Bagram’s Afghan music night is the American base’s other ‘sound of freedom’ – Stars and Stripes

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan Every Sunday night for the past two years, Jawid Kaderi has organized Afghan music nights in a recreation center on this expansive base to showcase an essential aspect of Afghan life that had been suppressed before the U.S.-led invasion 18 years ago.

American troops often dub the deafening roar of fighter jets taking off from the nearby flight line the sound of freedom, but in the small auditorium off the bases Disney Drive where Kaderi and a rotating cast of three to four contract interpreters gather each week, the strains of the stringed rabab and the rhythmic beat of the tabla drums make for a humbler celebration of the concept.

Though sparsely attended, the events are open to American troops and others who Kaderi hopes will come to learn about his countrys traditions.

The nightlong jam sessions are also helping to rebuild a musical culture that was nearly completely destroyed under the Taliban, and which faces continuing challenges even now, said Capt. Philip D. Tappan, associate bandmaster of the United States Army Band.

The revival of musical traditions here is also something of a rebuke of the radicalism that has mired Afghanistan in decades of war, said Tappan, who studied Afghan culture before deploying to the country several years ago with the 1st Cavalry Division band and played alongside Afghan musicians at Bagram and in Kabul in 2017.

If the work we did together provided any legitimacy to their programs and the musical arts in Afghanistan, then we have directly combated the extremism that has terrorized this country and the world at large, he said.

The Taliban had denounced singing and dancing as a moral perversion. When they emerged as victors in the countrys fractious civil war in the 1990s, they burned instruments and ripped apart cassette tapes, outlawing music and other forms of pop culture under their hardline interpretation of Islamic law.

But just a few decades before the country was plunged into 40 years of war, including street battles that ravaged Kabuls musicians quarter, artists like Ahmad Zahir the Afghan Elvis had flourished amid a golden age of music in the 1960s and 1970s, Kaderi said.

And after the militant regime fell in late 2001, it wasnt long before song returned to the countrys capital, Kaderi said.

Right after the Taliban were ousted by U.S. forces, the first thing that we saw on the streets of Kabul was the free people playing music, singing and dancing, he said.

The U.S. and NATO have funded music programs in the years since, but just as efforts to establish lasting peace, security and prosperity here still face numerous challenges, so too does any musical renaissance. In rural areas still under Taliban influence, the militant group continues to bar it, locals have said, and musicians elsewhere in the country still face strong family pressure and even threats from violent extremists.

In 2014, for example, a suicide bomb attack targeted Ahmad Naser Sarmast, founder and musical director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. The Taliban claimed the attack, which took place at a high school, and said Sarmast was corrupting Afghanistans youth.

Samast lost his hearing in both ears, and for three or four months afterward it felt like there was a full symphony orchestra in my head, playing out of tune, he said recently.

Now Sarmast is slowly regaining his hearing and continues teaching young people. However, an entire generation of other would-be teachers or mentors was silenced by death, oppression or exile, said Kabul University music professor Mohsen Saify, and Afghan women are still often discouraged from even studying music by family members who hold that its immoral.

At Bagram, however, Kaderi believes that sharing a love of music is a deep part of the countrys culture and a reason to continue to celebrate the Talibans ouster.

You cannot take away music from Afghan people, he said. Even during their fighting with their enemies, they sing and dance.

Capt. Eveleen Soroko has attended some of the music nights and said that even though she didnt understand all of the words, she enjoyed the musics poetry.

I can feel in the music that the culture is alive, and that the history has a beautiful depth to offer, she said.

The Bagram events are also a way for fellow musicians like Kaderi and Tappan to build camaraderie.

I have not forgotten about Afghan music, the experiences Ive had with Afghan musicians or the study of Afghan music, Tappan said. It will continually color my life.

lawrence.jp@stripes.comTwitter: @jplawrence3

Afghan and American musicians assemble on Oct. 23, 2016, at Bagram Airfield. The two groups of musicians closed the show in a joint performance of two traditional Dari folk songs.COURTESY OF CAPT. PHILIP D. TAPPAN

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Bagram's Afghan music night is the American base's other 'sound of freedom' - Stars and Stripes

Melissa Martin: What happens when freedom of the press is silenced? – Cleburne Times-Review

Jailed journalists around the globe. How can it be?

First Amendment aggressions in the United States. How can it be?

Devious despots misusing power and preying upon humanitywithholding information because knowledge is power. Silencing the other side of the story. Fear of losing control feeds their depravity. Dictators hiding behind castle walls and armies of destruction for those who dare criticize.

Freedom of the press is held hostage as journalists observe through prison bars. The courageous story-tellers that sacrifice personal safety for the human rights of others. But their lips will not be nailed shut like a wooden coffin. Truth finds a way to seep out of the cracks and crannies of the grave.

Duvar English, an independent newspaper in Turkey, revealed the following facts in a 2019 article. There are 250 imprisoned journalists in the world, nearly 50 of whom are in Turkey, according to a report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Turkey follows China with the second largest number of journalists jailed with 47, marking a decrease from 68 last yearPenned by CPJ editor Elana Beiser, the report noted that over 100 news organizations have been closed under the current Turkish government and that many working journalists are being accused of terrorism and are in legal battlesSaudi Arabia and Egypt tied for third place with 26 journalists incarcerated. http://www.duvarenglish.com.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) lends bulletproof vests and helmets at no cost to journalists travelling to dangerous areas.

Freedom of Press in USA

Before the thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain, the British government attempted to censor the American media by prohibiting newspapers from publishing unfavorable information and opinions. http://www.history.com.

The First Amendment, which protects freedom of the press, was adopted on December 15, 1791, as part of the Bill of Rights.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which documents First Amendment aggressions in the United States, has collected student journalism-based incidents at both the university and high school levels. Since its launch in 2017, the Tracker has documented five cases of high school newspapers being censored or placed under prior review for their coverage of controversial topics. At the university level, it has collected two arrests, two physical attacks and three border stop involving student journalists, as well as three cases of subpoenas or legal orders. http://www.freedom.press.

What Can Citizens in the US Do?

Support your local newspaper and pay for the news you consume. Read local, state, and national newspapers and write Letters to the Editors about free press issues.

Join or donate to Reporters Without Borders at http://www.rsf.org. Reporters Without Borders USA (RSF USA) is the US office of the global organization. Read about the 100 Information Heroes from countries abroad.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. CPJ is made up of about 40 experts around the world, with headquarters in New York City. When press freedom violations occur, CPJ mobilizes a network of correspondents who report and take action on behalf of those targeted. http://www.cpj.org.

Be aware of fake news outlets and fake news on social media. PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others at http://www.politifact.com. And Snopes.com is an independent publication fact-checking site online. Fact-checking and accountability journalism from AP journalists around the globe at FactCheck@ap.org.

Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose. George Orwell.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist,

educator and therapist. She lives in Ohio. Contact her at melissamcolumnist@gmail.com.

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Melissa Martin: What happens when freedom of the press is silenced? - Cleburne Times-Review

Theros: Beyond Death Previews – Glimpse of Freedom and Sweet Oblivion MTG Arena Zone – MTG Arena Zone

The official Korean: Magic the Gathering Facebook page revealed Glimpse of Freedom and Sweet Oblivion; both are blue spells with Escape to be released with Theros: Beyond Death on January 16, 2020.

Glimpse of Freedom 1UInstant (Uncommon)Draw a card.Escape 2U, Exile five other cards from your graveyard. (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its escape cost.)You can only be free if you accept that there is only one way. Meletis Philosopher, Nicholas

Glimpse of Freedom allows you to draw a card for each time you are able to cast the spell. Comparable to Radical Idea, the key thing to note is that this card allows you to cast it over and over. The most obvious deck it goes into is the Izzet Phoenix or Izzet Draw-Two variations, where you are naturally casting lots of cheap spells and putting cards into your graveyard. Unlike Radical Idea however, you dont get a way to naturally discard Arclight Phoenix.

Whether this card makes such decks more viable in the new Standard or Historic environments is not yet known, but certainly looks like a marginal upgrade over other cantrip spells available.

Sweet Oblivion 1USorcery (Uncommon)Target player puts the top four cards of their library into their graveyard.Escape 3U, Exile four other cards from your graveyard. (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its escape cost.)When memories are painful, oblivion is bliss.

Following on from that, heres the other blue Escape spell that has the ability to put cards into the graveyard. As mentioned previously, Escapes strength is being able to play it multiple times. This card is still probably too slow compared to cards like Merfolk Secretkeeper, but could be a decent addition as a one or two-of in the existing Mono Blue Dredge type decks.

If you have not already, be sure to check out our Theros Beyond Death Spoilers page for the full visual card gallery of all the cards revealed so far, and participate in our Theros Beyond Death Preorder Giveaway that runs until January 8, 2020!

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Theros: Beyond Death Previews - Glimpse of Freedom and Sweet Oblivion MTG Arena Zone - MTG Arena Zone

Invest in Freedom: Support the Washington Monthly – Washington Monthly

During my two-and-a-half decades as a U.S. Foreign Service officer, I had the privilege of getting to know political dissidents around the world. They were the most courageous people Ive known. They fight for the freedoms we take for granted. Some sacrificed their lives.

Occasionally, in my last diplomatic posting, I used to meet the Vietnamese political dissident Dng Thu Hng in Hanoi. As a young woman during the Vietnam War, Dng served as a volunteer in a youth auxiliarynoncombatants who provided support services for the troops. She was one of only three in her 40-woman unit who survived the war. She also became a member of the Communist Party. After the country was unified in 1975, she turned to writing. Her novels became bestsellers in her country and later abroad.

