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Rights Activists Fear China's Human Rights Record Will Deteriorate

BEIJING, ( JOYCE HUANG-VOANEWS)- In China, 2018 has been a year that rights defenders worldwide say was extremely repressive, particularly when it comes to religious persecution.

China's communist party leadership has strongly defended its actions amid growing calls that its actions may constitute crimes against humanity.

Those actions include the internment of hundreds of thousands - perhaps more than a million - Muslims in Xinjiang, the demolition and shuttering of Christian churches nationwide and the systemic crackdown on dissidents.

"2018 has been a year of human rights disasters in China, where all walks of people have paid a dear price over rights abuses. In the past year, China has systemically enforced the most audacious ever persecution policies," said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile Germany-headquartered World Uighur Congress.

After months of denying their existence, China admitted that the camps do exist and launched a global propaganda campaign defending its interment of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang.

Beijing has yet to confirm how many have been detained and calls the "vocational centers" a necessary part of their fight against terrorism and religious extremism. The reality, rights advocates argue, is that Muslim minorities are being detained and made to work overtime and without pay in factories for so-called job training.

China is also reportedly planning Xinjiang-style "re-education" camps in Ningxia home to the Hui minority Muslims. Such moves highlight the communist party's drastic efforts to wipe out ethnic Muslims and extend control over religious groups, Raxit said.

Bob Fu, the founder of China Aid, agrees. His group, based in the U.S. state of Texas, is committed to promoting religious freedom in China.

"This is a 21st century concentration camp, like Nazi Germany in 1930s and 1940s, so, the international community should unequivocally condemn and urge the Chinese regime to immediately stop this crime," he said.

Call for sanctions

Rights advocates have called on governments worldwide to impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses.

U.S. senators including Marco Rubio have denounced Xinjiang's internment camps and other alleged abuses as possible crimes against humanity. In November, Rubio and a group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced legislation to address the situation and urged American policymakers to be clear-eyed about the global implications of China's domestic repression.

The bipartisan bills urge President Donald Trump's administration to use measures including economic sanctions to defend Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. If that happens, China has said it will retaliate in proportion.

Intensified persecution

It is not just Muslims who have found themselves caught in the communist party's crosshairs. China Aid's Fu said China has also escalated its crackdown on Christian communities.

Police and authorities in Henan, China, raided a Christian church at the break of dawn on Sept 5. Church crosses were removed and Christian slogan on the walls were erased.

Authorities have torn down houses of worship and in some places, there is a push to ensure that anyone under the age of 18 cannot attend church or be under the influence of religion. China is officially atheist, but says it allows religious freedom.

In early December, Chinese police arrested Pastor Wang Yi, along with more than 100 members of his Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan.

The arrests may have been triggered by his manifesto, titled "Meditation on the Religious War," in which he condemns the communist party and urges Christians to perform acts of civil disobedience.

"It's just really the tip of the iceberg of overall religious persecution in China since the president, Xi Jinping, took power," Fu told CNN recently about the case.

Political dissidents

If convicted, Wang could face a jail term of up to 15 years and he has vowed not to plead guilty or confess unless physically tortured, said Jonathan Liu, a priest with the San Francisco-based Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness.

Liu said the pastor's detention serves the dual purpose of suppressing Christians and silencing political dissidents in China as Wang is a follower of Calvinism a branch of Protestantism that emphasizes social justice.

"Deeply affected by Calvinism, he cares for those who are socially disadvantaged or rights defenders. So, his church has formed many fellowships to provide care for those people," Liu said, "In the eyes of the Chinese government, his church has become a hub for [political] dissidents."

No prospects for improvement

During the United Nations' periodic review of its rights record, China defended itself, arguing that criticism was "politically motivated" with UN members deliberately disregarding China's "remarkable achievements."

For critics, the outlook for 2019 isn't promising.

"I can see no prospect that there would be any improvement in the coming year. And in fact, the last year, the most horrible thing is to see that the government is openly and fragrantly acting against the law, in total contempt of the [judicial] system they've set up," Albert Ho, chairman of China Human Rights Concern Group in Hong Kong.

The fact that rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang is still being held incommunicado proves that China has little respect for its own laws, Ho said.

Among more than 300 rights lawyers and activists ensnared in China’s 2015 crackdown, lawyer Wang is the last awaiting trial.

