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Eight member states of UN Human Rights Council 'put believers and atheists in jail'



2831030-3x2-940x627Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) has just released its Annual World Freedom of Religion or Belief Prisoners List - three newly elected member states of the UN Human Rights Council and five other members are on its list of 24 countries: China, Morocco and Saudi Arabia  and India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya and South Korea respectively.

In its report, HRWF lists hundreds of prisoners that were behind bars in 2013 due to laws forbidding or restricting their basic rights to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB): (1) freedom to change religion or belief, (2) freedom to share one's religion or beliefs, (3) freedom of association, (4) freedom of worship and assembly, or (5) conscientious objection to military service.

Twenty-four countries were identified as depriving believers of their freedom: Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Eritrea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Libya, Morocco, Nagorno-Karabakh, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The freedom of religion of belief, affirmed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asserts that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his [her] choice." This includes the right not to believe at all in a religion.

In particular, three countries have recently been accepted into the UN Human Rights Council despite their poor religious freedom record and legislation restricting freedom of worship and public manifestation of religion.

For instance, in China, a politically Communist state, all religious groups are obliged to register with a state-controlled religious organization to be allowed to carry out their activities legally and may not deviate from the doctrines approved by the state. FoRB prisoners in China belong to groups that are not recognized by the state (Protestant house churches), are banned as 'evil cults' (Falun Gong), profess allegiance to a spiritual leader living outside China (Roman Catholics faithful to the Pope and Tibetan Buddhists faithful to the Dalai Lama) or are suspected of separatism (Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists). The HRWF report documents several mass arrests and a wide range of individual cases of believers of all faiths serving prison terms.

In Morocco, a Muslim country, a convert was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and was fined for trying to share his new Christian faith with others.

In Saudi Arabia, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, 52 Ethiopian Christians were arrested for participating in a religious service in a private home and subsequently a number of them were deported.

Five other states previously elected and currently members of the UN Human Rights Council have also put believers and atheists behind bars.

In India, a democratic country, a number of Protestants were arrested and briefly detained for converting to Christianity or organizing prayer meetings in private homes.

In Indonesia, an atheist was sentenced to 30 months in prison for posting the statement 'God does not exist' on Facebook, creating cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and starting an atheist page. A pastor spent three months in prison for holding religious services without a valid permit.

In Kazakhstan, a pastor was detained for two months in a psychiatric clinic after a first arrest for allegedly harming the health of a church member by using hallucinogenic communion drinks and was then re-arrested and prosecuted for extremism on the day of his release from a 4-month detention. An atheist was arrested for allegedly inciting religious hatred in his writings about religion and put in a psychiatric hospital before being sent behind bars and released on bail.

In Libya, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, a number of native Christians of Egypt (Copts) were imprisoned for attempting to convert others. One of them died in prison.

 In South Korea, a democratic country, by year's end 599 young Jehovah's Witnesses were each serving 18-month prison terms for conscientious objection to military service. Since the Korean War, 17,549 Witnesses have been sentenced to a combined total of 34,100 years in prison for refusing to perform military service.

According to the mandate of the Human Rights Council: "Members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights."

"Freedom of religion or belief is a human right guaranteed by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration, but in 2013, eight member states of the UN Human Rights Council arrested, detained and sentenced believers and atheists to various prison terms practicing the religion or belief of their choice," said Willy Fautré, director of the Brussels-based organization Human Rights Without Frontiers. "Our best wish for the New Year is that these and the other member states of the Human Rights Council may give the good example to the other nations of the world by releasing such prisoners of conscience and not depriving any other believer or atheist of their freedom in 2014."


EAPM update: Lung cancer screening event beckons, newsletter now available



Greetings all, and please find EAPM’s monthly newsletter by clicking here. Prior to tipping into our previous month, November, and the start of December, we still have our virtual lung cancer screening conference on 10 December, with a wide range of great speakers, a variety of hot topics, and lively Q & A sessions to keep everyone involved, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine(EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Lung cancer screening round table

The round table is entitled ‘Lung Cancer & Early Diagnosis: The Evidence Exists for Lung Screening Guidelines in the EU’, and the idea is to present a case for the co-ordinated implementation of lung-cancer screening across the EU Region.You can check out the agenda of the EAPM 10 December conference on lung-cancer screening here, and register here. In addition, much information can be found in EAPM’s latest newsletter, which is available here.

