Ecuadorian Opposition Journalist Seeks Help From U.S. Rights Groups

WASHINGTON — An Ecuadorian journalist whose home was raided by authorities and who has been sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of libeling the president has come to the United States to consult with rights groups and possibly seek asylum.

Fernando Villavicencio is a longtime Ecuadorian opposition activist and investigative journalist, most recently for the independent website Plan V. In December, police raided his home, taking computers full of documents Villavicencio was using in his reporting on corruption in Ecuador’s oil industry. And he has been sentenced to two years in prison on a separate charge.

“I’m analyzing the situation and I’m not going to prison,” Villlavicencio said. “Being a journalist is not a crime. Being different from them is not a crime. Fighting against corruption is not a crime.”

This week he was sentenced to two years in prison for a 2011 case in which President Rafael Correa sued Villavicencio and a national assemblyman, Clever Jimenez, for libel. The pair asked the assembly to open an investigation on Correa’s portrayal of the the large-scale police protests in 2010 as a coup attempt. He is also being ordered to pay nearly $200,000 in fines and apologize to the president, he said.

Villavicencio said in an interview at the BuzzFeed office in Washington on Friday that he does not plan to go to prison and is considering asking for political asylum.

He said that if the sentence is “executed,” he will not be returning to Ecuador. Correa has pardoned those he accused of libel before, including the newspaper El Universo. Meanwhile, steps are being taken to arrange for his wife and children to come to the United States.

In Washington and New York, Villavicencio has met with a number of human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Human Rights Foundation, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, to seek their support in his situation.

He described in detail the raid on his house in December which took place in front of his wife and children, saying that over 20 police officers and people from the prosecutors’ office had entered with guns had entered his house and taken his computers and flash drives.

Villavicencio and his allies have argued that the raid is an example of a breakdown in judicial independence because the raid was not precipitated by a legal order but instead an “urgent action” document issued by Correa’s general counsel Alexis Mera, which was provided to BuzzFeed:

Villavicencio was accused of hacking into government email accounts, an issue that has become a flash point between the government and opposition activists as both sides have accused the other of hacking into their emails. A state-run newspaper, El Telegrafo, recently ran emails from opposition political figure Martha Roldos which showed her corresponding with people from the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy as well as two NGOs to try and secure funding for an independent news venture.

Villavicencio called the Ecuadorian government’s housing of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for a year and a half, a “double standard.” He described a dire situation for journalists in Ecuador, where a broad communications law passed last year has restricted free speech by criminalizing “media lynching,” or harming the reputation of public figures without sufficient evidence.

“Due to this new communications law there is almost no investigative journalism in Ecuador and no one in the national assembly is doing these kind of investigations,” Villavicencio said. He said that journalists must communicate with their sources via a clandestine “black market” of closed envelopes, flash drives, and CDs.

BuzzFeed reported last year that Ecuador, despite its housing of Assange and onetime offer of asylum to Edward Snowden, had bought spy equipment designed for domestic surveillance and kept close tabs on journalists and opposition politicians.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/rosiegray/ecuadorian-opposition-journalist-seeks-help-from-us-rights-g

Is The Leader Of Chechnya Faking His Instagram?

Early on Wednesday, Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal leader of Chechnya, posted this photo on his Instagram account.


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It looks remarkably similar to this image he posted last month.


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Kadyrov launched the account earlier this year to soften his brutal image.

Run, Dutch photographer, run.


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Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/miriamelder/is-the-leader-of-chechnya-faking-his-instagram

Saudi Women Get Behind The Wheel

Faisal Al Nasser / Reuters

More than 60 women got behind the wheel on Saturday for the largest protest against a law restricting female drivers in Saudi Arabia’s history.

Though several women reported being stopped by police and questioned, most said they were welcomed by other drivers on the road.

“Most other cars did not notice that there was a woman behind the wheel, but one man stopped and honked at me. I was afraid for a moment that he was going to threaten to attack, but he smiled and waved and kept driving,” said Rana, a young Saudi activist who asked to be identified only by her first name. “It just goes to show that Saudi is ready for us. The only thing keeping all women from driving is fear.”

Saudi professor and activist Aziza Youssef said that she and other activists received phone calls from Saudi government officials warning them not to drive. On Saturday, she reported that two suspicious cars followed her all day.

