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Egypt frees Coptic rights activist Ramy Kamel

Egyptian authorities have released Coptic rights activist Ramy Kamel after more than two years spent in pre-trial detention, his family said Saturday.

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Kamel is a founding member of the Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic human rights organization born in the wake of the January 2011 protests that toppled Egypt’s longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“Rami is among his family… time to celebrate!” his sister Bossi Kamel wrote on Facebook.

Kamel was arrested in November 2019, accused of joining a terror group, receiving foreign funding and spreading false information.

His supporters said he had been sharing footage of sectarian violence in southern Egypt on social media, for which he had received a warning from authorities.

His arrest was condemned at the time by human rights organizations, which have repeatedly called for his release.

In a November 2021 report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said the charges against Kamel were “spurious” and that he had “neither been offered release on bail nor granted an actual trial — only periodic sham hearings that perpetually extend his detention”.

Kamel’s arrest was likely a bid to prevent him speaking about the persecution of religious minorities at a United Nations conference, USCIRF said in the report.

USCIRF and others have raised concerns about the activist’s mental and physical health, saying he has been kept in solitary confinement and suffers from acute asthma which has worsened in detention.

Coptic Christians, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, make up about 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 100 million.

They have long faced sectarian discrimination and complain that they are sidelined from senior posts in the justice system, universities, the police, and the military.

They also have endured intermittent sectarian attacks, especially in remote and impoverished villages in southern Egypt.

There have been incidents of Copts being forcibly evicted from their homes by Muslim neighbors in southern Egypt, often with the tacit approval of authorities.

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Pro-Iranian forces in Syria warn they can respond to further US strikes

Pro-Iranian forces in Syria said in an online statement late Friday that they have a “long arm” to respond to further US strikes on their positions, after tit-for-tat strikes in Syria over the last 24 hours.

The statement, signed by the Iranian Advisory Committee in Syria, said US strikes had left several fighters dead and wounded, without specifying their nationality.

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“We have the capability to respond if our centers and forces in Syria are targeted,” the statement said.

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US warns China’s promises often empty as Honduras wavers on Taiwan

China often makes promises in exchange for recognition that remain unfulfilled, the de facto US embassy in Taipei said on Saturday as Honduras moves ahead with ending its long-standing ties with Taiwan in favor of China.

The Honduran foreign minister travelled to China this week to open relations after President Xiomara Castro said her government would move to forge ties with Beijing, Honduras being one of only 14 countries to formally recognize Taiwan.

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At stake is China’s growing footprint in Central America, once a steadfast base for Taiwan and where the United States is worried about Beijing’s expanding influence in its backyard.

China views Taiwan as one of its provinces with no right to state-to-state ties, a view the democratically elected government in Taipei strongly disputes.

The American Institute in Taiwan said that while Honduras’ possible severing of ties with Taipei in favor of Beijing was a sovereign decision, China does not always follow through on its promises.

“It is important to note the PRC often makes promises in exchange for diplomatic recognition that ultimately remain unfulfilled,” a spokesperson said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

“Regardless of Honduras’ decision, the United States will continue to deepen and expand our engagement with Taiwan in line with our longstanding one China policy,” the spokesperson added.

Taiwan is a reliable, likeminded, and democratic partner, and its partnerships globally provide “significant and sustainable benefits to the citizens of those countries”.

“We strongly encourage all countries to expand engagement with
Taiwan and to continue to stand on the side of democracy, good governance, transparency, and adherence to the rule of law.”

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but it has previously said its relations with Taiwan’s former diplomatic allies have brought them real benefits.

The Honduras drama is happening ahead of a high-profile visit by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to the United States and Central America next week. Tsai is expected to meet US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles at the end of the trip.

The United States also has no official ties with Taiwan but is the island’s most important international backer and arms supplier.

Neither China nor Honduras has announced they have established diplomatic relations.

Diplomatic sources in Taipei say this is a departure from previous practice whereby an announcement on severing ties with Taiwan in favour of China normally happens very fast, with Taipei getting only maybe a few hours notice beforehand.

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Biden says China ‘hasn’t yet’ delivered arms to Russia

US President Joe Biden on Friday said he believed China has not sent arms to Russia after President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine.

“I’ve been hearing now for the past three months (that) China is going to provide significant weapons to Russia… They haven’t yet. Doesn’t mean they won’t, but they haven’t yet,” he told a news conference during a visit to Canada.

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“I don’t take China lightly. I don’t take Russia lightly,” he added, while also suggesting that reports of their rapprochement had probably been “exaggerated.”

Conversely, Biden stressed the strong ties among Western democracies, saying “if anything’s happened, the West has coalesced significantly more.”

He pointed to US security alliances in the Pacific region such as the Quad which also includes Australia, India and Japan and as well as AUKUS with Australia and Britain.

During a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow this week, Russia and Beijing for their part hailed “the special nature” of their relations.

But while China’s leader pledged a trade lifeline and some moral support, more conspicuous was that he did not commit to providing arms for Russia’s depleted forces in Ukraine, a move that would have invited Western sanctions on China.

There was also no long-term Chinese commitment to buy vast quantities of Russian gas that is no longer flowing to Europe.

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