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Polish forces intimidate media near Belarus border: Journalists – Aljazeera.com

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Sokolka, Poland – On Tuesday, three photojournalists went on their usual journey around villages near the Polish-Belarusian border to take photos of the escalating migration crisis.

Under a state of emergency, Poland bans reporters and aid workers from the 3km (2 miles)-wide border zone, where dozens of asylum seekers who manage to cross from Belarus hide from Polish guards.

So those like Maciej Moskwa and Maciej Nabrdalik, two Polish photo reporters, and Martin Divisek, their Czech colleague, have been covering the story from where they have access.

About 4pm local time, the reporters approached a military camp located in Wiejki, a village. They left their car and informed guards that they are journalists.

“Good evening, we’re here at work. We know that you are too. We’re allowed to take photographs here. Even if you turn your back to us,” one of the journalists can be heard in a recording from the scene, obtained by Al Jazeera.

“We don’t want to mess with you, but we need to know what the situation is and we know we have the right to take pictures here. Please respect that because we respect your work.”

The guards did not know that one of the journalists had a recording device that was switched on, just in case.

The guards asked the journalists to wait, but sensing that the situation was getting tense, the three reporters asked if they were being detained.

The answer was “no”.

They returned to their car and wanted to leave to avoid trouble, but chaos erupted.

“Get out of the car! Get out of the f*****g car, now!” an unidentified uniformed man shouted in Polish. “You’re getting out now, for f***’s sake, you have a minute!”

Poland has deployed thousands of security personnel amid the migration crisis along its frontier with Belarus [Maciej Moskwa/Al Jazeera]

One of the photojournalists could be heard repeating that they were journalists, but the plea was ignored.

The guard forced them out of the car. The journalists were ordered to stand separately, take off their jackets and put their arms above their heads.

“They didn’t give us any reason for taking off our clothes,” Moskwa told Al Jazeera. “It was very brutal and we felt threatened, armed people lined up behind us. They completely restricted our options to move. When I turned my head back to see what’s happening with my colleagues, I heard that I can only look straight or down.”

“After some time, we got handcuffed. I started feeling pain in my wrist and had to put my arms up behind my back to improve blood circulation. I asked the officer to loosen the handcuffs a bit, but he didn’t do that. At the time, the officers went through all our journalistic materials on our cameras and tried to check messages on our phones. This is illegal, it is contravention of powers.”

The recording obtained by Al Jazeera confirms this version of events.

The incident comes a week after Al Jazeera reported on the growing concerns among rights groups and journalists regarding the ban. Critics have said the restrictions are “arbitrary and disproportionate”, and called for measures to allow the media to report near the border for the sake of transparency.

Regarding the incident, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement: “The soldiers reported that on Tuesday afternoon, soldiers stationing in a camp in the town of Wiejki saw three masked men photographing the camp and soldiers … These persons walked along the camp, had white masks on their faces and hoods on their heads, they did not have any outside signs identifying them as journalists.

“The car also did not bear any signs that it belongs to journalists. When asked to stop photographing, the men went back to their car and tried to leave. In the meantime, relevant authorities, including the police, were called. The soldiers received an order to detain these persons until the situation is clarified by a relevant body. The persons presented documents confirming their identity but showed their press cards only after some time.”

But the recording, which the Polish authorities were not aware of when they made the statement, does not confirm this version of events. Moskwa also denies their narrative.

“The Ministry of Defence claims that they didn’t know who they were dealing with, which is untrue. I also want to state that I wasn’t wearing a hoodie. I only had a mask because of the pandemic,” he said.

“We didn’t get a chance to present our press cards, we were taken out of the car amid shouts and forcibly, under arms, taken to the enclosure although we never hid our identities. I had a press card hanging on my neck, under my jacket. They didn’t ask us for press cards. They only said: ‘You will no longer want to take f*****g pictures.’”

According to the journalists, the soldiers removed the handcuffs before the police arrived. The detention lasted about 90 minutes.

When Moskwa asked the police to inspect the wounds on his wrist, they suggested he might have done that to himself with a watch. The police refused to identify the soldiers who attacked the journalists.

