You could soon spend 10 years in Australian jail if you don’t hand over your phone password to cops

By ethan / August 19, 2018

New Australian bill introduces some of the toughest legislation anywhere in the world for refusing to hand over personal data, while other Western countries are scrambling for their own solutions.

Existing legislation already allows for imprisonment for up to two years for failing to give investigators access when serious crime is involved, but the new Assistance and Access bill, which has gone out for public consultation, before being voted on later on this year, raises the punishment to 10 years.

The Department of Home Affairs says the document is seeking a “reasonable and proportionate response” to such violations.

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© Christian Ohde / Global Look Press

“Encryption and other forms of electronic protection… are being employed by terrorists, child sex offenders and criminal organisations to mask illegal conduct. The exploitation of modern communications technology for illicit ends is a significant obstacle to the lawful access of communications by Australia’s law enforcement and national security agencies,” says its intro.

To give weight to its proposal, the ministry gives an example of a pedophile rapist, who was using mobile messengers to offer drugs to underage teens in exchange for sex. 

“The suspect was arrested and his mobile phone was seized but despite legislative requirements he refused to provide his passcode. Due to an inability to access his phone as well as the fact that he used encrypted communication methods such as Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, Victoria Police was unable to access evidence which would have enabled them to secure a successful prosecution and identify further victims and offences,” goes the case study.

The US has no standard practice for such scenarios, and there has been legal debate whether such requests from the police – with or without a warrant – are a violation of constitutional rights. A Florida man was jailed for six months for contempt of court in July for failing to open his phone communication after a suspected drug arrest. The UK has also used contempt of court for similar instances, but the sentences have usually been measured in months, not years.

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Off-target: Ukrainian Buk missile launcher slams into busy Kiev building  (VIDEO)

By ethan / August 19, 2018

Driver of the 30-tonne launcher caused panic on the sidewalk, as he lost control of the vehicle after a rehearsal of the Independence Day parade.

Eyewitness videos from Saturday night show a group of curious onlookers filming a column of moving artillery as it drives through the heart of the Ukrainian capital.

As one of the vehicles attempts to change direction at a crossing, it takes too big a turning circle and slams at cruising speed into the wall of the Astarta business center, as screams ring out and the crowd scatters.

“Well, there is your parade for you!” wrote one eyewitness, ‘Vlad Vash’, on Facebook, along with a series of photos and videos. “First a tank nearly mowed me down, but stopped just in time. Then the very next vehicle drove into a wall.”

There were no casualties, but a towing truck had to extract the Buk from its resting place, where it had left a distinct wall imprint.

The Buk, a medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile, was one of the mainstays of the Soviet military, and has been adopted and upgraded by both Russian and Ukrainian forces in the aftermath of the break-up of the USSR.

On August 24, it was to join in a military parade involving 4,000 personnel and what had been announced as world-leading Ukrainian military inventions.

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Attack on academic freedom or stand against pseudoscience: Is Hungary right to ban gender studies?

By ethan / August 19, 2018

Viktor Orban’s Hungary risks becoming a European pariah after declaring it will no longer certify gender studies courses. Even if they’re right about their academic worthlessness, should officials tell universities what to teach?

“Astonishment” was the word Budapest’s Central European University (CEU) used in response to the government’s measures – “without any justification or antecedent” – first proposed last year and outlined in detail earlier this month. The 44 students enrolled in the master’s program at the George Soros-backed university would be allowed to complete their courses, alongside the 10-person intake at the state-funded ELTE, the only other Hungarian university to teach the discipline. But from next year onwards, the ministry of education will not spend public funds on gender studies, nor award diplomas for completing a degree (though CEU students can continue to study for the English-language US-certified degree).

READ MORE: ‘Christian democracy’ to crush multiculturalism in EU vote next year – Hungary’s Orban

The decision places Hungary radically at odds with the rest of the Western world. From Croatia to Ireland, every other EU state has at least one functioning gender studies program, and in the US, the number has risen threefold in the last three decades, with courses offered at over 350 higher learning institutions.

