Court Papers: US Gets Indictment Against Wikileaks’ Assange

American prosecutors have obtained a sealed indictment against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whose website published thousands of classified U.S. government documents, a U.S. federal court document showed Thursday.

The document, which prosecutors say was filed by mistake, asks a judge to seal documents in a criminal case unrelated to Assange, and carries markings indicating it was originally filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, in August.

A source familiar with the matter said the document was initially sealed but unsealed this week for reasons that are unclear at the moment.

On Twitter, Wikileaks said it was an “apparent cut-and-paste error.”

U.S. officials had no comment on the disclosure in the document about a sealed indictment of Assange. It is unclear what charges Assange faces.

But Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office that filed the document that was unsealed, told Reuters, “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing.”

Reuters was unable to immediately reach Assange or his lawyers to seek comment.

Charges confidential

Prosecutors sought to keep the charges confidential until after Assange’s arrest, the document shows, saying the move was essential to ensure he did not evade or avoid arrest and extradition in the case.

Any procedure “short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant, and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” the document reads.

It adds, “The complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

U.S. officials have previously acknowledged that federal prosecutors based in Alexandria have been conducting a lengthy criminal investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder.

Calls for prosecution

Representatives of the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have publicly called for Assange to be aggressively prosecuted.

Assange and his supporters have periodically said U.S. authorities had filed secret criminal charges against him, an assertion against which some U.S. officials pushed back until recently.

Facing extradition from Britain to Sweden to be questioned in a sexual molestation case, Assange six years ago took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy, where initially he was treated as a welcome guest.

But following a change in the government of the South American nation, Ecuadorean authorities last March began to crack down on his access to outsiders and for a time cut off his internet access.

‘Love Will Prevail’: Costa Rica’s Same-sex Couples Can Marry in 2020

Same-sex couples in Costa Rica will have the right to get married by mid-2020, the nation’s constitutional court has ruled, a first for socially conservative Central America.

In a majority decision made public on Thursday, the court backed the opinion of the San Jose-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which said in January that countries in the region should legalize same-sex unions.

Legalizing gay marriage was a major campaign promise by President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who took office in May.

In recent years, same-sex couples have been allowed to marry in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and parts of Mexico.

“It’s now just a matter of time. Full equal rights will come, love will prevail,” Alvarado Quesada tweeted on Thursday.

The ruling is scheduled to be published in the official gazette next week and will take effect 18 months afterward.

The court’s ruling, “which confirms the unconstitutionality of the articles that prohibit equal civil marriage, is a big step forward toward equality,” the president added in his tweet.

The center-left Alvarado Quesada decisively defeated a conservative opponent in Costa Rica’s presidential runoff in April by promising to allow gay marriage and protect the country’s reputation for tolerance.

Alvarado Quesada said regulations would be modified to comply with the court ruling.

Despite Costa Rica’s reputation as a socially forward-looking nation, with high education and health standards, reproductive rights such as in vitro fertilization and abortion are not widely accepted, polling has shown.

Barely 30 percent of Costa Ricans favored same-sex marriage, according to a survey released in January by the CIEP think tank of the University of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica’s first same-sex wedding was blocked in January by notaries who refused to recognize it until laws forbidding gay marriage are changed.

Pro-government lawmaker Enrique Sanchez, an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, said legal reforms to implement the law should be carried out smoothly, since the debate on whether same-sex marriage is legal had been settled.

“This is already a legal reality and now we must concentrate on making the adjustments to implement the law and continue to promote a culture of integration and tolerance in society,” he said.

The Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica criticized the ruling.

“In the natural order of things, that basic family nucleus of society is based on monogamous and heterosexual marriage,” it said in a statement.

‘Perfect Time,’ Ethical Businesses Say, to Drive Social Change

Ethically driven businesses are becoming increasingly popular and profitable but they can face threats for shaking up the existing order, entrepreneurs said on Social Enterprise Day.

When Meghan Markle wore a pair of “slave-free” jeans on a royal tour of Australia last month, she sparked a sales stampede and shone a spotlight on the growing number of companies aiming to meet public demand for ethical products.

“Right now is the perfect time to have this kind of business,” said James Bartle, founder of Australia-based Outland Denim, which made the $200 (150 pound) jeans. “There is awareness and people are prepared to spend on these kinds of products.”

Social Enterprise Day

Social Enterprise Day, which celebrates firms seeking to make profit while doing good, is being marked in 23 countries, including Australia, Nigeria, Romania and the Philippines, led by Social Enterprise UK (SEUK), which represents the sector.

Outland Denim is one such company, employing dozens of survivors of human trafficking and other vulnerable women in Cambodia to make its jeans, which all contain a written thank-you message from the seamstress on an internal pocket.

Bartle said he wanted to create a sustainable model that gives people power to change their future through employment.