Nevertheless, she became disillusioned with Vietnams repressive one-party regime and expressed her discontent in her stories. Her government responded by banning her books (which were then circulated underground samizdat-style, and smuggled out of the country); expelling her from the Party; imprisoning her and after her release, barring her from foreign travel. Her circle of friends, afraid to be seen with her, dwindled and the secret police constantly harassed her.

Her novel, Paradise of the Blind, banned in Vietnam, became an award-winning bestseller abroad. In it, she took on Vietnams political leaders boast that they had created a workers and peasants paradise. On the contrary, she countered, there was no paradiseonly blind men promoting a faux paradise based on a flawed ideology that could never succeed. Only the first lie really costs us; after that, everything flows from the same wellspring, she wrote.

Over lunch one day, I asked her how she put up with it allthe harassment, the marginalization, the censorship. Plus, didnt she worry about meeting openly with an American diplomat? She stiffened in her chair, chin up, and responded resolutely, I spit in their face.

The Vietnamese government, having their fill of the feisty Madame Dng, finally allowed her to leave the country. Today, she resides in France, busily writing away into her 70s.

When I worked on Afghanistan at the State Department, I occasionally met the young Russian muckraking journalist Artyom Borovik. The son of a Novosti journalist assigned to New York, Borovik spoke nearly perfect American English (and excellent Spanish). He was urbane, highly educated and multilingual. At the same time, he was as comfortable in an Afghan tea house as he was at a Manhattan Starbucks. Borovik was a pioneer of investigative journalism during glasnost and was fearless in his criticism of the corrupt, oligarchic system that was supplanting the old communist regime.

True to form, he had been digging dirt on Vladimir Putin in advance of the 2000 presidential elections. In a scathing article, he quoted Putin as saying, There are three ways to influence people: blackmail, vodka, and the threat to kill. Days later, Borovik, only 39, was killed in a still-unsolved Moscow plane accident, an early journalistic fatality as Putin was consolidating power.

I also got to know many Cuban dissidents before Fidel Castros death, when my diplomatic duties included traveling throughout the island to monitor the human rights conditions of people we had repatriated, in accordance with a bilateral agreement, after they had unsuccessfully attempted to flee to the United States. Yet we took it a step further and resettled genuine political dissidents to the U.S. In Cuba, I was constantly surveilled and harassed. At one point, the secret police slashed my tires.

Later, during the 2003 crackdown known as the Black Spring, the Cuban government imprisoned 75 dissidents, including 29 journalists. Several years later, two of them, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilmar Villar Mendoza, died from hunger strikes.

Around this time, the dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez summed up the dissidents sentiments: Freedom is fundamentally the possibility of standing on a street corner and shouting There is no freedom here! That reminded me of one of the earliest American political dissidents, Thomas Paine, who proclaimed, Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.

Indeed, we face the same challenge now, in Trumps America. Journalists are not enemies of the people; all voters need unhindered access to the polls; dark money needs to be taken out of politics; and whistleblowers are essential to democracy. Thats why we need to fight back. Because, as Paine made clear, and as the dissidents I knew exemplified, the most patriotic thing one can do is dissent. It means you love your country enough to sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of its improvement.

One way you can invest in our freedomand protect our democracywhile our rights as Americans are under assault, is to support Washington Monthly.

As our editors state on our website, Were an independent voice, listened to by insiders and willing to take on sacred cowsliberal and conservative. And, as a non-profit, the Monthlyis beholden to no vested interests. Were committed to putting pressure on power, telling the truth no matter the costs, treating journalism as a public service, and coming up with bold ideas that can improve the country.

But we cant do it all on our own. If you appreciate our work, please consider helping us by making adonationduring this months fundraising drive. Give whatever you can$10, $20, $100, $1,000and for a limited time only your contribution will be matched, dollar for dollar, thanks to a generous challenge grant from NewsMatch. If you give $50 or more, youll receive a complimentary one-year subscription to the print edition of theWashington Monthly.

Your contributions to theWashington Monthlyare vital, tax-deductible, and much appreciated. And rememberits an investment in freedom.

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Invest in Freedom: Support the Washington Monthly - Washington Monthly

Alabama’s 200 years in 200 images: Freedom fighting from Iwo Jima to Selma – AL.com


It was called the "Tuskegee Experiment."

Amid the unease of possibly being drawn into wars in Europe and Asia, the United States in the 1930s explored the idea of allowing African-Americans to serve as military pilots and looked to deeply segregated Alabama to get that idea off the ground.

"Potential candidates had to be college graduates and were expected to be officers in the Army Air Forces, usually second lieutenants, as they completed their advanced training," according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama.

More than 900 black pilots trained at the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama during the war, men from all over the country who fought racism and oppression at home and enemy pilots and antiaircraft gunners overseas.

More than 400 served in combat.

The Tuskegee Airmen lost 27 ships and would complete 1,578 total combat missions for the Fifteenth and Twelve Air Forces, destroying 150 enemy aircraft on the ground and 112 in air-to-air combat.

It was that record which inspired Harry Truman to eliminate racial divides in the military services.

These airmen shown listening to an instructor are among first class of African American pilots in history of the United States to get their wings at the advanced fly school on March 7, 1942 at Tuskegee, Alabama. Left to right: R.M. Long, G.S. Roberts, London, W. VA.; Capt. B. Washington; C.H. Debow, Indianapolis; Mac Ross, L.R. Curtis, New Rochelle, N.Y. (AP Photo)

B. I. Sanders

The Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941 attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, and the nation was thrust into World War II. Approximately 300,000 uniformed men and women from Alabama served in the military branches during the war. More than 6,000 lost their lives, including those who served at Pearl Harbor, Normandy and Iwo Jima.

New or expanded military bases brought thousands of service members and civilians to Montgomery, Mobile, Selma, Ozark, Gadsden, Anniston and elsewhere, while munitions and supply plants roared day and night across the state.

In honor of Alabamas bicentennial, here is the third in a series of four pieces compiling more than 200 images capturing the states 200 years of history good, bad and ugly.

Part I: Creek War, Civil War, and the KKK

Part II: Promise, progress, Depression and death

Second Lieut. Russell Drinnan, an instructor in a Ranger division training at Camp Rucker, Ala., demonstrates how easy it is to clear bayonets, March 5, 1943. (AP Photo/B. I. Sanders)

Woman painting at Goodyear rubber plant in Gadsden, sometime between 1941-1945. Alabama Department of Archives and History.


James Estes of Marion, Alabama stands guard beneath the stars and stripes on board a destroyer at the U.S. Naval operational base at Londonderry, Northern Ireland, July 12, 1942. (AP Photo)

A large electric phosphate smelting furnace used to make elemental phosphorus in a TVA chemical plant in the vicinity of Muscle Shoals in 1942. (Library of Congress)

Carl Thusgaard

Mess Sergeant, S/Sgt. Milton Henney (right, foreground) of Opelousas, La., tastes the chow in the field kitchen in New Guinea on June 23, 1943. At left is Sgt. Henry Hall of Leeds, Alabama. (AP Photo/Pool/Carl Thusgaard)


Sergeant Joe Louis, top, world heavyweight boxing champion, stretched out for a rest in a water-filled trench in Alabama on March 11, 1944, where he is temporarily stationed, after crawling under live machine gun fire and through mud and barbed wire. He and his two companions were training on the battle conditioning course of the chemical warfare training centre at Alabama. (AP Photo)

Alabama also became home to 24 POW camps holding 16,000 German prisoners. Camp Aliceville in Pickens County is the largest, with a capacity for 6,000. German POWs housed in barracks in Aliceville. (Alabama Department of Archives and History.)

Robert Adams

The war at home

When the war and the victory celebrations ended, Alabama still faced the deep racial divides that haunted us since before we joined the United States 125 years earlier.

In the years after World War II, Birmingham's African-American families began crossing the invisible line formed by decades old city ordinances that kept blacks out of the city's 'white neighborhoods.'

Barriers that kept black children in inferior schools and black women at the back of city buses were challenged in court and with acts of peaceful, civil disobedience.

Each hard fought victory was met with violence from spiteful racists.

Impromptu celebrations erupted in the streets of Birmingham as news of the surrender of Japan in August 1945, ending World War II, swept across Birmingham. (Robert Adams/The Birmingham News)


Jimmy Harris, right, 19, is questioned by Warden Tennyson Dennis, left, at the state prison in Montgomery, Ala., June 10, 1947, after Harris was rescued from a mob at Hurtsboro, Ala., which had a rope around his neck and was threatening to lynch him. Sheriff Ralph Matthews says Harris is held on an attempted rape charge. After his rescue from the mob, Harris was rushed to the jail at Phenix City and then to the state prison for his "protection." (AP Photo)

In the 20 years after WWII, bomb blasts turned Birmingham's Smithfield neighborhood into 'Dynamite Hill' and the Magic City into 'Bombingham.'

As civil rights activists made progress step by grueling step, their victories from the 1940s through the 1960s were punctuated with the sounds of bombs exploding.

After the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth fought to desegregate buses in 1956, his home was blown up on Christmas night.

When a truce was declared to end weeks of nationally televised protests in May 1963, bombs exploded at the Gaston Motel and the home of A.D. King, brother of MLK.

Days after city schools integrated in September 1963, four Sunday School students were killed in the deadliest, most tragic of the years-long series of bombings.

