireland or some other constitutional arrangement within the UK. The question is when and how messy. Unionist politicians refuse to see this, said McDaniel.

“They’re in denial about the breakup of the UK. Scotland may leave, plus there is a government at Westminster that is a basket case and doesn’t give a stuff about Northern Ireland. Unionists still listen to Boris Johnson and he shafts them every time.”

When Johnson visited Enniskillen last month – a tightly controlled foray ostensibly to promote a vaccination centre – Foster greeted him not with a barrage of eggs but smiles and a polite critique of the protocol. The most robust challenge to the prime minister was from a member of the public asking why he no longer appeared on the TV show Have I Got News for You.

With nationalist parties opting to ignore the centenary, the UK government has planned low-key events next week and over the summer – an online concert, tree-planting, academic talks, a commemorative stamp.

Enniskillen will illuminate its castle and an arts centre in purple, the corporate colour of Fermanagh and Omagh district council. This modest plan squeaked through the council on a 19 to 18 vote. “It is the day Northern Ireland was created and no matter what our position, it’s important we reflect on that, whether you come from a persuasion which sees that as devastating to your community or whether it’s something to be celebrated,” Deborah Erskine, a DUP councillor, told her colleagues.

Zara Ferguson
Zara Ferguson, a navy reservist from Enniskillen. Photograph: Paul McErlane/The Guardian

Amid the mood of political crisis across the region it is easy to overlook the positives. Northern Ireland is at peace. Growing numbers of voters reject tribal labels and identify as neither nationalist or unionist. All sides take pride in the success of homegrown artists and sports stars.

In Enniskillen, personal relations between unionists and nationalists tend to be good. Everyone is happy to claim Adrian Dunbar, the Line of Duty actor, as a local son.

Optimism bubbles from Zara Ferguson, 22, born in 1998, the year of the Good Friday agreement. She never got to meet her uncle, Alan Ferguson, a UDR soldier shot in 1978. The killer was not caught, but Ferguson learned from her mother to not hate. “If she can do it, so can I.”

Ferguson, a navy reservist who studies engineering, is proud of Northern Ireland and its position in the UK. “There are so many benefits. We’re so lucky.” She wishes the union a happy birthday and a long life. “I’d say I’m Northern Irish and British. I’m not Irish. I don’t live in Ireland.”

Russia adds Alexei Navalny's regional campaign offices to 'extremism' list

Russia adds Alexei Navalny’s regional campaign offices to ‘extremism’ list


Alexei Navalny. AP Photo

MOSCOW: Russia’s financial monitoring agency said on Friday it had added jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny‘s network of regional campaign offices to a list of organisations involved in “terrorism and extremism”.
Allies of Navalny said on Thursday they were disbanding the network as the authorities sought to ban them.
A Moscow court is also considering whether to declare Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) “extremist”, a ruling that would give Russian authorities the power to jail activists and freeze bank accounts.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin‘s fiercest political rival, is serving a 2-1/2 year jail sentence for parole violations on an earlier embezzlement conviction that he says was politically motivated.
Pressure has also been mounting on organisations associated with Navalny since he was arrested in January and jailed the following month.
Last year, Navalny survived an attack with a nerve agent that he blamed on Putin. Russian authorities denied any involvement and questioned whether he was even poisoned.


<span>Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images</span>

Biden brings US back to world stage in first 100 days


Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The most striking aspect of Joe Biden’s first 100 days in foreign policy is the change of style. With his emphasis on consultation with allies and partners, he is presenting himself on the world stage as the anti-Trump.

Related: Biden’s world: how key countries have reacted to the president’s first 100 days

This is what the president intends to convey with the catchphrase of his early weeks: “America is back.” With a flurry of early moves, the new administration reversed the “America first” exceptionalism of its predecessor, briskly rejoining the World Health Organization, the Paris climate accord, and the UN human rights council, while renewing the New Start arms control treaty with Russia and restarting talks aimed at reviving the nuclear deal with Iran.

Biden has personally moved to repair eastern and western partnerships, hosting the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, as the first foreign leader to visit him in the Oval Office, and making the UK the destination of his first foreign trip, to attend June’s G7 summit in Cornwall.