In Riyadh, 60-year-old Madehah al-Ajroush told the Wall Street Journal that she was followed all of Saturday morning by men in plainclothes who trailed closely behind her as she drove to a McDonalds and a shopping mall.

Ajroush, who is known to Saudi officials through her previous activism in driving campaigns in 1990 and 2011, went to a toy store in the shopping mall and handed the two men who had been following her a small toy car.

The activist said she told them: “Hello. Today is Oct. 26, (the main driving-day set by campaigners against the driving ban) and I just wanted you to have this gift.”

Warnings from the Saudi government earlier this week that women drivers would face repercussions for breaking the law did manage to scare many women away from taking part in Saturday’s protest. But Saudi activists said that in the end, no one was arrested and none of the feared counter-campaigns materialized.

May al Sawyan, a 32-year-old mother of two, was one of the first to upload a video of herself driving. Like many, she has a driving license from abroad, but has never been able to drive in Saudi Arabia because the country does not issue licenses to women.

The four-minute video shows her taking a short drive from her home to the grocery store.

“I just took a small loop. I didn’t drive for a long way, but it was fine. I went to the grocery store,” she told the Associated Press, adding that she was prepared for the risk of detention if caught.

Sawyan drove with a local female television reporter in the car – both of them without male relatives in the vehicle, which defies Saudi Arabia’s law requiring women to have a male guardian in public at all times.

A YouTube page dedicated to supporting the Saudi women’s driving campaign saw more than a dozen videos uploaded throughout the day.

The videos were impossible to independently verify, but most features women telling the camera that they were driving on Oct. 26 in some of Saudi Arabia’s largest cities.

Saudi activists say that Saturday’s protest was just the beginning, and that they plan to continue driving throughout the month of November.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/sheerafrenkel/saudi-women-get-behind-the-wheel

Police Violence In India Drives A Gay Couple To The U.S. — And A Detention Cell

Millions of gay Indians suddenly became criminals when the Indian Supreme Court restored the country’s sodomy law in December. But the ruling actually helped set one couple free.

When the ruling was issued, two men from northwest India had spent more than six months in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in El Paso, Texas, waiting for a judge to decide on their petition for asylum. It was a bitter ending to their yearlong journey across more than 10 countries to reach the United States. They had left India after death threats from their family and being targeted for police abuse because of their sexual orientation, though at the time the law criminalizing same-sex relationships was suspended by a lower court ruling. And when they finally reached the country that they expected to protect their rights, they wound up in a facility that felt exactly like prison.

The whole experience had felt cruelly backward to the couple, so it was perhaps fitting that the U.S. released them from detention only when they formally became criminals at home.

A U.S. judge granted the pair asylum on Dec. 20 based on their experience of police abuse and threats from their families to kill them if they returned. But even now they don’t feel that much safer than when they left India, which is why they only agreed to speak to BuzzFeed under names they chose for themselves, Manoj and Maninder, rather than their real names.

A cousin in a small city in the midwest paid their airfare to join him, but he kicked them out of his house once they’d worked off the cost of tickets at the restaurant where he works. They were then taken in by the owner of another Indian restaurant, where they now work full days without pay in exchange for shelter. They told the owner they are brothers; if he finds out the truth, they are certain he will kick them out. They could only speak by phone late in the evening, fearing discovery if their boss was around.

They also worried that speaking to the press could lead the U.S. government to retaliate by arresting or deporting them, though their lawyers have assured them this isn’t possible. Their abuse in India and harassment while in detention makes it hard for them to believe their ordeal is over. Only Manoj speaks enough English to give a full interview; Maninder was too frightened to give an interview in Hindi.

Manoj and Maninder both group up in Sirsa, a small city about a four-hour drive to the northwest of Delhi. Manoj, who is now 28, is the son of a construction contractor, but as a boy he was drawn to dance and trained to be a choreographer, though his family disapproved. That’s how he met Maninder, now 25, who also trained as a dancer.

Manoj knew from a young age that he was gay, but when his parents picked a bride for him at 16, he married her without argument. Two years earlier, he’d watched as his uncle — who was just a couple years older than him — was beaten so seriously that he wound up in the hospital after he tried to run away to escape an arranged marriage.

Manoj still had time to steel himself to consummate the marriage; under local custom, his wife didn’t come to live with his family until a few years after they married. But he couldn’t follow through when she finally came to live with him after he turned 19. His family said he was shaming them by not producing a child. His wife confided to her sister that they were not having sex; she believed he was instead running around with the girls who passed through his dance classes.