From the recording, it is clear that the soldiers knew that the journalists were working outside the restricted area.

“They can file a complaint. Unfortunately, we’re not in the zone of this f*****g state of emergency,” one soldier can be heard saying in the recording.

Journalists and NGOs are not permitted to enter the exclusion zone set up along Poland’s border with Belarus [Maciej Moskwa/Al Jazeera]

Since the humanitarian crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border began, Polish authorities have restricted access to the crisis area to journalists and NGOs, which makes it impossible to know exactly what is happening in the woodlands covering the borderlands.

Local initiatives set up by people living in the restricted zone have sought to support refugees and migrants, by providing humanitarian assistance to people wandering the forests looking for a way out of Poland.

But such help could lead to charges of helping in undocumented border crossings.

Polish authorities have mobilised thousands of their forces to protect the border. This includes not only the border guard and the army, but also the Territorial Defence Force, a paramilitary structure formed in 2016 made up of professional and part-time volunteer soldiers.

It is unclear whether military police will investigate Tuesday’s incident. Moskwa is currently undergoing a medical examination of his wounds.

“I’m planning to report the issue of course,” Moskwa said. “I don’t know the names of the people who attacked us, they didn’t introduce themselves and didn’t inform us about their ranks. From our perspective they were masked, uniformed people bearing long weapons.”

The crisis began in August and since then, thousands of refugees have tried to enter Polish territory, the eastern frontier of the European Union.

Those who manage to breach the frontier spend weeks in the woodlands in the borderland, allegedly facing pushbacks to the Belarusian side by the Polish guards.

The international community has held Belarus responsible for the deteriorating situation, claiming that Minsk is trying to destabilise Europe.

Earlier this year, Belarus removed visas for citizens of a number of Middle Eastern and African states and opened numerous tourist agencies offering an easy and cheap way to get to Europe.

Critics have said the move might be an act of revenge against Poland, which supported last year’s protests against longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.

While many of the tourist agencies have been forced to close down, and as countries such as Turkey now refuse to let citizens of Iraq, Yemen and Syria, on Belarus-bound planes, the chaos is far from over.

Polish forces sprayed tear gas and water cannon on refugees earlier this week, and aid workers have warned of a looming humanitarian disaster.

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‘Frantic race backwards’ for China media freedoms: Report – Al Jazeera English

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Reporters Without Borders says at least 127 journalists are detained in China, as Beijing takes ever harsher line on media freedoms.

At least 127 journalists – from major international news outlets to bloggers – are currently detained in China as the Chinese Communist Party continues a major crackdown on media initiated by President Xi Jinping, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said in a new report.

China now ranks 177 out of 180 in the media watchdog’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index,  two slots above North Korea, thanks to a sweeping campaign to limit free expression across every sector of society.

In the report, published on Tuesday, Secretary General Christophe Deloire described China as a country in the midst of a “ frantic race backwards” as Chinese citizens continue to lose press freedom.

Chinese journalists and writers have become a target of the campaign and face charges such as espionage, subversion and “picking quarrels”. They include whistleblowers like Zhang Zhan, a Chinese lawyer who last year was sentenced to four years in prison for documenting the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, and Cheng Lei, an Australian Chinese anchor at Chinese state media outlet CGTN who was formally arrested in February and accused of supplying state secrets overseas.

Prior to their formal arrest, many detained journalists may spend up to six months under “residential surveillance at a designated location (RSDL),” according to the media group. Institutionalised in China in 2012, the practice allows authorities to hold an individual in solitary confinement and constant supervision at a designated facility. The practice is frequently described as “torture” by those who have experienced it.

Cheng was detained in August 2020 and reportedly underwent RSDL before she was formally charged six months later. Her trial and sentencing have yet to be announced.

Nearly two-thirds of journalists detained in China are Uighurs, according to RSF, many of whom helped to raise the alarm about China’s campaign of repression against the Muslim ethnic minority and other groups in the far western region of Xinjiang. Uighur journalists and bloggers appear to face harsher sentences than their Han Chinese counterparts, like Ilham Tohti, an economist and founder of the website Uyghur Online who was sentenced to life in prison for “separatism” in 2014.