Original News caption: "Home Blasted: The four-bedroom home of a Negro woman who had challenged the city of Birmingham's zoning laws was blasted in 1950. This picture shows the over-all damage to the residence of Monroe and Mary Means Monk, 950 North Center Street. In the foreground is the wrecked porch, on which the bomb is believed to have exploded. Just back of the porch is the Monk's bedroom in which the owner of the house had retired before the explosion."

From a 2006 News article: "When Claretta Monk heard the blast four nights before Christmas 1950, she knew exactly what the target was: the home of her father and stepmother, Monroe and Mary Means Monk.

With a friend in tow, she hurried on foot from her residence in Enon Ridge to her parents' new home on the traditionally white west side of Center Street North.

''They stayed in it one night, and it was gone,'' said Monk."

.....The Monks were targets because they challenged (segregation) laws. The first black to do so was Sam Matthews. On Aug. 18, 1947, his home at 120 11th Court North was bombed.

Disgusted with the national Democratic Party for embracing aplatform to eliminate the poll tax and pass fair labor practices and anti-lynching laws, Southern state delegates walked out of the party's convention in Philadelphia into the rain on July 17, 1948and caught the Silver Comet train to Birmingham.

Bull Connor led the 6,000 people gathered under the ceiling fans there at Birmingham's Municipal Auditorium -- today called Boutwell Auditorium.

South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond, who had a relatively moderate record on race, accepted the presidential nomination to the newly formed Dixiecrat Party.

"There's not enough troops in the Army to break down segregation and admit Negroes into our homes, our theaters and our swimming pools," Thurmond said in his acceptance speech.

July 17, 1948: The Dixiecrat Convention assembles in Birmingham, selecting Strom Thurmond as presidential nominee for the States Rights Democratic Party. In the 1948 election, the Dixiecrats carry Alabama and three other Southern states.'Truman Killed By Civil Rights' reads the sign on this effigy of President Truman handing from the marquee of the Tutwiler Hotel tonight after a states rights meeting was held here.

Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery on Dec. 1, 1955. Her action ignited the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott and helped usher in the civil rights movement.

"While thousands of other Negroes boycotted Montgomery city lines in protest, Mrs. Rosa Parks was fined $14 in Police Court today for having disregarded last Thursday a driver's order to move to the rear of a bus," The Associated Press reported in December 1955.

"An emotional crowd of Negroes, estimated by the police at 5,000, roared approval tonight at a meeting to continue the boycott.

"Spokesmen said the boycott would continue until people who rode buses were no longer "intimidated, embarrassed and coerced." They said a "delegation of citizens" was ready to help city and bus line officials develop a program that would be "satisfactory and equitable."

"Mrs. Parks appealed her fine and was released under $100 bond signed by an attorney, Fred Gray, and a former state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, E.D. Nixon."

Rosa Parks is fingerprinted by police Lt. D.H. Lackey in Montgomery, Ala., Feb. 22, 1956, two months after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955. She was arrested with several others who violated segregation laws. Parks' refusal to give up her seat led to a boycott of buses by blacks in Dec. 1955, a tactic organized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which ended after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed that all segregation was unlawful,Dec. 20, 1956. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick)

Gene Herrick

In early 1956, the homes of (Martin Luther) King and E. D. Nixon were bombed," according to Stanford University.

"King was able to calm the crowd that gathered at his home by declaring: Be calm as I and my family are. We are not hurt and remember that if anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place."

"City officials obtained injunctions against the boycott in February 1956, and indicted over 80 boycott leaders under a 1921 law prohibiting conspiracies that interfered with lawful business. King was tried and convicted on the charge and ordered to pay $500 or serve 386 days in jail in the case. Despite this resistance, the boycott continued."

The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court and the boycott ended 0n Dec. 20, 1956.

"The next morning, (King) boarded an integrated bus with Ralph Abernathy, E. D. Nixon, and Glenn Smiley. King said of the bus boycott: We came to see that, in the long run, it is more honorable to walk in dignity than ride in humiliation. So we decided to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walk the streets of Montgomery.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is welcomed with a kiss by his wife Coretta after leaving court in Montgomery, Ala., March 22, 1956. King was found guilty of conspiracy to boycott city buses in a campaign to desegregate the bus system, but a judge suspended his $500 fine pending appeal. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick)


Meanwhile, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was the driving force behind the Birmingham integration efforts in the 1950s and early 1960s that energized the national civil rights movement.

He was brutally beaten by a mob, sprayed with city fire hoses, arrested by police 35 times and also blown out of his bed by a Ku Klux Klan bomb during his struggle against segregation in Birmingham and said he never feared death.

"I tried to get killed in Birmingham and go home to God because I knew it would be better for you in Birmingham," he once told an audience of students.

June 5, 1956: Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth on the night he founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights at Sardis Baptist Church. The meeting came one week after Alabama Attorney General John Patterson outlawed the NAACP. Said Shuttlesworth of the meeting: It was packed. People were downstairs and outside too. It was an enthusiastic meeting. The thing you have to remember is that I was challenging the whole segregation law. I was saying what I wanted to say and I was screaming against segregation. I was getting the crowd whipped up. After the NAACP was outlawed by Alabama Attorney General John Patterson. A response was organized as the ACMHR one week later. The ACMHR was the organization most often associated with Birmingham civil rights actions for the next 10 years, with Shuttlesworth's fiery oratorical style at the helm. (Tom Hardin photo)

Jay Reeves The Associated Pres

For 40 years starting in 1932, medical workers in Tuskegee withheld treatment for unsuspecting men infected with a sexually transmitted disease simply so doctors could track the ravages of the horrid illness and dissect their bodies afterward.

Workers initially recruited 600 black men into a health program with the promise of free medical checks, free food, free transportation and burial insurance in a county where many blacks had never even seen a doctor. The men were tested and sorted into groups -- 399 with syphilis and another 201 who were not infected.

The disease-free men were used as a control group. Health workers told syphilitic fathers, grandfathers, sons, brothers and uncles only that they had "bad blood."

None of the men were asked to consent to take part in a medical study. They also weren't told that "bad blood" actually was a euphemism for syphilis. Instead, doctors purposely hid the study's purpose from the men, subjecting them during the study's early months to painful spinal taps and blood tests.

And doctors never provided them with penicillin after it became the standard treatment for syphilis in the mid-1940s.

The government published occasional reports on the study, including findings which showed the men with syphilis were dying at a faster rate than the uninfected. But it's doubtful any of the men -- or their wives, girlfriends or other sexual partners -- had any idea what had happened until an Associated Press story was published nationwide on July 26, 1972.

Finally exposed, the study ended and the men sued, resulting in a $9 million settlement.

In this 1950's photo released by the National Archives, a black man included in a syphilis study has blood drawn by a doctor in Tuskegee, Ala. For 40 years starting in 1932, medical workers in the segregated South withheld treatment for unsuspecting men infected with a sexually transmitted disease simply so doctors could track the ravages of the horrid illness and dissect their bodies afterward. Finally exposed in 1972, the study ended and the men sued, resulting in a $9 million settlement. (National Archives via AP)

The Freedom Rides, a protest to show how Supreme Court decisions integrating public transportation were not being enforced in the segregationist South, left Washington in May 1961 headed to New Orleans. The buses were filled with blacks and whites, riding side by side.

Waiting for them were klansman in Alabama, determined the trip, and the Civil Rights Movement, would not proceed.

A Freedom Rider bus went up in flames in May 1961 when a fire bomb was tossed through a window near Anniston, Ala. The bus, which was testing bus station segregation in the south, had stopped because of a flat tire. Passengers escaped without serious injury. (AP Photo)


Klansmen attack a Freedom Rider at the Trailways Bus Station in Birmingham, Ala., May 14, 1961. (AP Photo/Birmingham Post-Herald, Tommy Langston, File)

Nashville Tennessean

May 20, 1961: Freedom Riders arrive at the Greyhound bus terminal in Montgomery where a mob attacks them. Anniston and Birmingham are scenes of similar mob mayhem. The Freedom Rides through the Deep South are challenging racial segregation on public transit.Freedom Riders John Lewis and Jim Zwerg after being beaten by a mob in Montgomery Alabama as they took part in the 1961 Freedom Rides that ultimately brought integration of interstate transportation to the South.


A workman removes a restroom sign at Montgomery Municipal Airport, Jan. 5, 1962, in compliance with a federal court order banning segregation. However, city officials delayed plans to remove waiting room furniture and close toilets and water fountains. But they said these and the airport restaurant will be closed if there is a concerted integration attempt. (AP Photo)


In the mayoral election of 1963, former Alabama Lt. Gov. Albert Boutwell received 39 percent of the vote and Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor received 31 percent, setting up an April 2 runoff.

Civil rights activists saw the discord in the municipal goverment of one of America's most violently segregated cities as a chance to finally kill Jim Crow.

Boutwell decisively defeated Connor and the next day, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) led sit-in demonstrations at downtown Birmingham lunch counters; 20 participants were arrested at Britt's lunch counters, while Kress, Loveman's, Pizitz, and Woolworth's closed their counters.

For the next five weeks, marchers, many of them children, took to the streets of Birmingham and were assailed by police dogs and fire hoses while the world watched on television.

(AP Photo/stf)

With an estimated 40 percent of the student body at the all-black Parker High School skipping class to protest and the Birmingham City Jail filled beyond capacity, Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor ordered the use of fire hoses and police dogs on the protestors in May of 1963.


