Militants behead kidnapped civilians in Ghazni

April 18, 2015 

GHAZNI CITY (Pajhwok): Militants with links to little known Daish group on Friday beheaded the four civilians who were kidnapped by gunmen the other day from Ghazni City, the provincial capital of southern Ghazni province, officials said.

On Thursday, unidentified gunmen kidnapped four civilians from the Arjistan district. The abducted individuals were the residents of Malistan district who were on their way to their hometown.

Zamin Ali Hidayat, the town’s administrative chief, had said security forces had arrested Taliban Commander Mullah Abdullah along with his six of his associates during a clearing operation in Jaghori district. But in retaliation, the rebels kidnapped the civilians and were demanding prisoners swap.

Zamin Ali, the Malistan district chief, told Pajhwok Afghan News that insurgents beheaded the kidnapped men. He said militants wanted prisoners swap for the release of detained rebels.

He said that tribal elders were sent to the area to collect dead bodies of the slain persons. Ali Mohammad, a resident of the district, confirmed the abducted persons were killed today.

Source: http://www.pajhwok.com/en/2015/04/17/militants-behead-kidnapped-civilians-ghazni?hootPostID=3c03ba00a362e94ac8f275d0619652d8#sthash.5Ex2d161.dpuf

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After suffering under the Taliban, an Afghan minority faces new threats

April 10, 2015 | washingtonpost

Esmail Kayhan, 20, an ethnic Hazara holds the portrait of his father, Mohammad Jomah Amini, at their family home in Kabul. (Sudarsan Raghavan/The Washington Post)

Inside the two seized buses, terrified passengers prayed to remain in their seats. The masked gunmen had collected their identification cards and snatched their cellphones, survivors would later recall. Next, they separated males from females and Sunni Muslims from Shiite Muslims. Finally, they ordered the Shiite males — all ethnic Hazaras — off the buses.

The kidnappers then vanished into the harsh terrain of southern Zabul province with 31 men and boys, sparking concerns of a potential fresh wave of sectarian tensions in Afghanistan.

Six weeks later, their families remain in an emotional limbo.

“We don’t know what our sin is,” said Namatullah Noori, 40, after recounting what his mother, one of the surviving passengers, had told him. “From one side, they are targeting us. And from the other side, the government is not helping us.”

His 65-year-old father is among the abducted men.

In recent weeks, concerns have mounted across the nation overthe emergence of the Islamic State, the Iraq- and Syria-based Sunni movement that has violently targeted Shiites and other religious and ethnic groups. Now the events that unfolded on the buses, corroborated by Afghan officials and victims’ relatives, are fanning those fears. In interviews, Afghan officials and Hazara leaders said they suspect that a rogue Taliban faction that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State is behind the abductions in Zabul.

For the nation’s minority Hazaras, the kidnappings, along with other recent attacks, are grim reminders of the persecution they endured under the rule of the mainly ethnic Pashtun and Sunni Taliban, which viewed Shiites as apostates. Since the abductions in late February, there have been at least three more mass kidnappings of Hazaras in three other provinces, according to Afghan officials and Hazara.net, a nonprofit Web site focused on the community’s rights and culture.

“Historically, we have struggled a lot to be accepted as normal citizens,” said Hayatullah Meheryar, 30, a Hazara activist. “But now these assaults show they want to restrict our development that we’ve achieved in the past 13 years.”

Opportunity to attack

Throughout the 20th century, successive Pashtun-led regimes in Afghanistan targeted the Hazaras, the country’s third-largest ethnic group, making up about 20 percent of the population. Also a religious minority, they were massacred and tortured. Uprisings were viciously crushed. Their religious leaders were jailed; women were abducted. Most Hazaras languished in poverty and humiliation, forced to take menial jobs.

The Taliban carried out mass executions of Hazaras and drove them from their lands and meager livelihoods. Tens of thousands of Hazaras sought refuge in frigid mountain hideouts. In the Hazara ethnic homeland of Bamian province in early 2001, the Taliban methodically destroyed two giant Buddha statues that had survived for centuries, drawing an international outcry.

