UN expert says ‘worsening’ rights in Iran

The human rights situation in Iran is worsening, a United Nations expert has said, noting concern that ongoing negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program could overshadow abuses.

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The UN special rapporteur on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, hailed “some limited improvements” on the ground in Iran since the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, but warned “the overall situation has worsened”.

Speaking to reporters before presenting his latest report on the human rights situation in Iran to the UN Human Rights Council, Shaheed pointed to soaring numbers of executions and the jailing of journalists and activists in the Islamic country.

He also warned that new legislation under discussion risked deepening the problem of discrimination against women and minorities.

According to his report, at least 753 people, including 25 women and 13 minors, were executed in Iran last year alone, marking a 12-year-high.

Counting the 252 executions in the country since the beginning of this year, Iran has executed more than 1000 people since January 2014, he said.

“Iran continues to execute more individuals per capita than any country in the world,” Shaheed said.

That is particularly alarming, he said, considering a majority of all executions in the country are for drug-related offences or other crimes, including adultery, sodomy, and “vaguely worded national security offences”.

Shaheed’s comments came as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met his US counterpart John Kerry in nearby Lausanne in a race to hammer out an elusive agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program.

“I warmly welcome these efforts, as I share a genuine hope for long-lasting peace and stability with those sitting at the negotiating table,” Shaheed said.

But he noted that “there is concern among the Iranian civil society that the nuclear file may be casting a shadow over the human rights discussions”.

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Henderson’s freak goal keeps Liverpool flying high

Liverpool got lucky on 68 minutes when Jordi Amat slid in ahead of Henderson to try and clear but the ball ricocheted back off the England international and looped over Swansea keeper Lukasz Fabianski.

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Victory took in-form Liverpool to within two points of fourth-placed Manchester United, who they host on Sunday. Chelsea lead on 64, ahead of Manchester City (58) and then Arsenal (57) and United (56).

Since losing to United at Old Trafford in mid-December, a defeat which left Liverpool languishing in 11th place, Brendan Rodgers’ side have won 10 and drawn three in the league.

“It was a great pass from Daniel (Sturridge). It was a little bit fortunate, but you’ve got to be in the right positions to score,” Henderson, who scored for a third consecutive league game, told Sky Sports.

“It’s a great result. We were very disappointed with our first half. The gaffer had a few words to say. I felt we passed the ball a lot better in the second and were solid at the back.”

Liverpool were indebted to goalkeeper Simon Mignolet for keeping out Swansea in a first half shaded by the Welsh side and Rodgers praised the Belgian international, who was dropped for poor form earlier in the season.

“There’s no doubt Simon Mignolet’s back to his best. We needed him in the first half. He’s been excellent. Clearly now, you see his confidence, along with the team’s, he said.

Mignolet made a fine-one-handed save to deny Swansea striker Bafetimbi Gomis who was cleared to play following his collapse at Tottenham Hotspur in his side’s last league game on March 4.

He was also equal to Gylfi Sigurdsson’s curling effort but Liverpool improved after the break.

Phillipe Coutinho forced Fabianski to keep out his low shot from Raheem Sterling’s cutback and after Henderson had scored Swansea never seriously threatened to equalise.

Sturridge went close to a second goal late on but rolled a shot against the post in stoppage time.

(Reporting by Justin Palmer; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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FIFA names six cities, seven stadiums for 2016 football

There will be two venues in the host city of Rio de Janeiro with matches held at the Olympic stadium and the Maracana, site of the 2014 World Cup final, FIFA said.

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The other games are to take place at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte, the Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasilia, the Amazonia arena in Manaus, the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador and the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo.

“The Olympic football tournaments will be a fantastic opportunity to revive the great atmosphere seen during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, not only in Rio de Janeiro but also in the other five cities,” said Marco Polo Del Nero, chairman of the organising committee for the Games football.

“They did an excellent job in 2014 and now they can use the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure already in place to unite the country for a major event once more,” he added in a news release.

Sixteen men’s sides and 12 women’s teams will play 58 matches between Aug. 3-20.

However, Andres Sanchez, former president of Corinthians and who is responsible for overseeing stadium management, said the club would not foot the bill for alterations.

“It’s a great honour for Corinthians to have the Corinthians arena selected as the city’s stadium for the 2016 Olympic Games,” Sanchez said in a statement posted on their web site.

“However, we are once again replying to a request from the city of Sao Paulo and we need to know who will be responsible for paying.

“If we don’t, the club will review the decision to host the Olympic (football),” Sanchez added.

The Corinthians arena hosted six matches in the 2014 World Cup, including the prestigious opening game and the semi-final between Argentina and the Netherlands.

However, it was one of the last to be ready and one of the most costly. Corinthians are in severe financial difficulties and although Sanchez has travelled the world seeking companies to pay for naming rights, no buyers have appeared.

Olympic gold is the only major title that Brazil have not won and the host nation are determined to end that run.

All the teams will be largely made up of youngsters but three players over 23 are permitted in each squad.

Barcelona forward Neymar has already confirmed that he plans to be one of Brazil’s three over-age players.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez/Peter Rutherford)

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The internet hates my parents

My folks set the bar high.

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They’ve made it through forty years of marriage and then some. Their BMIs are in a respectably safe zone and they raised a beautiful daughter who only comes to them for cash handouts in extreme fashion emergencies. They hardly drink and haven’t smoked since the sixties. My mother has never even had a speeding fine.