‘Gender studies is ideology, not science’

But perhaps more astonishing than the closure itself is the honesty with which the government is justifying its decision. Although officials’ statements mention low enrollment, financial expediency, and real-world applicability of gender studies diplomas, they have made it explicit that this is an ideological decision first and foremost.

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© Brian Snyder

For the first time in decades, a democratic country has made an explicit pushback against the left-wing drift of academia.

“The subject of the discipline goes against everything the government thinks about human beings,” Bence Retvari, the minister of human resources and one of the ideologues of the proposal, told parliament last year.

“Gender studies—similarly to Marxism-Leninism—can be called an ideology rather than a science, and therefore it is doubtful that it attains the scientific level expected for a university degree course.”

It can be argued that rather than being “like Marxism-Leninism,” gender studies are in fact Marxism-Leninism, founded on feminist theory and intersected with the latest left-wing sociology and political science.

Here is a sample of the areas of specialization from the CEU course website: Gender Dimensions of Post-State Socialism; Feminist Knowledge Production; Activism, Social Movements and Policy; Gendering Theory.

It is, frankly, doubtful that it is possible to meaningfully engage with (or even critique) most of these topics without contentious pre-existing ideological suppositions.

And having emerged from their own traumatic history of totalitarian socialism, Viktor Orban’s nationalists do not want to see their homeland re-infected with a new strain they see as wreaking havoc in Sweden or Germany.

“This study does not help in raising our nation; moreover it destroys value-oriented thinking that is still present in the Central European countries. Our burning problem is the demographic issue, which will not be solved by studying sexual minorities and deepening feminist philosophy,” Lorinc Nacsa of the ruling coalition Christian Democrats wrote to ELTE after it unveiled its gender studies course last year.

Stripped of the initial shock value, this perspective is at least understandable. For the current government, the growth of a self-perpetuating cottage industry of gender studies faculties around the world is no more a justification of their legitimacy than the popularity of alchemy at medieval universities is proof that base metals can be turned into gold.

And this fits in perfectly with Orban’s vision of his provocatively-named “illiberal democracy,” for which he has been given mandate by an overwhelming victory in April’s election.

‘Arrogant decision’

But the line between a robust democracy that refuses to shepherd its electorate into a narrow corridor of acceptable social views, and outright authoritarianism is not an impermeable one, particularly in a new, and still relatively fragile, social order such as post-Communist Hungary.

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Illegal immigrants get on a bus under police custody in Hungary. © Global Look Press/ Attila Volgyi

ELTE issued an extended statement in which it accused the government of violating the constitution, and pointed out that its studies have specific societal uses, such as understanding the impacts of an economic crisis on women, or the social effect that many Hungarian women going abroad for childcare jobs has had on the men left behind at home. ELTE also said the government did not directly inform them of the proposed changes, and demanded a consultation that would hopefully result in a compromise.

Gabor Bencsik, the pro-government editor-in-chief of the Hungarian Chronicle, also called on the ruling coalition to re-evaluate its “arrogant decision,” saying that gender studies courses are not in themselves against traditional values, and could be used to ask questions such as “Is it possible to boost the birthrate?” or “How can men and women in families better relate to their children?”

Despite these dissenting voices, the decision doesn’t appear to have provoked concerted outrage, particularly as it has been dragging on for 18 months, and is sandwiched between dozens of other stories pointing to the ascendancy of the government, such as the campaign against Lajos Simicska, a former pro-Orban media magnate-turned nemesis, and the decision by Soros’ Open Society Foundation to close its Budapest offices. If Orban’s opponents want to reverse his policies, they will not do it with editorials about the “Magyar dictatorship”, but will likely have to wait their turn at the ballot box.

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'We see the games they play': Erdogan says Ankara won't bow to US

By ethan / August 19, 2018

Ankara won’t bow before those who set up their “own order by exploiting the world” and make Turkey their “strategic target,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, referring to the US amid a deepening diplomatic rift.

“They were not able to make us collapse and they will never be. If they have their dollars, we have our God,” the Turkish president told thousands of supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who gathered for the Grand Congress in Ankara on Saturday. 

Though he didn’t name the US directly, his jab was clearly in reference to Washington, which has recently imposed economic sanctions on Turkey. He said that Ankara won’t surrender “to those who apparently seemed like a strategic partner” while trying to make Turkey “a strategic target with all of their concrete steps.”

