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November 21, 2015

Saudi Arabian court convicts poet of apostasy, sentences to death

Saudi Arabian court convicts poet of apostasy, sentences to death

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

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A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced Saudi-born Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death on Tuesday for allegedly committing apostasy, a crime punishable by death under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Sharia Law. The court decision was brought to light yesterday by Adam Coogle, a researcher working for Human Rights Watch.

File photo of Dira Square, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where public executions are carried out under Sharia Law.
Image: Luke Richard Thompson.

Fayadh has previously posted a video online of a public lashing by religious police. Mona Kareem, an activist from Kuwait calling for Fayadh’s release, said “some Saudis think this was revenge by the morality police.”

Fayadh was detained by police in August 2013, accused of blasphemy and promoting atheism through his poems. According to Fayadh, this stemmed from a dispute with a fellow artist. He was soon released under bail.

Fayadh was again arrested in January 2014. He was tried at a court in Abha in February under allegations of committing blasphemy, promoting atheism, and having illegal relationships with women. He was sentenced in May that year to four years of jail and 800 lashes. Fayadh appealed the decision, and the case was retried by another judge, who sentenced him to death.

Activist Mona Kareem said the judge for Fayadh’s retrial “didn’t even talk to [Fayadh], he just made the verdict.”

Fayadh was given 30 days to appeal the court ruling, but according to Kareem, Fayadh “was unable to assign a lawyer because his ID was confiscated when he was arrested” in January 2014.

Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle called the court ruling an example of Saudi Arabia’s “complete intolerance for anyone who may not share government-mandated religious, political, and social views.”



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March 17, 2012

Russian scholars call on Medvedev and Putin to defend Bhagavad Gita

Russian scholars call on Medvedev and Putin to defend Bhagavad Gita

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

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Twenty leading Russian scholars urged Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister, President-elect Vladimir Putin to step in and take the ongoing Bhagavad Gita trial in the Siberian city of Tomsk under “personal control”, saying it “discredits Russia’s cultural and democratic credentials in the eyes of the civilized world”.

Last December, the Tomsk court rejected state prosecutor’s indictment of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, a commented translation of the ancient Hindu classic by the Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami, as an extremist text. However, in January the Tomsk prosecutor’s office filed an appeal, arguing the commentaries incite “social hatred” and “violence against non-believers” and must be banned as “extremist”. Tomsk region prosecutor Alexander Buksman publicly supported the appeal, saying that the proposed ban on the commentaries rather than on the Hindu text itself was justified, as “it’s important to discern gems form the chatter in this very case”. The appeal is scheduled for hearing on March 20.

In an open letter to the top Russian leaders, the group of eminent Russian scholars of philosophy, philology, and oriental studies strongly denounced the prosecutor’s attempt to dismiss Bhaktivedanta Swami’s commentaries as an extremist distortion of Bhagavad Gita itself, saying that these charges are “untrue and contrary to the traditions of Hinduism”.

“The book does not contain any signs of extremism and does not incite hatred on ethnic, religious or any other grounds. On the contrary, the book written in the commentary tradition of Bengali Vaishnavism, one of the most popular branches of Hinduism, is considered sacred by a section of believers”, the scholars emphasized, warning that the continued trial of the Hindu scripture in Russia is “driving a wedge in Russian-Indian relations.” Similar concerns were voiced earlier at an all-Russian conference at Tomsk State University titled Bhagavad Gita in history and modern society, where scholars expressed perplexity at the prosecutor’s move to declare a translation of the Hindu scripture extremist. Speaking at the conference, Irina Glushkova, chief researcher of the Indian Research Center at the Oriental Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, stressed that “Bhagavad Gita As It Is has the right to exist as any other commentary or scripture. It is a fundamental principle of Hinduism and there is no any other Hinduism”.

