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Thailand Called to Release Detained Vietnamese Montagnard Refugees

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Thailand should release the group of ethnic minority refugees and asylum seekers, mostly Christians, arrested last week during a crackdown just outside the capital Bangkok, rights groups say as quoted by Sight. Most of the 181 refugees detained are Montagnards, an indigenous group from Vietnam who face “harsh persecution if they are returned to Cambodia and Vietnam, which Thailand should not do under any circumstances,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

Thousands of Montagnards have fled Vietnam to seek asylum in neighbouring countries since 2001, citing land expropriation and religious persecution. Many of the group are from Vietnam’s highlands.

The refugees initially end up in surrounding nations like Cambodia and Thailand, where they face a stateless future as their refugee status is not recognised; the two are not signatories to the different international treaties that deal with the status of refugees. As ‘stateless’, the Montagnard asylum seekers have been described as undocumented economic migrants. They have no rights or status regardless of their registration with the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

“Thailand’s frequent claims about improving refugee rights ring hollow when officials detain dozens of families who are protected under the mandate of the UN refugee agency,” Adams said.

“Thailand is violating its international commitments by detaining over 50 children of refugees and asylum seekers. Their UN refugee status should ensure that none of these families are detained. Thai authorities should release them immediately,” he added.

The refugees and asylum seekers, including the 50 children, were arrested and taken from their homes in Nonthaburi province in the early hours of Tuesday morning (28 August). The police said the action was in response to complaints by local Thai residents. They took the group to Bang Yai district office and charged them with illegal entry or illegal stay under articles 11, 62, and 81 of Thailand’s Immigration Act. They face possible deportation or prosecution.

Amnesty International, adding its voice to the call for their release, said “the 47 (sic) Vietnamese children, some of them with health issues that require medical assistance, are currently held in separate locations in Bangkok and its outskirts under the care of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Upon serving the full sentence, all Vietnamese refugees and asylum seekers will be transferred to Suan Plu Immigration Centre, where the children will be returned to their parents. All could be detained indefinitely or forcibly returned to Vietnam.”

The US-based Christian rights group Jubilee Campaign said that, “If parents are found guilty there is the risk that the children will be separated from both parents and taken to so-called ‘migrant shelters’. While we do not have exact details on the condition of the ‘shelters’, up until two weeks ago, the Thai government was indicating that these shelters were not funded or equipped to handle migrant children, and had requested significant private organizational funding to provide for these children. At this point, we cannot confirm that even basic needs such as food, shelter, and sanitation are being provided for these Christian children.”

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Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access

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Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world as widespread anti-government unrest roiled the streets of Tehran and other cities for a third day, The New York Times reported.

The death toll for the three days of protests rose to at least 12; hundreds were injured; and more than 1,000 people have been arrested, according to semiofficial news agencies like Fars News.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters, called the demonstrators “thugs” and endorsed the government’s decision to raise prices it sets for rationed gasoline by 50 percent as of Friday and by 300 percent for gasoline that exceeds ration limits. Even after the price hike, gasoline in Iran is still cheaper than in most of the rest of the world – now the equivalent of about 50 cents a gallon.

In a speech on Sunday, Khamenei said he would support rationing and increasing gas prices because heads of three branches of government had made the decision.

Khamenei also acknowledged that Iranians had taken to the streets to protest and that some had died – however, he blamed the protests on monarchists and opposition groups trying to destabilize Iran, the Times added.

The widespread discontent on display across the country marked yet another crisis for the country. Iran has been struggling with an economic crisis after the United States exited a nuclear deal and reimposed harsh sanctions that ban Iran’s oil sales.

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HASC Chairman Claims Legislation to Create a Space Force in 2020 ‘Still Possible’

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House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said last week that negotiations on the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act are “proceeding reasonably well” but he expressed doubt that the NDAA will include language to authorize a Space Force as a separate military branch, SpaceNews reported.

“It’s still possible but by no means guaranteed,” Smith told reporters on Capitol Hill last week. When asked for specifics, Smith said, “I don’t think it would be helpful for me to make predictions.”

The biggest sticking point in the NDAA negotiations is language in the House version of the bill that restricts the use of military funds to pay for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, SpaceNews adds.

There are other dealbreaker issues. The authorization of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces is one of them, Smith said. Other contentious matters include extending the “war powers” legislation that authorizes the president to use military force, and allowing transgender people to serve in the military.

Smith said the House and Senate NDAA conference in recent weeks worked on compromise language on hundreds of provisions and “reduced the stack significantly, and we’re down to a few really contentious issues.”

Smith characterized the Space Force as a “higher echelon” issue that is proving divisive. Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate continue to have reservations about the administration’s Space Force proposal, said Smith. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal and bicameral concern about the specifics of that proposal.”

The House version of the NDAA creates a Space Corps and is closer aligned with what the administration proposed. The Senate bill would rename the Air Force Space Command the U.S. Space Force and does not specifically authorize a sixth branch of the armed forces.

Smith noted that the House has been a proponent of a military space branch since 2017 while the Senate had adamantly opposed it. “In their bill they didn’t have the same language that we did. But the president has persuaded them to look at it differently.”

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Gunman Kills Four at California Backyard Party

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Police in the California city of Fresno were investigating a mass shooting at a football game party on Sunday in which at least 10 people were shot, killing four, with five others left in critical condition and another wounded, Reuters informs.

Three men died at the scene and another died at a hospital, Fresno Deputy Police Chief Michael Reed said in a late night news conference. Six more were hospitalized, he said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this thing,” Reed said. “This was senseless violence. We’re going to do everything we can to find out who the perpetrators were and bring them to justice.”

A gunman walked into a backyard and started shooting at a south Fresno home, where a gathering of about 35 family and friends was watching a football game before 8 p.m., said Reed. Neighbors soon flooded 911 dispatchers with calls for help, Reuters adds.

The suspect fled the scene and police were combing the neighborhood for witnesses and possible security camera footage, police said. Police did not release further information about the shooting in the city about 200 miles (320 km) north of Los Angeles, except that the dead were men between the ages of 25 and 35.

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