READ MORE: Iran, Venezuela & Turkey reveal gold’s true value when paper money becomes worthless – analyst to RT

Erdogan said that despite “some people” threatening Turkey with economic restrictions or foreign currency exchange rates, “we are telling them that we see the games they play and we challenge them.” Turkey won’t bow before those “who set up their own order by exploiting the world,” he added.

Ankara and Washington have recently been at odds over the detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey. Brunson, accused of aiding the failed military coup in 2016, is facing 35 years in a Turkish prison.

In a heightening of tensions, the US Treasury Department announced restrictions against Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu.  Later, US President Donald Trump doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkish imports.

The pressure created by Washington against its NATO ally sparked a currency crisis in Turkey with the lira plummeting to a record low against the dollar soon after Trump’s announcement of sanctions. 

In response to Washington’s “deliberate attacks” on the Turkish economy, Ankara announced tariffs on imports of certain goods from the US, including cars, alcohol, and tobacco.

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FILE PHOTO. © Reuters

According to freelance political writer Dan Glazebrook, by attacking the Turkish lira, Trump is “pushing the world towards a re-run of the 1997 currency crisis.”
“All the conditions which prefigured the 1997 east Asian currency crisis are now effectively in place. All that’s needed is a push – which is exactly what Trump has just given,” he wrote in an op-ed to RT. 

Evgeny Bakhrevsky, director of the Moscow-based Heritage Institute and Middle East researcher, told RT that US pressure on Turkey serves as an additional incentive for Ankara to seek closer ties with other nations, like China, Russia, and European states. “The Europeans will maintain the existing objections to certain Erdogan policies and continue to voice their concerns, but that won’t stop them from developing pragmatic cooperation with Turkey,” he said.

Apple of Discord: Turks smash their iPhones amid US-Turkey economic spat

Responding to US economic pressure, Erdogan announced a boycott of US electronic products, including iPhones. “They have iPhones, but on the other hand there are Samsungs. We have our local brand Venus Vestel, we will use it,” the Turkish president stressed.

Following Erdogan’s statement, some Turks have vented their anger at Washington’s economic warfare in their own ways. Videos of Turkish people smashing, shooting, and setting iPhones on fire have recently become popular.

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6.9-magnitude earthquake strikes Lombok island in Indonesia, the 2nd in less than a day

By ethan / August 19, 2018

A new powerful earthquake has hit Indonesian island of Lombok in half a day after another jolt. The island has sustained a series of earthquakes recently, which killed over 400 people.

The powerful jolt occurred 4 km away from the village of Belanting in northeastern Lombok, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports. The epicenter of the new earthquake was some 20 km underground.

The earthquake followed another powerful jolt of 6.3 magnitude, which damaged a number of houses and injured several people on the island. The major quakes were accompanied by several lesser jolts.

READ MORE: Magnitude 6.3 earthquake hits Indonesia’s Lombok island (PHOTOS)

Earlier in August, Lombok island was rocked by powerful 6.9 quake followed with hundreds of aftershocks. The disastrous tremor leveled many buildings and killed at least 436 people. Tens of thousands of properties were damaged and thousands of people have been displaced.


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Iran deal, Syrian crisis & Nord Stream 2: Putin, Merkel find common ground on tough intl issues

By ethan / August 19, 2018

The Iran nuclear deal, which was recently ditched by the US, humanitarian efforts in war-ravaged Syria, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project… Putin and Merkel hold three-hour talks and are mostly on the same page.

The surprise visit announced earlier this week between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin took place in Meseberg Palace, 65km north of Berlin, on Saturday afternoon. Putin arrived in the 18th-century palace shortly after attending the wedding of Austrian FM Karin Kneissl.

Both Russia and Germany have been affected by US tariffs, while Moscow has also been hit by sanctions. As rifts with Washington grow, the two leaders found some common ground in their detailed three-hour talks.