The controversial court case on the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text regarded sacred by millions of Hindus, had already caused political and societal turmoil in India, with the Indian Parliament stalled over the proposed ban and Hindu activists burning Russian flags. The trial also evoked strong criticism from the Russian, Indian, and international media.



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December 29, 2011

Russian court rejects move to ban Hindu scripture

Russian court rejects move to ban Hindu scripture

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

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Hare Krishnas protesting against the ban of their scripture outside the Russian Consulate in Kolkata, India. December 19, 2011.
Image: Cinosaur.

A judge in Tomsk, Russia drew a round of applause from the court room as she dismissed charges of extremism against the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, a Russian commented translation of the Bhagavad Gita published by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. This decision put an end to the six-month-long trial of the book accused by the state prosecutors of fostering “social discord” and “incitement to religious hatred”.

The Indian Foreign Ministry, which had been urging Moscow to avert the possible ban they termed as “absurd”, welcomed the verdict calling it “a sensible resolution of a sensitive issue” which “demonstrates yet again that the people of India and Russia have a deep understanding of each other’s cultures and will always reject any attempt to belittle our common civilizational values” and thanked the Russian government for their support. Indian Ambassador to Russia Ajai Mahotra also stated that the court decision “deserves to be applauded”.

The controversial court case on the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text regarded sacred by millions of Hindus, had threatened to become a stumbling block in traditionally strong Indo-Russian relations as it caused political and societal turmoil in India, with the Indian Parliament stalled over the proposed ban and Hindu activists burning Russian flags. The trial also evoked strong criticism from the international media.



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December 20, 2011

Indian Parliament irate as Russia poised to ban Bhagavad Gita

Indian Parliament irate as Russia poised to ban Bhagavad Gita

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

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Members of the Indian Parliament across party lines urged the Indian government to protect the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most sacred Hindu texts, from a legal ban in Russia.

Hindu followers rallied in front of the Kolkata Russian consulate protesting the ban. Thousands signed an on-line petition to stop the trial, and the hashtag #Gita surged to a leading trend in Indian cyberspace. Accused of fostering extremism and “social discord” by the Tomsk, Siberia state prosecutors office, Bhagavad Gita As It Is, a translation of the ancient poem admired by Leo Tolstoy and Albert Einstein, now faces the prospect of ending up on Russia’s Federal List of Extremist Materials – along with Hitler’s Mein Kampf – and being banned from distribution.

Reporting to the Parliament on the issue, External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna Tuesday denounced the trial as a “patently absurd” action of “some ignorant and misdirected or motivated individuals” and assured the House that his Ministry has taken up the issue with senior Russian authorities, hoping for an appropriate resolution. S. M. Krishna also referred to the Gita as “one of the defining treatises of Indian thought” saying that it “describes the very soul of our great civilization”.

On a similar note, Russian Ambassador to India Alexandr Kadakin condemned the court case as “categorically inadmissible” and called its instigators “madmen”.

The court’s ruling on the matter is expected on December 28.



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June 27, 2011

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visits Shakespeare\’s birthplace

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visits Shakespeare’s birthplace

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Premier Jiabao
Image: World Economic Forum.

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao paid a visit to the birthplace of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare on Sunday. The visit to Stratford-upon-Avon was included in his three-day tour of various industries in Britain. The UK is one of China’s biggest trading partners, second only to the EU.

Cquote1.svg [Stratford-upon-Avon] has produced a figure who belongs not only to the UK but to the world. A great man who belongs not just to his era but to entire history. Cquote2.svg

—Premier Wen Jiabao

The 68-year-old Wen, reportedly a fan of Shakespeare, was met upon his arrival at Stratford-upon-Avon by dozens of flag-waving individuals from the UK’s Chinese community. He visited Shakespeare’s birthplace, which is now a museum and then attended a scene from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet“, his favourite play, while sitting in the “sun-drenched” garden. He toured the collection of treasures at the town’s Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. On his tour at the Trust, lasting half an hour longer than planned, he looked through a 17th-century folio of Shakespeare’s famous plays. Trust director Diana Owen, who talked with Wen during his informal tour, said Wen described Shakespeare as “the greatest writer of all time.”

