Jan 08
Her eye on the news
Freedom fighter

A Saudi Arabian teenager who was detained in Thailand after attempting to flee her allegedly abusive family will reportedly not be forcibly returned home after a viral social media campaign drew attention to her plight.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, was en route to Australia where she hoped to receive asylum but was stopped after arriving at the Bangkok airport for her flight transfer. According to Qunun, she was abducted after arrival in Thailand and had her passport confiscated by Saudi Arabian diplomatic staff, and was only able to escape being forcibly boarded onto a plane back home after locking herself inside her hotel room and demanding access to the UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.

General Surachate Hakparn, the head of Thailand’s immigration police, had initially told reporters that Qunun would be sent home to Saudi Arabia since she was “unsafe” without a male guardian, and claimed that she didn’t have a visa to continue on to Australia. But after Qunun tweeted about her plight from her hotel room and found support from other Saudi women and activists who had fled the country, Hakparn relented and agreed to arrange a safe house so that she could stay in Thailand until her asylum claim was processed.

“If she goes home it will be dangerous for her so Thailand is ready to help,” said the general. “We are working with the foreign affairs ministry and UNHCR and today we will allow her entry to Thailand. UNHCR is now taking care of her and working on her asylum claim.”

A friend of Qunun’s, 20-year-old Nourah Alharbi, said that the vast social media response had likely saved the teenager’s life.

“Yesterday, they [social media supporters] made the difference in Rahaf’s life. You saved Rahaf’s life yesterday: the people, the media,” she told The Guardian on Tuesday. “She couldn’t believe it. Today when I was calling her … [she said] she can see the thousands of messages, all of them supporting her. She’s terrified and stressed, and when she saw the messages it really made a difference for her.”

Reuters also reported that the spontaneous Twitter campaign, dubbed #SaveRahaf, organized by a loose network of activists around the world, was influential in the Thai government reversing its decision to put her back on a plane to her family.

According to Alharbi, Australia cancelled the tourist visa on which Qunun had been traveling. A government source told The Australian that Qunun’s tourist visa had not been revoked, despite claims, but said she would be refused entry to Australia because the visa did not reflect the true reason for her visit. In a statement, the Saudi government said they had not demanded Qunun’s deportation, characterizing the case as a “family affair” under the “care and attention” of the embassy.

Meanwhile, Qunun’s father —  a Saudi government official — and brother have arrived in Thailand and requested access to her, according to Nine News.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakpan said the men would have to wait to learn whether the UN’s refugee agency would allow a meeting.

Qunun is currently in the care of the UNHCR, who will send her to a third country if she is granted asylum status. The Australian Department of Home Affairs said they would “carefully consider” any application by the 18-year-old.

Watch asylum seeker 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun speak while barricaded in an airport hotel room:

Read the full story at ReutersNine News and The Guardian.


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‘Right the ship’

As CBS works to distance itself from sexual misconduct scandals involving former CEO Leslie Moonves, 60 Minutes producer Jeff Fager, and legendary newsman Charlie Rose, the network has turned to another news legend in a bid to change the company’s allegedly toxic culture.

Susan Zirinsky, a CBS veteran of more than four decades, who legendarily jumped off of a moving train to deliver a story during Ronald Reagan’s first term, was named president of CBS News on Sunday, becoming the first woman to ever hold the position. Speaking on CBS This Morning on Monday, Gayle King said that the network’s news division had been “taking on water,” but that she felt “really excited” at the prospect Zirinsky could help “right the ship.”

“She is a smart cookie and she is a badass in every sense of the word,” said King.

Zirinsky, 66, whose popularity within the company is such that many employees refer to her fondly as “Z,” said that she had been asked to lead the news division on prior occasions but refused because she preferred to produce. But in wake of the sexual misconduct scandals engulfing CBS and attacks on journalistic integrity from U.S. President Donald Trump, Zirinsky said she decided it was time for her “to step up.”

According to reports, the new president was greeted with a thundering ovation from CBS News staff when she was officially introduced on Monday. As a producer famous for her open-door policy — “I don’t charge per hour,” she joked, when asked about how she handles impromptu meetings with employees — Zirinsky said she intended on remaining as accessible as before.

“I’ve been at CBS since I was 20 years old,” she said in an interview on Monday. “I really care about bringing this organization together both functionally and spiritually.”

“There was some tough stuff that happened,” she continued. “The whole world is going through tough stuff. MeToo isn’t behind us. It’s part of us. We are now a different people because of it.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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‘Dare I say’

Speaking at a reproductive rights event in Albany, New York, on Monday, Hillary Clinton issued a tongue-in-cheek rebuke to political analysts who have suggested that women politicians such as Elizabeth Warren must prove they are “likable” if they want to seek the presidency in 2020.