A perspective on Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

In addition, EAPM recently launched an academic publication on Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), with a multistakeholder perspective to tackle the issue of biomarkers, entitled Piercing the Fog of Alzheimer’s and Related Dementia. The paper is available here.

End of Horizon 2020, looking to the future 

 Horizon 2020 has ben the largest research and innovation funding programme in the whole world. It has had a duration of seven years and ends this month. The successor programme is called Horizon Europe and will be from January 2021 till December 2027. The Commission's proposal for Horizon Europe is an ambitious €100 billion research and innovation programme to succeed Horizon 2020. The European Parliament and the Council of the EU reached in March and April 2019 a provisional agreement on Horizon Europe.

The European Parliament endorsed the provisional agreement on 17 April 2019. Following the political agreement, the Commission has begun a strategic planning process. The result of the process will be set out in a multiannual Strategic Plan to prepare the content in the work programmes and calls for proposal for the first 4 years of Horizon Europe. The strategic planning process will focus in particular on the global challenges and European industrial competitiveness pillar of Horizon Europe. It will also cover the widening participation and strengthening the European Research Area part of the programme as well as relevant activities in other pillars.

Portugal sets out enhanced health co-operation

The Portuguese government will “promote enhanced cooperation between member states in the area of health,” a draft document outlining the government’s priorities for its upcoming Council presidency has announced. The aim is to help “produce and distribute a safe and accessible vaccine”.

COVID-19 delaying cancer advances nearly 18 months, say researchers 

Cancer researchers are afraid advances for patients of the oft-terminal disease may suffer delays of nearly one and a half years — because of the massive reallocation of global resources to fight the COVID-19 crisis, according to a recent survey shared in a blog post shared on the Institute of Cancer Research's website. The scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London told the survey their own research advances would sadly see a delay — on average, six months long — because of the initial lockdown, and subsequent restrictions on laboratory capacity, in addition to the unavailability of national scientific facilities, reports MedicalXpress. With wider effects on charity funds, including disruption of collaboration and interpersonal teamwork between scientists, and the reallocation of research efforts to thwart the COVID-19 crisis, the respondents predict major advances in cancer research would suffer a delay of 17 months, on average.

However, the researchers emphasized how scientific procedures have adapted in several ways to the pandemic — noting how long-lasting damage to cancer research might be mitigated with extra funding from charitable donations, and support from national governments. This is why the researchers called for staffing investment, and new technology like robotics and computing power.

The ICR has discovered more drugs to help cancer patients than any other academic centre in the world — but like many other research institutes it was hit hard with cuts to fundraising income, and grants from other various charities. Consequently, the ICR had to put much of its work on hold amid the initial lockdown, and is as of writing running a critical fundraising appeal to kick-start its research and recover its losses in the race to treat and eventually cure cancer.

EU seeks fast-track bypassing of pharma patents in emergencies 

The European Union wants faster procedures to produce generic versions of drugs without the consent of patent holders, an EU document says, in a move meant to bypass usual intellectual rights protections in exceptional circumstances.

So-called compulsory licensing is allowed under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules in emergencies as a waiver of normal regulations and could be applied during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Commission sees the need to ensure that effective systems for issuing compulsory licences are in place, to be used as a means of last resort and a safety net, when all other efforts to make IP (intellectual property) available have failed,” the document published last week said. The measure, if ever applied, would effectively allow EU states to produce generic drugs without the consent of the pharmaceutical companies that developed them and still own the intellectual property rights.

Health Union

 Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has spent precisely a year in office as of today (1 December), is commemorating the occasion with a debate with S&D group leader Iratxe García and health ministers from Italy, Spain and Sweden on how to move forward with the European Health Union which she has called for

So, who gets the coronavirus vaccine first in the US?