June 11, 1963, has been remembered most often as the day Gp. George Wallace fulfilled a campaign promise made more than a year earlier as he kicked off his run for governor, Charles Dean wrote.

"I shall refuse to abide by any such illegal federal court order even to the point of standing in the schoolhouse door, if necessary."

But Wallace's stand in front of Foster Auditorium was not how Vivian Malone, later to become Vivian Malone Jones, wanted history to remember those events. Jones, who died in 2005, said on the 40th anniversary of her and James Hood's successful enrollment, that she hoped people would remember doors opened, not blocked.

"For so long, it's gone down in a negative way, it's gone down in the way we portray that event as a 'stand in the schoolhouse door.' The press picked it up that way, which to me was a negative," said Jones. "What I was hoping and hoping will happen .... is that we celebrate the opening of the door, not the stand, not the attempt to close the door."

Former Alabama Gov. George Wallace is shown in this June 1963 photo, when he vowed 'segregation forever' and stood in an Alabama school house door to keep blacks from enrolling at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Tuscaloosa News, Calvin Hannah)

Jones, Ed

Although only the state flag typically flew over Alabama's capitol, the Confederate flag was raised as U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy visited the state to meet with Gov. George Wallace in 1963. The two spoke for nearly an hour and a half.

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Alabama's 200 years in 200 images: Freedom fighting from Iwo Jima to Selma - AL.com

Letter: Choice is simple freedom or slavery? – Northwest Herald

To the Editor:

Overall, PBS News Hour and Politico, in particular the outstanding Judy Woodruff, moderated a substantive and productive debate among Democratic presidential candidates Dec. 19.

The candidates performed well, and competing world visions were laid out for the American voters.

Ironically, the most poignant moment, on foreign policy matters, came from South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He said that the Peoples Republic of China is on a mission to use technology for the perfection of dictatorship.

I believe his articulation of this fact is critical if we are to understand the future. The U.S. must respond aggressively to the Chinese communists efforts to subvert democracy, censor inherent freedoms, violently oppress individual rights and kill everyone who stands in their way.

The next president of the United States, and our entire nation, must stand boldly for our democratic republic. Even during this joyful time of year, we must recognize that our enemies will not compromise, relent or grant us mercy in their quest to implement an autocratic and evil world empire.

This is truly a binary choice for our planet. Freedom versus slavery. Life versus death. We must fight to ensure that freedom, and life itself, prevails.

Henry J.H. Wilson


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Letter: Choice is simple freedom or slavery? - Northwest Herald

STORIES OF THE DECADE: Freedom boys hoops rallies to win 2013-14 state title at buzzer – Morganton News Herald

NOTE: The following story originally appeared in the March 17, 2014 edition.

The Freedom boys basketball team's motto all season was "play angry."

How can they possibly be angry anymore?

The No. 2 seed West Regional champion Patriots (31-1) never led on Saturday until it mattered, falling behind by 12 points in the first quarter and 13 in the third quarter of Saturday evening's 3A state championship game against No. 3 seed Wilson Hunt at the Dean E. Smith Center.

But a Kasen Wilson elbow jumper with just less than 3 seconds left completed a Freedom comeback in a wild 59-57 win which sent eighth-year coach Casey Rogers sprinting onto the court in celebration.

"Tonight just kind of summed up the year," Rogers said. "We played 32 games, and in 30 of them we've been the smaller team.

"Earlier in the year, we kind of stole a phrase from Wichita State. We talked about playing angry. We wanted to get where we needed to by playing basically eight, nine guards throughout the year. And I thought down the stretch, we epitomized playing angry, getting things done the Freedom way.

"Our toughness all year ... I'm just really proud of them."

Like the Weddington game in the regional semifinals the Saturday before, Freedom won despite being outrebounded by double digits (36-26). This time the Patriots were the ones forced to rally though.

But just like that game, Freedom found itself tied with about 30 seconds left and the other team in possession of the ball.

Freedom's Jeron Hemphill dunks duriing the 2014 state title game.

The decision was the same: ball pressure in the backcourt. And just like last time, the move worked, as Hunt (25-4) was whistled for a double dribble near midcourt with 18.2 seconds remaining.

"Like Weddington, we decided we were not going to let them hold for a last shot," Rogers said. "If we didn't get anything, we had a couple guys we had targeted to foul. But we got the double dribble, and from that point on, it was the same setup in terms of our offensive play call at that point.

"We ran a ball screen, and Kasen stepped up and made the game winner. ... (Kasen) is a folk legend in Morganton now."

Wilson said he nearly didn't shoot on the play.

"I shot faked," he said, "and I was going to pass to Gabe (Logan) because I heard him call my name. Then I looked up at the clock and just shot it."

Senior Khris Gardin said the game was eerily similar to the Weddington victory.

"It was just like an exact replica," he said. "We got the stop, coach called the play."

Rogers has now been part of two of the Pats' three all-time state crowns. He was a senior point guard the last time Freedom won state in 1997-98.

Freedom's 31st win breaks a program record set by the last championship squad 16 years ago.

From 47-34 down with 3:07 left in the third quarter, the Pats' largest deficit of the game, the margin was sliced to 50-42 after three periods when senior Chris Bridges banked in a straightaway 28-footer at the buzzer.

Patriots coach Casey Rogers reacts after a play against Weddington in the 2014 NCHSAA 3A West Regional semifinal.

Two straight turnovers forced by Freedom fullcourt pressure made it 52-49 midway through the final period.

The margin went back to 55-49 until Bridges' fifth 3-pointer of the contest with 2:12 left.

A Logan drive and three-point play and Jeron Hemphill putback tied the contest with 39 seconds remaining and set up the frantic finish.

Bridges (game-high 19 points, five rebounds) was named Charlie Adams championship game MVP, while Logan (11 points) was named Freedom's Most Outstanding Player of the game.

Wilson had 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting from the field, and Gardin added 11.

It was truly a team molded in Rogers' image, from one champion to now another.

"No matter what had happened, nobody can take away the memories and experiences this team has shared, especially today," Rogers said. "From a coaching standpoint, it was very satisfying.

"Small and fast has worked really well for us. It goes back to our toughness."

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STORIES OF THE DECADE: Freedom boys hoops rallies to win 2013-14 state title at buzzer - Morganton News Herald

Freedom of the Seas Live Blog – Day 1 – Embarkation – Royal Caribbean Blog

Cruise day is here and we are getting onboard Freedom of the Seas!

We flew down to San Juan on two nights before and enjoyed a relaxing start to our vacation. Prior to the cruise, there was a lot of conjecture about what time boarding would begin, but I decided around 10:30am to roll the dice and head to the port. We found no traffic or wait at all to check-in at the terminal.

We boarded the ship at 11am and it felt great to be back onboard one of my favorite ships in the fleet.

Getting onboard the ship, we walked around the ship a bit to see things. There were still Christmas and Hannukah decorations up on the ship, and I understand they will stay up through this sailing.

At 1:30pm, our rooms were ready and we are staying in a two bedroom grand suite on the aft of deck 8.

The room is very spacious, and more than enough room for the kids and us. It features two full bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and a very spacious balcony.

After getting in the room, I took the kids up to the pool to enjoy the now-classic H2O Zone. This, like so many other areas of the ship, will be upgraded/replaced in the forthcoming Amplification.

In the afternoon, we held our first event of the RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com group cruise, which was a welcome aboard event in the Viking Crown Lounge. We rented out the entire Olive or Twist bar and got our first official opportunity to meet everyone and put faces to online names.

Muster drill was at 5:15pm, and was luckily not too warm outside for the duration of the event.

Unfortunately Adventure Ocean did not open until 8:30pm, so we decided to skip dinner in a restaurant and eat with our kids in the Windjammer.

The Windjammer had a phenomenal gingerbread house at the entrance.

After dinner, we headed down to the Royal Promenade for some live music in the pub.

There was a Christmas tree lighting held as well on this sailing.

Tomorrow, we will be in St. Maarten.

I loved this creative fruit and cookie delivery to the room.

Here is the New Years Eve champagne options to pre-order.

The upper decks are closed due to winds this evening.

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Freedom of the Seas Live Blog - Day 1 - Embarkation - Royal Caribbean Blog

Ring in the New Year with Freedom Soup: Recipe – FOX 29 News Philadelphia

Ring in the New Year with traditional Haitian dish Freedom Soup

Tami Charles joins Good Day to share the recipe.

PHILADELPHIA - Need a new idea for your New Year's menu? How about trying some Haitian cuisine to kick off 2020?

Author Tami Charles joined Good Day to discuss "Freedom Soup" a traditional dish that Haitan families usally eat to celebrate a new year.

The dish has such a rich history that Tami Charles wrote a children's book to detail its importance.

Here's what you'll need to do to make your very on Freedom Soup for the New Year.

Begin by making the epis, which is a common marinade used in many Haitian dishes.


3 scallions

3 garlic bulbs

2 peppers (red & green)

5 sprigs of thyme

1 bunch of cilantro

1 bunch of parsley

2 celery stalks

cup of olive oil

cup of lime juice

1 teaspoon of vinegar

Epis Directions:

Blend all of the ingredients in a blender, or mash them using a piln (mortar and pestle).

Pour over the meat you will use for the soup.

Marinate for up to 24 hours.