Since the Taliban regime collapsed in late 2001, however, the Hazaras have experienced a communal rebirth. Many returned from exile in Iran and other countries to forge a future here. A new generation entered universities and later found jobs with the United Nations and international firms and aid agencies. Economically, many flourished. Politically, theygained more clout.

Attacks against them had grown rare. In 2011, a suicide bomber in Kabul killed 56 Shiite worshipers, mostly Hazaras, on the holy day of Ashura in the bloodiest sectarian attack of the war. Last year, gunmen in central Ghowr province executed 15 Hazara civilians traveling in a minibus.

Now, a familiar anxiety is boiling up again within the community.

Most of the Hazaras in the two buses attacked in February were returning from Iran. Some had gone there for construction or other blue-collar jobs, and others to visit relatives.

Noori’s father and mother were inside with his 17-year-old son. They had taken him for medical treatment in Iran. When the teenager saw the gunmen, he fainted. That saved his life. The gunmen left him in the vehicle after Noori’s mother pleaded for mercy. But her pleas couldn’t save her husband.

“Who else but the Taliban can be behind this?” Noori said.

The Taliban’s central command has denied responsibility for the abductions. But the insurgency has become increasingly disjointed, with many Taliban factions acting on their own. Some have become so disgruntled that they have aligned themselves with the Islamic State to gain funds and prominence, according to U.S. military commanders who view the group as a potential threat but still at an embryonic stage in Afghanistan.

Survivors of the Zabul kidnappings told authorities that the gunmen spoke local languages and appeared to be ethnic Pashtuns from their accents. That’s a reason why officials say they think that the assailants were home­grown disciples of the Islamic State, also known as Daesh.

“These are Taliban who have changed their colors,” said Ali Akbar Qaseemi, an influential ethnic Hazara parliamentarian. “Daesh’s goal is to disintegrate the nation by creating problems among ethnic groups in Afghanistan.”

For many Hazaras, the fresh threats against them reflect the vanishing U.S. and international military presence. The abductions unfolded on major highways in areas once patrolled by foreign forces. With far fewer international troops, Afghanistan’s security forces­ are straining to fill the gap. Growing portions of the country are unpoliced.

“With the foreign troops gone, the Taliban see an opportunity to attack us again,” Meheryar said.

Since the abductions in Zabul, Afghan police and security forces­ have mounted unsuccessful operations to rescue the 31 men and boys. So far, there have been no public demands from the kidnappers.

Afghan government officials have declined to provide details of the incident or the efforts to free the victims, beyond vowing to use all means necessary to find them.

“The government is working hard on this matter,” said Ajmal Obaid Abidy, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

‘We can’t do anything’

In the meantime, the families of the 31 men and boys have embarked on a frustrating daily quest to learn the fate of their loved ones. Some have traveled to Kabul from other cities — even from Pakistan. Each morning, they visit the offices­ of Hazara leaders and government officials. Each evening, they return home disappointed.

“No one is giving us any answers,” said Hussein Ali, 67, whose son is among the abducted. “We can’t do anything.”

“We are poor, working-class people,” Noori said. “We don’t know the influential people. We don’t have power.”

Esmail Kayhan’s family is struggling as much from the lack of knowledge as finances­. For the past year, his father had been working construction in Iran, sending money home every month. Now, he’s among the kidnapped. Kayhan’s older brother, who works in a bakery in Saudi Arabia, was forced to take a loan to help the family.

Kayhan said he is most worried about his mother, who has heart problems, and his grandmother, who is frail. He fears the shock of learning the truth could harm them. So he keeps telling them that his father is still in Iran, dealing with some last-minute business.

The other day, he said, his mother asked him: “Why does your father keep calling you? Why doesn’t he call me?”

He shrugged and said he didn’t know.

As each day passes, the Hazara community is growing angrier — and more organized. Small protests have been launched in Kabul and other parts of the country. There have also been demonstrations in Australia and Europe. On Twitter, activists have created the hashtag #Free31Hazaras, as well as a Web site: http://www.bringback31hazaras.com.au.

