Journalists sue the Government of Puerto Rico for penalizing "false news"

WASHINGTON, (FUNDAMEDIOS USA).- We'd like to share an alert of protest and concern Fundamedios has issued, regarding the restrictions against freedom of expression in Puerto Rico following the lawsuit filed by Puerto Rican journalists Sandra Rodríguez Cotto and Rafelli González.

Both journalists are challenging the constitutionality of a pair of laws that seek to penalize - with up to 6 months of jail - those who disclose "false news" or "decisions made by the government during a state of emergency" that may cause confusion to the public.

The plaintiffs contend the statutes, arguing that they fail to accurately define "what speech may constitute a crime", and as a result providing ample discretion to the government to decide whom to punish, giving authorities the opportunity to intimidate, silence and prosecute journalists who investigate the government's management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With this regulation, the Government of Puerto Rico clearly violates the First Amendment of the Constitution and the international standards of Freedom of Expression.

Rodríguez Cotto and González are Puerto Rican investigative reporters with a long and distinguished journalistic trajectory, who are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the Federal Court.

This alert is part of the watchdog work carried out by Fundamedios in the context of our commitment to defend the rights to press freedom and access to information for journalists since 2007 in Latin America.

As part of our monitoring in the United States, we are developing a study to analyze the main challenges that Hispanic journalists face in exercising their rights. We are interested in finding out, among other things, if Hispanic journalists in the U.S. have the same access to sources of information as their non-Hispanic peers, and if they face discrimination in labor opportunities, such as promotions or wages. We'd like to hear your experience, and invite you to fill out a short survey on this topic:

Finally, we also want to share the link to a recent digital forum held recently, featuring our colleagues Maritza Félix from Conecta Arizona (AZ), Diego Barahona from La Noticia (NC), Gustavo Martínez Contreras from Asbury Park Press (NJ) and Hugo Balta NAHJ. They discussed the main challenges faced by Latino journalists working in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Frank LaRue and Dagmar Thiel as moderators.

Our next virtual discussion will be on Thursday, June 4 at 7:30 pm ET and when we will address the situation of freedom of expression in Puerto Rico. We will send more details is the link to the discussion with colleagues Maritza Félix from Conecta Arizona (AZ), Diego Barahona from La Noticia (NC), Gustavo Martí-nez Contreras from Asbury Park Press (NJ) and Hugo Balta NAHJ. Together, these 4 journalists tackled Frank LaRue and Dagmar Thiel the main challenges faced by Latino journalists working in the USA in the days of COVID-19.

Fundamedios is a civil society organization committed to the defense of human rights in particular freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information to advance transparency as pillars of democracy in Latin America. It has been in existence since 2007. After working for over a decade in Latin America we established a Washington office and registered as a 501 c 3 to build bridges among both regions as well as to work with Hispanic journalists in the U.S.

Fundamedios is one of the leading organizations of Voces del Sur, a CSOs' collective that reports progress toward implementing the Sustainable Development Goal 16 regarding peace, justice and strong institutions. The network of fundamental freedom organizers developed regional standards for monitoring and dissemination of alerts regarding freedom of expression in 10 countries. The report has been reviewed by UNESCO as part of the UN's High-Level Review of SDG 16 in July 2019.To learn more about FUNDAMEDIOS, please visit

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The obstacles that journalists face increased with the pandemic

WASHINGTON, (FUNDAMEDIOS USA).- The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the systematic obstacles to access to public information, freedom of expression and disinformation that journalists already faced before the health emergency. For that reason, the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression (RELE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Dialogue and the Canadian Embassy organized this Wednesday, May 20, the webinar: Freedom of Expression and COVID-19: Voices of the Pandemic, with the participation of FUNDAMEDIOS.

Edison Lanza, special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the IACHR; Frank LaRue, director of human rights and advocacy at Fundamedios; Rachel Kay, executive director of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Eleonora Rabinovich, manager of public policy and government affairs at Google were the panelists. The meeting was moderated by Michael Camilleri, director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program of the Inter-American Dialogue.

«States have a duty to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, restricting freedoms in the name of legitimate interests has been conflictive in several countries and we have monitored the situation in the region,» said the Rapporteur. Lanza expressed concern about the impact of states of emergency. «Most aren’t intended for health emergencies, but for public order issues». In his opinion, this has limited several rights. «The role of journalism is fundamental in this pandemic because journalists are who verify the information and occupy a space of dissident voice to the official voice in the countries,» he warned.

The IFEX official said that in many countries there are claims that authorities don’t answer essential or uncomfortable questions during virtual press conferences, spaces that in the current scene are for accountability.

Frank LaRue shared this opinion, noting that «the worst mistake governments make is to think they can suspend or limit all rights for legitimate interests such as stopping a pandemic. Access to information and freedom of expression are fundamental rights that can’ t be absolutely restricted».

