October 25, 2014

WORLD: On Saturday October 4th Thousands Marched For Rhino, Elephant Protection In 136 Cities And Towns Across Six Continents. ((( ♥ )))


The Guardian, UK
written by AFP staff
Saturday October 4, 2014

Thousands marched in Africa and around the world Saturday to pressure governments to do more to stop the poaching industry that many fear is driving rhinos and elephants to the brink of extinction.

The protests, dubbed the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, took place in 136 cities and towns across six continents, from Soweto to Nairobi, and Paris to New York and Tokyo.

In South Africa, which is struggling to stem a rhino poaching crisis, demonstrators gathered across 17 cities.

“We are protesting against the political leaders of the world, who do not have the guts and political will to make changes in their laws,” said Dex Kotze, one of the march organisers.

“We have to do this for our future generation,” he said. “The youth today is making a statement globally in 136 cities that it’s their heritage that is being killed.”

From 27 million elephants 350 years ago, Africa now has about 400,000 left, and roughly 9% of those are being killed each year, Kotze said.

South Africa, home to the world’s largest rhino populations, has seen at least 700 killed so far this year.

Poaching of the rare African animal is increasing to meet demand from Asian countries where the horn has long been used in traditional medicines for a variety of ailments, including fever and rheumatism.

More than 35,000 elephants are also killed across Africa very year for their tusks, which are prized, especially in China, for use in making decorations and trinkets.

Kotze said the protests meant to highlight the so-called “gang of 19” countries listed by Cites – the international regulatory body for trade in wildlife – as not doing enough to curb trafficking.

Among the countries under scrutiny are China, Vietnam, Laos, Mozambique, Angola and Kenya.

“These countries need to change their laws,” Kotze said, singling out China, which he said must shut its 37 ivory carving factories and 130 retail outlets, or “we will lose all the elephants”.

In the Kenyan capital Nairobi, several hundred people turned out to make their voices heard.

“We don’t want to wait until the day that there is one elephant standing in Kenya. We want to take action now,” Nyokabi Gethaiga, founder of the Let Live Movement, said.

Kotze said that wildlife crime is worth an estimated US$20bn a year and that “terrorist organisations like al-Shabaab are using ivory trafficking and exchange ivory for weapons”.

According to Paula Kahumbu, CEO of Wildlife Direct, a Kenyan NGO founded by famed conservationist Richard Leakey, the Kenyan Wildlife Service just isn’t capable of taking on these powerful crime syndicates alone.

And “the future we’re looking at if we can’t stop the poaching and trafficking of ivory and rhino horn is that ... we’ll have lost all of our elephants and our rhinos, and we just can’t afford to do that,” he said.

But Jamey Ponte, co-organiser of the march in Kenya, said there are steps that governments could take to make an immediate difference.

The Kenyan Port of Mombasa “is the number one exporter of ivory in the world – second is Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – and there’s no reason for it,” he said. “Obviously, the government says they’re against poaching here, but it’s one port. There’s no reason why we can’t clean that up and stop that export.”

Among the marchers at a demonstration in Iringa, Tanzania, was seven-year old Kendall Marillier, who carried a stuffed elephant.

“I don’t want to see them in museums,” he said. “In the wild. That’s where they belong.”

Small marches also took place in New York and Washington, with protesters demonstrating in the Big Apple despite the driving rain.

Outside the White House, demonstrators held up placards with the words, “Say No Ivory” and “Save the Elephant”, while one protester donned an elephant outfit.

SCIENCE: Scientists Cure Deafness In Mice, Findings May Help Humans. :)

The Times of India
written by Kounteya Sinha,TNN
Tuesday October 21, 2014

LONDON - Scientists have cured deafness in mice.

A team from the University of Michigan Medical School's Kresge Hearing Research Institute and Harvard University have restored the hearing of mice partly deafened by noise, using advanced tools to boost the production of a key protein in their ears.

By demonstrating the importance of the protein, called NT3, in maintaining communication between the ears and brain, these new findings pave the way for research in humans that could improve treatment of hearing loss caused by noise exposure and normal aging.

Their work also illustrates the key role of cells that have traditionally been seen as the "supporting actors" of the ear-brain connection.

Called supporting cells, they form a physical base for the hearing system's "stars" — the hair cells in the ear that interact directly with the nerves that carry sound signals to the brain. This new research identifies the critical role of these supporting cells along with the NT3 molecules that they produce.

NT3 is crucial to the body's ability to form and maintain connections between hair cells and nerve cells, the researchers demonstrate.

"It has become apparent that hearing loss due to damaged ribbon synapses is a very common and challenging problem, whether it's due to noise or normal aging," says Gabriel Corfas, who led the team and directs the U-M institute.

"We began this work 15 years ago to answer very basic questions about the inner ear, and now we have been able to restore hearing after partial deafening with noise, a common problem for people. It's very exciting".

Using a special genetic technique, the researchers made it possible for some mice to produce additional NT3 in cells of specific areas of the inner ear after they were exposed to noise loud enough to reduce hearing. Mice with extra NT3 regained their ability to hear much better than the control mice.

Now, says Corfas, his team will explore the role of NT3 in human ears, and seek drugs that might boost NT3 action or production.

CHINA: Fire Breathing Dragon-Horse Faces Off Against Spider in Beijing. :)


The Wall Street Journal, China Real-Time
written by Olivia Geng
Tuesday October 21, 2014

Performance art often incorporates such special effects as fire, water and smoke to increase their dramatic effect.

But in Beijing, smoke effects don’t need to be prepared ahead of time. The city’s hazy pollution-filled sky provides it free of charge.

That was the case over the weekend at a three-day performance put on by the French company La Machine to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between France and China. The effect was ballet meets Transformers.

The show involved a 45-ton fire-breathing dragon-horse robot facing off against a 13-meter (43-foot) spider with a leg span of 20 meters (65 feet) in a performance loosely based on the ancient Chinese myth of Nuwa, a goddess who sacrificed herself to rescue mankind.

Given the emphasis on the spider and robot, though, some audience members felt the connection to the ancient myth was a bit hard to see.

“I felt there must be a scene [I would recognize from the legend] when I was watching it,” said Wu Ruijun, a college student in the audience. “But I really didn’t understand.”

Even hazier than the plot was the air outside. Beginning on Friday, Beijing was hit by another long bout of heavy pollution, so those who wanted to see the dragon-horse face off against the spider over the weekend—an outdoor show—had to endure the smog.

