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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Uehara

Weekly News Blast | July 23 - 30


Three allegedly Ukrainian drones damaged buildings in Moscow's highly commerical International Business Center (mos.ru, Wikimedia Commons)


Drone Activity in Moscow Reflects Heightened Tensions With Ukraine


According to the mayor of Moscow and the Russian Defense Ministry, in the early hours of July 30, three Ukrainian drones damaged two high-rise buildings in the Moscow International Business Center district, home to three Russian government ministries and several residential apartments. Only about 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the Ukrainian border, this would not be the first time Moscow has been targeted. Earlier this month, Russia said it had downed five Ukrainian drones spotted disrupting the Sheremetyevo International Airport. Ukraine has yet to comment on any of the recent events.


According to Russia’s intelligence agency, one of the drones was shot down on the outskirts of the city, while the other two were suppressed by radio-electronic equipment and smashed into an office complex. “Ukrainian drones attacked tonight. Facades of two city office towers were slightly damaged,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin reported on Telegram. The capital’s Vnukovo airport was also “closed for departures and arrivals,” although operations returned to normal within an hour. Still, the Russian Ministry of Defense has called the strike an “attempted terrorist attack.” The drone activity is likely part of the recent string of attacks on the Kremlin, which Russia has blamed on Kyiv.


New Atlanta Police Training Facility Is Met With Resistance


In September 2021, the Atlanta City Council approved a ground lease agreement with the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a $90 million, 85-acre police training center. The center will house a shooting range, mock city, and burn building, among other facilities. According to the Atlanta Police Foundation, the center could help boost the recruitment and retention of police officers, both of which declined after nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice last year.


Current plans show the facility will be built on a 300-acre plot of land currently used by the city as a prison farm. City spokesperson Bryan Thomas stated that the prison farm site was “a pragmatic choice, given its adjacency, its ownership by the City and its former and continued use” by Atlanta’s police and fire rescue departments. However, the prison farm had been a critical part of the 3,500-acre South River forest, a vital forest system connecting green spaces across the city. The Nature Conservancy has said that the forest provides floodplain restoration, habitat expansion, and tree canopy protection, among other benefits.


As such, the plans have been met with much resistance from concerned community members. Locals argued that the plan’s development process had been highly secretive, with limited opportunity for input from affected communities. There has also been significant resistance from environmentalists. Beyond deforestation, environmentalists are concerned that the facility will create noise and smoke that would further pollute the area. In response, the city promised that officials would replace any hardwood tree destroyed during construction with ten new ones and replace any invasive species with hardwood trees. Some organizations have also argued that taxpayer money should be put toward mental health, food, and housing programs instead. However, the city has pushed back, stating that taxpayers will fund only $30 million of the $90 million project, with the rest coming from private philanthropic and corporate donations.


Despite these protestors, many locals favor the training facility. Alison Clark, one such local, hopes that the center will help boost the area’s economy, bring in new vendors, and increase police presence. “At the end of the day, I think that’s a win-win for the community,” she said. The city spokesperson announced that construction will begin in late fall, and the facility’s first phase is expected to open before the end of 2023.


Singapore Executed a Woman for the First Time in Nearly Two Decades


On July 28, Singapore executed its first woman in nearly two decades. Convicted in 2018 of drug trafficking after being caught in possession of 30.72 grams (1.08 oz) of heroin, Saridewi Binte Djamani, 45, was hung on Friday amidst protests saying the punishment will not deter further drug crime. Still, according to the Central Narcotics Bureau, “The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty if the amount of diamorphine trafficked is more than 15 grammes. Thirty-point-seventy-two grammes of diamorphine is more than twice that amount and is sufficient to feed the addiction of about 370 abusers for a week.”


Djamani stated during her trial that she was stocking up on heroin for personal use during the Islamic fasting month. She also said that she could not give accurate statements to the police because she was suffering from drug withdrawal. However, these defenses were rejected, as the court decided that she had “at most been suffering from mild to moderate methamphetamine withdrawal during the statement-taking period” and that it should not have impaired her ability to give statements. Judge See Kee Oon noted that Dhamani did not deny selling drugs but simply downplayed the scale of her activities.


Djamani attempted to make an appeal and get a presidential pardon, but she received the full punishment, making her the first woman to be executed in Singapore since Yen May Woen in 2004, who was also convicted of drug charges. Djamani is the second drug convict to be executed this week (following fellow Singaporean Mohd Aziz bin Hussain) and the 15th since the government resumed executions in March 2022, after they took a two-year break during the pandemic. Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said that since the lifting of Covid restrictions, the government and courts have “moved like a machine spinning harder and harder to catch up lost time, determined to apparently empty death row as quickly as possible.”


Some Singapore argues that harsh punishments could help deter drug offenses. However, many anti-death penalty activists disagree, citing studies such as the 2019 U.S. National Institutes of Health study, which found the death penalty does not prevent crime. Amnesty International’s Chiara Sangiorgio commented that “there is no evidence that the death penalty has a unique deterrent effect or that it has any impact on the use and availability of drugs.” She added, “The only message that these executions send is that the government of Singapore is willing to once again defy international safeguards on the use of the death penalty.” Since Djamani’s execution, the Global Commissions on Drug Policy, the International Federation for Human Rights, and Amnesty International have urged the country to halt all executions. Amnesty International also called on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Narcotics Control Board to “increase pressure on Singapore to end its highly punitive approach to drug control policies.” However, the Singaporean government remains committed to its extremely stringent policies on drug crimes.


 






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