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Donald Campbell at Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / firstname.lastname@example.org or Zarmeeneh Rahim at the Foundation for Fundamental Rights: Zarmeeneh.Rahim@rightsadvocacy.org / +92 (0) 51 229 3103
A Pakistani drone victim who had been missing since being abducted from his home by men in police uniforms on February 5 has been released.
Kareem Khan, who had not been heard from since being taken from his Rawalpindi home, was freed earlier today (February 14).
Mr Khan lost his son and brother to a 2009 CIA drone strike, and had been set to travel to Europe to discuss his experiences with parliamentarians when he disappeared. He was also involved in legal action against the Pakistani police over their refusal to investigate the killing of his relatives.
After being abducted in the early morning hours of 5 February by 15-20 men, 8 of whom were in police uniform, Mr Khan was taken to a cell in an undisclosed location. Later in the day of 5 February, he was blindfolded and driven for approximately 2-3 hours to another undisclosed location where he remained until his release. While detained, Mr Khan was interrogated, beaten and tortured. He was placed in chains and repeatedly questioned about his investigations into drone strikes, his knowledge of drone strike victims and his work advocating on their behalf.
In the early hours of this morning (14 February), he was driven to the Tarnol area of Rawlpindi, where he was thrown from a van after being told not to speak to the media.
Mr Khan is now with his lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, a fellow of human rights charity Reprieve. Mr Akbar, who is also director of NGO the Foundation for Fundamental Rights, had filed 'habeas' proceedings in the courts earlier this week in an attempt to secure Mr Khan's release. In response, a judge from the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court had ordered the Ministry of the Interior, which has oversight of the Pakistani intelligence services, to produce Mr Khan by February 20.
Mr Khan plans to go ahead with his trip to meet parliamentarians in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands later this week. Today he said: "When I was picked up I thought I would never see my family again, that I would never be free again because of all the stories I have heard about disappeared people. Now that I have been released and have seen the news, the efforts of activists, I know it is because of them that I am free, and I would like to thank them."
Shahzad Akbar said: "What happened to Kareem Khan in last few days is nothing new in Pakistan. We are living in a state of lawlessness where the executive enjoys impunity. The lesson learned though this experience is that we must always raise our voices. We need to take this stand for each and every person who disappears, it is the only way to force those in power to listen. That is why I am so thankful to all the local and international activists who spoke out for Kareem."
Reprieve legal director Kat Craig said: "It is a huge relief that Mr. Khan has finally been released, though we are deeply concerned to hear about the mistreatment he has endured. No one should have to suffer as he and his family have done for simply trying to get to the truth about the deaths of their loved ones. Serious questions remain for the Pakistani Government on how this was allowed to happen."
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantanamo Bay.
"We cannot allow generative AI to promote a parasitic economy that diverts financial resources that should benefit the news media," said one advocate.
Warning of the ongoing expansion of artificial intelligence-generated websites that resemble legitimate news outlets and draw ad revenue away from them, Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday implored search engines and advertisers to slow the spread of automated "content farms" by denying them access to "funds that should be reserved for real journalism."
"We cannot allow generative AI to promote a parasitic economy that diverts financial resources that should benefit the news media," Vincent Berthier, head of the Tech Desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said in a statement.
"As well as an overall fall in the quality of online information, there is also a real danger of a further decline in funding essential to online media," said Berthier. "We urge search engines and advertisers not to allow these AI-generated sites to become profitable."
"As well as an overall fall in the quality of online information, there is also a real danger of a further decline in funding essential to online media."
Earlier this month, NewsGuard, which evaluates the reliability of online news and information, published an analysis entitled Rise of the Newsbots: AI-Generated News Websites Proliferating Online.
The report identified at least 49 ostensible news websites "spanning seven languages—Chinese, Czech, English, French, Portuguese, Tagalog, and Thai—that appear to be entirely or mostly generated by artificial intelligence language models designed to mimic human communication."
These automated content farms, which reach millions of internet users, "churn out vast amounts of clickbait articles to optimize advertising revenue," NewsGuard noted, exacerbating the dangerous worldwide spread of misinformation in the process.