The former UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression added that states seek to limit freedom of expression because they want to limit the critical voices heard in the face of the reality that afflicts the world. Paradoxically, and in spite of the restrictions, access to information is a matter of public health for citizens in decision-making; it is also a mechanism for transparency because it is necessary to know how the available resources are being used at a time when the possibility of exercising corrupt practices is being amplified.

During the emergency, Internet became a tool that democratizes the speech. In that line, the Google representative recognized that web gives all voices a space to express themselves, while fighting against the scourge of disinformation. That is why the company «opened funds for fact-checkers, as well as an emergency fund to help Latin American journalists».

Perhaps today more than ever citizens need clear and reliable information to protect their health. The work of civil society and journalists is essential in the midst of an emergency that is overwhelming the world.

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Cheops observes its first exoplanets and is ready for science

MADRID, (ESA).- Cheops, ESA’s new exoplanet mission, has successfully completed its almost three months of in-orbit commissioning, exceeding expectations for its performance. The satellite, which will commence routine science operations by the end of April, has already obtained promising observations of known exoplanet-hosting stars, with many exciting discoveries to come.

“The in-orbit commissioning phase was an exciting period, and we are pleased we were able to meet all requirements,” says Nicola Rando, Cheops project manager at ESA. “The satellite platform and instrument performed remarkably, and both the Mission and Science Operation Centres supported operations impeccably.”

Launched in December 2019, Cheops, or the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, opened its eye to the Universe at the end of January and shortly after took its first, intentionally blurred images of stars. The deliberate defocusing is at the core of the mission’s observing strategy, which improves the measurement precision by spreading the light coming from distant stars over many pixels of its detector.

Precision is key in today’s exoplanet research. More than 4000 planets – and counting – are known to be orbiting stars other than the Sun. A key follow-on is to start to characterise these planets, providing constraints on their structure, formation and evolution.

Taking the steps to characterise exoplanets through the precise measurement of their sizes – in particular those of smaller planets – is exactly the mission of Cheops. Before being declared ready for the task, however, the small, 1.5 metre sized satellite had to pass a large number of tests.

Outstanding performance

With the first series of in-flight tests, performed between January and February, the mission experts started analysing the response of the satellite, and in particular of the telescope and detector, in the actual space environment. Proceeding into March, Cheops focused on well-studied stars.

“To measure how well Cheops performs we first needed to observe stars whose properties are well known, stars that are well-behaved – hand-picked to be very stable, with no signs of activity” says Kate Isaak, Cheops project scientist at ESA.

This approach enabled the teams at ESA, the mission consortium, and Airbus Spain – the prime contractor – to verify that the satellite is as precise and stable as needed to meet its ambitious goals.

“The pointing is extremely stable: this means that while the telescope observes a star for hours while the spacecraft moves along its orbit, the image of the star remains always within the same group of pixels in the detector,” explains Carlos Corral van Damme, ESA’s System Principal Engineer for Cheops.

“Such a great stability is a combination of the excellent performance of the equipment and of the bespoke pointing algorithms, and will be especially important to fulfill the scientific objectives of the mission. The thermal stability of the telescope and the detector has also proven to be even better than required,” adds Carlos.

The commissioning period demonstrated that Cheops achieves the required photometric precision and, importantly, it also showed that the satellite can be commanded by the ground segment team as needed to perform its science observations.

“We were thrilled when we realised that all the systems worked as expected or even better than expected,” says Cheops Instrument Scientist Andrea Fortier, who led the commissioning team of the consortium for the University of Bern, Switzerland.

Time for exoplanets

During the final two weeks of in-orbit commissioning, Cheops observed two exoplanet-hosting stars as the planets ‘transited’ in front of their host star and blocked a fraction of starlight. Observing transits of known exoplanets is what the mission was built for – to measure planet sizes with unprecedented precision and accuracy and to determine their densities by combining these with independent measurements of their masses.

One of the targets was HD 93396, a subgiant yellow star located 320 light-years away, slightly cooler and three times larger than our Sun. The focus of the observations was KELT-11b, a puffy gaseous planet about 30% larger in size than Jupiter, in an orbit that is much closer to the star than Mercury is to the Sun.

The light curve of this star shows a clear dip caused by the eight hour-long transit of KELT-11b. From these data, the scientists have determined very precisely the diameter of the planet: 181,600 km – with an uncertainty just under 4300 km.

The measurements made by Cheops are five times more accurate than those from Earth, explains Willy Benz, Principal Investigator of the Cheops mission consortium, and professor of astrophysics at the University of Bern. “That gives us a foretaste for what we can achieve with Cheops over the months and years to come,” he says.