Mum and Dad’s house is a June Dally Watkins, pearls in place, coiffed hair style of perfect. My mother’s favourite saying is “a place for everything, and everything in its place”. My house, in comparison, is a bra-straps showing, unbrushed hair, green bit of food stuck in the teeth situation at all times, even right after I’ve spent an hour tidying up. I just can’t reach that state of cleanliness that my parents call normal.

Mum and Dad’s life is clean, structured and organised. Just like a communist dictator, they’ve got everything under control.

Except for one thing.

The internet.

The internet is like a wild beast. It can smell fear. And man, my folks reek. The entire world wide web hates my parents. Like a crazed ex-girlfriend, the internet is out to mess with their minds. I don’t know what they ever did to the internet, but it is more hell bent on revenge than Daenerys Targaryen.

I’m as web-savvy as an orb weaver spider, and at first I thought it was their rapidly shrinking brains that was hindering Mum and Dad from effectively using “The Google”. Then I lived with them for a short period of time and I saw that was not the case. It really is personal.

The other night Dad was trying to send an email. It bounced back repeatedly and eventually his repeated sighs of exasperation incited me to press pause on America’s Next Top Model and get up to help him. We checked the website of the company and he had the address right. We even rang to confirm their inbox wasn’t full. They’d been receiving emails all day. Never-the-less, the damn thing just wouldn’t send.

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I have sat with my parents while they consulted their little black book of online logins and passwords, (which they helpfully keep right next to the computer) and tried to assist them in accessing their online bank account. No luck, so we spent half an hour on the phone to the bank and reset the password. We dutifully wrote it down, logged in and transferred the money I needed for something really important (I think it was shoes) into my bank account. The next day, that same password WOULD NOT WORK.

Mum tried to change her address using the Medicare website. I could almost hear the internet laughing in her face. She gave up and rang for help. “That’s funny,” said the woman on the phone, “normally it just works, but I can see that it won’t do it for you.”

WTF internet???

Everything in cyberspace hates my parents. The online connection times out at crucial moments, takes forever to load simple pages, refuses to display the same search results for them more than once and even one time it confirmed a $2000 bid instead of $20.00 on a piece of eBay frippery my mother had her eye on. Sitting in the same room as them while they try to book a flight online is more excruciating than watching John Travolta at the Oscars.

Is it solely my parents who are on the receiving end of the internet’s vindictive ways? Has it singled them out because of  their innocent vulnerability and the fact that Mum still carries around a Nokia that she purchased in 2005? Is it simply waging a terrible campaign of ageism?

The worst thing about this is that I am the nearest thing my parents have to tech support. Which makes me believe that the wily beast that is the internet hates me too.

Clea Sherman is a freelance writer.

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Data retention change not necessary, Brandis says

The Federal Government has offered a major concession aimed at protecting journalists’ sources to get Labor’s support for plans to store phone and internet metadata for two years.

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While the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General say they don’t think the measure is necessary, law enforcement agencies seeking to identify a source would be required to obtain a warrant to access a journalist’s metadata.

The journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and crossbench senators says the compromise won’t protect journalist sources and it permits an outrageous attack on press freedom.

But the Attorney-General, George Brandis says the government is not going after journalists’ sources.

“The target and object of this legislation are terrorists, organised criminals and paedophiles. I don’t know any journalists who are terrorists, organised criminals or paedophiles,” Senator Brandis told reporters in Canberra.

“That is outrageous hyperbole,” he told ABC radio.

“At heart, all this legislation does is to mandate the continuation of the status quo. But, it also builds in new protections, new privacy protections that weren’t – aren’t part of the existing law.”

George Brandis says the Commonwealth Ombudsman has a new oversight power and the number of agencies which can access metadata without warrant has been reduced from around 80 to about 20, including ASIO, Police, State corruption bodies, the Australian Tax Office, ACCC and ASIC.

He says the government has agreed to a limited, but “not necessary” exemption to ensure the laws cleared parliament as soon as possible.

The Federal Opposition and crossbenchers are waiting to see the proposed amendments, but Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had written to the Prime Minister Tony Abbott over the weekend seeking greater protection for journalist sources.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon wants warrants that can be contested in court and says the Government should look closely at the system in the United States.

He’s told Sky News that whistle-blowers and contacts won’t come forward without safeguards, “it will have a chilling effect on whistle-blowers. It will have a chill effected in free speech.”

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam is against the Bill and wants better protections for all Australian citizens

“We believe agencies, if they are doing intrusive snooping into peoples’ private information should be required to get a warrant whether you’re a journalist or not,” Senator Ludlam has told the ABC.

He’s calling on Labor to reject the Government’s metadata plans. “I haven’t given up there. In a parliament as volatile as this, anything is possible.”

“I have never seen a bill brought in before where the Government couldn’t define what it will cost and who will pay. It is a surveillance tax that Australians are being asked to pay for to be spied on.”

There’s been concerted campaign from major media organisations and opposition parties against the provision which has the potential to affected press freedom, but Senator Brandis says “this never been about journalists.”

“This was about law enforcement and national security, but in order to put minds at rest that this could affect journalists, we have agreed to create a limited exemption in relation to them.”

However, the exemption is unlikely to protect bloggers.

“I wouldn’t regard bloggers as journalists,” said the Attorney-General.

“A journalist is for the purposes of this law, a person engaged in the profession of journalism and there is an interesting argument, of course, as to what at the margins a journalist is.”

Senator Brandis says the definition of journalism is resolvable by courts, “but for the purposes of this discussion a journalist is a person engaged in the profession of journalism.”

The Government is hoping to pass the legislation during this fortnight sitting of parliament.

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