Soup Ingredients:

2 pounds of your preferred meat (marinated in epis)

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 cups stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable)

2 packages, frozen butternut squash

1 scotch bonnet pepper (optional)

teaspoon, dried thyme

2 tablespoons, chopped parsley

2 tablespoons, chopped cilantro

1 large potato, peeled and cut

2 carrots, cut into 1 " pieces

2 stalks celery, cut

1/2 small green cabbage, cored and cut

1 handful of spaghetti, broken in half (or preferred pasta)


In a large soup pot, brown the meat in the olive oil.

Add stock, scotch bonnet pepper, and squash. Boil until the meat reaches your desired level of tenderness.

Add the thyme, parsley, cilantro, and potato to the pot. Continue boiling for approximately 15 minutes.

Add the remaining vegetables, reduce heat, and simmer approximately 25 minutes, or until tender.

Stir occasionally until soup thickens. Add pasta and cook according to package directions.

Dont forget to remove the scotch bonnet pepper!

Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Ring in the New Year with Freedom Soup: Recipe - FOX 29 News Philadelphia

OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media welcomes release of Aseev and Halaziuk – Ukrinform. Ukraine and world news

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Dsir welcomes the release of Ukrainian journalists Stanislav Aseev and Oleh Halaziuk from militant captivity in occupied Donetsk.

I welcome and am relieved that Stanislav Aseev and Oleh Halaziuk, both contributors to Radio Liberty in Ukraine, were released today from long illegal custody in Donetsk as a result of todays exchange of prisoners, Dsir posted on Twitter on December 29.

Earlier, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media repeatedly called for the release of Stanislav Aseev and Oleh Halaziuk illegally detained by Russian occupation troops in Donetsk.

As reported, on December 29, the detainee exchange between Ukraine and the so-called Donetsk Peoples Republic and Luhansk Peoples Republic took place at the Mayorske entry-exit checkpoint in Donetsk region.

Seventy-six people returned to Ukraine. Ukraine transferred 127 detainees, being ready to transfer 141 people, but 14 of them refused to return to the militant-controlled territory.

Stanislav Aseev is Ukrainian writer, journalist and blogger, member of PEN Ukraine. He was captured between May 10 and June 2, 2017 by militants and charged with espionage. There was almost no connection with him. Aseev was held in former museum Isolation, turned into a prison, and was later transferred to another prison. According to the released Ukrainian who was in captivity together with Aseev, the latter admitted that he had been tortured. On October 22, Russian-backed militants of the Donetsk Peoples Republic formation reported in their media that Aseev had been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Blogger Oleh Halaziuk was held captive also. He lived in the occupied city of Torez, Donetsk region, and was a professor at the local faculty of the Kharkiv Institute of Economics of Market Relations and Management. In June 2014, his brother, Vitaliy, reported to the Torez police department about disappearance of Oleh.

Stanislav Aseev and Oleh Halaziuk were also columnists of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and told about life under occupation.


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OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media welcomes release of Aseev and Halaziuk - Ukrinform. Ukraine and world news

STORIES OF THE DECADE: Freedom girls go perfect in 2015-16 for programs 5th title – Morganton News Herald

NOTE: The following story originally appeared in the March 13, 2016 edition.

For the fifth time overall and first time at the 3A classification, Freedom is the NCHSAA state champion of girls basketball.

The program won the 1989, 1994, 1995 and 2002 titles in 4A.

And while it's not fair to compare any of the previous teams' runs to this one or to one another, Saturday's finals win in 53-50 fashion over No. 12 Northern Guilford (25-8) at UNC's Carmichael Arena capped a postseason run and really, a season-long run of more sheer Lady Patriots' dominance that ever before witnessed.

No. 1 Freedom (32-0) had an average margin of victory of 30.7 points in six playoff games and nearly 36 points for the season. They won every game except two by more than 16 points, were ranked atop the polls all season and won 17 games by mercy rule (40 points or more).

This year's group of Lady Patriots broke the '94 team's average playoff margin of victory record (26.4 in five games).

And they broke the will of anyone who stood in the way, becoming Freedom's eighth state champion in the sport but first to ever complete an undefeated season.

It was total superiority.

The way the game started, with Freedom ahead 17-4 at the 1:30 mark of the first quarter on junior Ariyana Williams' crossover and pull-up for her first points, it seemed the Pats may be headed for another rout.

The Nighthawks, led by 6-foot-3 sophomore Elissa Cunane, ensured it would be anything but.

"It wasn't our prettiest game, but a lot of that is a testament to Cunane," said FHS coach Amber Reddick, who has now claimed state titles as a player, assistant coach and head coach with the program.

Lady Patriots coach Amber Reddick finishes the job cutting down the nets at the team's pep rally in March 2016.

"They're a tough team and made some runs on us. I was impressed with us gutting it out at the end the way we had to. I thought our posts did a good job on her, and our guards did a good job pressuring the ball. It just came down to putting the ball in (Ariyana's) hands and letting her make free throws ... just believing in each other and making plays."

Cunane finished with game highs of 20 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks.

But Williams, who was named Kay Yow title game MVP, had an answer each time.

NG used a 10-2 run after their largest deficit (at 21-7) to trail just 23-17 when Williams drew contact in transition and made both free throws.

It was 43-38 Freedom after three periods when Williams grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast to increase the margin to three possessions once more.

At 48-44 after a Cunane bucket down low, Williams attacked the goal and her layup made it 50-44 with just under 4 minutes left.

And in the biggest spot of the year, up 50-48 with 51.6 seconds left, Williams made 3 of 4 free throws in 1-and-1 situations to seal the championship win.

Williams had 16 points, three rebounds and two assists in her 20th straight postseason game with double-digit points.

Freedom was just 6 of 13 at the foul line before Williams' late flurry; NG finished 17 for 21 at the stripe. Both teams shot just under 40 percent from the field, but FHS had 11 more attempts.

"It feels really good to be state champs and get our picture on the wall (at the FHS gym)," Williams said. "I know my teammates believe in me, and I believe in them."

Given the lopsided margins all year, how the team would perform in a close game "was a big question mark coming in," Reddick admitted.

"But down the stretch, the last 4 minutes, we really took care of the basketball."

The Freedom press rattled NG early, forcing eight turnovers in the opening six-plus minutes. But foul trouble to every post player, Amy Rhoney, Taylor Gardin and Charmee Miller, forced FHS into the halfcourt setting for most of the last three periods. FHS forced just six turnovers spanning the final three periods.

"We did let that take us out of our rhythm and the way we normally play," Reddick said.

NG coach Kim Furlough credited her team's slow start to nerves.

"Being on a big stage, as young as we are," she said, "but I was super proud of our comeback. We didn't give up, and that's the way we've been all year. They don't quit."

Freedom senior Lindsey Adams was named her team's most outstanding performer in the game after her 16 points on 3-of-4 shooting from 3-point range.

"Freedom did a good job on screens," Furlough added. "And Adams is a great shooter. She showed that."

As the game ended, Rhoney found Reddick and lifted her coach off the ground as they embraced.

"We went straight to each other," Rhoney said. "She's the greatest coach I've played for, and I appreciate all she did for me."

Junior Amaryah Corpening added six points and six rebounds for Freedom, Rhoney had seven points, a team-best eight boards and two blocks and senior Madison Ervin had four points, four rebounds and four steals.

"It still hasn't really hit me that we actually won," Ervin said. "We came out with a purpose to get that big lead, and we needed it. ... Our fans were huge too."

Reddick seconded that: "Our fans, school, administration and athletic director are amazing. We had so much support coming down here. I looked up and saw that sea of red up there, and it was so special."

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STORIES OF THE DECADE: Freedom girls go perfect in 2015-16 for programs 5th title - Morganton News Herald

Press freedom situation yet to be satisfactory: FNJ – Khabarhub

KATHMANDU: The Federation of Nepalis Journalists (FNJ) has mentioned that although the cases of violation of press freedom came down in 2019, the situation for free press and journalists was not satisfactory in the country from the viewpoint of press freedom practice.

The report prepared by the Media Monitoring Unit of the FNJ recorded 50 cases of violation of freedom of press in 2019 against 58 in the previous year. Journalists have been victimized by State and from individuals. There is no environment favorable for the journalists to practice freedom of press- fear and meddling is continuous, stated the report.

Furthermore, it said, The tendency to arrest the journalists and lodging cases against them have risen merely on the basis of the journalists contact with the source.

These instances speak volume for how much the government is generous on the part of freedom of press. FNJs Secretary-General Ramesh Bista shared that journalist Manohar Dhakal of Makawanpur was murdered in 2019.

Similarly, according to the report, 11 media persons were attacked physically while 17 of the journalists and one media house faced action during 2019. Bista shared that as many as 10 cases of threats on journalists were reported and 7 journalists- 3 of them were part-timer- were arrested and lodged cases during this course.

Furthermore, one journalist was forced to quit journalism, one faced job threat. According to FNJ, many press related laws formulated by the provincial governments curtailed press freedom. Urging the three-tier government for devising media-friendly laws, the FNJ has condemned cases of violence of all kinds against the freedom of press.

Moreover, the Federation has demanded that the perpetrators of such cases be brought to justice. It has also pressed for enabling favorable environment for the journalists to work freely and without fear.

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Press freedom situation yet to be satisfactory: FNJ - Khabarhub

Freedom of the Seas 2019 Live Blog – Preview – Royal Caribbean Blog

It is time once again to pack our bags, stock up on sunscreen, and get ready for our next Royal Caribbean adventure. We are headed back onboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas for a 7-night Southern Caribbean sailing. Each day, I will be LIVE blogging to share with you what it is like to cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship over the New Years Eve holiday.