At one point during the show when the spider was spraying smoke, a woman in the audience shouted, “It’s not necessary for him to do it by himself. Beijing is smoky enough!”

François Delarozière, the show’s artistic director, told China Real Time that the air pollution didn’t faze him much.

“I’m OK with the fog, it makes the show more dramatic,” Mr. Delarozière said.

The performance was held outside Beijing Bird’s Nest Stadium, where the 2008 Olympics were held. During the performance, the two giant mechanical creatures walked back and forth along the 2.5-kilometer Landscape Avenue, with members of the audience following along.

The two robots interacted with the crowd, spraying water onto the audience and capturing their attention with spouts of fire.

Although the dragon-horse was ostensibly the show’s “good guy,” children in the audience seemed to prefer the spider. When it passed by, one child tried to touch the spider’s feet from behind a barrier. The spider obligingly raised a hand to greet the child.

The two creatures were controlled by machinists inside and outside the contraptions, with the dragon-horse containing more than 10 workers inside and the spider even more.

According to official Chinese media, a total of 100,000 people attended the show over the weekend. Though the crowd seemed enthralled by the show, they were also kept quite separate from the performance, with steel guardrails separating the performance from the audience.

After the show, Mr. Delarozière told CRT that security was too tight and called these measures unnecessary. Li Danyang, general manager of Gehua Cultural Development Group, which organized the show, agreed.

He told CRT that if people could get closer, they could enjoy it more. “The audience always followed the monsters. This kind of performance has never been done in Beijing before. The best way should be open to the audience and let them be part of it.”

NETHERLANDS: How Did Two Pranksters Dupe Food Snobs Into Raving About McDonald's? lol ;)


CTV News, Canada
written by Josh Elliott
Friday October 24, 2014

Wrap a chicken burger in wax paper and it's fast food, but stick a toothpick in it and you've got yourself some organic, high-class cuisine.

That's the strategy two Dutch pranksters used at a food show in the Netherlands, where they tricked seasoned food critics into believing McDonald's food was actually a new, organic fast food alternative.

In a video posted to YouTube, the two men buy some McDonald's and use a chef's knife to slice up the greasy fast food into bite-sized morsels for a food show. Then, they asked food connoisseurs at the event to compare their "organic" offerings to traditional McDonald's fare.

"It's definitely a lot tastier than McDonald's. You can just tell this is a lot more pure," one woman says in the video, which includes English subtitles.

"Rolls around the tongue nicely," another critic says. "If it were wine, I'd say it's fine."

"It's just a pure organic product, and that makes it very tasty," another man says.

The two pranksters filmed the episode for the television show “Life Hunters.” Aside from the bite-sized chicken burgers, they also offered chopped up melons, Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, Chicken McNuggets and McDonald's muffins with barbeque sauce.

"If you tell people that something is organic, they'll automatically believe it's organic," prankster Cedrique says after the food show.

SCIENCE: Huge Magnetic 'Ropes' Drive Powerful Sun Explosions. wow :o


Yahoo news
written by Charles Q. Choi, SPACE.com Contributor
Wednesday October 22, 2014

Eruptions on the sun's surface are probably caused by giant, unstable magnetic plasma arches, a new study reports — a discovery that brings scientists one step closer to predicting solar outbursts that can wreak havoc on Earth.

Astronomers have long observed gigantic arches of plasma emerging from the surface of the sun. Known as magnetic flux ropes, coronal loops and solar prominences, these structures possess spiraling magnetic field lines, as if a huge bar magnet had been twisted into a corkscrew. A vast amount of electric current typically runs through the core of each of these tubes.

Scientists have long thought magnetic flux ropes drive powerful solar explosions such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which can spawn geomagnetic storms that damage satellites in space and disrupt power grids on Earth. [The Sun's Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History]

Two models for how magnetic flux ropes are involved have emerged. In the first model, a magnetic flux rope exists before the eruption. When the rope becomes unstable, it powers an eruption by a process called reconnection, in which the energy within the structure's magnetic fields is converted to kinetic energy. In the second model, a magnetic flux rope is born at the same time as the eruption, which is caused by reconnection within an "arcade," a series of loops of magnetic lines of force.

It has proven difficult to know which of these models more closely depicts reality, because understanding the 3D nature of the magnetic field of the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, is a big challenge.

"It was a controversial issue for a relatively long time," said lead study author Tahar Amari, an astrophysicist at the Polytechnic School in Palaiseau, France.

Now, using Japan's Hinode satellite, NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, and the Paris-Meudon Observatory, researchers have found that the model involving an unstable magnetic flux rope may best explain solar eruptions.

Using data from a four-day period preceding a CME in December 2006, the researchers developed a model of the solar coronal magnetic field. They found that in the days before the eruption, the magnetic energy was low, but it slowly increased over time. On the day before the eruption, a magnetic flux rope formed and grew. When the magnetic energy grew too high, the rope was squeezed upward at speeds of up to 8.9 million mph (14.4 million km/h), and the subsequent reconnection drove the CME.

"It was very exciting seeing the eruption form in our model, seeing it evolve in such a sudden way," Amari told Space.com. "I would not have dreamed of seeing it."

Amari noted that the other model could also drive some solar eruptions.

"The issue is that the other model needs a very complex solar environment, so there's a question of whether it could happen," Amari said. "Also,

there's a question of whether you could create a major solar eruption with the other model — you can with our model, because a magnetic flux rope can store a lot of energy."

These findings could help astronomers predict future CMEs, Amari said. "We can monitor active regions for days before an eruption occurs — maybe say if one might occur one day before it happens, and maybe in the future say whether it will be a large eruption or a small eruption," he noted.

In the future, Amari and his colleagues hope to better understand what happens deeper in the sun when an eruption occurs, and to model how magnetic flux ropes ultimately impact the Earth.

The scientists detailed their findings online today (Oct. 22) in the journal Nature.

SOUTH AFRICA: Horn Of The Dilemma: DOJ Says South African Rhino Poachers Misled American Hunters.



The Washington Times
written by Phillip Swarts
Thursday October 23, 2014

Two South African men were charged Thursday on accusations that they sold illegal rhino hunting trips to American citizens, the Justice Department said.

Dawie Groenewald, 46, and his brother, Janneman Groenewald, 44, ran Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris, and traveled around the U.S. recruiting hunters to come visit South Africa between 2005 and 2010, according to Justice Department records.