Purely economic project Nord Stream 2

The €9.5 billion (US$ 10.8 billion) pipeline project was one of the key talking points at the meeting. During the Saturday media conference, Putin said the Nord Stream 2 is a “purely economic project” and does not mean the transit of gas through Ukraine will stop. “I am aware of the Federal Chancellor’s position. All that matters to us is that this transit is economically feasible… and makes economic sense.”

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During the closed talks, Putin and Merkel discussed the project and the prospects for Russian gas transit through Ukraine. Merkel said that even after the launch of the Nord Stream 2, Ukraine “should play its part in gas transit to Europe.”

READ MORE: Putin & Merkel could stick it to Trump as they look to bring Nord Stream 2 over the line

Merkel and Putin are obviously aware of the backlash from Washington and some Western politicians on the joint project between Gazprom and Western European energy giants. European Council President Donald Tusk has campaigned endlessly for the cancelation of Nord Stream 2 ever since it was announced in 2015. US President Donald Trump has also expressed strong opposition to the project, calling Germany a captive of Russian energy. The US leader has made no secret of American ambitions either, promising during his last whirlwind tour of Europe that Europeans will be buying “vast amounts” of US-produced liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Iran: Merkel, Putin stand for saving nuclear deal recently dumped by US

Both the Russian leader and the German chancellor are in favor of preserving the milestone Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Putin insisted that it is important “to preserve this multilateral agreement” approved by the UN Security Council, which aims at “strengthening regional and global security and the nuclear non-proliferation.” Merkel also supports the deal, but noted that Germany is “following Iran’s activities with concern, be it the missile program or the situation in Syria.”

READ MORE: ‘Iran Action Group’ a new US tool of regime change, but Tehran’s resilience is ‘strong’ – researcher

It has been three months since Donald Trump, a long-standing critic of the Iran deal, pulled out of the agreement, despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Tehran’s compliance with the deal on numerous occasions. The US president also ignored attempts of world powers, including France and Germany, to talk him out of withdrawing.

Syrian crisis: New talks format & humanitarian issues

The leaders also tackled the crisis in war-ravaged Syria, which is trying to get back on its feet after militants were expelled from large parts of the country. Putin pointed out the intensifying flow of refugees returning home and called on European countries to support the process. Ahead of the meeting, Merkel noted that “we, of course, should first of all, avoid a humanitarian disaster around and in this country [Syria].”

The two sides also discussed the possibility of a four-way meeting on Syria, involving Turkey, Russia, Germany and France, the Russian president’s spokesman said. The idea of the format was proposed in late July by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who suggested holding talks on September 7.

On Friday, Merkel said that Germany is looking into the possibility of such a summit: “A meeting between Germany, France, Turkey and Russia could make sense — this must be well-prepared, so there is no date yet.”

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South African winemaker warns land seizures could be ‘disastrous’ for industry & economy

By ethan / August 19, 2018

Land expropriation in South Africa is touching almost all spheres of business in the country, and wine making is no exception. RT has talked to a South African wine producer concerned about the land seizures.

At the moment, South African wineries are not a subject to land redistribution, where a white minority reportedly still owns almost three quarters of the land – almost a quarter century after the end of apartheid.

“There is no historic ‘land ownership’ that was taken away in the winelands area. But if the constitution is amended, it might as well happen. It can go both ways. For now we believe in the law as is, and continue investing,” Josef Dreyer, winemaker at RAKA wines told RT.

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© Siphiwe Sibeko

However, there is uncertainty looming over the vineyards, and it hardly adds to confidence in this business, said Dreyer. If land expropriation hits winemakers, the effect would be ‘disastrous’ for the industry, he warns.

“I think it will result in a drop in production, and negatively impact the export of our valued product. We might end up where the government own all land and we must rent it from them… Remember: the possible beneficiaries are unschooled, uneducated, how must they run a business,” Dreyer said.

According to Dreyer, land expropriation is hardly a solution to South Africa’s economic problem, where only a tiny fraction of the population pays income taxes, and more than a third are unemployed.

“We are one of the countries with a wide gap between the rich and the poor, where 13 percent of the South African population of 56 million people are the ones paying income taxes! Yes, 13 percent make the country run! 18 million of the 56 million is reliant on social grants, and unemployment is at 37.5 percent, so yes it is much easier to hand out land as the money is drying up,” he said.