After almost three and a half years of arbitrary detention, Wang was finally put on trial in a closed-door hearing in Tianjin on December 26. He reportedly fired his state-appointed lawyer “in the first minute” of his trial,signs of his refusal to cooperate with the authorities.

His wife, Li Wenze, and supporters, as well as western diplomats and journalists, were all barred from attending the hearing, which the court said involved “state secrets,” but rights activists denounced as a blatant violation of China’s own judicial principles.

The court said on its website that a verdict will be announced on a later date. Rights activists argued that Wang would be a blatant case of political persecution shall he be convicted with a maximum 15-year sentence.

Li and three other wives of lawyer victims who have been carrying out a long and loud campaign to secure Wang’s release as well as others, recently shaved their hair to protest his detention for more than three years.

“They (the authorities) keep on shamelessly breaking the law. So today we are using this act of shaving our heads in protest, to show they are persistently and shamelessly breaking the law,” Li said.

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Premier Lai best option to lead Cabinet: President Tsai

TAIPEI,  (CNA).- President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Friday reiterated her wish for Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) to remain in his position, saying it was the best option for the nation and the consensus reached by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leaders.

Almost all of the DPP leaders with whom she has spoken agreed that urging Lai to stay on would be best for the current political situation, policy continuity and the nation's development, Tsai said in conversations with reporters at her residence.

Lai offered a verbal resignation to Tsai on election night to take political responsibility for the DPP's heavy defeat in the Nov. 24 local government elections.

He said then that the election result was a reflection of public dissatisfaction with the government's performance, for which he had to shoulder responsibility.

Tsai did not accept his resignation and he agreed to stay on the next day for the sake of political stability and continuity.

But on Dec. 7, Lai said he would step down "when the time is right" because he considered taking political responsibility to be the "supreme value of democracy" that should never be contradicted.

It has been widely speculated that Lai's last day as premier will be when the 2019 government budget bill passes the Legislature, potentially on Jan. 11.

According to Tsai, the DPP leaders and factions she has talked to about a possible change of premier included former Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), who has been rumored to be Lai's successor, and the New Tide faction, a group of which Lai is a member.

Since Lai took up the premiership more than a year ago, he has accomplished a lot and moved the nation forward, Tsai said.

"He is familiar with policies and has been working hard. At this time of difficulty, Lai Ching-te should stay on the job and continue to work hard with everybody."

Asked by reporters whether she has asked Su about his willingness to replace Lai, Tsai said she had not, relating that the only conclusion reached at her meeting with Su was to urge Lai to stay put.

(By Wen Kuei-hsiang and Shih Hsiu-chuan)

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Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwán

Mission accomplished for ESA’s GomX-4B butane-propelled CubeSat

BARCELONA, (ESA).- The cereal-box sized GomX-4B – ESA’s biggest small CubeSat yet flown – has completed its mission for the Agency, testing out new miniaturised technologies including: intersatellite link communication with its GomX-4A twin, a hyperspectral imager, star tracker and butane-based propulsion system.

“This multifaceted little mission has performed extremely well in flight,” says Roger Walker, overseeing ESA’s Technology CubeSats. “What its results demonstrate is that European CubeSats are now ready for operational deployment, as the first generation of CubeSat constellations in low Earth orbit for a variety of applications.

“So our post-flight review has declared ESA’s in-orbit demonstration mission a success, but in fact GomX-4B’s story is far from over. GomSpace, the manufacturer of the satellite, continues to operate the nanosatellite, while GomSpace’s subsidiary in Luxembourg will be in charge of mission exploitation.”

Much quicker to build and cheaper to launch than traditional satellites, ESA is making use of CubeSats based on standardised 10 cm boxes for testing new technologies in space.

GomX-4B was ESA’s first six-unit CubeSat, double the size of its predecessor GomX-3, built for ESA by GomSpace in Aalborg, Denmark, also the builder of GomX-4A for the Danish Ministry of Defence. The CubeSat pair was launched on 2 February from Jiuquan, China.

GomX-4B used its butane cold gas propulsion system to manoeuvre away from its twin, flying up to 4500 km away in a fixed geometry – a limit set by Earth’s curvature, and representative of planned CubeSat constellation spacing – to test intersatellite radio links allowing the rapid transfer of data from Earth between satellites and back to Earth again.

Supplied by the Swedish branch of GomSpace, the propulsion system allows the CubeSat to adjust its orbital speed in a controlled manner by a total of 10 m/s – a speed equivalent to a kicked football.