While in the U.S., the two men would lie to the American hunters, saying that a rhino legally needed to be put down, the charges state. The defendants would charge the American for the hunt, then later sell the rhino’s horn and other parts.

No Americans are facing charges, Justice officials said, because the South African brothers “tricked, lied and defrauded” the hunters they took overseas.

“We are literally fighting for the survival of a species today,” said Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This case should send a warning shot to outfitters and hunters that the sale of illegal hunts in the U.S. will be vigorously prosecuted regardless of where the hunt takes place.”

EGYPT: Egypt's Islamic Sharia Blasphemy Laws Are Oppressive. People Imprisoned For Being 'Accused' Of Defaming Islam. :/

Mada Masr News
written by Staff
Thursday June 19, 2014

After a Luxor court sentenced a Coptic teacher to six months in prison for defaming Islam, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) issued a press release on Thursday condemning the recent spate of blasphemy cases brought before Egyptian courts.

Since 2011, a total of 48 cases accusing the defendant of blasphemy or defamation of religion have been brought before the authorities, according to the EIPR statement, the majority of which targeted Egypt’s Christian minority.

The recent sentencing represents the third blasphemy trial to be heard by Luxor’s courts this year alone, according to the EIPR. The defendant in the case, Damiana Ebeid Abdel Nour, was previously found guilty of defaming Islam in June 2013, and was sentenced to an LE100,000 fine by the Luxor Misdemeanors Court.

In April of this year, the same court sentenced two Muslim defendants, Shaheera Suleiman and Khalifa Kheir, to six months in prison on the same charges.

Another Luxor court is also in the midst of trying Kirolos Atallah, a Coptic Christian, on charges of defaming Islam on his Facebook page. A verdict is expected in the case on June 24.

On June 4, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling on the Egyptian authorities to repeal its blasphemy legislation and to refrain from prosecuting individuals for their writings, works or Internet activity.

This statement was issued specifically in regards to the case of author Karam Saber, who was prosecuted for his collection of short stories entitled “Aiyn Allah?” (Where is God?)

The day after HRW issued the statement, however, the author was sentenced to prison for his artistic work.

Although Saber and his lawyers claim that his book is not atheistic, on June 5, the Beba Misdemeanor Court in Beni Suef upheld a 5-year prison sentence levied against the author.

In another high-profile case, former Christian-turned-atheist Alber Saber — not related to Karam Saber — fled the country in January 2013 after he was found guilty of defaming Islam and disseminating atheist thought on his Facebook account. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment in December 2012.

According to the Egyptian Penal Code, “Ridiculing the heavenly [Abrahamic] faiths, and the propagation of atheism in words, writing, or other means is punishable by sentences of imprisonment for up to five years, and/or fines of up to LE1,000.”

Other articles in the code further stipulate that desecrating religious symbols is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, and/or fines of up to LE500, while mocking a religion or religious rite in public is a crime carrying the same penalties.

However, these articles appear to conflict with the freedoms stipulated in the Constitution ratified in early 2014.

Article 64 of the new Constitution guarantees absolute religious freedoms, while Article 65 safeguards freedom of thought, expression and opinion.
I just added my name to this petition. From the International Christian Concern Facebook page:

RAISE YOUR VOICE | Free Kirollos Atallah!

After liking a Christian Facebook page, Kirollos Atallah was sentenced to six years imprisonment for committing “blasphemy” under Islamic sharia law. Sign and share the petition calling on Egypt to drop all charges against Kirollos! ‪#‎FreedomToLike‬


The Economist
written by
March 14, 2014

A CONCISE but densely-packed briefing paper on the penalties faced by "blasphemers" in various countries has just been published by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an agency which is mandated by Congress to monitor liberty of conscience around the world and identify violators. The paper points out that governments which punish sacrilege are giving representatives of the state, from bureaucrats to judges to village elders, a kind of arbitrary power. This can very easily be used for nefarious purposes.
Blasphemy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of truth or religious rightness, as they empower officials to enforce particular religious views against individuals, minorities and dissenters. In practice, they have proven to be ripe for abuse and easily manipulated with false accusations...In contexts where an authoritarian government supports an established religious creed, blasphemy accusations are frequently used to silence critics or democratic rivals under the guise of enforcing religious piety.
It may be worth remembering that for much of human history (and perhaps even now in certain parts of the world) the first part of that statement would have been bewildering. In old-fashioned theocracies, and in modern totalitarian states, including atheist ones, it has always seemed natural that rulers should act as "arbiters of truth or...rightness". Their tasks have included the suppression of wrong ways of thinking, whether these were defined as religious heresies or deviations from the party line. And even in liberal-democratic countries, state authorities do act as "arbiters of truth" in all sorts of ways, for example in their education policies.

But the USCIRF paper is certainly right to stress that blasphemy laws can become a deadly weapon in the hands of an individual or faction with a personal or political grudge. That sort of abuse is widely reported in Pakistan, a country which the report singles out as by far the worst offender. The report lists 14 individuals known to be on death row for blasphemy and 19 others serving life sentences; countless others have been arrested for the "crime" and are awaiting sentencing, it says. One case has aroused indignation among prominent politicians in Britain: that of a 70-year-old British citizen with a history of mental illness who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani court, apparently for writing letters claiming to be a prophet.

In its list of people facing criminal investigation, prison or even death for alleged blasphemy, the report mentions 10 countries in which Islam is the main religion—and Greece, whose constitution entrenches Orthodox Christianity. It is noted that Egypt has seen a sharp increase in the use of blasphemy-type laws, both during and after the Islamist rule of President Muhammad Morsi. In both Egypt and Pakistan, most people who fell foul of these laws were Muslim, but the legislation was used to a disproportionate extent against minority Christians. In Iran, blasphemers are charged under offences such as "spreading corruption on earth", while in Turkey a religiously-sceptical pianist received a suspended sentence for "publicly insulting values that are adopted by a part of the Turkish nation." Outside the Muslim world, countries such as India, Ireland, Poland and the Philippines have blasphemy laws but don't use them very often.