More companies are striving to clean up their supply chains and stamp their goods as environmentally friendly and ethical, with women and millennials, people born between 1982 and 2000, driving the shift to products that seek to improve the world.

“For-profits create the mess, and then the not-for-profits clean it up,” said Andrew O’Brien, director of external affairs at SEUK, which estimates that 2 million British workers are employed by a social enterprise. “We are an existential threat to that system, by coming through the middle and forcing businesses to change the way they do business.”

Risky business 

Britain has the world’s largest social enterprise sector, according to the U.K. government. About 100,000 firms contribute 60 billion pounds ($76 billion) to the world’s fifth largest economy, SEUK says.

Elsewhere in the world, it can be a risky business.

“I get threats,” said Farhad Wajdi who runs Ebtakar Inspiring Entrepreneurs of Afghanistan, which helps women enter the workforce by training and providing seed money for them to operate food carts in the war-torn country. “I can’t go to the provinces.”

His work has met resistance in parts of Afghanistan, a conservative society where women rarely work outside the home.

“A social enterprise can lead to sustainable change in those communities,” Wajdi said on the sidelines of the Trust Conference in London. “It can propagate gender equality and create friction for social change at a grassroots level.”

Niche? Window dressing?

There is, however, a danger that social enterprise will remain a niche form of business or become window-dressing for firms that just want to improve their public image.

“I don’t want social enterprise to become the next (corporate social responsibility), another (public relations) move,” said Melissa Kim, the founder of Costa Rican-based Uplift Worldwide, which supports social enterprises.

“To me this is just good business, and good sustainable business is not just about the environment and human rights … if you care about your relationships internally and externally you will stay in business.”

Merkel’s Aspiring Successors Stress Common Ground in First Debate

The three candidates competing to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU) agreed on Thursday to revive their party’s fortunes by cutting taxes and reducing Germany’s dependence on the United States for defense.

In a strikingly good-humored three-hour debate in the northern city of Luebeck, the first of eight meetings with party grass roots across Germany before a leadership vote on Dec. 7, the rivals barely clashed on broad policy.

While there were different nuances on details, the three agreed to work to improve the integration of migrants, focus more on affordable housing, cut subsidies to poorer eastern states and further Merkel’s digitalization drive.

 

The race for leader of the Christian Democratic Union party has shaped up as a dual between Merkel protege Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, widely seen as the continuity option, and Friedrich Merz, a millionaire who describes himself as “a free-trade man.”

Merkel has said she will remain chancellor atop a ‘grand coalition’ with the CDU’s Bavarian sister party and Social Democrats until the end of her term in 2021.

CDU General Secretary Kramp-Karrenbauer, the front-runner, won applause for saying she would continue the process of renewal, by taking into account the views of the party base.

Former Merkel rival Merz said he aimed to take the CDU back over the 40 percent mark and halve support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), currently polling at around 16 percent. The CDU is at around 26-27 percent in most surveys.

“It is our job to do this,” he said, adding the CDU had to make clear it had not forgotten voters who felt neglected after the influx of some 1.5 million migrants since 2015.

Health Minister Jens Spahn, the third candidate and an arch-critic of Merkel’s migrant policy, said CDU policy had in part led to the rise of the AfD, now represented in all of Germany’s 16 states. “We can also get rid of them,” he said.

All three candidates promised to work with each other after the leadership election and stressed their mutual respect.

“I will not criticize the others, we will only say good things about each other … In the end, the party must be the winner,” said Merz.

An opinion poll for broadcaster ARD conducted on Monday and Tuesday showed Kramp-Karrenbauer, known as mini-Merkel, still favorite among CDU voters with 46 percent support.

The poll, released on Thursday, showed 31 percent of CDU supporters favored Friedrich Merz, returning to politics after 10 years in the private sector. Twelve percent backed Spahn.

Mexico Overturns Law Meant to Regulate Troops in Drug War

Mexico’s highest court on Thursday overturned a contentious new security law aimed at regulating the long-time use of the military against drug cartels, a day after the president-elect’s team said it was impossible to pull troops from the streets.

Nine of 11 Supreme Court justices vetoed the measure, which President Enrique Pena Nieto sent to the court for constitutional review after signing it in December.

The law intended to set out the rules under which armed forces can target organized crime, formalizing former president Felipe Calderon’s deployment of the military to the streets some 12 years ago. An estimated 170,000 people have died in the ensuing conflict and thousands more have gone missing.

Human rights groups warned the law could open the door to abuses by the military, already accused of human rights violations.

The nine judges said Congress does not have the authority to legislate on “domestic security.” They called the law “unconstitutional” and said only the executive branch can dispatch troops.

President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office Dec. 1, has vowed to radically alter Mexico’s strategy to fight violence, including pardoning low-level drug offenders and addressing root causes such as poverty.