“I don’t want to agree [to have sex with her] because I don’t have any feeling [for her],” he said in idiosyncratic English. “I’m trying but I can’t.”

Word spread throughout his community and his family became violent. They “tortured” him, Manoj said, hitting and kicking him, and sometimes neighbors would assault him as well.

Yet in a sense he felt he was getting off easy, he said. Had they known he was gay, he said, “they would kill me at once.”

While enduring the trouble at home, Manoj stayed away from Maninder, though they both knew they had feelings for each other. It was simply too dangerous for them to meet somewhere their families could find out.

Then, in 2010, when Manoj was around 25 and Maninder about 22, they found a chance to get away from Sirsa. Their escape came thanks to a reality television show called Dance Premier League, in which teams from across India compete under the tutelage of a celebrity choreographer. Manoj was going to audition in Jaipur, a city a six-hour drive to the south, and he persuaded Maninder to give it a shot as well.

Maninder didn’t make the cut, but Manoj did, keeping them in Jaipur for around 10 days. But the prospect of being on television was far less important than the chance to be alone together in a hotel room.

Their time away was so wonderful that the return home was unbearable, Manoj said. “Oh my god, we are feeling … we cannot stay without each other,” Manoj said. Back in Sirsa, “we cannot [even] talk openly, we cannot leave [the house], we cannot meet.”

So after four months, Manoj came up with a plan to get them out of Sirsa for good. He would rent them an apartment in Chandigarh, a city four hours to the northwest, where they knew no one. To justify the move to their families, they both enrolled in a degree program in animation at a local university.

The freedom they found in Chandigarh was amazing at first; Manoj said they were not apart “even for one minute” while they lived there. They told everyone they were brothers, but their affection for each other was too obvious — their neighbors saw through their cover after a couple of months.

“We both [showed] a lot of love for each other,” Manoj said. “People are thinking, Why are they always together like husband and wife?

When they were discovered, Manoj said, they were “beaten many times,” so “we are trying to change address many times in Chandigarh; first, two, three months in this address, then after three months other address.” They also took many trips to other parts of India — Uttarakhand, Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh — to try to enjoy some time in a place where they were not known, but “everywhere is discrimination,” Manoj said.

But they made do moving from place to place until 2011, when they endured an attack so bad that they lost hope.

Manoj said it was too painful to go into much detail about the incident, but he shared the outlines of what happened. A mob turned on them and held them until police came, who took them to a remote part of town where they “did sexual abuse.” When it was over, an officer put a gun to their heads and threatened to execute them if they told anyone what happened.

“We thought we have only just one chance: only suicide,” Manoj said. Such a step would not be uncommon; for the past several decades, stories have frequently appeared in Indian newspapers of same-sex couples committing double suicide.

But Manoj’s best friend gave them another idea. “He told us suicide is not the last option. He gave us suggestion [to go to] the United States … because the United States has very good protection for homosexuals,” Manoj said.

The friend, a businessman, even offered to help pay for their escape. He didn’t have enough money to get them directly to the United States, but he could get them away from the reach of Indian police and their families, who they also feared could learn of their relationship at any moment.

“You have to leave India,” his friend instructed. “If you will stay here, your family [will] know … you’re a homosexual. For sure they will kill you, or the community will kill you, [or] the government will kill you. … You have to leave from here.”

So they first went to Cyprus, because they could easily obtain student visas by enrolling in a business administration program in the city of Larnaca on the island’s southern coast. The eight months or so that bought them would give them time to pull together the funds and work on getting U.S. visas. But they couldn’t find any work. By the time their visas ran out, they still hadn’t secured permission to come to the U.S.

They thought about returning to India, but when they spoke with their families on the phone, they threatened to kill them if they returned now that it was known they were gay. Without a U.S. visa, they worked out a long-shot plan with their friend’s help: They bought a ticket to Ecuador (via connections in Dubai, Brazil, and Colombia) because the country required no visa. Then the friend would make arrangements for them to be smuggled to the United States.

They spent almost a month in the city of Guayaquil, near Ecuador’s Pacific coast, a period in which they were almost totally isolated. Back in Cyprus, Manoj had combed Facebook to find gay English speakers in the city who might help them, and he made a friend who helped them secure a hotel room and get there from the airport. But they didn’t see him after he dropped them off and they could hardly communicate with anyone they met.