But why Greece? That country's inclusion reflects one notorious case. A young man received a 10-month sentence, against which he is appealing, for satirising the cult of an Orthodox monk, Father Paisios, who died in 1994 and is seen as a saint by many followers. Father Paisios had much to say about the virtues of humility, self-discipline and the need to avoid judging others; but in the Greek-nationalist blogosphere he is better known for various apocalyptic "prophecies" of war involving Greece, Turkey, Russia and other European powers. (People who knew the monk well have doubts about the authenticity of these sayings.) A young man called Philippos Loizos incurred the ire of Greece's far-right camp, and then of the law, by posing as an imaginary figure called "Father Pastitsios", named after a stodgy Greek dish. People will be quite surprised if the satirist actually goes to prison; it's not uncommon in Greece to receive a light sentence which can be bought off or suspended. Libertarians in Greece are justifiably indignant about the case. But it's not quite on a par with the lynchings, floggings and threatened executions of Pakistan.

MALAYSIA: The Religion of Malaysia Shall Be Islam Where Sharia Law Rules. Great Piece!


PART I - THE STATES, RELIGION AND LAW OF THE FEDERATION

Article 3

(1) Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.

(2) In every State other than States not having a Ruler the position of the Ruler as the Head of the religion of Islam in his State in the manner and to the extent acknowledged and declared by the Constitution, all rights, privileges, prerogatives and powers enjoyed by him as Head of that religion, are unaffected and unimpaired; but in any acts, observance or ceremonies with respect to which the Conference of Rulers has agreed that they should extend to the Federation as a whole each of the other Rulers shall in his capacity of Head of the religion of Islam authorize the Yang di-pertuan Agong to represent him.

(3). The Constitution of the States of Malacca, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak shall each make provision for conferring on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall be Head of the religion of Islam in that State.

(4) Nothing in this Article derogates from any other provision of this Constitution.

(5) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall be the Head of the religion of Islam in the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan; and for this purpose Parliament may by law make provisions for regulating Islamic religious affairs and for constituting a Council to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in matters relating to the religion of Islam.

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The Malaysian Insider
written by OMG! staff
June 18, 2014

Sibu MP Oscar Ling Chai Yew had asked the government to state if hudud contradicted the Federal Constitution, in a question addressed to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

In his written reply to Ling, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom said the formation of Malaysia was based on the Islamic administration of the Malay sultanates and that the Malay sultans were heads of Islam in their respective states.

But what did the Reid Commission Report say about religion in 1957 just prior to Merdeka? I am indebted to any historian who can explain how, in the Federal Constitution, the contents of Article 3 on religion, came to differ from what had been recommended by the Reid Report or the memorandum submitted by the Alliance Party (the precursor of Barisan Nasional today).

Before we delve into that, let us ask ourselves if the way we treat our fellow Malaysian citizens today is humanistic and reasonable or if it is oppressive.

For example, there are people who talk about the power of the majority. They forget that, in First World countries, it is the duty of the majority to protect minorities, not to impose their will on them!

All those who practise Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism or any other minority religion in Malaysia today, feel the erosion of their rights to freedom of religion as enshrined in Article 11 of the Constitution.

We read of officials barging into a wedding ceremony, disrupting it with guests going away hungry, and taking away the bride for investigation. Black vans drive up to a legitimate Bible depository, the Bible Society, and seize 321 Bibles; when the nation’s highest prosecutor the Attorney-General says no law was broken by the Bible Society, state bastions of religious regulatory power rudely reject his authority.

Other officials disrupted a Chinese funeral ceremony of grieving relatives and took away the body. Later, the court ruled she was never a Muslim and they transport the coffin back for the original ceremony to resume.

So let’s reach back into history and the opinion of the 5-man Reid Commission regarding religion. These are excerpts from their 1957 Report:

“In the memorandum submitted by the Alliance (precursor of the Barisan Nasional) it was stated that the religion of the Federation shall be Islam. There was universal agreement that if any such provision were inserted, it must be made clear that it would not in any way affect the civil rights of the non-Muslims. The observance of this principle shall not impose any disability on non-Muslim nationals professing and practising their own religions and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state. There is nothing in the draft Constitution to affect the continuance of the present position in the States with regard to the recognition of Islam or to prevent the recognition of Islam in the Federation by legislation or otherwise in any respect which does not prejudice the civil rights of individual non-Muslims. The majority of us think that it is best to leave the matter on this basis, looking to the fact that Counsel for the Rulers said to us: ‘It is Their Highnesses considered view that it would not be desirable to insert some declaration such as has been suggested that the Muslim Faith or the Islamic Faith be the established religion of the Federation. Their Highnesses are not in favor of such a declaration being inserted and that is a matter of specific instruction in which I myself have played very little part’.”

Justice Halim bin Abdul Hamid from Pakistan, gave a sole dissenting view which includes this paragraph:

“Islam shall be the religion of the state of Malaya but nothing in this Article shall prevent any citizen professing any religion other than Islam to profess, practice and propagate that religion nor shall any citizen be under any disability by reason of his being not a Muslim.”

So we see that what really came out in the Federal Constitution was;

(a) neither precisely the majority view (which included a specific statement that Malaya having a state religion shall not imply that it was not a secular state);

(b) nor the sole dissenting view (which allowed any citizen professing any religion other than Islam to profess, practice and propagate that religion and said that no citizen should be under any disability by reason of his being not a Muslim);

(c) nor Their Royal Highnesses considered view that “it would not be desirable and they were not in favor of inserting some declaration such as has been suggested that the Muslim Faith or the Islamic Faith be the established religion of the Federation”;

but a version that proved more restrictive to persons who were not Muslims, in that they could not proselytise to Muslims, but Muslims suffered no such restriction - it was a biased structure and there was no saving clause that “having a state religion shall not imply that Malaya was not a secular state”.

And we note also the intention of Their Royal Highnesses the Rulers at that initial stage was not even to have a declaration that Islam should be the established religion of the Federation.

Yet the Alliance request to have a state religion aided by the sole dissenting opinion of the Reid Commission, took precedence over Their Royal Highnesses considered views. Had the Royal views then prevailed, Malaysia today would have a Constitution that was unmistakably secular and none of the incidents above would have happened.

It seems that Malayans in 1957 and subsequently Malaysians after 1963, were somehow thwarted out of a clearly defines secular Federal Constitution that should have been ours. Who did it?

One is stunned by the wisdom of Their Royal Highnesses even back then 57 years ago, in stating that “it would not be desirable and they were not in favour of inserting some declaration such as has been suggested that the Muslim Faith or the Islamic Faith be the established religion of the Federation”.

Such prescience takes the breath away.