This particular sailing happens to be a RoyalCaribbeanBlog.com Group Cruise, which means we have just about 90 blog readers joining us on this sailing. Group cruises have become a semi-annual tradition and I absolutely relish the opportunity to share the cruise experience by having a large network of friends onboard. It really enhances the fun onboard!

I picked this sailing to go on because I have always wanted to try a cruise over New Years Eve. Every year I have seen photos and videos posted on social media from other cruisers who were having a great time during a holiday like New Years, that I thought it would be so much fun to try it out myself.

Our seven-night sailing will depart on Sunday, December 29th and take us to four ports. We will visit St. Maarten, Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao.

This will be my fifth time on Freedom of the Seas, and it is also one of the last sailings before Freedom gets a major$116 million amplification in Spring 2020. I think I booked this sailing prior to the amplification announcement, but I am still looking forward to one more sailing onboard before it all changes.

One of the booking mantras I always preach is booking as early as possible (December 2017), and thanks to that strategy, got my family a Two Bedroom Grand Suite on the aft of the ship.

This is my first time staying in this type of suite, so I am very much looking forward to seeing not only the room, but the aft views it provides.

Going on a Southern Caribbean itinerary was a major factor to choosing this particular sailing. It has been a few years since my last time to the Southern Caribbean, and I have not sailed out of San Juan since 2013!

Speaking of San Juan, we will head down there a couple of days early to spend some time in a favorite city of mine. We fly down tomorrow, and get to enjoy two nights and a full day there to walk around, eat, and explore at a more relaxed pace. Since it is late December, I am hoping for far more moderate temperatures than we had on previous visits this year, where it felt like the surface of the sun.

For the ports we will visit, time spent at or near the ocean is going to be a common theme. After all, the beaches I think are what draw most people to the Southern Caribbean.

We made plans for two of the ports we will visit, Aruba and Bonaire. I will be renting an ATV in Bonaire and we booked a hotel room in Aruba in order to gain access to the resort's facilities. I think in Curacao we are going to do more apotpourri approach and try to work in a few different things. No plans for St. Maarten quite yet, so this may be "let's wing it" type day.

Our Freedom of the Seas cruise begins on Sunday, December 29th, and I will be sharing the details on the blog, as well as across my social media channels. Be sure to follow me onFacebook,InstagramandPeriscopefor live updates throughout the day.

I invite you to share in this experience with me, by posting in the comments for any blog post questions and comments you may have. I try to make these live blogs as interactive as I can, so I want everyone to feel welcome to share their thoughts.

Thanks for reading all of this and welcome aboard our next fun live blog experience!

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Freedom of the Seas 2019 Live Blog - Preview - Royal Caribbean Blog

Freedom from 3Cs – The Indian Express

By: Editorial | Published: December 31, 2019 12:20:14 am A government with a strong mandate like the Modi-led NDA 2 hasnt signalled so far that it has the desire or the appetite to go down that road.

IT is a reflection of the state of the Indian banking industry today, specially state-owned banks which dominate the landscape and are marked by a virtual freeze in lending, that the countrys finance minister had to reach out to bankers to assure them that they need not fear the three dreaded Cs Central Bureau of Investigation, Central Vigilance Commission and Comptroller and Auditor General. At a meeting with bankers over the weekend, Nirmala Sitharaman while conceding that decision-making in banks was getting impacted because of the fear of the 3Cs attempted to assuage the apprehensions, saying that the government and its investigative agencies have put in place measures to address their concerns. Notably, Sitharamans predecessor, Arun Jaitley, in early 2019, had cautioned against the overzealousness of state agencies, warning of the dangers of the banking system grinding to a halt.

The Indian Banks Association, too, had protested a while ago after senior officials of the Bank of Maharashtra were arrested by the state police and following several cases dating back a decade or more being filed by agencies. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed what he termed as the malafide unless proven otherwise doctrine of governance of the NDA Government for the breakdown of trust between institutions and the government. Bankers may tend to agree, especially when basic questions such as the definition of a bonafide decision and who should sit in judgement on loan approvals granted by banks years ago remain unclear even now. Little will be achieved through incremental moves. An enduring solution requires a significant lowering of state holding by the government in scores of banks well below the threshold of 51 per cent to free bankers from the purview of the three Cs, or privatisation.

A government with a strong mandate like the Modi-led NDA 2 hasnt signalled so far that it has the desire or the appetite to go down that road. The second best but sub-optimal solution would be to empower bankers and professional bank boards to decide on whether a decision to approve a loan was bonafide or malafide. It is a fact that the seeds of the current mess in Indian banking were sown during UPA 2 but that doesnt absolve the Modi government which was late in addressing the crisis during its first term. The perceived morality play reflected in punishing so-called rogue bankers and businessmen a political response to Rahul Gandhis suit boot sarkar jibe has already hurt banking and industry. With India set to end the fiscal with a multi-decade low in bank credit, the longer the government takes to unveil a roadmap and walk the talk to boost the confidence of bankers, the more elusive will be the economic recovery.

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Freedom from 3Cs - The Indian Express

Freedom, Real Dividend of Democracy – THISDAY Newspapers

THE HORIZON BY KAYODEK OMOLAFE kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

At last, Attorney General Abubakar Malami took a wise step last Tuesday in ordering the State Security Service (SSS) to comply with court orders by releasing from custody Colonel Sambo Dasuki and Mr. Omoyele Sowore. Well, it is better late than never, as they say.

But it could have been a wiser thing to do if the chief law officer of the federation had elected to comply with court orders, (to use his exact words) , some months or even years ago especially in the Dasuki case.

It is certainly less than wise that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari chose to obey the law only after it had needlessly inflicting upon itself enormous public relations disaster, as Dr. Reuben Abati, aptly put it on this page some weeks ago.

Strident voices from within and without have risen unison to warm against Nigerians descent into authoritarianism and an egregious assault on human freedom.

For instance, not a few observers of the Nigerian scene must have noted that just a few days before Malami took action, a group of American legislators had addressed to him a strongly worded petition. In respect of the Sowore case, the congressmen said: We are deeply concerned that established legal procedure and the rule of law are not being followed in his case.

More significantly was that, regardless of what Malami may say now, internal pressures are mounting against the tendency towards authoritarian rule. A groundswell of opinions is already building against reckless disobedience of court orders and official lawlessness. Even from otherwise reticent quarters, warnings are issued against a recipe for anarchy which the assault on the rule of law squarely represents.

It is commendable that forces of genuine democracy are awake to see the reality that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.Unwittingly, human rights abuse has been added to the list of the nations challenges which include mass poverty, insecurity and youth joblessness.

The tangible problems of bad roads and bridges along with epileptic power supply and physical insecurity may not actually define the administration in democratic terms. Instead what Buhari does or fails to do in the intangible realms of human freedom and national integration might be the ultimate defining factors.

After all, some of the monumental bridges and roads in Nigeria were constructed during military dictatorship. So roads, bridges and boreholes are not necessarily dividends of democracy. It is the respect for human freedom that is the real dividend of democracy.

To read the direction of the Buhari administration in these terms is, at least, consistent with liberal democratic ethos. The public sphere is suffused with liberal thinking on the implication of curtailment of human freedom under any guise.

For those who might like to discount the question of freedom in the race for development; when such a logic prevailed in the past it had tragic consequences. This is possibly why the Yale historian, Professor Timothy Snyder asserts that : History does not repeat itself, but it does instruct History can familiarize, and it can warn. A lot of admonition against attack on freedom is embodied in his On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

Up till his demise, eminent economist, Professor Sam Aluko, told anyone who cared to listen to him that there was a sound logic to economic management under the maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha. Some even refer to some efforts of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) under the leadership of General Buhari. While economic historians may continue to debate Alukos proposition, there is, however, no argument that the regime of General Abacha was largely defined by the grand assault on human freedom and the shrinking of the democratic space.

It is precisely because of the centrality of freedom to development that those strategising for the Buhari administration should take seriously the mounting opposition to abuse of human rights and disrespect for the rule of law. This should be of interest particularly to the economic advisers of the administration as they think about holistic development for the country.

In fact, the 1998 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Amartya Sen, actually equates development with freedom in his work, Development as Freedom. According to Sen, development efforts mean the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. Among the limiting factors to freedom identified by Sen are poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or over activity of repressive states.

While federal security agents descend heavily on protesters, some state governments charge their critics with terrorism and all kinds of crimes in the book.

Under a previous administration, Buhari himself and his running mate in a presidential election, the late Senator Chuba Okadigbo, led a public protest against alleged electoral manipulation. The sensibilities of decent people were assaulted when the police teargassed the protesters. The protesters went to court and the court upheld the constitutional rights of citizens to protest. The court said the police should protect the protesters rather than molest them. The court indeed affirmed the proposition of the legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, that human rights constitute a property of the people and not a dash.

It is, therefore, one of the huge ironies of Nigerias political history that the police harass citizens asserting their democratic rights to protest under Buharis watch.The president has proclaimed his conversion to liberal democracy. He should prove the skeptics wrong by making strict adherence to the rule of law a central part of his agenda.

Depending on the competence in economic management he may be ultimately vindicated on the huge loans to build roads, railways and bridges at the objective level.However, what is happening at the more subjective realm may actually define his administration in a more enduring way. This includes his disposition to human freedom, fostering national unity and strengthening the moral fabric of the society.It is time the president began to ponder how his administration would be defined when all would be history even on January 1, 2024.