They survived on potato chips for a few days until they found an Indian restaurant, Manoj said, because even the process of ordering a meal was more than they could manage.

They waited there while their friend negotiated with smugglers over the cost of their transport to the U.S., Manoj said. He didn’t have enough money to pay for them to get all the way. Eventually, they worked out that the couple could fly to Nicaragua and go over land from there.

A smuggler met them at the Managua airport and deposited them in a house with others waiting for a ride north. They waited a week until word came from the smugglers’ associates in Mexico that they could start making the trip. Manoj and Maninder were packed into the back of a truck. It looked just big enough to hold four or five people, but they crammed in about 20.

They were trapped in there for 30 hours, during which they did not eat or drink; the migrants passed around a plastic bottle when they needed to urinate. They thought they were on the verge of suffocating many times before the doors opened in Guatemala.

They were stashed along with three others at a house in Guatemala while they waited for the next stage of the trip. As the days wore on, they didn’t know if anyone was even coming for them — the smugglers threatened to kill them when they tried to ask when they were leaving. They couldn’t contact their friend because their phone had been stolen, along with the rest of the possessions taken by the smugglers or other migrants: their laptop, their socks — even their underwear.

And to make things worse, they felt they were to blame for their troubles, Manoj said. “We are just feeling guilty: ‘Why we are homosexual, why we always have these kind of problems?’ We are asking God, ‘Why did you make us like that?’”

After 10 or 15 days — Manoj had lost track — a truck finally pulled up and took them to the bus station. They drove 40 hours across Honduras and El Salvador and into Mexico, where they waited two hours before being loaded onto a truck to Mexico City along with three men from El Salvador. They waited there for another 20 days or so, before they were piled onto a bus to Ciudad Juarez, across the river from El Paso.

When they arrived in Juarez, a woman climbed onto the bus and took them to another house, where they waited for five days waiting for instructions on how to cross the border. Then, Manoj said, she told them they would enter the United States by “going through the jungle and river.”

But the couple said they didn’t want to sneak across the border. They would walk right up to the border agents and ask for asylum.

“We already broke a lot of rules [to get to the border],” Manoj recalled. “Now we don’t want to break rules, we go by bridge… Because we’re going to stay in the United States, we do not want to do anything illegal.”

As they walked across the bridge on June 8, 2013, a year after they had left India, they thought their ordeal was almost over. All the promises they’d heard about the United States’ protections for LGBT people led them to believe they would be quickly ushered to safety.

Instead, it was just the beginning of another ordeal, which recalled their bad memories of dealings with the Indian police. When they told border agents they were seeking asylum because of their relationship, they said they were publicly mocked and outed to other detainees.

“They are using bad comment with each other,” Manoj said, remarks like, “You are homosexuals — who’s the husband and who’s the wife?”

“We didn’t expect that. We were thinking, [the U.S. will be] amazing,” Manoj said. “But when we got in, oh my god … they [had] this fucking response.”

They were separated for their asylum interviews and then taken to a detention center. Though Manoj said they had initially been promised they would be quickly reunited, several days passed before he knew whether Maninder was even in the same facility. For all Manoj knew, Maninder could have been sent back to India.

Finally, a sympathetic guard told him that Maninder was in another unit in the same facility, but said he couldn’t be transferred so they could be together. Eleven days passed before they could arrange a meeting — they were allowed worship hours on Sunday, and a guard agreed to pass on the message that Maninder should meet Manoj at the chapel.

They began crying when they finally saw each other— but they didn’t dare embrace. They were housed with other Indians, who they feared would attack them if it became known that they were a couple.

“We cannot hug each other because they will have very bad thinking,” Manoj said. “I [was] saying to everybody, ‘He’s my brother.’”

They kept up this pretense as best they could; at first, just a handful of guards knew the truth of their relationship. But word eventually spread through the guards, Manoj said, and some started outing them to other detainees as a form of harassment.

In one incident, Manoj and Maninder were preparing documentation for their asylum case in the facility’s library when the guard on duty told other prisoners they were a couple and instructed them to follow the pair to ensure they didn’t have sex. For the next two months, Manoj said, he was followed so obsessively that one of the men stood behind him when he went to the urinal.