It was as if Their Royal Highnesses the Rulers in 1957 already felt an unease over the unhappy things that could arise to disturb peace and harmony among the different peoples of Malaysia. And they were right. – June 18, 2014.

October 24, 2014

MALAYSIA: Organiser Of "I Want To Touch A Dog" Event Apologises To "Moderate" Muslims For Furore Caused By Event. Malaysian Islamic Sharia Authorities Investigates 'Dog Patting' Event. :/

The Star, Malaysia
written by Rahmah Ghazali
Saturday October 25, 2014

PETALING JAYA - Syed Azmi Abhalshi (pic), the man behind the controversial 'I Want To Touch A Dog', has apologised for the furore the event has caused.

However, the social activist stressed that the programme was meant to be educational, and not to promote liberalism as alleged by certain quarters.

"I organised this event because of Allah, not to deviate the people's faiths, try to change the Islamic rules of law, poke fun at the ulama or encourage pluralism," he told a packed press conference at Kelab Sri Selangor, here.

Reading from a press statement, he also admitted that there were weaknesses to the programme, and apologised for the trouble and insensitivities that the programme had caused.

Soon after reading the statement, Syed Azmi left the press conference abruptly and did not take any questions from the floor.

His lawyer, Syahredzan Johan said he had to leave for his own safety as he was getting "severe death threats" since the event was held.

The Department of Islamic Development of Malaysia (Jakim) said it would be conducting an investigation into the event, which was held at Central Park in Bandar Utama last Sunday.

The event, aimed at dispelling negative perception of dogs particularly among Muslims, started out as a small get-together for those curious about dogs.

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Al Jazeera News
written by Staff
Tuesday October 21, 2014

Islamic authorities in Malaysia are conducting an investigation into a controversial "dog patting" event aimed at removing the stigma regarding the animal in the multi-ethnic Muslim-majority country.

The event, titled "I want to touch a dog" and held in a park on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, encouraged patting dogs, widely considered to be unclean in Islam, and reportedly drew hundreds of Muslims, raising the ire of religious leaders.

Islamic authorities said they would investigate the event, while a Muslim leader, Nooh Gadut, said it was an attempt to insult clerics.

"Don't try to create a culture that is opposite to Islam," he was quoted by local media as saying.

The organiser, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, who is a Muslim, had said his intention was to help people overcome their fear of dogs and promote compassion towards animals.

Many Malaysians posted positive comments about the event on social media.

"This is so heart warming to see a good change in my home country," one Facebook user said.

Muslims who took part in the event last Sunday performed in a special washing ritual at the end of the event.

The Southeast Asian country generally practises a moderate brand of Islam, but conservative views have gained increasing traction in recent years, with minorities complaining of what they see as Islamisation.

Recently, rights groups appealed for the government to repeal laws discriminating against transgender people after it was revealed that the group faced assault and extortion from authorities.

**************
Time Magazine
written by Charlie Campbell
Thursday October 23, 2014

Hard-liners in Malaysia insist he “should be stoned to death” because dogs are considered unclean

A Malaysian social activist has received death threats and torrents of online abuse for organizing a dog-familiarization event that religious conservatives claim insults Islam.

More than 1,000 people attended the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event in the affluent Bandar Utama neighborhood on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to learn about Islam’s views on canines and become familiar with the animals, which are a source of fear for many Malaysians.

But the event’s planner, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, has now been forced into hiding after hard-liners insisted he “should be stoned to death.”

Traditionally, dogs are considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam as they are thought of as dirty (impure). But while conservatives advocate complete avoidance, moderates simply say Muslims should not touch the animal’s mucous membranes — such as the nose or mouth — which are considered especially impure. Even if that happens, they say, there is a special cleansing ritual that can be followed.

How to touch dogs in an Islamic way was the point of the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event. Although officially haram, many Malaysians own dogs for security, partly because of a worsening national crime wave. (Malaysia’s Selangor Islamic Religious Department, an influential clerical body, says that Muslims can own dogs as working animals, for security, hunting and other functions.)

Siti Sakinah, an NGO worker, attended the event with her children in order to “overcome their fear and to learn that dogs are also creatures created by Allah that need love and care,” she told the Malaysian Insider.

On Thursday, respected Malaysian human-rights campaigner Marina Mahathir wrote an op-ed in the Star newspaper defending Syed Azmi and slamming the “ignorance” of those orchestrating the hate campaign.

“I didn’t realize that kindness is now considered despicable but then the world has turned upside down,” she wrote. “Never mind that the intention of those who attended was to learn about one of God’s own creatures and how to treat them kindly.”

The dog debate in Malaysia is in fact nothing new. In colonial times, local people were forced to deal with an alien influx of dogs brought by British planters and officials, which in turn made the pets fashionable among many prominent Malays, including royals.

At this time, a vibrant and largely cordial discourse thrived between the kaum tua (old conservatives) and kaum muda (young moderates) about how to handle dogs. The issue was even documented in a book by celebrated American historian William R. Roff.

Today, however, this polarity is hugely politicized. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government has brazenly fostered religious conservatism to win the ethnic Malay vote, and some of those attacking Syed Azmi say that he is part of a Zionist plot.

One Facebook user’s comment — as reported by the Malaysian Insider — illustrates the level of paranoia in the hard-line camp. The user said the dog-familiarization event was part of “a Jewish agenda to Christianise Muslim-Malaysians through subtle measures.”

Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert based in Kuala Lumpur for the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies, tells TIME that the conservatives “have been dominating the discourse and want to continue imposing their perspective.”

Marina argues that the storm has been cooked up by authorities attempting to maintain control. After all, she asks, “how does hating anything and everything make us happy and better Muslims?”

PAKISTAN: A Christian Woman Named Asia Bibi's Young Daughters Tortured By Islamic Sharia Blasphemy Accusers aka "Moderate Muslims".



Christian Today
written by Carey Lodge
Friday October 24, 2014

The two young daughters of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy, have spoken about their own violent treatment at the hands of their mother's accusers.

Esham was just 9 years old when she was warned by friends that her mother was being attacked in the field where she worked as a berry picker.

"I rushed to the spot and found that she was being abused and tortured by men. They had even torn her clothes," Esham, now 14, told the MailOnline.

After running home and returning with a new dress for her mother, Esham says the men began torturing her, too. They used offensive slurs and dragged the two women into the village. "We were both crying but there was nobody to listen to us," she recalls.

The police arrived and told Esham to find her father, but he was too "terrified" to come, and by the time she returned, her mother had already been arrested and taken away.