As RSF noted Wednesday:
Dressed up to look like media, some of these sites rewrite journalistic content plundered from real news sites. Others produce fake stories or mediocre content designed solely to attract traffic. One reported in April that Joe Biden had died. Another falsely reported that Ukraine had claimed that it killed 3,870 Russian soldiers in a single attack.
Generated by AI and usually run anonymously, some of these sites "publish hundreds of articles a day," according to NewsGuard. There is a real risk that the Internet will soon be flooded by many more of these sites pumping out garbage that will inevitably congest search engines, with the result that reliable news reporting will struggle to make itself visible.
The modus operandi of these sites is very simple—maximize clicks while minimizing effort in order to optimize profit. "Many of the sites are saturated with advertisements," says NewsGuard, "indicating that they were likely designed to generate revenue from programmatic ads—ads that are placed algorithmically across the web."
"Advertisers have a huge responsibility," RSF continued. "These content farms will inevitably proliferate if they can continue to make money from advertising. The ad industry must give a firm undertaking to ensure ads are placed above all with media that are reliable news sources."
The watchdog also urged the ad industry "to manage programmatic advertising mechanisms responsibly and to acquire the monitoring and control tools needed to ensure that these content farms do not become profitable."
RSF is pushing advertisers to curb the rapid spread of automated clickbait just weeks after it warned in its annual press freedom report that the fast-growing, AI-powered "fake content industry" threatens to undermine fact-based journalism around the globe, which is already at risk due to old-fashioned violence against reporters, who are being jailed and killed at alarming rates.
"Ramping up reuse systems is the most sensible approach to replacing single-use plastics and dramatically cut plastic production," said one advocate. "The plastics treaty discussions this week must lay the groundwork for this transformation."
As world leaders convened in Paris on Tuesday for negotiations regarding a global plastics treaty that the United States and plastic producers are hoping will take a limited approach and center recycling, a new study showed how investing in the "mass adoption of reuse systems" would make a far bigger impact in cutting plastic pollution and reducing carbon emissions that are derived from the making of plastic.
The Break Free From Plastic movement commissioned the study, Making Reuse a Reality, by the Global Plastics Policy Center at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. Researchers drew from 320 articles and papers as well as dozens of new interviews with experts on reuse systems.
The researchers found that shifting to reuse systems on a mass scale would require a phasing-in process but could ultimately cut plastic pollution by 30% by 2040.
"The scourge of single-use packaging continues to grow at a pace beyond the capacities of existing waste management systems," said Von Hernandez, global coordinator for Break Free From Plastic. "Prevention is key; ramping up reuse systems is the most sensible approach to replacing single-use plastics and dramatically cut plastic production. The plastics treaty discussions this week must lay the groundwork for this transformation."
As Tiza Mafira, executive director of Plastic Bag Diet in Indonesia, explained in a video released by the research team, people around the world have for years turned to reusable materials to replace single-use plastic packaging in their own homes.
A mass transition would require similar efforts by businesses around the world, Mafira said.
"We are drowning in plastic pollution, and almost half of it is just packaging," she said. "Instead of delivering products in disposable plastic, [in a reuse system] businesses create durable and reusable packaging that gets returned to them and used over and over. Instead of throwing away bottles, they get refilled. Instead of trashing food takeaway containers, they get washed and reused."
Making Reuse a Reality - Explainer
Seventy-seven percent of the reuse experts interviewed for the study said standardizing packaging and developing tracking methods would be "key enablers" to shift to a reuse system on a large scale.
The experts suggested using tagging systems including QR codes, Radio Frequency Identification Device tags, or Near Field Communication chips, as well as methods to make returning reusable packaging as easy as possible for consumers.
"Interviewees emphasized the need for easily accessible drop-off points that are relevant to where End-of-Use occurs. The system should acknowledge the return, which can be efficiently done through code or tag readers or by staff," reads the report. "The return points should be clearly identifiable with a reuse logo and instructions and should be located in highly accessible areas."After consumers return their packaging, it would be cleaned and pooled at central "hubs" before being delivered back to stores and factories.