This week, they set up tents near the presidential palace in protest. Ali, who has been in the capital for five weeks, said he has no plans to return to his home in Quetta, Pakistan.

“I will remain in Kabul until I learn whether my son is alive or dead,” he said.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/after-suffering-under-the-taliban-an-afghan-minority-faces-new-threats/2015/04/08/035e1c4a-d71b-11e4-bf0b-f648b95a6488_story.html

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Nauru staff call for closure of asylum centre and royal commission into abuse

April 07, 2015 | the guardian

Open letter from detention centre employees alleges Australian government knew of physical and sexual abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru more than a year before it acted.

Asylum seeker children play in the dirt at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Nauru.

Asylum seeker children play in the dirt at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Nauru. Photograph: Supplied

The federal government has been aware of physical and sexual abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru for more than a year but failed to take appropriate action, workers from the detention centre have alleged.

In an unprecedented move, 23 current and former medical staff, teachers, social workers and child protection staff have signed an open letter calling for the removal of all asylum seekers from Nauru to Australia. They have also called for a royal commission into sexual abuse on Nauru and into the government’s response.
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The three-page letter says comments by immigration minister Peter Dutton that there was a “zero tolerance” attitude to sexual abuse “do not reflect the attitude or actual response” on Nauru.

It says Dutton’s request for asylum seekers to come forward and report sexual assaults could put them in further danger because of the close-knit nature of the detention environment.

The recent review led by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss found some allegations of sexual assault at the centre were substantiated. The review has now sparked a federal Senate inquiry to further investigate allegations of abuse at the centre.

Some of the workers were also due to appear on ABC’s Lateline on Tuesday evening.

The letter says: “We are a group of current and former employees from the Nauru detention centre who have first-hand knowledge of the conditions in which children and adults are detained.

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“We would like to inform the Australian public that the government and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection [DIBP] has been aware of the [allegations of] sexual and physical assault of women and children on Nauru for at least 17 months, long before the Moss review was ever commissioned.

“[DIBP] and all service providers were informed, in writing, of several of the assaults detailed in the Moss review in addition to many other assaults not mentioned in the report.”

The letter was signed by former and current staff and workers from Save the Children and International Health and Medical Services.

Former Save the Children workers named on the letter include Jesse-James Clements, Viktoria Vibhakar, Tobias Gunn, Jarrod Kenney, Hamish Tacey and E Maree.

Named former staff from International Health and Medical Services include Dr Peter Young, Dr Rodney Juratowitch and Dr Michael Gordon.

A number of other current and former staff from Save the Children and the Salvation Army have signed the letter, but chose to remain anonymous.

The incidents it highlights include one from November 2013 in which a boy was sexually assaulted by a detention centre employee. Guardian Australia has previously reported on the case, and obtained documents that show the service provider Transfield filed an incident report at the time.

The letter says that on this and other occasions, the immigration department was made aware of the allegations through incident reports, meetings and minutes from Save the Children meetings, but that it chose not to act.

“Despite this knowledge, the DIBP chose to keep this child in the detention centre where he was assaulted and remained at risk of further abuse and retaliation. Indeed, this child was subjected to further incidents of abuse while he was in detention.”

The letter says Dutton’s comments encouraging asylum seekers to report abuse when the Moss report was released posed further risks as they continue to live in close proximity to the alleged perpetrators. The signatories allege this will place them at future risk of assaults.

“It is not safe to expect women and children to report abuse to authorities and then require them to live in close proximity to the [alleged] perpetrators,” it said.

“To do so places them at risk for repeated assault, retaliation for reporting the abuse, and exposure to repeated reminders of the assaults that they suffered which further delays their recovery from trauma.”

The letter says the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women by detention centre staff – another allegation raised by Moss – was reported to the Department of Immigration 16 months before the Moss review.

“However, DIBP refused to remove these women from the unsafe detention environment.”

The letter calls for the closure of the Nauru detention centre.