Also speaking to the Mail, Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, said he is ashamed of his actions that day, but "I do not think it could have helped her or our family if I had tried to save her".

"I might also have ended up in jail as a blasphemy-accused and there would be no one to help my daughters," he said.

Masih has denounced the behaviour of his wife's accusers, and says they even abused his now 15-year-old daughter Esha, who has special needs. "They became so cruel. They didn't even spare my daughters and tortured them."

The family is now too afraid to return to their home village for fear of retribution. "I have restricted my movement. I am afraid of being recognised as Asia's husband in public," Masih said.

"I have almost stopped communicating with Muslims. I am afraid they could recognise me. Just imagine how tough it will be for my wife to live in prison."

Found guilty of blasphemy in November 2010, Bibi has been on death row for almost four years. Her sentence was upheld in the Lahore High Court last week, but her lawyers will now take her case to the upper echelons of the Pakistani legal system. It is thought likely that she will be released.

However, a representative from persecution charity Release International warned that should she walk free, "extremists will be given encouragement to pursue their own line of assassination".

Two people associated with Bibi's defence have already been murdered. Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was killed by a member of his security team in January 2011 for opposing the blasphemy laws.

Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan's cabinet, was also shot dead by gunmen who ambushed his car in March 2011.

Release's Andrew Boyd said: "Both Asia and her family are at risk, whatever the law decides to do."

NORTH KOREA: North Korea Enlists the Help of Communist Cuba and Communist China in Shielding Dictator Kim Jong-Un From ICC. :/

North Korea night time satellite image.

Foreign Policy
written by Colum Lynch
Friday October 24, 2014

North Korea has long used ballistic missile tests and underground nuclear explosions to proclaim its intentions to the world.

But fearing that the West wants to prosecute their leader, Kim Jong Un, for human rights abuses, North Korean officials are beginning to rely on soft words instead of hard power. In an appropriately bizarre new tact for the Hermit Kingdom, North Korean officials are engaging in an intensive charm offensive designed to persuade world powers to leave their "dear leader" alone.

As part of a rare PR blitz, North Korean diplomats have reached out to reporters, diplomats, and regional experts to derail any efforts to pursue prosecution of senior North Korean officials. This week, Jang Il Hun, a North Korean diplomat who oversees North Korean outreach to the United States, went to the Council on Foreign Relations to denounce a U.S.-led "plot" to overthrow his government. Earlier this month, another North Korean official, Choe Myong Nam, defended Pyongyang's human rights record at a U.N. press conference. Although he also acknowledged the existence of "reform-through-labor" camps where wayward individuals can be "improved through their mentality and look upon their wrongdoings." And on Wednesday, Oct. 22, a delegation of North Koreans diplomats attended a U.N. panel on human rights that featured two former inhabitants of North Korea's extensive prison network. When the session ended, a North Korean official passed out CDs to journalists that denounced efforts by "the United States and other hostile forces" to engage in childish plots to mislead public opinion in the U.N. arena with nonexistent "human rights violations" in the North Korea.

The intent of North Korea's extraordinary charm offensive is to convince the United Nations and key governments that North Korea is prepared to allow the world unprecedented, though extremely limited, scrutiny of its human rights record. But Pyongyang has been stymied by its diplomatic estrangement from key governments with which it has no diplomatic relations, forcing it to rely on sympathetic allies such as Cuba and China to do its diplomatic bidding.

The move follows the release of a damning 372-page report in February by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK, which concluded that "widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," according to a 36-page summary of the report. The summary also concluded that such crimes have been committed "pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State." The "gravity, scale and nature" of these abuses "reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," according to the summary.

In response, the European Union and Japan have introduced a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the "ongoing, systematic, widespread and gross violation of human rights" in North Korea. The resolution asserts that there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in North Korea, and it encourages the U.N. Security Council to "take appropriate action to ensure accountability," including imposing sanctions on those responsible for or who ordered such crimes and authorizing a criminal investigation by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Never mind that General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and the prospect of the Security Council's adopting a resolution triggering an ICC investigation is remote, given China's reluctance. North Korea is clearly spooked.

On Oct. 17, North Korea enlisted Cuba to reach out to the European Union on its behalf. In essence, Cuba was offering a trade: North Korea would invite the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to Pyongyang to discuss the situation in exchange for European assurances that the North Korean leader would be off-limits. China subsequently delivered the same appeal to the European Union.

"The Cubans have been doing their [the North Koreans'] diplomacy basically because they are not so skillful," said a European diplomat. "The Cubans came forward with a proposal to drop the ICC referral from our text. In exchange, they would accept a visit from the high commissioner for human rights. The reaction was very negative to such a deal. We don't trust them -- that's for sure. But even if we trusted them, we wouldn't trade a referral to the ICC for a visit to the country. It's a little late for that."

Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations, Jang, the North Korean diplomat, dismissed the commission's contention that North Korea has hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in labor camps spread across the country, saying they are simply "reformatories."

He said the "major obstacle" to improving human rights in North Korea is the United States and its "hostile policy" aimed at isolating North Korea and stifling its ability to prosper. In contrast, he said, North Korea's young leader has made a "constant effort … to improve the human rights situation of my country by improving the people's livelihood and giving more freedom and rights to the people."

"The United States and other European countries are making very great fuss about human rights violations, as they call it, in my country," he said. This "is a political plot to demonize our system."

Asked why North Korean officials -- after years of diplomatic discretion -- have mounted such a public campaign, Jang said they think the resolution is directed at their leader: "We hold … our respected Martial Kim Jong Un in highest esteem," he said, employing a title North Korean officials use to highlight their leader's supposed military prowess. "We could no longer sit idle, just watching and responding back, and we have to -- we think we have to take action on our own in response to such a political plot."

But Michael Kirby, an Australian judge who led the commission of inquiry, said no one should be fooled by North Korea's new geniality, which included the release of American Jeffrey Fowle, whom Pyongyang was holding prisoner, as well as its recent, first-ever commitment to accept a series of human rights recommendations from the U.N. Human Rights Council. "This house, the United Nations, speaks endlessly of universal human rights … and the obligation of those who are guilty of crimes against humanity to answer before justice for their crimes," Kirby said at Wednesday's panel discussion on North Korean rights. "And the question that is before the United Nations now is, when we face such a moment of truth, will the United Nations back away because of the steps belatedly taken by North Korea?… And my hope is that the answer to that question will be 'no. We don't back away. We stand for the principles of the United Nations, and we expect accountability for great crimes before justice. And that is the right of the people of North Korea."