A formal review of the satellite performance and ground segment operations was held on 25 March, and Cheops passed it with flying colours. With this, ESA handed over responsibility for operating the mission to the consortium led by Willy Benz.

Fortunately, the commissioning activities were not affected much by the ensuing emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in social distancing measures and restrictions to movement across Europe to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The ground segment has been working very smoothly from early on, which enabled us to fully automate most of the operations for commanding the satellite and downlinking the data already in the first few weeks after launch,” explains Carlos. “By the time the crisis emerged in March, with the new rules and regulations that came with it, the automated systems meant that the impact on the mission was minimal.”

Cheops is currently transitioning towards routine science operations, which are expected to begin before the end of April. Scientists have started observing some of the ‘early science targets’ – a selection of stars and planetary systems chosen to showcase examples of what the mission can achieve: these include a ‘hot super-Earth’ planet known as 55 Cancri e, which is covered in a lava ocean, as well as the ‘warm Neptune’ GJ 436b, which is losing its atmosphere due to the glare from its host star. Another star on the list of upcoming Cheops observations is a white dwarf, the first target from ESA’s Guest Observers Programme, which provides scientists from beyond the mission consortium with the opportunity to use the mission and capitalize on its observational capabilities.

More about Cheops
Cheops is an ESA mission developed in partnership with Switzerland, with a dedicated consortium led by the University of Bern, and with important contributions from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

ESA is the Cheops mission architect, responsible for procurement and testing of the satellite, launch, the launch and early operations phase, in-orbit commissioning, as well as the Guest Observers’ Programme. The consortium of 11 ESA Member States led by Switzerland provided essential elements of the mission. The prime contractor for the design and construction of the spacecraft is Airbus Defence and Space in Madrid, Spain.

The Cheops mission consortium runs the Mission Operations Centre located at INTA, in Torrejón de Ardoz near Madrid, Spain, and the Science Operations Centre, located at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

For further information, please contact:

Nicola Rando
ESA Cheops project manager

Kate Isaak
ESA Cheops project scientist

Carlos Corral van Damme
ESA Cheops System Principal Engineer

ESA Media Relations

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US Lawmakers Bid to Rename DC Street for Chinese COVID Doctor

HONG KONG, (NATALIE LIU-VOANEWS).- American lawmakers are promoting legislation to change the name of the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington to honor Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistleblower who died of COVID-19 after Beijing silenced his attempts to warn the world about the coronavirus.

“I am honored to introduce this legislation to rename the street in front the Chinese Embassy after Dr. Li,” said U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming when she offered the bill in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

“May this serve as a constant reminder to the world and to the Chinese government that truth and freedom will prevail, that we will not forget the bravery of Dr. Li, and that the Chinese Communist Party will be held accountable for the devastating impact of their lies."

A companion bill was introduced in the Senate on the same day. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said Li is regarded as a “hero to the Chinese people.”

“Chairman Xi [Jinping] can try to claim Dr. Li as the [Communist] Party’s own martyr, but the Chinese people know that it was Dr. Li’s selfless work and voice that the party sought to silence,” Sasse said in a written statement.

Naming the street outside the embassy after Li, he said, “will draw a glaring contrast between the cruelty and lies of the Chinese Communist Party and the decency and compassion of the Chinese people.”

Li, an eye doctor who practiced at Wuhan Central Hospital, warned some of his medical school colleagues at the end of December that a SARS-like phenomenon appeared to be on the horizon.

He was summoned by local authorities for sounding the alarm.

It has since emerged that authorities issued official documents around that time ordering that no one other than designated government officials talk about the coronavirus.

At the time, China had not acknowledged human-to-human transmission of the disease – to be named COVID-19 only later – and doctors treating patients with the disease were discouraged from wearing protective equipment. Li contracted the disease and died on February 7.

According to Chinese media reports, three other doctors at Wuhan Central Hospital had also succumbed to COVID-19 as of early March.
Not the first attempt to rename street

This is not the first attempt to rename the street outside the Chinese Embassy. There was a proposal in 2017 to name the street for dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, who died while in detention in a Chinese hospital that year.

Similarly, the street outside the then-Soviet embassy was renamed in 1984 in honor of prominent dissident Andrei Sakharov, a renowned Russian physicist and dissident who suffered years of persecution at the hands of Soviet authorities.

In an editorial advocating for the name change in honor of Liu Xiaobo, The Washington Post argued that while the Sakharov name change had raised tensions with the Soviet Union, “it also sent a strong message to Soviet diplomats and beyond that Sakharov and activists like him were not forgotten.”

Similarly, the editorial said: “each time a Chinese diplomat entered or left the embassy, he or she would confront Mr. Liu’s legacy – and maybe spare a thought for the hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists currently detained by the Communist Party. This should be impetus enough for the change [of the name of the street].”