The winemaker notes that his company employs 44 people. “Why would I work hard and create jobs if it is to be shared among all,” Dreyer says. “It is the government’s job to create a corruption-free environment that is favourable for investment,” he added.

For more stories on economy & finance visit RT’s business section

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‘Virtue signaling’ or ‘on brand’? New Zealand Green MP cycles to hospital to give birth

By ethan / August 19, 2018

A New Zealand Greens minister showed remarkable commitment to her party’s environmentalist ethos by getting on her bike and cycling to hospital to give birth.

Minister for Women and Associate Transport and Health Minister Julie Anne Genter posted a photo of herself on Instagram, Sunday morning, standing beside her bike outside Auckland City Hospital.

She revealed in the post that she cycled to hospital, with her partner, so she could be induced into labour. “There wasn’t enough room in the car for the support crew,” she wrote, explaining their decision to cycle.

Genter added that the bike ride had put her in the best possible mood and included the hashtags  #42weekspregnant #cycling #bicyclesarethebest.

The move has been praised by many, including Genter’s colleagues. Green Party leader James Shaw described Genter’s actions as “very on brand.”

However, others viewed it as a virtue signaling stunt and questioned how the baby was going to get home.

Others described the cycle as “crazy” and dangerous, suggesting that Genter could have injured herself and her baby.  

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VIDEO shows Putin dancing with Austrian FM, delivering toast in German at her wedding

By ethan / August 19, 2018

Vladimir Putin was filmed showing off his language skills and dancing at the Austrian FM’s wedding. The happy couple and their guests also enjoyed a performance of the Kuban Cossack Choir, which the Russian leader brought along.

The video shows Russian President Vladimir Putin arriving with a big bouquet and then dancing to a cheerful piano tune with Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl. The two smile and enjoy themselves as guests take photos and film them on their phones. Kneissl and Putin certainly didn’t forget about etiquette. The foreign minister, dressed for the occasion in a beige dirndl – a traditional alpine dress – ended the dance with a curtsy, while Putin responded with a bow.

Kneissl, 53, tied the knot with businessman Wolfgang Meilinger, 54, on Saturday in a vineyard in the picturesque town of Gamlitz.

When the guests were seated, the Russian president had the opportunity to show off his German skills. Putin delivered a lengthy toast, honoring the newlyweds and wishing happiness, harmony, and love to the couple. He also threw in a few jokes, eliciting laughs and applause from the newlyweds and their guests. He noted that Kneissl enjoys Russian culture, so he brought a bit of it with him.

READ MORE:VIP guest Putin brings big bouquet of flowers, dances with Austrian FM at her wedding (PHOTOS)

The Kuban Cossack Choir, dressed in traditional red kaftans and wool hats, performed songs in Russian and German.

But that wasn’t Putin’s only gift – he also gave Kneissl and Meilinger a rural landscape painting, an antique butter churn, and a samovar – a tradition Russian water boiler used to make tea.

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Former Yazidi sex slave recalls horror of meeting her ISIS rapist in Germany  

By ethan / August 19, 2018

A Yazidi teenager who fled from Islamic State slavery in Iraq, only to come face to face with her former captor in Germany, told RT why she returned to Iraq, and why she thinks Europe is no safe haven for girls like her.

After fleeing captivity in Iraq, Ashwaq Ta’lo thought she was safe in Schwabisch Gmund, a picturesque market town in the foothills of Germany’s Swabian mountains, near Stuttgart. That changed one night in February, when Ashwaq was returning home from school and a car pulled up beside her.

A short-bearded man stepped out and took off his glasses, leaning in closer to look at the teenager. “Can I ask you a question,” he said. “Are you Ashwaq?”

It was a face Ashwaq never thought she would see again. The man, known only as Abu Humam, was a Syrian Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) fighter who had bought Ashwaq for $ 100 at a slave market in Ba’aj, Iraq in 2015. He was now living in Germany as a refugee, enjoying the same freedom as his former victim.