“In order to protect asylum seekers, and in particular women and children from further abuse, we immediately ask for the transfer of all asylum seekers in the Nauru detention camp to Australia. We also request the Australian people support a royal commission into abuse allegations in the Nauru detention centre.”

The Senate inquiry into events on Nauru is now accepting submissions, and is likely to hold public hearings in April and May. Some former detention centre staff are preparing submissions, which will be protected by parliamentary privilege.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/07/nauru-staff-call-for-closure-of-asylum-centre-and-royal-commission-into-abuse?CMP=soc_567

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Another 6 Hazara Passengers Abducted from Herat-Farah Highway

March 17, 2015 | Tolo News

In a fresh and the third incident, at least six more passengers from Hazara ethnic minority have been abducted by armed masked men on the Herat-Farah highway, west Afghanistan on Monday night, officials told TOLOnews.

As the fate of 31 abducted passengers is still unknown, the commander of second unit of 207th Zafar Military Corps, Sayed Hassanullah said Tuesday that the new incident happened in Kanisk area of Farah province.

“A search operation has been started to rescue the abducted people,” he said.

However, unconfirmed reports suggest that four of the abductees were the Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers.

This has been the third incident within 24 days after the unknown armed men kidnapped 31 Hazaras on Kabul-Kandahar highway in Shah Joy district of Zabul followed by abduction of another 10 Hazaras in Ghazni. However, nine of Ghazni abductees were released three hours after the incident but the fate of rest of them is still unknown.

‎Despite the negotiations between the elders of Zabul and alleged abductors, the 31 abductees are yet to be freed, something many blame on newly-emerged Daesh group.

The Zabul abductees are said to be transferred to Khak Afghan district of Zabul where the security forces have killed more than 50 insurgents so far in the operation to rescue the hostages.

Source: http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/18651-another-6-hazara-passengers-abducted-from-herat-farah-highway

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Three Refugees Hospitalised After More Self-Harm And Violence On Nauru

March 17, 2015 | newmatilda

Tensions have once again boiled over on the island of Nauru, amid growing protests and clashes between islanders and refugees. Max Chalmers reports. WARNING: This article contains images of a distressing nature.

At least three refugees living in the community on Nauru were hospitalised overnight after a stone throwing attack knocked a couple off a motorbike, and a young woman attempted suicide in the Anibare camp.

Around 10pm a group of refugees were attacked while riding motorbikes, with a man in his late 20s struck in the head by a rock, causing him to crash the bike and leaving him “badly injured”, according to a friend who visited him in hospital after the incident.

Images of the man show him bleeding heavily from his face.

New Matilda understands both the man and his wife remain in hospital, and that Nauruan police have questioned them, as well as another group of witnesses.

“It’s very common for the locals to throw stones, it happened to my friend last night… it’s common it’s, not something unusual,” one refugee said.

After hearing of the incident refugees and locals gathered at the hospital, with police on hand to prevent conflict between the groups.

In a separate incident that took place a short time after the stone throwing, a young Iranian woman was also left hospitalised after attempting to commit suicide.

Refugees who know the woman told New Matilda she had suffered severe back ache in recent months, preventing her from basic tasks, including shopping and cooking.

They said she had only been offered painkillers, and had become desperate for proper treatment.

One of these friends, who lives on the same block in a different room, had been caring for the woman last night, but was forced outside to make a call.

When she returned, the woman was in the bathroom.

“I call her, are you hearing me, and she didn’t answer me, and I was worried,” the friend, also an Iranian, told New Matilda.

“I opened the door and I saw her… she was bleeding, she was awake.”

“She was lying on the floor, her head was on the toilet, and she was not good, she was, how can I say, her face was completely yellow. She was not feeling good at all.

“I called other friends and I called the ambulance and police and anyone I know.”

According to the friend, Nauruan police arrived first, followed by an ambulance a full hour after the incident took place.

“Everything here is slow. The life here is nothing for them, the refugee, are not important here. No-one care about us,” they said.

The friend accompanied her to Nauru’s only hospital in the ambulance, crying as they travelled.