Earlier this week, deputy U.S. national security adviser Matthew Pottinger said Li had embodied the true spirit of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, which was marked by patriotic calls for cultural and social reforms aimed at strengthening China in a spiritual and fundamental sense.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Chinese Embassy and its ambassador appear to be busy countering criticism over Beijing’s delay in reporting the scale and deadliness of the coronavirus outbreak. Ambassador Cui Tiankai made his case in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday under the title “Blaming China will not end this pandemic.”

The embassy’s website also featured stories about China’s Anhui and Liaoning provinces sending medical supplies to the U.S. states of Maryland and Utah, with signs touting “Anhui loves Maryland.”

Elsewhere in the world, there are signs China’s diplomatic overtures have run into at least a temporary dead end. Sweden recently closed the last of the Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Institutes, and Sweden’s second-largest city called off its sister city ties with Shanghai.

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Hong kong, Dr.Li Wenliang

ESA helps analyse untouched Moon rocks

MADRID, (ESA).- With one sample already being analysed, preparations are now being made to open the second later this year. 

This work focuses on rock and soil retrieved during the 1972 Apollo 17 mission, and is part of NASA’s Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) programme, which takes advantage of advanced analytical techniques.

ANGSA consists of nine expert science teams, covering different aspects of sample analysis. ESA scientists and engineers form part of the Consortium for the Advanced Analysis of Apollo Samples, headed by Charles ‘Chip’ Shearer, one of the ANGSA lead scientists. 

“ESA collaborators will assist in the characterisation of samples, and help us assess how well the lunar material has been collected and preserved,” says Shearer. “Looking ahead, this will help us design future collection and curation procedures for the NASA-led Artemis mission.”

To help achieve ANGSA’s aims, a truly collaborative approach is being employed.

“ANGSA ties together those who were involved in the initial curation and analysis of Apollo samples with the next generation of planetary scientists,” says Francesca McDonald, ESA Research Fellow who is coordinating ESA’s ANGSA participation. “Our diverse team includes Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt, the only geologist to walk on the Moon, who along with fellow Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan, originally collected the lunar material.”

Ancient lunar processes

The Apollo 17 landing site lies within the narrow Taurus-Littrow Valley, surrounded by several steep mountains including the North and South Massifs, with afault scarp, caused by a difference in elevation between the two sides of the fault, cutting across the entire region. The samples were collected from a prominent landslip deposit, which occurred when sediment cascaded down from the South Massif onto the lava filled valley floor. Thus, they contain material from elevated areas that could not have been accessed by astronauts.

To extract the regolith, a 70 cm cylindrical tube was hammered into the landslide deposit to produce a core, which was then separated into two halves on the surface of the Moon.

The lower half of the section, known as sample 73001, likely contains a region of the subsurface that is cold enough to have trapped loosely bound volatiles, such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen. To try to preserve these precious gases, it was sealed in a vacuum container on the lunar surface and then double sealed in a second vacuum container back on Earth.

The upper portion of the core, sample 73002, was also carefully contained after being collected, but was not vacuum sealed. Both halves have remained in storage, under the expert care of the NASA Astromaterials Curation Team, since being returned.

ESA initially has a supportive role in the planning and processes associated with examining the lunar samples, working with the NASA curation team to ensure that the scientists are able to make their highly precise measurements.

Francesca made the trip to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA, in December 2019 to assist in the meticulous dissection of 73002 into subsamples, shortly after it was opened.  

During dissection, a detailed record is made of exactly where each subsample comes from within the core, allowing the science teams to make inferences about lunar processes.

To prepare for the opening of the lower portion sample, ESA scientists and engineers are currently working closely with ANGSA noble gas and volatile experts to design a tool to capture any precious gases it may contain.

The results of the analysis will address questions first pondered by Apollo-era scientists.  

“It is not entirely known what caused the landslip – was it from an impact? Or from movement of the fault?” says Francesca. “If it was to do with movement of the fault scarp, how long ago did this happen? And did this result in any release of gases from within the Moon, which were trapped in the landslide deposit?”

Lessons learned

Another goal for ANGSA is to understand how effective the double-vacuum sealed containment was, which is paramount for preserving the core’s integrity and the meaningfulness of any subsequent analysis.

With future lunar missions likely to target the polar regions, and the international Mars Sample Return campaign in preparation, this will provide essential information for developing future extra-terrestrial sample containment and curation procedures. 

“Utilising materials present on the Moon is an important part of enabling a future sustained presence for men and women at the lunar surface and for developing onward human exploration of Mars,” explains Dayl Martin, ESA Research Fellow and ANGSA team member.

“Understanding the composition and behaviour of lunar material is important to achieve this. The techniques currently being refined as part of ANGSA are set to provide such insights.”

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