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“I said ‘no, I’m not Ashwaq,’” she told RT. “Then he said ‘no, you are and I know it, don’t lie to me,’” Ashwaq panicked and fled to her brother’s house, as Abu Humam followed her. The encounter instantly brought her from peaceful Germany back to the dusty roads of war-torn Iraq, where her ordeal had begun a few years before.

In 2014, as ISIS hordes claimed land and took lives across Iraq and Syria at blitzkrieg pace, Ashwaq lived with 77 of her extended family in a small village in Iraqi Kurdistan. ISIS’ campaign of slaughter and pillage eventually caught up with them, and jihadists surrounded her family home, capturing and separating the family.

“The worst time in my life was the moment when ISIS separated us from our families,” Ashwaq recalls. “I knew that I would be raped and tortured.” She was 15 at the time.

From there, Ashwaq was shuttled in pickup trucks from around northern Iraq, until she landed in the tiny town of Ba’aj, where she was sold for $ 100 to Abu Humam. “I tried my best to convince him that he should release me,” she said. “But he said that he got orders that they should rape all Yazidi women and keep them as slaves. We even tried looking for gasoline or anything sharp, like knives or scissors, to kill ourselves with, but didn’t find anything.”

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Yazidis commemorate 3rd anniversary of ISIS genocidal campaign against them. August 3, 2017 © Suhaib Salem

Ashwaq was forced to convert to Islam, and became Abu Humam’s property. When the militants moved, Abu Humam kept the teenage girl by his side, a human shield against US-led Coalition airstrikes. Eventually, Ashwaq managed to flee, and a year later was resettled in Germany under a refugee program.

“We knew that if we stayed they would kill us, because they are ISIS and they are murderers,” she said.

After meeting Abu Humam in Germany, Ashwaq filed a police report and told her assigned social worker who she had seen. She says the police waited a month and a half to open the case, and when they did, they found no leads.

Her social worker told her that she was in Germany to recover from the trauma of her captivity in Iraq, but Ashwaq no longer felt safe.

“How can that be, if my rapist is living here and has the same rights as me?” she wondered.

Federal prosecutors say that they investigated the case as best they could. Based on her description, they could not identify Abu Humam, and could not trace his name. Prosecutors say they wanted to ask Ashwaq some more questions, but the teenager had already left Germany at that point.

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FILE PHOTO. © Thilo Schmuelgen

Faced with living in fear of her rapist or taking her chances elsewhere, Ashwaq headed back to Iraq to visit relatives. Her family who stayed behind in Germany begged her to return, and assured her that the German government would see to it that justice was done. Ashwaq refused.

“My dignity is more important than being in Germany,” she said. “I’ve put my life on the edge to escape from ISIS here to keep my dignity, then you want me to stay in Germany and know that the one who was responsible for my misery is free in that country?”

“All I wanted was to be somewhere safe but if I meet ISIS there and I’m afraid all the time that he would hurt me again, then I can’t stay there anymore.”

Ashwaq arrived in Germany as one of over a million migrants admitted in 2015. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood by her country’s ‘open-door’ migration policy until it was abandoned this year. Critics have blasted the chancellor for carelessly admitting millions of migrants, often with inadequate vetting. Even when defending her decision, Merkel admitted last year that “for some time we didn’t have enough control” at Germany’s borders.

Ashwaq’s tormentor was just one of an unknown number of violent jihadists who may have slipped through the cracks. In 2015, German federal police received over 300 tip-offs about potential jihadists or known terrorists entering the country as refugees. “We have repeatedly seen that terrorists… have slipped in camouflaged or disguised as refugees,” the head of Germany’s interior intelligence agency warned the following year.

Even before Merkel rolled out the welcome mat to migrants, some violent extremists managed to lay low in Germany. This April, a 42-year-old Tunisian man, living in Germany since 1997 and claiming government benefits, was found to have been a member of Al-Qaeda, and to have allegedly once worked as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. After his deportation, a court ordered the man returned to Germany for prosecution.

When Ashwaq arrived in Germany, she was required to remain in the state of Baden-Württemberg. This meant that she couldn’t move across the country to avoid Abu Humam.

“Germany was taking care of us,” she said. “But it was a mistake to bring us all to Baden-Württemberg so it was easier for them to track us and we were not allowed to move to another state.”

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