“Despite all our orbital manoeuvres, GomX-4B still has a lot of fuel,” comments Roger. “Of the original 130 grams of butane, only 13 grams were consumed during the mission.”

In another first, GomX-4B acquired the first hyperspectral images of Earth from a CubeSat. Cosine Research in the Netherlands and its partners constructed the hand-sized HyperScout imager for ESA. This divides up the light it receives into many narrow, adjacent wavelengths, gathering a wealth of environmental data.

The mission also proved that hyperspectral image processing can be performed aboard, to reduce the amount of data needing to be transmitted down to Earth. High-quality image acquisition requires good pointing accuracy and stability, so GomX-4B also trialled a miniaturised star tracker developed by Dutch CubeSat manufacturer ISIS to orient itself by its surrounding starfield, turning itself using fast-spinning reaction wheels.

A final experimental payload gathered data on how orbital radiation affects computer memories.

The large amount of flight data returned by the mission is being analysed as a source of lessons learnt to guide the development of follow-on CubeSat missions, starting with GomX-5 whose 12-unit design begins next month at GomSpace.

ESA has a trio of Technology CubeSats from Belgium planned to fly during the new year: Qarman to gather atmospheric reentry data, Simba to monitor Earth’s radiation budget and Picasso to monitor the troposphere and stratosphere.

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Sports, Deaths Among 2018's Top Google Searches

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- Each December, the technology company releases it's top trending searches<> of the year. Topics that drew the interest of Americans included the World Cup, Hurricane Florence and three people who died in 2018 - rapper Mac Miller, designer Kate Spade and TV host and author Anthony Bourdain.

Google does not come up with its lists based on the number of total searches. Instead, the company looks at the search terms that enjoyed the highest spike compared to the previous year.

"Black Panther" topped the list of most searched movies, while rising stars in the Democratic party dominated the list of most searched politicians.

Here are the Top 10:

1. World Cup
2. Hurricane Florence
3. Mac Miller
4. Kate Spade
5. Anthony Bourdain
6. Black Panther
7. Mega Millions Results
8. Stan Lee
9. Demi Lovato
10. Election Results

Other categories include:

1. World Cup
2. Hurricane Florence
3. Mega Millions
4. Election Results
5. Hurricane Michael

1. Demi Lovato
2. Meghan Markle
3. Brett Kavanaugh
4. Logan Paul
5. Khloe Kardashian

1. Stacey Abrams
2. Beto O'Rourke
3. Ted Cruz
4. Andrew Gillum
5. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

1. Black Panther
2. Incredibles 2
3. Deadpool 2
4. Avengers: Infinity War
5. A Quiet Place

All of the 2018 Google top trending search lists can be found here<>.

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Water recycling for monks and astronauts awarded Dutch innovation prize


BARCELONA, (ESA).- For over 25 years ESA has been working on an endless waste-recycling system to provide a self-sustaining ecosystem for humans in space. While we are not there yet, the technology developed to date is having immediate benefits for building a more sustainable planet – including at the La Trappe Abbey brewery in the Netherlands.

When the monks from La Trappe Abbey brewery wanted to make their beer-brewing process more sustainable, they chose the suite of techniques developed for spaceflight to renovate their factory and recycle more water. Upon its completion in 2019, the system should reduce the amount of water used to brew their beer by 80%.

The brewery produces almost a million cubic meters of waste water each year. Thanks to the new recycling techniques this water will no longer be sent to a municipal processing plant but used to irrigate the monks’ land and clean beer bottles.

The system will recover water and purify it using membranes before employing photobioreactors to add nitrogen to the water. Around 3000 species of bacteria and organisms, including plants, will be used to purify the water. The system will also reduce the brewery’s electricity use.

“In this case we applied our expertise and technological developments in a factory, but they could just as easily be incorporated into a hotel or other operation” says Christophe Lasseur, of ESA’s Life Support and Physical Sciences Instrumentation Section.

Using chemistry, biology and mechanical innovations, ESA’s micro-ecological life support system alternative (MELiSSA) programme’s research has already helped purify water in Morocco and developed bioreactors to grow new drugs. It has been recycling water in Antarctica for half a decade and a pilot project in Barcelona, Spain, is testing the system to the max with a fully closed, self-sustainable ecosystem for mice.

Provided funding by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the project at La Trappe has been awarded the innovation prize of 2018 by the Dutch councils of municipal water.

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