 After months of deliberation and debate, a panel of independent experts in the US advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to decide today (1 December) which Americans it will recommend to get the coronavirus vaccine first, while supply is still short.

The panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, will vote in a public meeting on Tuesday afternoon, and it is expected to advise that health care workers be first in line, along with residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

If the C.D.C. director, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, approves the recommendations, they will be shared with states, which are preparing to receive their first vaccine shipments as soon as mid-December, if the Food and Drug Administration approves an application for emergency use of a vaccine developed by Pfizer. States don’t have to follow the C.D.C.’s recommendations, but most probably will, said Dr. Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents state health agencies.

The committee will meet again soon to vote on which groups should be next to receive priority. Here are answers to some common questions about the vaccine and its distribution. Who will get the vaccine first? Based on its recent discussions, the C.D.C. committee will almost certainly recommend that the nation’s 21 million health care workers be eligible before anyone else, along with three million mostly elderly people living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

And that is everything to start your first week in December – don’t forget, you can still check out the agenda for EAPM’s 10 December event on lung cancer screening here, register here, and the newsletter is available here. Have an excellent and safe start to your week.


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China leads world in new installed photovoltaic capacity



China's new and total installed photovoltaic capacities had ranked the first in the world for seven and five consecutive years, respectively, as of the end of 2019, said Wang Bohua, vice chairman and secretary general of China Photovoltaic Industry Association, writes Ding Yiting, People's Daily Overseas Edition.

Wang announced the performance at the recent 5th China Photovoltaic Industry Forum (CPIF).

The country's production of polycrystalline silicon and modules production capacity also topped the world for 9 and 13 years in a row, Wang added, saying China would still keep its records this year.

It is reported that China's photovoltaic industry still kept stable growth in the first three quarters of this year despite the impacts from COVID-19 and the slump of global trade. The country produced around 290,000 tons of polycrystalline silicon, up 18.9 percent from a year ago. Module production capacity exceeded 80 GW, expanding 6.7 percent year on year. Besides, the country saw 18.7 GW of newly installed photovoltaic capacity, up 17 percent from a year ago, and the photovoltaic generation capacity has hit over 200 billion kilowatt hours, 16.9 percent more that in the same period last year.

China's photovoltaic industry has established a complete industrial chain that leads the world in technology, size and cost, said Li Qionghui, director of the new energy research department at the State Grid Energy Research Institute. According to her, the generation efficiency of China's photovoltaic industry has broken records for times, and the cost of photovoltaic systems dropped by over 90 percent than that in 2005.

"Chinese enterprises have made huge breakthroughs in photovoltaic technologies and cost in the past 10 years. The price of silicon wafer dropped to 3 yuan ($0.46) from around 100 yuan a decade ago, and the module price also went down from 30 yuan per watt ten years ago to today's 1.7 yuan," said Li Zhenguo, founder and president of LONGi Group, the world's most valuable solar technology company. The cost of photovoltaic generation is even lower than 0.1 yuan per kilowatt at places with high-quality sunshine, he added.

According to statistics from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), solar photovoltaics prices have fallen 82% since 2010 while concentrated solar power has dropped 47%. Onshore and offshore wind energy costs have dropped 39% and 29%. The prices will keep going lower in the next ten years, the agency forecasted.

In the first 9 months, the export of photovoltaic modules exceeded that from a year ago by 52.3 GW, said Wang.

The supply side of the photovoltaic industry was not very much impacted as China, the largest photovoltaic production base, had already controlled the spread of COVID-19 and fully recovered its industrial production in the second quarter, Zhang Senri with the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products told the People's Daily. The sound performance of the overseas market also contributed a big part, he added.

The annual installed capacity of this year is expected to stay on the same level with that of the last year due to the hot demand in the second half, he said, adding that the newly installed capacity might hit 110 to 120 GW. China's export of photovoltaic products will probably grow by over 20% this year, he noted.