“There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether our country is ready for women leaders,” said the former First Lady, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate. “That really takes me back. Today, I want to thank all of you for your persistence. I know many of you and can attest as to how smart, determined, effective and dare I say, likable, you all are.”

Clinton herself has faced repeated questioning about her ‘likability’ throughout her own career — including from former President Barack Obama, who during the 2008 Democratic primary referred to her as “likable enough” during a public debate. In recent years, many Democrats have come forward to denounce the so-called “likability test” as sexist given that it seems to be applied almost exclusively to female politicians. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are all reportedly exploring running for the presidency in 2020.

In a statement, Clinton’s spokesperson, Nick Merrill, said that many women had approached Clinton to seek her advice and support for their own potential presidential runs. Clinton has already spoken formally with at least five potential presidential candidates so far — Warren and Harris among them.

“I won’t comment on private discussions she’s had except to say that she’s more than happy to talk to anyone considering a run about the challenges (as well as the great things) that go with it, and lessons learned on what to watch for in this next cycle (aside from Vladimir),” said Merrill.

Read the full story at NBC News.


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‘They want a home’

Education activist and youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, has written a new book highlighting the plight of young female refugees struggling to find safe havens, as many countries become increasingly hostile to asylum seekers.

In 2009, Yousafzai was forced to flee her home country of Pakistan after she was shot in the head by the Taliban while riding a bus to school, aged 15. Appearing on CBS This Morning, Yousafzai, 21, said she hoped her new book, We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories From Refugee Girls Around the World, would encourage people to look at refugees with empathy and compassion rather than fear and distrust.

“Oftentimes when we hear about refugees we hear about them in figures and numbers. We hear about them, but we never hear from them. We never hear what they want to say, what their dreams are, their aspirations are,” the Oxford University student explained.

In addition to sharing her own story, Yousafzai spoke with other refugees, such as Marie Claire, who found a haven in Lancaster Pennsylvania after fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia. In another account, a Guatemalan refugee named Analisa spoke about the hardship and dangers she faced during her long journey to and across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“For most of these girls, most of these women and children around the world who are going through conflicts right now, going through wars right now, their last choice is to become refugees, but that’s often the only choice to survive,” she continued. “They want, you know, to live in a peaceful place. They want to have a home. They want to have a future for their children. And that’s often the things that we don’t hear. And I think that’s something that I want people to understand and that I want to deliver to this world.”

Yousafzai, who last year made her first return to Pakistan since the brutal attack that nearly took her life, also doubled down on her claim that U.S. President Donald Trump and other politicians need to visit refugees if they want to make truly informed decisions on immigration policy.

“I hope that the president and also other political leaders in the U.S. they will reflect what American people believe, which is welcoming and which is supporting refugees,” she told CBS. “And I hope that the president and other people read the book and learn more about refugees. And I also hope that they visit a refugee camp and actually meet refugee people and hear their stories.”

Read the full story at CBS News.


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French author and television presenter Yann Moix has been criticized after telling a magazine that he would be incapable of loving a woman aged 50 or over — despite being 50 himself.

In an interview published in the French edition of Marie Claire, Moix said he found women his own age “too old”.

“I prefer the body of young women, that’s all. End of story. I don’t want to lie. The body of a 25-year-old is extraordinary. The body of a 50-year-old is not extraordinary at all.”

The author also said women his age or over were “invisible to him.”

Users on social media responded in a variety of ways — some posted pictures of themselves or celebrities, to remind him of the broad range of attractive, middle-aged women, while others just weighed in on how happy they were to have fallen under his radar.

“50+ Women ALL OVER THE GLOBE are devastated that this rather exhausted looking 50 yr old tiny man has written us all off. Jasus,” wrote one.

Colombe Schneck, a 52-year-old journalist and writer, published (then deleted) an image of her backside on Instagram with the comment: “Voila, the buttocks of a woman aged 52…what an imbecile you are, you don’t know what you’re missing, you and your tiny, paunchy brain.”

Interviewed on Monday night about the controversy, Moix was unrepentant.

“Every individual is a prisoner of their tastes. I’m a prisoner of mine. It takes nothing away from a woman of 50 years that I don’t want to sleep with her,” he said.

“I’m not responsible for my tastes; I’m trying to be honest. Of course I have a problem, I’m an adolescent, I’m a child and I don’t interest women in their 50s either. They’ve got better things to do than to drag a neurotic around who spends his time yelling and reading and likes doing things that only excite children. It’s not easy to be with me,” he said.

Moix, who is promoting his latest book, Rompre,  and has a reputation for being a provocateur, suspects the acrimony will not harm sales.

“I don’t regret saying these things because they concern only me. I love who I want and I don’t have to answer to any good taste police … for me that would be a complete lack of taste.”

Read the full story at the BBC, EuroNews and The Guardian.


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