LGBT detainees frequently report harassment, say immigrant-rights advocates. And several have alleged far more brutal treatment than Manoj and Maninder. In 2011, the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center filed a mass civil rights complaint on behalf of 13 LGBT detainees whose experience, the organization said, demonstrated that the Department of Homeland Security “is incapable of ensuring safe and non-punitive conditions for sexual minorities.” These included allegations of sexual assault by guards and extended punitive periods in the equivalent of solitary confinement under the guise of protecting LGBT detainees from violence.

Manoj and Maninder were never assaulted, though Manoj described at least one three-day period in isolation, locked in “a small room like hell.” He firmly believes homophobia motivated their being kept detention in the first place — “This is sure,” he said. They were denied parole even after lawyers with Immigration Equality — a group that provides legal assistance to LGBT immigrants — appealed to Washington for their release. (The attorney working on the case, Clement Lee, declined to speculate on the reasons parole was denied, but said that they met all the requirements for parole yet were turned down on four separate occasions.)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said she could not comment on Manoj and Maninder’s experience without knowing their real names. However, she said, much of the treatment they described would be “contrary to ICE policy … [and] counterproductive to the good order and discipline of operating an ICE detention facility.” Allegations of harassment and abuse are investigated, and “appropriate action” is taken when corroborated, she said, adding that the agency has had an initiative to improve oversight of detention conditions since August 2009.

Maninder’s case came before an immigration judge on Dec. 20, 2013, nine days after the Indian Supreme Court upheld the country’s sodomy law. The judgment reversed a sweeping ruling defending LGBT rights by a lower court, shocking LGBT advocates in India and provoking outrage worldwide. They may have had a shot at asylum even without the ruling, but it certainly bolstered their case. They had to demonstrate they could not have found safety in another part of India — cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, or Delhi, hubs of LGBT organizing — to escape persecution.

At the hearing, the judge combined Manoj’s case with Maninder’s and granted them asylum. They were released the same day and boarded a plane to Wisconsin.

Now, after their 18-month ordeal, their life isn’t so much different than it was in India — enmeshed in a small Indian community in the Midwest, the two men are still pretending to be brothers, fearing they will end up homeless or worse if their community finds out the truth.

“We are feeling like homosexuality is a crime everywhere,” he told me. “Why [did] we come into the United States? There is not any protection here.”

Though he sees the U.S. as a small step up from India, he now doubts there is anywhere in the world they would feel truly safe.

“We have wish to stay in the sky, not here. Not on Earth,” he said.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/a-gay-couple-flees-police-violence-in-india-only-to-wind-up

John Kerry Gave The Russian Foreign Minister Two Potatoes Because Why Not

Pool / Reuters
Pool / Reuters

These haven’t been the easiest times for U.S.–Russia relations. From disagreements over Syria to Moscow’s sheltering of National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden, things have been tense to say the least.

So when Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris on Monday ahead of peace talks on Syria scheduled for later this month, he thought he would break the ice with…potatoes.

Kerry said the potatoes came from Idaho, which he had recently visited. Lavrov said the potatoes were “impressive.”

Lavrov and Kerry discussed the possibility of brokering a partial ceasefire and opening an aid corridor as they prepare for Jan. 22 peace talks on Syria in a bid to find a diplomatic solution to a brutal conflict that has killed more than 130,000 people.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/miriamelder/john-kerry-gave-the-russian-foreign-minister-two-potatoes-be

Protesters Topple Lenin Statue In Ukraine And Smash It To Bits

KIEV, Ukraine — Protesters toppled a statue of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin with an electric cable and broke it into pieces with a hammer Sunday, the clearest sign yet that President Viktor Yanukovych has lost control of the capital to pro-European protesters.

Several hundred people waved flags, sang the national anthem, and chanted “Yanukovych, you’re next!” as passing cars honked in support. A few policemen stood by helplessly before wandering off sheepishly.

The right-wing nationalist Svoboda party, one of the three major opposition groups, claimed responsibility for toppling the statue, the Ukrainskie Novosti news agency reported. Police said in a statement that they were investigating the incident and believed Svoboda’s fiercely anti-Russian and anti-Soviet members were responsible. Many of the people celebrating by the statue chanted nationalist slogans and waved right-wing groups’ flags.

Hundreds of protesters attacked the statue a week ago, but were driven off by riot police.

The prominent statue was surrounded by protesters.

Gleb Garanich / Reuters

The protesters formed a human wall as the statue was hooked up with an electric cable.