Wen told Sky News that his love of Shakespeare began as a child.

“The local people here have every reason to take pride that this place has produced a figure who belongs not only to the UK but to the world,” Mr Wen said to Sky News. “A great man who belongs not just to his era but to entire history.”

The Chinese leader’s arrival in England came days after the announcement of activist and dissident sculptor Ai Weiwei‘s release by Beijing last Wednesday, after a global call for his release. The announcement, made before Wen’s meeting today with British Prime Minister David Cameron, was likely discussed along with the issue of China’s record on human rights and trade deals. There were several protesters outside Downing Street, who held a banner that read “Cameron and Wen: human rights before trade”.

The goal of the visit, part of a three-nation tour of Europe, is the strengthening of economic ties between the two countries. China is increasingly outsourcing its own manufacturing to less costly labour markets and wants to increase its investments in established European brands. Today, China and Britain announced contracts worth over one billion pounds.

John Shakespeare’s house, believed to be Shakespeare’s birthplace, in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Image: File Upload Bot (Magnus Manske).

Cquote1.svg I am hoping that a billion Chinese might see some pictures on their TV of their premier coming and visiting the birthplace of Shakespeare, and thinking: ‘Well, I’d like to go there as well.’ Cquote2.svg

—Jeremy Hunt, British Culture Secretary

British Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, whose wife is Chinese, was hopeful that Wen’s visit would have a positive effect on the country’s tourism industry. He told Sky News, “I am hoping that a billion Chinese might see some pictures on their TV of their premier coming and visiting the birthplace of Shakespeare, and thinking: ‘Well, I’d like to go there as well.’ ” Hunt noted that 150,000 Chinese visit the UK yearly and thinks that is “the tip of the iceberg”.

Hunt stressed that Wen’s visit is not only about jobs. It is also about developing broader cultural ties “which is the best possible way to make sure we understand each other and avoid the kind of misunderstanding that so can bedevil relationships, as has happened in the past,” he told the BBC.

The Chinese are interested in British happenings. About 30 million Chinese watched the recent Royal wedding.



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September 20, 2010

Iconic London mural could be restored

Iconic London mural could be restored – Wikinews, the free news source

Iconic London mural could be restored

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Monday, September 20, 2010

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One of London’s most well known murals could be restored after years of neglect if plans by a group of community activists gain public support. The Fitzrovia Mural at Whitfield Gardens on London’s Tottenham Court Road was created by two mural artists and commissioned by Camden Council in 1980, but the mural has since decayed and been vandalised.

Mural in Fitzrovia, London, UK
Image: Gordon Joly.

Plans will be presented at a public meeting this Tuesday, to include details of the restoration and promote local public space in contrast to potential commercial developments and the focus of the London 2012 Olympics. If enough funds are raised from charitable trusts and public donations the mural could be restored during the summer of 2011.

Plans to be put forward by the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association, and the London Mural Preservation Society, will present ways to fund not only the restoration work but also projects to raise awareness of conservation, heritage, and the residential and working community. The heritage and mural project hopes to involve many local people who could learn new conservation skills. Also planned are workshops with local children to involve them in their heritage, an exhibition by local artists, guided tours and a celebratory event at the end of the restoration project. In addition to this, a booklet would be produced containing collected oral histories of the people involved and a preservation trust to protect the mural in future years.

The playful painting was created on a Camden Council-owned building in 1980 by artists Mick Jones, (son of the late Jack Jones, trade union leader) and Simon Barber and is a mash up of scenes depicting problems faced by the neighbourhood over the preceding decade.

There is also a caricature of poet Dylan Thomas, who lived in Fitzrovia, and a mocking portrayal of then leader of the Greater London Council, Conservative politician Horace Cutler, who is pictured as a bat-like creature. Other characters include an anonymous greedy developer and a property speculator counting piles of cash.