The coalition says a legally binding instrument is needed to end plastic pollution by 2040, but countries including the U.S., China, and Saudi Arabia are joining many plastics and chemical companies in supporting voluntary "national action plans" that would allow individual countries to decide how to reduce their plastic production and use.
The U.S. produces more plastic waste per person than any other country, according to a study published in Science Advances in 2020.
"If we're serious as a global community about averting climate change and about addressing the three planetary crises of biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change, we have to be thinking about reducing plastic production," Jane Patton, campaign manager for plastics and petrochemicals at the Center for International Environmental Law, toldThe Washington Post on Tuesday.
Critics including several members of Congress have warned the Biden administration that its focus on reducing plastic pollution is too narrow, with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) telling President Joe Biden in a letter last week that he should recognize the threats to "public health, ecosystems, and our global climate" that are posed by plastic production.
"As one of the leading drivers of this crisis, the United States has a leadership opportunity and an obligation to help move the world responsibly in the right direction," wrote Merkley and Huffman. "The international legally binding instrument is an unprecedented opportunity to address our plastic pollution crisis and our climate crisis in tandem. We urge you to stop thinking of this as just as a pollution problem and to recognize it as the public health, justice, and climate crisis that it poses."
The University of Portsmouth study, said Global Plastics Policy Center director Steve Fletcher, shows that a scaled-up reuse system "has huge untapped potential to end plastic pollution."
"What we need now," he said, "is a clear vision for reuse and the right support to mainstream it."
"My amendment would protect student borrowers while also affirming the president's clear legal authority to implement payment pauses, broad-based debt cancellation, and other critical relief measures."
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley on Tuesday filed an amendment to remove the section of the debt ceiling bill that would codify an end to the federal student loan payment pause and potentially compromise the Biden administration's authority to implement another moratorium at a later date.
Pressley (D-Mass.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a vocal supporter of student debt cancellation, said the payment freeze "has been an essential lifeline for workers and families struggling to make ends meet" during the coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic turmoil.
"My amendment would protect student borrowers while also affirming the president's clear legal authority to implement payment pauses, broad-based debt cancellation, and other critical relief measures," said Pressley. "Republicans continue to play games with our economy, with disregard for our most vulnerable families."
House Republicans originally demanded a full repeal of President Joe Biden's pending student debt cancellation plan as part of any deal to raise the debt limit. But the measure that ultimately emerged from negotiations between the White House and the GOP would only cement into law the Biden administration's pledge to end the student loan repayment pause, which has been extended eight times since it was first implemented early in the coronavirus pandemic.
Campaigners say the provision could be disastrous for borrowers across the country, particularly if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Biden administration's debt cancellation plan.
If approved in its current form, the debt ceiling bill would cut off the payment pause 60 days after June 30, 2023 unless Congress greenlights another extension.
The bill, which the House is expected to vote on as soon as Wednesday evening, states that "the secretary of education may not use any authority to implement an extension" of the payment pause, but Education Secretary Miguel Cardona insisted over the weekend that the Biden administration will retain "ability to pause student loan payments should that be necessary in future emergencies."
\u201cThe pause on student loan payments has been life-changing for families across the country.\n\nMy amendment would strike the provisions from the McCarthy debt ceiling bill that force payments to resume on Sept 1.\u201d— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley) 1685544409
In a statement on Tuesday, the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) warned that the debt limit measure would bind the federal government to "a reckless and aggressive timeline to restart loan payments, irrespective of the outcome of a pair of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that will determine whether President Biden's August 2022 plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt can go into effect."
Mike Pierce, SBPC executive director, said the payment pause "remains one of the most durably popular pieces of economic policy because the American people recognize what Washington has long struggled to understand: the student loan system is broken and the burden of student debt creates a barrier to economic opportunity for all of us."
According to a survey conducted earlier this month by Data for Progress, more than 60% of U.S. voters would support an extension of the payment pause through the end of 2024 if the Supreme Court sides with right-wing challengers and strikes down the Biden administration's student debt cancellation plan.
"The debt limit deal raises the stakes even higher for millions of working people with student debt," Pierce said Tuesday. "We applaud Congresswoman Pressley for standing up for borrowers and their families and fighting to preserve this critical economic lifeline."