Lest We ForgetBy Issa Aremu

There was no dull moment in the political economy of Nigeria in 2019.Recalling my reflections in 2019 actually passes for another word counts of reflection: no dull moment.

More for the better than the worse!Of special importance was the remarkable innovative corporate governance of CBN. Whoever fails to plan, is planning to fail, goes the popular received wisdom. As it is for human beings, so for public institutions and indeed nation states.

In 2019, CBN emerged as the singular institution that commendably sets corporate agenda for the next five years of the second tenure of its Governor. Mr Godwin Emefiele is the 11th Governor of the apex bank. Appointed by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014, he was rightly reappointed by President Muhammadu Buhari for another 5 years term in 2018.After eventful five years of what I perceive as activist autonomous central banking, Emefiele announced a renewed vision for the next tenure.

In his words: Put succinctly, our priorities at the CBN over the next 5 years are the following; First, preserve domestic macroeconomic and financial stability; Second, foster the development of a robust payments system infrastructure that will increase access to finance for all Nigerians thereby raising the financial inclusion rate in the country; Third, continue to work with the Deposit Money Banks to improve access to credit for not only small holder farmers and MSMEs but also Consumer credit and mortgage facilities for bank customers.

Our intervention support shall also be extended to our youth population who possess entrepreneurship skills in the creative industry. Fourth, grow our external reserves; and fifth, support efforts at diversifying the economy through our intervention programs in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

We are confident that when implemented, these measures will help to insulate our economy from potential shocks in the global economy. In my second term in office, part of my pledge, is to work to the best of my abilities in fulfilling these objectives. Will other public institutions be audacious to set agenda in 2020 upon which we can hold them accountable?

Precisely because I was involved, I bear witness that with respect to intervention in manufacturing sector, CBNs measures had renewed hope of the revival of cotton, Textile and garment sectors (CTG) policy.

Nigeria for once is moving from the old era of perennial cotton shortage to cotton surplus, thanks to CBNs creative supports for cotton farmers in Katsina and other cotton growing centers through improved seedlings and credits. Understandably,Stakeholders in the renewed drive to re-industrialize Nigeria praised CBN for the restrictions of sale of forex to importers ( read: smugglers ) of textiles into the Country.

This is one singular praise for the CBN Governor not too much. The Central Bank of Nigeria on Tuesday March 5, 2019 at its meeting with stakeholders in the Cotton, Textile, Garment value chain in Abuja listed all forms of textile materials among items prohibited from foreign exchange in the official windows. There is also an historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) facilitated by the bank between uniformed services: army, police, civil defense, customs service and textile manufacturers. The MOU envisages production of the service uniforms by local textile firms in line with presidential executive order 003.

The year 2019 was also the year of elections.We can debate the quality of elections especially in Kogi and Bayelsa, but Nigeria democratically transited at Federal and many states. Kwara election was the most nationally adjudged free and fair under the OTOGE movement. It was indeed a revolution made possible through voters cards and vote counts not by some instant proclamation from the streets!

Also last year, on the 16th of May, at the plenary, the senate passed the amendment to an Act in concurrence with the House of Representatives which approved the new date of June 12th as new Democracy Day earlier in December 2018, following the adoption of a report by Senator Ahmad Lawan, the Majority Leader, for the Senate to concur with the House. The bill was passed almost one year after President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the date would replace May 29 for Nigerians to commemorate the return to the civilian government.

That singular presidential action closed the chapter of June 12 saga. With as many as 85 million registered voters, in quantitative terms, Nigeria remains a democracy destination. But this democracy needs quality control that must start with issues based politics of development and productivity as opposed to politics of corruption and violence.

In November, President Muhammadu Buhari accented to the new Deep Offshore (and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract) Act. It was what I called a smart patriotic economic move from above. This singular amendment of the Deep Offshore Act for once commendably balanced the age long corporate greed in oil and gas sector with urgent national needs in terms of revenue. Nigeria henceforth would receive its fair, rightful and equitable share of income from its oil and gas, hitherto made impossible with the old law that kept oil taxes to the barest minimum, disregarding the upward swing in oil prices.

The Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act was last enacted on March 23, 1999, with its commencement backdated to January 1, 1993. The provisions of the Act stipulate that the law shall be subject to review to ensure that if the price of crude oil at any time exceeds $20 per barrel, ( even when prices were in triple digits decades after!) the share of the revenue to the Nigerian government shall be adjusted under the PSC.

The new amendment promised to enhance national benefits from the non-renewable oil and gas resources. At international level, 2019 marked the centenary of International Labour Organization ( ILO). A century-long ILO remains the principal centre of authority in the international system on labour and social policy. ILO has come of age with 100 years of rich history in promotion of peace and social justice in the world of work.

As part of the ILO centenary activities, Nigeria for once played host to the Director General of the ILO, Guy Ryder at a global summit on youth employment creation in Abuja. Worthy of recalling is also the fact that, after addictive medical trips to Singapore, Robert Gabriel Mugabe (RGM) on September 6, 2019, heaved the last breath at 95 years . In 2019 foreign policy observers also hailed the proactive historic visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to South Africa between October 2 to 4, 2019.

Both leaders rightly damned xenophobic violence and the reprisals. The two Presidents also directed their Foreign Affairs Ministers to give practical expression to the Early Warning Mechanism for prevention and monitoring platform. Nigeria and South Africa also agreed to exchange a list of frequent travelers, notable business people and academics to facilitate the issuance of long term multiple entry visas for 10 years.

Nigeria looks forward to an eventful 2020, the year late President Musa Yar Adua envisaged that Nigeria would be one of the leading 10 developed countries. Of course Nigeria missed out on all the 8 goals set for Millennium Development agenda that elapsed in 2015.Will Nigeria meet the new Sustainable Development Goals ( SDGs) of 2030 which is just a decade to go from today? Happy 2020!

Issa Aremu mni, is a renowned labour leader

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Freedom, Real Dividend of Democracy - THISDAY Newspapers

Economic freedom, not government programs, the key to poverty reduction – Orange County Register – Daily Gaming Worlld


People have struggled to find the best way to fight poverty since the earliest societies, but the answer is obvious if we just look at history.

From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution to modern times, poverty has been eased in the most radical and rapid way whenever people are free to work in the profession of their choice, to keep the fruits of their their work, to acquire and maintain private property and to rely on legal to protect their personal and economic freedoms.


In recent decades, this age of relatively free enterprise and world trade has led to an unprecedented reduction in poverty.

This may surprise many who have heard the story, popular in the media and some academic circles, which claims that not only the rich get rich, but the poor get poorer.

Indeed, when a survey by Hans Rosling for Gapminder asked people whether the portion of the worlds population living in extreme poverty had a) almost doubled, b) remained about the same, or c) almost divided halved in the past 20 years, only 5% of Americans correctly answered that it had been cut in half.

According to World Bank estimates, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $ 1.90 a day, has declined steadily from 36% in 1990 to 10% in 2015 (and to about 8.6% in 2018) the lowest level in recorded history.

In total, 1.1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in just a quarter of a century an extraordinary achievement!

In addition, 80% of those who remain in extreme poverty are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, mainly in countries characterized by war, corruption and lack of economic freedom.

These results are supported by various freedom indexes, such as Frasers annual Freedom Institute of the Economic Institute (or its index of human freedom, which includes measures of personal freedom in addition to economic freedom).

These studies consistently show an incredibly strong correlation between nations that offer greater economic and personal freedom and desirable characteristics like higher per capita income and economic growth, lower poverty levels, longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality rates, greater gender equality and generally higher levels of happiness.

So while many are focusing on the next government program that will surely be the quick fix for reducing poverty, the best solution is to simply create the conditions that allow people to prosper by eliminating government laws and regulations that exacerbate poverty by restricting economic and personal factors. freedoms.

Adam B. Summers is a researcher at the Independent Institute and a former columnist and columnist for the Orange County Register and the Southern California News Group.


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Economic freedom, not government programs, the key to poverty reduction - Orange County Register - Daily Gaming Worlld

Freedom Synonyms, Freedom Antonyms | Thesaurus.com

The spirit and the gifts of freedom ill assort with the condition of a slave.

It seems to me that life is no life, but living death, without that freedom!

The cause of freedom owes her much; the country owes her much.

Under the eternal urge of freedom we became an independent Nation.

Because we are free we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere.

They add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom.

It is not profane if I now say, 'with a great price obtained I this freedom.'

There are those in the world who scorn our vision of human dignity and freedom.

Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit.

We believe that all men have the right to freedom of thought and expression.

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Freedom Synonyms, Freedom Antonyms | Thesaurus.com

Byrne: Freedom from Religion Foundation needs to "stop forcing their ungodly, un-American views down our throats" – alreporter.com

Monday, Congressman Bradley Byrne commented on a separation of church and state dispute involving Reeltown High School and the Wisconsin based Freedom from Religion Foundation. Byrne said in a social media post that the Wisconsin based FFRF needs to pack it up and stop forcing their ungodly, un-American views down our throats.

On Wednesday, December 18, the FFRF complained that a football team baptism in Tallapoosa County Schools on school property with staff, including head football Coach Matt Johnson, in attendance is constitutionally unacceptable in their reading of past Supreme Court rulings.

On Nov. 21, the football team participated in a baptism event that was held on school premises with school staff members, including the head football coach, present. FFRF claims that it is settled law that public schools may not advance or promote religion.