Peter Whyatt of the neighbourhood association is jointly leading the project to restore the mural. Yesterday he told Wikinews he had a number of concerns about the possible success of the project.

“There are a great number of problems with getting this project off the ground and we also need to act pretty quickly for a number of reasons,” said Mr Whyatt.

“Firstly the mural is in a terrible state and deteriorating quickly. There is more graffiti being daubed on the site every month because one bit of graffiti attracts another bit. We really need to start the work in the next 12 months because going through another winter with the condition of the wall will causes more problems and inevitably more expense. We want to keep as much original artwork on the site as possible to keep the costs down. This is a big mural and it will be expensive to restore,” he continued.

“And that brings me to my second concern: cost. If we don’t get other community organisations on board to bid for money for this with us and to involve their beneficiaries and volunteers, it will be very difficult to secure the money needed. Money is very tight at the moment because to the current financial climate. We need to get support at this meeting on Tuesday and some firm commitments from people and organisations to get involved.

“Lastly there is a danger of a commercial development on the site. A public-private partnership to create a new art feature. Because of the existing mural’s subject matter – it mocks property speculators, and land developers, etc – a commercial scheme probably backed by a property developer would not want to restore the mural’s original message. They’d want some “good news” scheme, some greenwash idea that paints them in a positive light.

“However, despite these problems, Camden Council have offered to do a condition survey on the mural. This will save us a lot of money. But having said that there are five council departments to deal with to get permission for this restoration work, and they don’t always talk to each other.

“But if the public and local voluntary organisations show their support, we can make it happen,” Mr Whyatt concluded.

The mural restoration will be just one part of a year long project of heritage and conservation awareness-raising. “The project is not just about the mural but also wider plans to promote awareness of heritage and conservation in an area of London under threat from commercial development. In fact the bulk of the project is about the heritage and conservation and the mural is just one part of it, and the most visible because of its situation,” Mr Whyatt later added.

There will be a public meeting about the heritage and mural project at 7.30 pm tomorrow (Tuesday), at the Neighbourhood Centre, 39 Tottenham Street. The public can also comment about the proposals on the Fitzrovia Heritage and Mural website.



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August 22, 2010

Scottish poet Edwin Morgan dies at age 90

Scottish poet Edwin Morgan dies at age 90

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

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Scottish poet Edwin Morgan has died at the age of 90. The cause of death was announced as pneumonia. Morgan’s writing career spanned for more than 60 years. He was Scotland’s first national poet, known as the “Scots Makar“. His death was confirmed by his publisher.

Born in Glasgow in 1920, Morgan grew up in Rutherglen. He later returned to his birth town where he studied at Glasgow University in 1937.

Morgan published his first book, The Vision of Cathkin Braes, in 1952. He later began to write experimental poetry. In the early 1960s, Morgan published The Second Life, a book that would boost his career. From Glasgow to Saturn, a collection about space exploration, was published shortly after The Second Life. Both of these books would later be taught in Scottish schools. Later in his career, Morgan received several awards for his work. In 1999, he became Glasgow’s first Poet Laureate, and he was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry a year later. In 2001, he was awarded the Weidenfeld Prize for Translation.

By the time Morgan was named the “Scots Makar” in 2004, he had been diagnosed with cancer and was living in a nursing home. Despite the illness Morgan continued to write, even writing about the disease.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond paid tribute to Morgan saying that he was “a truly a great man, an exceptional poet, and an inspiration”. He added that “Much-loved in Scotland and indeed around the world, his work tackled all manner of global issues and major historical events closer to home. His passion for observing all aspects of Scottish life shone a spotlight on Scotland for the rest of the world”.



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December 8, 2009

Walt Disney World twinned with Swindon, England

Walt Disney World twinned with Swindon, England

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
Image: Katie Rommel-Esham.