“No one nation can deal with all the crises of our time alone – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation to mass migration, cybersecurity, climate change – and as we’re experiencing now, pandemics,” Biden said in his speech to Congress on Wednesday.

Jenna Ben-Yehuda, the president of the Truman National Security Project and a former state department official, said the return of diplomacy to the fore in US foreign policy has also been reflected in appointments of experienced veterans of past multilateral negotiations to high positions in the state department and national security council.

“I think that calms nerves,” Ben-Yehuda said. “I think that ‘America is back’ also means consultation. We no longer have to fear the tweet, and the erraticism under Trump that had been pretty pervasive, has been replaced with consultation.”

Joe Biden and Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese prime minister, in the Rose Garden of the White House on 16 April.

Joe Biden and Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese prime minister, in the Rose Garden of the White House on 16 April. Photograph: Getty Images

The emerging Biden foreign policy shows some signs of going beyond a simple Obama restoration – most notably in a clear decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, in marked contrast to Obama’s reluctant and abortive surge.

At the weekend, Biden took another step which Obama had shied away from, with the formal declaration that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman troops constituted an act of genocide.

The fury of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which had inhibited his predecessors, did not stop Biden, who unhesitatingly applied the same label to China’s persecution and mass incarceration of Muslim Uyghurs.

“No responsible American president can remain silent when basic human rights are violated,” Biden said on Wednesday evening. “A president has to represent the essence of our country.”

With Turkey and China, as with Russia, the Biden administration has sought to give priority to a clear stance on human rights while compartmentalising that stance from areas of common interest. It is a balancing act that many past administrations have tried with varying degrees of success – and one which the Trump administration barely attempted.

Biden has emphasised his assertive approach to China, on trade and a military presence in the Indo-Pacific, as part of a foreign policy that benefits the American class. But he has pointed to the US and China’s common interest in addressing the climate crisis, and has invited Vladimir Putin to a summit meeting in Europe to talk about strategic stability, while at the same time sanctioning Russia for the SolarWinds cyber-attack and the attempted murder and jailing of the opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

Supporters of the administration point to this approach as proof the US does not have to sacrifice its values for its national interests in relations with major rivals and adversaries.

But some, including progressive Democrats fear that some compromises have felt too much like business as usual. The administration declassified an intelligence assessment implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi, but did not sanction the Saudi crown prince. Arms sales were partially maintained to Saudi Arabia and fully to the United Arab Emirates, the UAE’s human rights record in Yemen notwithstanding.

The administration also wavered on refugees, initially signalling it would maintain the ceiling of 15,000 admissions imposed by Trump, but then backtracking in the face of widespread outrage at the failure to honour a pledge to admit 62,500.

“I think the zigzagging on immigration and Russia – agreeing that Putin is a ‘killer’, sanctioning senior Russians in retaliation for cyber-attacks, warning the Kremlin because of its trop buildups on the Russian border, but then inviting Putin to the climate conference and inviting him to a summit – has been surprising, given the extremely smooth and professional rollout of other policies,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“I suppose that’s what happens when policy gets mugged by reality – but it also suggests that the policy is less than fully fleshed out.”

Related: Biden’s A team: key figures pushing the president’s agenda in his first 100 days

There are also rumblings in the state department that the pledge to return to full-on diplomacy has not been matched with a commitment to career diplomats, who have so far felt shut out from the top ambassadorial positions.

“The career diplomats I’ve spoken to are starting to think there is little substance to the slogan ‘Diplomacy is back’. Unless of course it means professional diplomats will be at the back of the line for top jobs,” said Brett Bruen, director of global engagement in the Obama White House.

“It sure the heck is not what President Biden promised when he came to the state department saying that experience would be empowered and elevated. Instead, it seems as though we are headed back to business as usual, where ambassadorships are doled out as party favors to the well-to-do and well-connected.”

There is no question that the US foreign policy is back on more familiar terrain after the four years of Trump, but following exactly the same pre-Trump is no longer an option. The global landscape has changed, Russia and China are more adversarial, the US weaker by comparison, and the climate crisis has become an emergency. For Biden, it will be an uphill climb.