After being given painkillers, both returned to the Anibare camp in the early hours of Tuesday morning, where the injured woman is now resting.

An image from Nauru overnight, in which a young woman attempted suicide.

An image from Nauru overnight, in which a young woman attempted suicide.

As New Matilda revealed last week, former Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison had been left ‘shit-worried’ after a video informing asylum seekers they would never be settled in Australia caused escalating protests in September last year.

While these concerns related to the situation in the centre, tensions have also been steadily building in the Nauruan community as refugees are processed and released.

Protests have become a regular occurrence, with the Nauruan government issuing restrictions on where they are allowed to take place. Images seen by New Matilda (below) show women and children protesting today, holding banners that read “we are refugee women, we are not attacker” and “stop violence against women and children”.

Refugees are currently negotiating for the right to protest outside the Australian High Commission.

Close to 200 people, including children, were taken into custody after protesting earlier in the month.

Violence against refugees in the community has been regularly reported since released from detention began, including multiple attacks on unaccompanied minors.

According to refugee and human rights law experts, Australia maintains an obligation to refugees resettled on Nauru even after they are released from detention.

The Department of Immigration has been contacted for comment.

Source: https://newmatilda.com/2015/03/17/three-refugees-hospitalised-after-more-self-harm-and-violence-nauru

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Omid Ali Avaz, Iranian refugee granted temporary safe haven, found dead

March 14, 2015 | the age

Omid Ali Avaz.

Omid Ali Avaz.

An Iranian refugee – one of the first people to receive one of the Coalition’s new temporary safe haven visas – has been found dead.

Omid Ali Avaz, 29, an Iranian of Kurdish ethnicity, is believed to have taken his own life.

Police at Dutton Park in Brisbane confirmed on Friday that the body of a 29-year-old “deceased immigrant” had been found and an investigation begun. The Queensland coroner has been alerted to Mr Avaz’s apparent suicide.

Mr Avaz left a final voice message asking for a Christian burial. He had been being supported by the Catholic Church’s Romero asylum seeker support service in Dutton Park.

Since arriving in 2011, he had been in detention and community detention on a bridging visa.

During that time he had suffered mental illness and was treated at Brisbane’s private Toowong Private mental hospital after a number of suicide attempts.

According to refugee advocates, Mr Avaz’s health had deteriorated since learning news of the death of his mother.

He had also been concerned about his refugee status. Mr Avaz was assessed as a genuine refugee but, under the Coalition’s rejigged visa system, he was granted a Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) visa, subclass 449, in late February.

Under the new system, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection invites a person to apply for the safe haven visa and decides on the length of the visa period.

Mr Avaz was given 12 months.

The 449 visa, which allows a refugee to work in the community, is a first step to a Humanitarian Concern (Temporary) visa.

“Having these visas does NOT mean Australia accepts you are a refugee. It does mean that Australia has agreed to let you remain here for the length of your visa,” the Department of Immigration states on its website.

Mr Avaz had been supported by Brisbane’s Multicultural Development Association, which is said to be “shocked” at his passing. It referred inquiries to the Immigration Department.

Jeanie Walker, the president of the Australian Democrats in South Australia, who houses Iranian asylum seekers, has issued a press statement, saying she was “horrified” to hear of Mr Avaz’s death.

“His name means ‘hope’, but we gave him none,” she said.

“Omid was not on Manus. He was not even in a detention centre. But the damaging effects of the Abbott government’s punitive policies reach even those asylum seekers living in the community.”

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/omid-ali-avaz-iranian-refugee-granted-temporary-safe-haven-found-dead-20150313-1435ay.html

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The secrecy surrounding Australia’s asylum camps

March 12, 2015 | BBC News

Asylum seekers on Manus Island

Very few images have emerged showing conditions on Manus Island

Australia’s policy of detaining asylum seekers in offshore facilities, for months, even years, has attracted strong criticism from bodies such as the United Nations. But government secrecy surrounding the operation of these isolated centres means many Australians know little about what life is like for those detained inside.