Alfonso Durazo, Lopez Obrador’s future security minister, said at a press conference on Wednesday “there is no way” to withdraw armed forces from the fight against organized crime, because they are more trustworthy and capable than the police.

He added that the government would propose forming a National Guard that would take over the army’s role half-way into Lopez Obrador’s six-year term. The body would comprise 50,000 people from the army, navy and federal police.

Senator Mario Delgado, a leader of Lopez Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), said the party next week will present an initiative to reform the constitution and allow a future National Guard to patrol the streets.

The opposing National Action Party (PAN) rejected the plan. 

“Lopez Obrador’s proposal completely abandons the civil path and opts for a military proposal,” said party president Marko Cortes.

Tech Firm Pays Refugees to Train AI Algorithms

Companies could help refugees rebuild their lives by paying them to boost artificial intelligence (AI) using their phones and giving them digital skills, a tech nonprofit said Thursday.

REFUNITE has developed an app, LevelApp, which is being piloted in Uganda to allow people who have been uprooted by conflict to earn instant money by “training” algorithms for AI.

Wars, persecution and other violence have uprooted a record 68.5 million people, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

People forced to flee their homes lose their livelihoods and struggle to create a source of income, REFUNITE co-chief executive Chris Mikkelsen told the Trust Conference in London.

“This provides refugees with a foothold in the global gig economy,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s two-day event, which focuses on a host of human rights issues.

$20 a day for AI work

A refugee in Uganda currently earning $1.25 a day doing basic tasks or menial jobs could make up to $20 a day doing simple AI labeling work on their phones, Mikkelsen said.

REFUNITE says the app could be particularly beneficial for women as the work can be done from the home and is more lucrative than traditional sources of income such as crafts.

The cash could enable refugees to buy livestock, educate children and access health care, leaving them less dependant on aid and helping them recover faster, according to Mikkelsen.

The work would also allow them to build digital skills they could take with them when they returned home, REFUNITE says.

“This would give them the ability to rebuild a life … and the dignity of no longer having to rely solely on charity,” Mikkelsen told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Teaching the machines

AI is the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

It is being used in a vast array of products from driverless cars to agricultural robots that can identify and eradicate weeds and computers able to identify cancers.

In order to “teach” machines to mimic human intelligence, people must repeatedly label images and other data until the algorithm can detect patterns without human intervention.

REFUNITE, based in California, is testing the app in Uganda where it has launched a pilot project involving 5,000 refugees, mainly form South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. It hopes to scale up to 25,000 refugees within two years.

Mikkelsen said the initiative was a win-win as it would also benefit companies by slashing costs.

Another tech company, DeepBrain Chain, has committed to paying 200 refugees for a test period of six months, he said.

Facebook CEO Details Company Battle with Hate Speech, Violent Content

Facebook says it is getting better at proactively removing hate speech and changing the incentives that result in the most sensational and provocative content becoming the most popular on the site.

The company has done so, it says, by ramping up its operations so that computers can review and make quick decisions on large amounts of content with thousands of reviewers making more nuanced decisions.

In the future, if a person disagrees with Facebook’s decision, he or she will be able to appeal to an independent review board.

Facebook “shouldn’t be making so many important decisions about free expression and safety on our own,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a call with reporters Thursday.

But as Zuckerberg detailed what the company has accomplished in recent months to crack down on spam, hate speech and violent content, he also acknowledged that Facebook has far to go.

“There are issues you never fix,” he said. “There’s going to be ongoing content issues.”

Company’s actions

In the call, Zuckerberg addressed a recent story in The New York Times that detailed how the company fought back during some of its biggest controversies over the past two years, such as the revelation of how the network was used by Russian operatives in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

The Times story suggested that company executives first dismissed early concerns about foreign operatives, then tried to deflect public attention away from Facebook once the news came out.

Zuckerberg said the firm made mistakes and was slow to understand the enormity of the issues it faced. “But to suggest that we didn’t want to know is simply untrue,” he said.

Zuckerberg also said he didn’t know the firm had hired Definers Public Affairs, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that spread negative information about Facebook competitors as the social networking firm was in the midst of one scandal after another. Facebook severed its relationship with the firm.

“It may be normal in Washington, but it’s not the kind of thing I want Facebook associated with, which is why we won’t be doing it,” Zuckerberg said.

The firm posted a rebuttal to the Times story.

Content removed

Facebook said it is getting better at proactively finding and removing content such as spam, violent posts and hate speech. The company said it removed or took other action on 15.4 million pieces of violent content between June and September of this year, about double what it removed in the prior three months.

But Zuckerberg and other executives said Facebook still has more work to do in places such as Myanmar. In the third quarter, the firm said it proactively identified 63 percent of the hate speech it removed, up from 13 percent in the last quarter of 2017. At least 100 Burmese language experts are reviewing content, the firm said.