Stringer / Reuters

And toppled.

Stringer / Reuters

The statue landed head first into the concrete below.

Stringer / Reuters

Stoyan Nenov / Reuters

And Lenin’s head was buried deep into the concrete.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

The Ukrainian protesters moved in to finish it.

Stoyan Nenov / Reuters

An orthodox priest blessed a sledgehammer in front of the crowd…

…and with the priest’s blessing, the statue was smashed to bits.

Stoyan Nenov / Reuters

Smashed.

Stringer / Reuters

To bits.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

Parts of the statue were paraded through the street.

Stringer / Reuters

And the protesters defiantly stood atop the statue.

Stringer / Reuters

The pedestal now holds jubilant protesters carrying Ukrainian and EU flags.

Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters

This guy has the best Facebook cover photo in Ukraine right now.

Stoyan Nenov / Reuters

This is the clearest sign yet that the pro-Russian ruling party has lost control of Ukraine’s capitol city.

Stringer / Reuters


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Watch the Lenin statue come down:

Misha Luzin / Via youtube.com

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/protesters-topple-lenin-statue-in-ukraine

U.S., U.K. Activists Urge Jamaicans To Keep Same-Sex Intercourse Illegal

Peter LaBarbera speaking at an Oct. 22 rally opposing marriage equality in Illinois. Via Tony Merevick/BuzzFeed

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Activists from the United States and United Kingdom opposed to LGBT rights have urged Jamaican Christian conservatives to resist repealing the country’s buggery law, similar to sodomy laws, by arguing that homosexuality is a choice and connected to pedophilia.

Peter LaBarbera, founder of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, told the conference: “Do not be like us, do not be like Britain, do not sit idly by as so-called ‘LGBT activists’ manipulate words and laws to achieve dominance in your country.”

LaBarbera and Andrea Minichiello Williams, founder of the United Kingdom’s Christian Concern, spoke Saturday at a conference organized by the Jamaican Coalition for a Healthy Society and the Christian Lawyers’ Association in Kingston.

The groups are lobbying against the repeal of a colonial-era law banning same-sex intercourse, known as the “buggery law.” Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller suggested she might put the law to a vote during her 2011 campaign. Her government has not yet taken any action on the legislation, but Justice Minister Mark Golding told BuzzFeed this week that he hoped to raise it next year as part of a broad review of the country’s sexual offenses law.

Reiterating many of the same themes he’s made over time in fighting LGBT rights in America, LaBarbera pulled out many of arguments that led him and his organization to be targeted by the Southern Poverty Law Center and GLAAD for making false claims.

“Homosexuals are made, they’re not born,” LaBarbera said to applause, while telling stories of people he said had stopped being gay or transgender thanks to Christian conversion. “The dirty little secret that the media and homosexual activists are desperate — desperate — to squelch is that people are coming out of homosexuality every day. This is the work of God, this is the work of Jesus.”

LaBarbera, a longtime activist opposing LGBT rights in America, said he was working on a book on the connection between “homosexual activism and pedophiles.” He said that after winning rights like marriage and protection for gay kids in schools, U.S. activists were now championing the rights of MAPS, or “minor-attracted persons.”

“Homosexuals are always on offense,” he said. “It’s another secret that American activists don’t like to tell is that NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, used to march in gay pride parades.”

Public health and LGBT rights advocates have called for a decriminalization of same-sex relationships, arguing that the buggery law inhibits outreach to prevent the spread of HIV. LaBarbera countered, though, with his argument that if the problem is that men who have sex with men are at high risk of HIV infection, then it is better to keep same-sex intercourse illegal.

“They’re telling you that if they just get rid of your anti-buggery law, that’s going to help stem the tide of HIV? What we have here is an Isaiah 5:20 world: good is evil and evil is good,” he said.

LaBarbera closed his remarks by criticizing President Barack Obama, who has made the promotion of LGBT rights a foreign policy priority:

I do not stand with my government. I’m a patriotic American, but I do not stand with the current United States government in its promotion of homosexuality and gender confusion. But I do stand with the Jamaican people … I pray that you will learn from our mistakes and from lessons of history and avoid the inevitable moral corruption and health hazards and the danger to young people that come from capitulating to this sin movement that calls itself gay. It is almost now can be predicted with 100 percent accuracy, if the law is a teacher: If you take down this law, it will only lead to more demands. Appeasement does not work.