Courts have consistently held that it is illegal for a public school to organize, sponsor, or lead religious activity at public high school athletic events, such as football practice, FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote in a letter to Tallapoosa County Schools Superintendent Joseph C. Windle. In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Supreme Court extended the prohibition of school-sponsored religious activities beyond the classroom to all school functions, holding prayers at public high school graduations an impermissible establishment of religion. As school-sponsored activities, football team events cannot include any endorsement of religion or religious rituals.

FFRF argued in their release that Tallapoosa County Schools students will perceive the Reeltown High School baptism was endorsed by the school and that since this religious ritual took place on school property with school staff members present. FFRF said that, allowing outside adults to perform religious rituals specific to one religion in this case Christianity at a team event, ostracizes those students and families who identify as nonreligious or practice a minority religion FFRF claims.

Its an egregious overstep for public school officials to put Christian baptism in the playbook, says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) has been outspoken in his defense of Coach Johnson and the school.


Im sick of these groups trying to tell us that we arent allowed to live out our faith, Byrne said on social media. The Freedom from Religion Foundation needs to pack it up and stop forcing their ungodly, un-American views down our throats. The foundation says they want separation of church and state, but what they really want to is to rip God out of our nation altogether. Im thankful for leaders like Coach Johnson who are doing the right thing and serving as positive role models to our young people.


The event was presented by Rick and Mick Ministries. Coach Johnson said that attendance was not mandatory at the event which took place on the football field prior to practice. Johnson said that the 26 boys who were baptized chose to commit their lives to Christ.

Let me start first off by saying our community is based on those values overall, Johnson told the Outlook. Everybody is not the same obviously, and were fine with that. But the way we run our program, the way I run my program specifically is based 100% off Christian values.

My duty is to follow up with that, as a Christian, Johnson said. I didnt want to make it an event that took away from what they were doing. I wanted it to be about them and their salvation. I didnt want attention on me and I didnt want the attention on football. I wanted it to just be between those guys who made that decision and that relationship.

Johnson said that participation was not mandatory and that roughly half the team chose not to participate.

Its not like Im going to make them run hills if they dont pray, Johnson said.

The FFRF is asking that the school hold not future religious events.

(This) will never ever change as long as I am here or as long as this place is open, Johnson said.

Helping bring a person to know Christ should be praised, not attacked, Byrne said.

Byrne is a GOP candidate for the Senate seat currently held by Doug Jones. He represents Alabamas First Congressional District.

(Original reporting by the Yellowhammer News and the Outlook contributed to this report.)

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Byrne: Freedom from Religion Foundation needs to "stop forcing their ungodly, un-American views down our throats" - alreporter.com

Western Balkans Have Yet to Embrace Freedom of Information – Balkan Insight

Photo: AbsolutVision, Unsplash

Between January 2017 and June 2019, BIRN journalists submitted 854 official requests to access public documents in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. With the aid of the information gained from these requests, BIRN produced numerous investigative pieces and so exposed wrongdoing by governments, companies and powerful individuals.

On the basis of the submitted FOI requests, BIRN has also published an in-depth analysis of institutions openness to FOI requests across the countries of the Western Balkans. This shows that while Freedom of Information laws in the region are among the most liberal in Europe on paper, implementation of these laws is well below European standards.

Implementation also varies between the Western Balkan countries themselves. Some countries are showing an improvement, for example, by public institutions publishing large amounts of data and documents.

Others, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, lag behind. It is now the only country in the Balkans that does not even offer access to public records in electronic form. In some other countries, like Montenegro and Serbia, there has been a decline in implementation, as a result of legislative changes and political pressure.

Of the 854 official requests that BIRN submitted to access public documents, less than half of them, 408, were actually approved; 224 were partially approved, meaning the institutions provided only technical information, while 221 requests were either rejected or no answer at all was received, despite repeated follow-ups from the journalists.

Looking at the ratio between requests that were submitted and answered positively, in Albania the score was highest, at 61 per cent. It was followed by Kosovo, at 56 per cent. In Serbia, institutions provided the requested information in 40 per cent of the cases, while in North Macedonia the figure was 33 per cent. The worst response rate was in Bosnia, where institutions replied to only 25 per cent of requests sent.

For many journalists in the Western Balkans, where independent media are often under attack and pressure, Freedom of Information laws are often an important pillar of their own freedom, and are sometimes the only way to obtain information.

In recent years, however, there has been a certain tendency among institutions to close the information door and experiment with new ways to deny public information, especially to journalists, who have been traditionally the most frequent users of these laws.

To withhold information, institutions often either ignore requests or mark the requested information as classified.

In many cases, BIRN journalists have been forced to file complaints in order to get the data they want, or a decision on their request. This process often lasts long, disrupts journalists daily activities and prolongs the whole investigative process, which can end up using outdated data.

In Kosovo, BIRN journalists submitted the majority of their 337 requests to municipalities, ministries, the Telecom Company, the Prosecutorial Council, Judicial Council, the Presidents Office, the Prime Ministers Office and the Procurement Review Body. Of these, 188 were approved, 27 were partially answered and 122 were rejected.

BIRN Kosovo repeatedly submitted complaints about denial of access to public documents. In all cases, the Ombudsman asked the relevant institutions to grant access. But only 45 per cent of these requests resulted in BIRN gaining access to the requested documents. Another 20 per cent of requests resulted in BIRN gaining partial access. The remaining 35 per cent is still pending.

In North Macedonia, BIRN submitted 233 information requests, of which just over a third were approved.

While most countries in the region, such as Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia, have liberal Freedom of Information laws, at least on paper, there is a worrying trend in Montenegro, where latest changes to the law allow the head of an institution to decide which information shall be marked classified. This change has been widely criticized, as it contains a series of exclusions that are not in line with international standards or the countrys own constitution.

In Albania, meanwhile, a new law includes a number of novel concepts, including the possibility of re-classifying secret documents, the release of partial information and the use of information technology to make information held by public institutions more available to the public.

In Serbia, BIRN submitted 95 requests. Of these, 13 were fully answered, 25 were partially answered and 20 were rejected or no answer was received. Another 37 requests were still pending by the time of publication. Although the legal deadline for institutions in Serbia to respond to such requests is 15 days, in some institutions, like the Interior Ministry, the average response timeframe is a month or longer.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN filed 12 requests and it took regular follow-ups and reminders before the authorities ever responded, even though, as in Serbia, the legal deadline to respond is 15 days. In reality, it takes a month or more.

Looking at the annual reports of regional Commissioners, Serbias received the highest number of complaints, 64 per cent, during 2018. Albania came next, with 13 per cent, followed by North Macedonia, on 10 per cent and Montenegro, with 7 per cent. The lowest number of complaints reported by the Ombudspersons Office was in Bosnia and Herzegovina 5 per cent and in Kosovo, only 1 per cent.

BIRNs analysis also showed that local government institutions are more responsive to requests for information while central government institutions are more likely to postpone decisions and eventually reject journalists requests. Possible reasons for this could be the nature and exclusivity of the information that these institutions possess.

The lowest positive response that BIRN journalists had, in term of individual institutions in the region, was with the Civil Aviation Authority in Albania, the Ministry of Foreign Trade in Bosnia, the Post in Kosovo and the Interior Ministry in Serbia.

As part of BIRNs drive for openness, it has established a free, user-friendly, searchable online library of public documents and scraped database, called BIRN Source. To increase access to open data for journalists, in January 2020 BIRN will also launch a new online platform, the BIRN Investigative Resource Desk, BIRD, which will provide a digital space and user-friendly tools for better and stronger investigative journalism.

BIRD will provide journalists with various types of assistance, including a set of useful tools and information in one place related to freedom of information, data access and protection, cybersecurity and open-source datasets.

Read the full report here.

Download Albanian version here.

Download Serbian version here

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Western Balkans Have Yet to Embrace Freedom of Information - Balkan Insight

Video: King Willem-Alexander addresses the Dutch public on Christmas Day, stressing the importance of freedom – Royal Central

From the Vestibule of Huis ten Bosch Palace, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands gave his Christmas Day address that was pre-recorded. It aired at 1 pm on NOS on NPO1 and on Radio 1.

His Majesty spoke of what connects Dutch people from language to equality.

And there is one word that comes back time and again: freedom. Freedom is the flame that burns in all Dutch hearts. That sounds poetic, but it does justice to what I see around me, he said.

This led to the King discussing commemorations of World War II and how the Netherlands is celebrating 75 years of freedom.

His Majesty said, Freedom is never free. She always demands something from us: trust in each other, reasonableness, the willingness to give each other space. Everyone who delves into what freedom is, understands why tolerance is so important. If we start threatening people with a different opinion, we undermine exactly what we hold dear.

King Willem-Alexander also discussed how the Dutch living abroad can look back to see the freedoms and good organisation of the Netherlands, The Netherlands is still one of the most successful countries in the world. Behind that success are people like you.

Even though the emotions can sometimes run high, the Dutch still have the feeling that they belong together. That is our great strength. It not only contributes to a country that performs well, but also to a country where people are on average happy, he later added.

The King also found it important to discuss finding happiness, I also say this to young people. Do not worry too much if things go wrong. Give yourself some space. Itsokay. Happiness cannot be forced. It is elusive. It comes suddenly, like a gift from heavenHappiness is in our connection with others. Let us therefore not let each other go. Let us listen to each other and show understanding. Let us comfort and encourage each other. It helps if someone looks at you and says all is well.

His full speech can be read, in English, via the NL Times.

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Video: King Willem-Alexander addresses the Dutch public on Christmas Day, stressing the importance of freedom - Royal Central