One issue that continues to dog Facebook is that some of the most popular content is also the most sensational and provocative. Facebook said it now penalizes what it calls “borderline content” so it gets less distribution and engagement.

“By fixing this incentive problem in our services, we believe it’ll create a virtuous cycle: by reducing sensationalism of all forms, we’ll create a healthier, less-polarized discourse where more people feel safe participating,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post. 

Critics of the company, however, said Zuckerberg hasn’t gone far enough to address the inherent problems of Facebook, which has 2 billion users.

“We have a man-made, for-profit, simultaneous communication space, marketplace and battle space and that it is, as a result, designed not to reward veracity or morality but virality,” said Peter W. Singer, strategist and senior fellow at New America, a nonpartisan think tank, at an event Thursday in Washington, D.C.

VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

Students Fill Streets of Colombia Capital in Education March

Thousands of students have disrupted life in Colombia’s capital with amid nationwide demonstrations called to press demands for President Ivan Duque to increase education spending.

 

By early evening, police in Bogota used tear gas to disperse marchers trying to reach wealthier neighborhoods.

 

The “Pencil March” rallies across Colombia were the latest chapter in more than a half-dozen street protests in recent months demanding that the government boost funding for education.

Student enrollment in the South American nation’s public universities has quadrupled since the early 1990s, while spending has only marginally increased and activists contend quality is deteriorating.

 

The students protests have converged with other demonstrations against proposed tax changes that critics say will be a blow to the middle class by increasing the cost of basic goods.

Climate Change, Steel, Migration Bedevil G20 Communique

Climate change, steel and migration have emerged as sticking points in the final communique that world leaders will issue at the end of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina later this month, an Argentine government official said on Thursday.

Those issues were the “most complicated” areas of discussion, said Argentina’s Pedro Villagra Delgado, the lead organizer, or “sherpa,” for the summit of leaders from key industrialized and developing economies. 

But he told a press briefing he was optimistic these issues would be resolved in time.

The G20 communique is a non-binding agreement on key international policy issues and will be presented at the conclusion of the two-day summit, which begins on Nov. 30.

Climate goals concern United States

Villagra Delgado said the United States was resistant to including language that outlined guidelines for climate goals in the document.

After withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement last year, the United States broke with other G20 member countries who have pledged to end coal usage and take steps to reach the goals outlined in the accord.

Villagra Delgado also said China disagreed with the rest of the G20 countries on steel, but did not provide further details over the specifics of their disagreement.

The United States has skirmished with a number of its trading partners — including China — over steel, imposing a 25 percent duty on imports of steel and a tariff of 10 percent on aluminum.

Other countries objected to including language about immigration in the communique, Villagra Delgado said, but would not elaborate on which countries expressed concern.

WTO reform may be on table

Reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) may also be a topic of discussion at this month’s meeting, Villagra Delgado said, but added that specific issues to be discussed in the G20 sessions were still being worked out.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the WTO, while China has claimed the 20-year-old organization’s dispute resolution mechanisms are outdated in the current global economy.

Realistic Masks Made in Japan Find Demand from Tech, Car Companies

Super-realistic face masks made by a tiny company in rural Japan are in demand from the domestic tech and entertainment industries and from countries as far away as Saudi Arabia.

The 300,000-yen ($2,650) masks, made of resin and plastic by five employees at REAL-f Co., attempt to accurately duplicate an individual’s face down to fine wrinkles and skin texture.

Company founder Osamu Kitagawa came up with the idea while working at a printing machine manufacturer.

But it took him two years of experimentation before he found a way to use three-dimensional facial data from high-quality photographs to make the masks, and started selling them in 2011.

The company, based in the western prefecture of Shiga, receives about 100 orders every year from entertainment, automobile, technology and security companies, mainly in Japan.

For example, a Japanese car company ordered a mask of a sleeping face to improve its facial recognition technology to detect if a driver had dozed off, Kitagawa said.

“I am proud that my product is helping further development of facial recognition technology,” he added. “I hope that the developers would enhance face identification accuracy using these realistic masks.”

Kitagawa, 60, said he had also received orders from organizations linked to the Saudi government to create masks for the king and princes.

“I was told the masks were for portraits to be displayed in public areas,” he said.

Kitagawa said he works with clients carefully to ensure his products will not be used for illicit purposes and cause security risks, but added he could not rule out such threats.

He said his goal was to create 100 percent realistic masks, and he hoped to use softer materials, such as silicon, in the future.

“I would like these masks to be used for medical purposes, which is possible once they can be made using soft materials,” he said. “And as humanoid robots are being developed, I hope this will help developers to create [more realistic robots] at a low cost.”