During her remarks, Andrea Minichiello Williams of the United Kingdom’s Christian Concern said Jamaica had the opportunity to become a world leader by fending off foreign pressure to decriminalize same-sex intercourse.

“Might it be that Jamaica says to the United States of America, says to Europe, ‘Enough! You cannot come in and attack our families. We will not accept aid or promotion tied to an agenda that is against God and destroys our families,’” she said, adding to applause, “If you win here, you will have an impact in the Caribbean and an impact across the globe.”

She made the case that it is a “big lie” that homosexuality is inborn, arguing instead it is caused by environmental factors like “the lack of the father” and “sometimes a level of abuse.” She illustrated her point with the case of 19-year-old British diver Tom Daley and his reported relationship with American screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

Daley, she said, who is “loved by all the girls and had girlfriends,” had “lost his father to cancer just a few years ago and he’s just come out on YouTube that he’s in a relationship with a man, that man is 39, a leading gay activist in the States.”

Williams warned that removal of Britain’s sodomy law was the start of a process that has led to more and more permissive laws, including equalizing the age of consent laws for homosexual and heterosexual intercourse.

“Once you strip away all this stuff, what you get is no age consent … nobody ever enforces that law anymore,” she said. “We already have a strong man-boy movement that’s moving in Europe.”

She also described several cases in which she said people had been fired for their jobs for their opposition to LGBT rights and said people with views like hers are being silenced in the media and intimidated with the threats of hate-speech lawsuits. This was especially true, she suggested, when organizations like hers try to claim a connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, she said.

“They hate the line of homosexuality being linked to pedophilia. They try to cut that off, so you can’t speak about it,” she said. “So I say to you in Jamaica: Speak about it. Speak about it.”

She took issue with the notion that advancing such arguments in opposition to expanding legal rights for LGBT people was hate speech. On the contrary, she said, “We say these things because we’re loving, we’re compassionate, we’re kind, because we care for our children…. It is not compassion and kind to have laws that lead people [to engage] in their sins [that] lead to the obliteration of life, the obliteration of culture, and the obliteration of family.”

The group co-hosting the conference recently launched a video opposing the buggery law’s repeal. Wayne West, who heads the Jamaican Coalition for a Healthy Society, said he wanted the law to stay in place because he fears undoing it will ultimately lead to the silencing of people who share his beliefs.

“I would not have held that we should tell people what they should or should not do [in private],” he said. “However, we observe that when the buggery law has been removed it’s not simply a matter of [sexual] morality in cases like the United States, in England … in Canada… It is attendant with it punishment for people who disagree” with LGBT rights.

It has been LGBT Jamaicans, though, who have faced danger in recent months. At least two LGBT people are believed to have been murdered in the country over the summer, while others have become the target of angry mobs — including four men who were the target of a firebomb in October.

JCHS’s video opposing repeal of the buggery law

youtube.com / Via youtube.com

J. Lester Feder is a foreign correspondent for BuzzFeed and 2013 Alicia Patterson journalism fellow.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/us-uk-activists-urge-jamaicans-to-keep-same-sex-intercourse

Is There Really A “Meteorite Church” In Russia?

Locals in the Russian province hit by a spectacular meteorite shower this February say that the sunken space rock is a message from God that has the power to bring about the apocalypse.

The Chelyabinsk Meteorite Church claims to already have 50 members and is filing for legal recognition, according to local news. For now, worshippers meet by the side of Lake Chebarkul in Chelyabinsk province, where the meteorite landed, to pray that divers abandon an operation to salvage the meteorite that they worry could damage its celestial data.

“A lot of the information is still on the heavenly bearer itself and that needs visionaries to have closer contact with the tablets,” church founder Andrei Breivchenko said. “We can already see the noosphere’s indignation at constant attempts to salvage the meteorite in the super-charged international tension around Syria.”

Breivchenko added that he had already drawn up plans for a church to house the meteorite, which he said would draw millions of pilgrims from around the world to Chelyabinsk — a industrial city in the Ural Mountains near Siberia and a favorite target for Russian jokes about its grimness.