When journalist Eoin Blackwell needs to find out what’s going on inside Australia’s immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island, he calls his local contacts.

Mr Blackwell doesn’t bother making official inquiries because, in his experience, information or access requests made to the Australian and PNG governments are ignored or forgotten.

“Every request I’ve made with the government to do with Manus has been denied or delayed until it went away,” says Mr Blackwell, a former PNG correspondent for Australian Associated Press.

“One time I tried to get into the centre and the Australian government said it was up to the PNG government and the PNG government said they had to call Canberra. Eventually we were told ‘no’ but no one would say who was telling us no,” says the reporter, expressing the frustration many journalists feel about the secrecy surrounding the centre.

The BBC sent a number of written questions to the Australian Immigration Department for this story but at the time of writing had not received a reply.

No-man’s land

Located in the Bismarck Sea and more than 800km (500 miles) north of the PNG capital Port Moresby – or a 3,500 km, 10-hour flight from Sydney – Manus is one of PNG’s most remote islands.

Few among the 65,000 population have benefitted from the billions of dollars successive Australian governments have spent converting a navy base into a no-man’s land for asylum seekers trying to reach Australia.

Map

Journalists outside PNG can’t enter Manus Island without a visa and approval from PNG’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, but permission is rarely given. Following Mr Blackwell’s departure in 2013, there was only one Australian media correspondent left in PNG, the ABC’s Liam Fox.

The Australian government, under former Prime Minister John Howard, set up the detention centre on Manus Island in 2001 as part of its so-called Pacific Solution to detain asylum seekers offshore while their refugee status was determined.

Manus was closed in 2008 by Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd but was reopened by his successor Julia Gillard in late 2011.

The difficulty of finding out what is going on in the centre was highlighted in early 2014 when riots broke out inside its gates. More than 60 asylum seekers were injured and 23 year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati was killed.

Conflicting reports soon emerged from government and refugee sources about exactly what took place.

People attend a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers, in Sydney on 23 February 2014.

Reza Berati’s death in February 2014 at Manus Island prompted protests from activists

It wasn’t until May last year that an independent report by Australian former senior public servant Robert Cornall found Mr Berati had died after he was clubbed over the head by a locally-engaged Salvation Army employee.

A year later, conflicting stories emerged about a fresh round of hunger strikes and self-harm at the centre. Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton blamed refugee advocates for encouraging asylum seekers to protest.

‘Pit of human misery’

Despite the wall of secrecy, Mr Blackwell, who is now based in Sydney with AAP, has visited Manus Island five times.

He paints a grim picture of what life is like for more than 1,000 male asylum seekers in a centre now infamous for two detainee deaths (in September another Iranian refugee died from septicaemia after cutting his foot), describing hot, harsh conditions, malaria, overcrowding, poor hygiene, riots, hunger strikes, mental illness and water shortages.

The reporter gained entry to the centre in March last year when he accompanied a PNG Supreme Court judge who was doing an inspection as part of a human rights case.

“Foxtrot (one of four Manus compounds) was a pit of human misery,” Mr Blackwell recalls.

“The refugees live in shipping containers, there’s water everywhere, lights not working, the heat is oppressive, no windows. There was a (detainee) with a bandage over his eye… asking for help in this stinking, hot compound.”

File photo: A man walking between tents at Australia's regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea

Conditions in the camps have been criticised by NGOs and the UN

Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul says he relies on first-hand, eyewitness reports from people inside the centre, as well as video and images supplied by detainees and staff via mobile phones.

But he says after this year’s hunger strike, an estimated 40 to 50 mobile phones were seized in a security crackdown.

“Since the hunger strike, [authorities] have mounted CCTV cameras all through the centre,” says Mr Rintoul.

“In some compounds, guards wear cameras on their uniforms. There are routine patrols in the yard and the rooms. Staff are checked with security wands on the way in and out.”

Mr Rintoul claims the Australian government doesn’t want the public to know what is really going on inside the centre.

“That is why journalists and mobile phones are excluded. But when the footage comes out they can’t maintain the pretence,” he says.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-31827074

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