Swindon, England, has an unusual new twin town: Walt Disney World in Florida. The Wiltshire town beat 24 others in a competition to become the first ever to be twinned with the famous resort.

Rebecca Warren, a local building society worker, created a poem and video praising Swindon which won over the judges. Among other features she highlighted the town’s well-known Magic Roundabout, a complicated junction composed of five interlinked mini-roundabouts, comparing it to Disney World’s teacup rides.

Swindon’s Magic Roundabout.
Image: Dickbauch.

A sign marking the twinning is planned for the roundabout. Ms. Warren will travel to Florida with her eleven-year-old nephew and five-year-old niece to unveil a similar sign at the resort. A celebration will be held in Swindon in January, and it will also be the focus of an exhibit at Walt Disney World’s Epcot park.

“Britain clearly has a love for Walt Disney World and long-standing affinity with the parks and their magic, which is probably why the number and quality of entries received was so high,” said Disney’s Hugh Wood. Other towns shortlisted in the competition included Aberdeen, Blackpool, Milton Keynes, and Cambridge.



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November 16, 2009

Edward Woodward, English actor, dies aged 79

Edward Woodward, English actor, dies aged 79

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Monday, November 16, 2009

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English actor Edward Woodward has died today, aged 79. The actor was unwell for several months, suffering from a number of illnesses including pneumonia. He died in hospital in Cornwall, England.

Born in Croydon, London, Woodward was perhaps best known for his role as Sergeant Howie in the 1973 cult British horror film The Wicker Man. The director of that film, Robin Hardy, described him as “one of the greatest actors of his generation” and “an extremely nice human being”. His appearance in the Australian film Breaker Morant was also highly acclaimed.

He began his career in theatre, starting out in 1946. He later worked across the country and internationally, appearing in the West End, London and Broadway, New York. In 1963 he was cast in Noël Coward’s Broadway production High Spirits. Coward described him as “One of the nicest and most co-operative actors I have ever met or worked with. He is the only one who has given me no trouble at all.”

Woodward later appeared in over 2,000 television productions, notably starring in the American show The Equalizer in the 1980s, in addition to Callan on ITV in Britain. Outside of film and television, he recorded three albums of poetry and several LPs.

Despite having triple heart bypass surgery in 1996, and being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003, he continued to work. His final television appearance was in six episodes of the British soap opera EastEnders earlier this year.

“He was a delight to work with, and delivered a characteristically touching and layered performance,” said Diederick Santer, the executive producer of EastEnders. “Our thoughts are with his family.”

Woodward had two sons and a daughter from his first marriage, to Venetia Mary Collett in 1953. All three became successful actors. In 1987 he married the actress Michele Dotrice, with whom he had a daughter.



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August 27, 2009

Sergey Mikhalkov, Russian writer, dies at 97

Sergey Mikhalkov, Russian writer, dies at 97

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

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File photo of Sergey Mikhalkov (2002)
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(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Sergey Mikhalkov, a well-known Russian childrens poet and a writer, died on Thursday in Moscow after a heart attack in February.

He is lyricist for both the anthem of the USSR (with Gabriel El-Registan) and the anthem of Russia. Born in 1913 in the Russian Empire, he lived a long life and gained high popularity in the USSR and respect in modern Russia.

In 1962 he founded Fitil, a Soviet satirical TV series about life in the USSR.

His poems about Uncle Styopa became popular among children. He was also a scriptwriter for some animation films and films.

He is the father of Nikita Mikhalkov and Andrey Konchalovsky, notable Russian film directors and producers.

He was awarded three Stalin Prizes (1941, 1942, 1950), Order of Lenin, a 2nd class Order For Service to Fatherland (2003) and others. He is considered a Hero of Socialist Labour.

His funeral is scheduled to take place tomorrow, at the Christ The Saviour Cathedral in Moscow.



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