"The prospering global photovoltaic market is an irreversible trend, and there are huge emerging markets waiting to be explored by Chinese enterprises," Zhang said.

As enterprises constantly improve their supply capacity and optimize products, China's photovoltaic industry will surely lead a clean way of global power energy through its strategy of "going global."

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EMA receives application for conditional marketing authorization of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine BNT162b2 



EMA has received an application for conditional marketing authorization (CMA) for BNT162b2, a COVID‑19 mRNA vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer. The assessment of BNT162b2 will proceed under an accelerated timeline. An opinion on the marketing authorisation could be issued within weeks, depending on whether the data submitted are sufficiently robust and complete to show the quality, safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Such a short timeframe is only possible because EMA has already reviewed some data on the vaccine during a rolling review. During this phase, EMA assessed data on the vaccine’s quality (such as information about its ingredients and the way it is produced) as well as results from laboratory studies. EMA also looked at results on the vaccine’s effectiveness and initial safety data emerging from a large-scale clinical trial as they became available.

EMA will now assess the data submitted as part of the formal application for conditional marketing authorization. The Agency and its scientific committees will continue working on the assessment over the Christmas period. If the data submitted are robust enough to conclude on the quality, safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, EMA’s scientific committee for human medicines (CHMP) will conclude its assessment during an extraordinary meeting scheduled for 29 December at the latest. These timelines are based on the type of data assessed so far in the context of the rolling review and may be subject to change as evaluation proceeds. EMA will communicate on the outcome of its assessment accordingly.

During the review, and throughout the pandemic, EMA and its scientific committees are supported by the COVID-19 EMA pandemic task force, a group that brings together experts from across the European medicines regulatory network to facilitate rapid and coordinated regulatory action on medicines and vaccines for COVID-19.

What is a conditional marketing authorization?

In the EU, CMAs allow for the authorisation of medicines that fulfil an unmet medical need on the basis of less complete data than normally required. This happens if the benefit of a medicine or vaccine’s immediate availability to patients outweighs the risk inherent in the fact that not all the data are yet available. CMAs are being used in the context of the pandemic to promptly respond to the public health threat. However, the data must show that the benefits of the medicine or vaccine outweigh any risks. Once a CMA has been granted, companies must provide further data from ongoing or new studies within pre-defined deadlines to confirm that the benefits continue to outweigh the risks.

What may happen next?

If EMA concludes that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh its risks in protecting against COVID‑19, it will recommend granting a conditional marketing authorization. The European Commission will then fast-track its decision-making process with a view to granting a conditional marketing authorization valid in all EU and EEA Member States within days.

As for all medicines, EU authorities continuously collect and review new information on medicines once they are on the market and take action when needed. In line with the EU safety monitoring plan for COVID-19 vaccines,  monitoring  will take place more frequently and will include activities that apply specifically to COVID-19 vaccines. Companies for example will provide monthly safety reports in addition to the regular updates required by the legislation and conduct studies to monitor the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines after their authorisation.

These measures will allow regulators to swiftly assess data emerging from a range of different sources and take appropriate regulatory action to protect public health if needed.

Key facts on COVID-19 vaccines and more information about how these vaccines are developed, authorised and monitored in the EU can be found on the EMA website.

How is BNT162b2 expected to work?

BNT162b2 is expected to work by preparing the body to defend itself against infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The virus uses a protein on its outer surface called a spike protein to enter the body’s cells and cause disease. BNT162b2 contains the genetic instructions (mRNA) to produce the spike protein. The mRNA is covered in small lipid (fat) particles that help deliver the mRNA into the cells and prevent it from being degraded. When a person is given the vaccine, their cells will read the genetic instructions and produce the spike protein. The person’s immune system will then treat this protein as foreign and produce natural defences — antibodies and T cells — against it. If, later on, the vaccinated person comes into contact with SARS-CoV-2, the immune system will recognise the virus and be prepared to attack it: antibodies and T cells can work together to kill the virus, prevent its entry into the body’s cells and destroy infected cells, thus helping to protect against COVID-19.

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