NORTH KOREA: World Must Pressure North Korea On Human Rights. It’s Time To Pierce The Darkness.


North Korea night time satellite image.

Seattle Times
written by Katrina Lantos Swettand and Mary Ann Glendon
Friday October 24, 2014

Katrina Lantos Swett and Mary Ann Glendon are members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Swett is the chair.

NORTH Korea’s release of Jeffrey Fowle, imprisoned for leaving a Bible in a public place, still leaves two other Americans in captivity. Kenneth Bae, a former Washington state resident, and Matthew Miller are serving sentences of 15 and six years, respectively, of hard labor for supposedly undermining the government.

While their continued imprisonment highlights the country’s severe human-rights abuses, Fowle’s release — coupled with North Korea’s previous moves to blunt rising condemnation of its record — reveals a mindset that is increasingly sensitive to world opinion.

Thus, in the wake of Fowle’s release, the world must not let up. It must stand with the United States for Bae’s and Miller’s freedom. It must insist that Pyongyang cease abusing its own people’s religious freedom and related rights.

North Korea holds at least 200,000 people in penal labor camps where many are starved or beaten to death. It maintains a stranglehold on religious belief and practice, which are seen as threatening the state and the quasi-religious personality cult surrounding the ruling Kim family.

The United Nations is now poised to pass a resolution condemning North Korea’s appalling conduct and calling for the abuses to end.

The resolution responds to several key findings and developments this year:

In February, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry released a report concluding that Pyongyang’s abuses are “without any parallel in the contemporary world.” It found “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information, and association.”

In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve, released its annual report confirming severe religious persecution. Since early 2013, the government has executed as many as 80 people for such crimes as possessing Bibles, while Bae was sentenced for a “national security crime” connected to his work for Youth with a Mission, an evangelical organization.

In June, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, issued his own findings unveiling North Korea’s bleak human rights landscape, as did the U.N. Human Rights Council, which adopted a similar report last month as part of the Universal Periodic Review. Also last month, the U.N. General Assembly held a high-level discussion on North Korean abuses, during which Secretary of State John Kerry, confronting its labor camps, urged North Korea to “shut this evil system down.”

All of this unwanted attention has struck a nerve in Pyongyang. Last month, North Korea responded to the Commission of Inquiry findings with an unprecedented 54,000-word denial of the undeniable. For the first time in 15 years, North Korea sent its foreign minister to last month’s U.N. General Assembly opening. North Korea recently circulated its own resolution to counter the impending U.N. resolution. And earlier this week, it released Jeffrey Fowle.

Taken together, these responses show how, despite its insular history, the Kim Jong Un regime now worries what the world thinks. The U.N. resolution can keep the pressure on, reiterating to North Korea that the world cares, and that its depredations must end.

Yet, more can be done. The United States can work more closely with allies like Japan and South Korea to raise human-rights concerns and press for improvements, including closing the labor camps. China should fulfill its international duties to protect North Korean asylum seekers within its borders, allowing the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and international humanitarian groups to render assistance. And the United States could fully implement the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2012, using authorized funds to increase access to information and news media inside North Korea, promote human rights, resettle refugees and monitor humanitarian aid delivery.

It has been famously shown that while lights span the night sky over South Korea, North Korea is shrouded in darkness. It’s time to pierce the darkness. The world must support freedom for Bae and Miller — and for North Korea’s long-suffering people.

NORTH KOREA: Did North Korea Really Admit To Its Horrific Forced Labor Camps? Not Exactly.




The Washington Post
written by Adam Taylor, Foreign Affairs
Thursday October 9, 2014

There's some slightly unusual stuff happening in North Korea at the moment. Most obviously, Kim Jong Un, the country's omnipresent supreme leader, has been out of the public eye for a long time, and no one seems to know quite why. Receiving less fanfare (though perhaps just as important) is the news that North Korean officials have made the rare decision to hold high-level talks with the South.

Given that, the news that North Korea seems to have admitted that its notorious labor camp system really does exist would seem to fit into a cluster of potentially hopeful signs. Unfortunately, it may not be so simple.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Choe Myong Nam, a North Korean foreign ministry official in charge of U.N. affairs and human rights issues, had recently admitted that the camps existed in a U.N. briefing. "Both in law and practice, we do have reform through labor detention camps — no, detention centers — where people are improved through their mentality and look on their wrongdoings,” Choe reportedly said.

In the past, North Korea has completely denied any reports of the existence of a labor camp system. However, there has been growing criticism of the camps from outside sources. In 2003, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released a report that examined what it called a "Hidden Gulag" in North Korea: The second edition of that report, released in 2012, estimated that there were 150,000 to 200,000 people in the labor camp system, which it said had operated for decades. The camps have clearly been identified in satellite photos, and accounts from survivors (such as that told in former Post reporter Blaine Harden's book “Escape from Camp 14”) are numerous.

A year-long investigation by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea published its results at the start of this year, further shining a light on the camps. While the report's authors noted that numbers in the camps seemed to have decreased, there were still 80,000 to 120,000 people in the camps, imprisoned without trial for crimes as minor as criticizing the Kim dynasty or trying to organize Christian services. Entirely families are often punished for the perceived crimes of one member, the report noted, comparing the scale of the camps to Soviet gulags or Nazi Germany's political prison system.

North Korea's response to the U.N. report has been remarkable – a mixture of anger, insults and whataboutism. But there have also been some signs of introspection: A 53,558-word internal review of North Korean rights presented an improbably rosy view of the situation, but perhaps it was a start. Could the admission that the "labor detention centers" were real be another move forward?

Perhaps not. Adam Cathcart, editor in chief of North Korea-watching Web site Sino-NK, says that North Korea had already alluded to the concentration camps in its own human rights report, with the passage where it describes penalties that include “reform through labor for an indefinite period, reform through labor for a definite period, and disciplining through labor.”

Notably, Choe seems to have made a slip of the tongue when mentioning "camps," and corrected himself to refer to "centers." It's an important distinction to North Korea watchers. "He is *not* acknowledging the existence of political prison camps ... that we know about from former inmate/guard testimony and satellite imagery, but which [Pyongyang] has always denied the existence of," Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy at Liberty in North Korea, wrote on Facebook as news of Choe's comments spread, suggesting instead that Choe was talking about "reform through labor detention centers," a different and less-controversial system.