Priests with extrasensory perception have already studied part of the meteorite’s message, Breivchenko said, but cannot access the rest without touching it. What exactly that message is remains unclear and unmentioned in Breivchenko’s two interviews to Russian media. A follower told tabloid website LifeNews that the water from the lake now has the same properties as holy water, but that worshippers are testing it out on house plants before drinking it themselves.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/is-their-really-a-meteorite-church-in-russia

Russians Laundered $23.7 Million In Corrupt Cash Through NYC Real Estate, Says U.S. Attorney

Alexander Zemlianichenko, File / AP

American officials are seeking to seize $23.7 million in high-end Manhattan real estate they say were purchased with money from a huge fraud exposed by a lawyer who later died in prison.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed a civil forfeiture complaint Monday against properties held by nine offshore companies and the assets of two other companies they say laundered part of the proceeds of a huge Russian tax fraud that caused a rift in U.S.-Russian relations.

“Today’s forfeiture action is a significant step towards uncovering and unwinding a complex money laundering scheme arising from a notorious foreign fraud,” Bharara said in a statement. “A Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate. While New York is a world financial capital, it is not a safe haven for criminals seeking to hide their loot, no matter how and where their fraud took place.”

The complaint says that the real estate was purchased with money traced to a $230 million Russian tax fraud known as the “Magnitsky case” for the whistle-blowing lawyer who uncovered it. Sergei Magnitsky alleged in 2008 that corrupt officials and criminals conspired to steal subsidiaries of his client, Hermitage Capital Management, and claim a $230 million tax refund. He was jailed by the same officials he accused and died in prison a year later, aged 37. A report by Russia’s presidential human rights council in 2011 found that he had been systematically tortured, but President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied there was any criminality in Magnitsky’s death.

Hermitage’s owner, London-based investor William Browder, has spent the years since Magnitsky’s death campaigning to bring the officials to justice and attempting to trace the $230 million. Congress passed a law named after Magnitsky last year introducing sanctions and visa bans against 18 officials accused of human rights violations, including some of those named in the fraud. Russia responded by banning all adoptions of Russian children by Americans and filing separate tax evasion charges against Browder and Magnitsky, who by then had been dead for over three years. A Moscow court convicted both men in July.

“It became clear that we needed to get justice outside of Russia, and one way to get justice outside of Russia was to track the money,” Browder told BuzzFeed. Browder’s lawyers were helped by Swiss banking documents provided by Alexander Pereplichny, another whistleblower who died in unexplained circumstances in Britain late last year, before lobbying the U.S. to file charges. Switzerland has frozen bank accounts linked to the fraud.

Three Russians are named in the complaint, including Denis Katsyv, the son of a former deputy governor of Moscow province. Katsyv is the owner of Prevenzon Holdings, a Cyprus-based company U.S. officials say laundered money from the fraud. He has denied being involved with the fraud or benefiting from the case.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/russians-laundered-237-million-in-corrupt-cash-through-nyc-r

These Vladimir Putin Tattoos Are Works Of Art

Considering a tattoo of the Russian president? You’ve got options.

2. Black-and-white Putin.

Tattoo Catalog / Via tattoo-catalog.ru

Other choices in the “famous portraits” collection include Stalin, Lenin, Osama bin Laden and Chuck Norris.

3. Patriotic Putin, in vivid color.

Mario Hartmann / Via facebook.com

Along with the onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, he’ll always be at your side.

4. Girlie Putin.

AFP / Getty Images / Via Offbeat Ink

Temporary tattoos of Putin were all the rage in the Siberian city of Omsk in 2008. Russian tattoo artist Tatiana Zharova offered two versions — a “cunning and romantic” Putin for ladies and a “more focused, more serious and you can say more evil” one for men.

5. Character-building Putin.

Aleksei Barinov was a college student in Nizhny Novgorod when he had Putin tattooed on his thigh in 2008. To keep his mind off the pain while getting inked, he channeled his idol. “I tried to smile and think about what a courageous man Putin is,” Barinov told a Russian reporter.

6. Day of the Dead Putin.

Tattoo artist Oleg Shepelenko said this Putin tattoo was one of the most bizarre customer requests he’s received.

7. But not all Putin ink is worn by fans.

EPA/ANATOLY MALTSEV/LANDOV

An opposition activist in St. Petersburg had the words “Putin is a thief!” tattooed across his forearm. According to journalist Arseny Smolyak, the tattoo artist knocked 50% off the price after hearing the customer’s request.

8. And, not to be forgotten, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also has at least one very serious admirer.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/susiearmitage/these-vladimir-putin-tattoos-are-works-of-art