North Korea does appear to be making an attempt at dialogue about its human rights abuses, though it clearly wants to do so on its own terms. The semantics here are important, but perhaps even more important is the real-life action: On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that despite the apparent reference to the forced labor camps, the U.S. has not seen any action actually taken by North Korea to close the camps.

NORTH KOREA: Dictator Kim Jong-un Makes Reappears On October 13th, First Public Appearance Since September 3rd, North’s State-Run Media Reports. Bummer :/

North Korea night time satellite image.

The New York Times
written by Choe Sang-Hun
Monday October 13, 2014

SEOUL, South Korea — The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose prolonged absence from public view generated speculation about his health and grip on power, has visited a housing project and was seen walking with a cane, according to the North’s state-run media on Tuesday.

The report was the first time the state-run news media had mentioned a public appearance by Mr. Kim since Sept. 3, when he was reported to have attended a concert. The report was likely to help dissipate the recent flurry of rumors over Mr. Kim’s whereabouts, many of which speculated on whether he had lost out in a power struggle inside the notoriously opaque government.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, Mr. Kim recently visited a district where his government had just finished a cluster of homes for satellite engineers. North Korea is particularly proud of its scientists who succeeded in putting a satellite into orbit on board a long-range rocket in December 2012. Washington considered the rocket program a cover for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Mr. Kim “inspected various parts” of the housing district in Pyongyang, the news agency said, indicating that he had no trouble moving about. He expressed “great satisfaction” at the project and also posed for pictures with North Korean scientists who were to move into the new homes, the report added.

North Korea’s main party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, dedicated the front page of its Tuesday edition to Mr. Kim’s reappearance in public after more than five weeks of absence spawned global speculation that there might be something wrong inside the totalitarian police state, which is armed with nuclear weapons. The paper carried a series of photos of Mr. Kim smiling and moving about with a cane in his left hand, giving credence to the theory that he had been suffering a leg problem.

The photos showed Mr. Kim looking around brand-new eight-story apartment buildings and top military generals and party secretaries taking notes while he spoke — a scene typical of such a visit by the top leader.

During the trip, Mr. Kim also inspected a newly completed building for an energy research institute, the agency said. He later posed for a group picture before the statues of his father and grandfather, the agency said.

On Mr. Kim’s latest “on-site guidance trip,” he was accompanied by members of his government’s elite, including Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, the army’s chief political officer. Marshal Hwang is No. 2 in the government hierarchy, which Mr. Kim has often reshuffled since taking over after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011. The Korean Central News Agency did not specify when the visit took place.

Rumors about Mr. Kim, who is believed to be about 30, were fueled in part by television footage showing him limping as early as July. Last month, a state-run television station confirmed for the first time that Mr. Kim “was not feeling well.”

On Friday, he did not visit the mausoleum where his grandfather — Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder — and his father lie in state, skipping an important annual ritual he had previously performed to mark the anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party.

DENMARK: Denmark, Home To The World’s Top-Ranked Government-Run Pension System, Probed For Hedge Fund Use

Bloomberg News
written by Frances Schwartzkopff
Tuesday October 21, 2014

Denmark, home to the world’s top-ranked pension system, will toughen oversight of the $500 billion industry after regulators observed a surge in risk-taking linked in part to more widespread use of hedge funds.

The Financial Supervisory Authority in Copenhagen will require pension funds to submit quarterly reports on their alternative investments to track their use of hedge funds, exposure to private equity and infrastructure projects. The decision follows funds’ failures to account adequately for risks in their investment strategies, according to an FSA report.

The regulatory clampdown comes as Denmark deals with risks it says are inherent to a system due to be introduced across the European Union in 2016. The new rules will allow pension funds to invest according to a so-called prudent person model, rather than setting outright limits. In Denmark, the approach has proven problematic for the only EU country to have adopted the model, said Jan Parner, the FSA’s deputy director general for pensions.

“The funds are setting up for their release from the quantitative requirements, but the problem is, it’s not clear what a prudent investment is,” Parner said in an interview. “The challenge for European supervisors is to explain to the industry what prudent investments are before the opposite ends up on the balance sheets.”

Denmark, which has almost two years of experience with the approach after its early adoption in 2012, says a lack of clear guidelines invites misinterpretation as firms try to inflate returns.

EU Agenda

The new framework comes as European policy makers look for ways to spur a recovery by making some assets cheaper to hold. The European Commission on Oct. 10 decided to set a lower charge on asset-backed securities than the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority recommended. The rule, which reflects the cost for funds of holding assets, means insurers face a 2.1 percent charge on AAA securities, compared with EIOPA’s 4.3 percent recommendation. For BBB assets, the charge will be 3 percent, versus 17 percent proposed by the EIOPA.

Denmark is telling its industry, rated the world’s best three years in a row by the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index, to take a conservative view on what a “prudent person” would invest in.

Underlying Risk

“Supervisors are not saying no, but we have to warn them not to get too enthusiastic,” Parner said. “There’s a concern that funds underestimate the underlying risk and get too high a concentration in certain areas, exposing funds to credit risk, which is cyclical and which funds haven’t previously had.”

Danish funds and insurers have overestimated the value of alternative investments they made while failing to adequately account for the risks, the FSA said in a February report.

Pension funds held 152 billion kroner ($26 billion) at the end of 2012, or about 7 percent of their balance sheets, in equity stakes and other assets sold on markets the FSA characterized as illiquid, opaque and thin. The agency said they need to account better for those risks and ordered reports from the third quarter. PFA, Denmark’s biggest commercial pension fund, said today it invested in a shopping mall in western Denmark as part of a strategy to increase its presence in retail properties.

Asset Valuation

“The industry needs to look further into the risks involved and the ongoing valuation of these assets,” Parner said.

The prudent person principle is part of a sweeping overhaul of insurance regulation that’s been more than a decade in the making. Solvency II, as the framework is known, will give companies greater flexibility to invest while tying capital requirements to the risk they face of being unable to meet their liabilities.

Effective at the end of next year, the directive sets risk-based capital requirements for insurers, mirroring reforms in banking. It also places greater weight on risk management by funds and regulators’ role in monitoring it.

“We’re moving away from a prescriptive setup,” Parner said. “More work has to be done Europe-wide in this area to be ready for the launch of Solvency II.”