Australia ChinaAustralian citizen and television anchor Cheng Lei, who worked for China”s state television CGTN, has been accused of spying  [File: Australia Global Alumni, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade via Reuters]

Affiliation with major news outlets or second citizenship in a Western country has also failed to protect Chinese journalists, who under Chinese law can only work as “news assistants” for foreign media.

The release of the report coincided with the first anniversary of the detention of Haze Fan, a news assistant for New York-based Bloomberg News, who was taken away by plain-clothes police officers in Beijing last year. On Tuesday, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief John Micklethwait said the media group was “very worried about her well-being” after 12 months of detention.

In a bid to control Chinese journalists in the future, the report noted, Chinese journalists are required to download an app “Study Xi, Strengthen the Country,” which can download their personal data, while they will soon have to undergo 90 hours of ideological training each year to renew their press card.

While the country has never been known as an easy place to report from, foreign journalists say that conditions in China have become more challenging in recent years and even more so under COVID-19 regulations, according to surveys by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China.  In 2020, 18 foreign journalists were forced to leave China due to deteriorating diplomatic relations between China, the United States and Australia.

China’s crackdown has also extended into Hong Kong, a former British colony once considered one of the most open places in Asia.

The territory is the regional headquarters of media organisations including CNN, AFP and Reuters due to its formerly high level of press freedom.

Media mogul Jimmy Lai is the highest profile person charged under Hong Kong’s security law. His newspaper, Apple Daily, has been forced to close and six other employees including its former chief editor have also been detained [File: Jerome Favre/EPA]

Following months of democracy protests in 2019 and the imposition of national security legislation, Hong Kong media has also found itself under attack, RSF said.

One of the highest profile cases was the closure of pro-democracy news outlet Apple Daily and the arrest of its founder Jimmy Lai, who is facing life imprisonment for “colluding with foreign forces” under the terms of the new legislation.

Six additional Apple Daily employees are also in detention, including the newspaper’s former chief editor and several writers.

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How to Make Your WordPress Site Run Faster?

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If you are struggling with a slow WordPress website, you are not alone! WordPress is the most popular CMS and currently powers over 40% of all the websites around the world. However, many Canadian WordPress users notice that their webpages are taking too long to load, or their media does not pop up promptly. Luckily, there are many ways to increase the speed of your site without compromising the quality of the content.

How to Determine Website Speed

There are many free online speed tools available for anyone to use. All you must do is copy your website’s URL and paste it into one of these tools. Another thing you can do is ask your friends and family to test out the site. Listen to their constructive criticism, as they will tell you if they feel that the loading time is too long.

Ideally, you are aiming for the quickest speeds possible. On average, a web page should load within 1-2 seconds. Once you hit 3 seconds, you run the risk of losing about half of your virtual traffic.

Methods of Increasing Speed

Use a Caching Plugin

WordPress offers thousands of different plugins to improve the efficiency of your site. Some of these are necessary for the site to function, while others are simply nice to have. Installing a caching plugin might be the answer to solving your slow loading speeds.

When visitors access your site, WordPress needs to locate all the script and then transfer it to their browser. When visitors are abundant to one website, this process can become very backlogged. Caching involves storing the website files in a temporary location on the visitor’s browser. When they return to the site, WordPress will not need to load the entire script, saving time.

Invest in a Good Web Host Provider

When people first create their website, they may be tempted to purchase a hosting plan that is as cheap as possible. This can be a big mistake, as poor hosting can lead to virtual security breaches and slow, unresponsible websites. Instead, take the time to research reputable web hosting companies that can provide you with the plan you need.

Many companies offer specific plans for people looking for WordPress hosting in Canada. A WordPress hosting plan is completely optimized for your platform. This includes additional tools such as enhanced security features, automatic updates, quick setups, and access to customer support agents who are WordPress experts.

Perform Regular Updates

As a website owner, you will need to keep an eye out for required updates. Since WordPress is open-source, this means that it frequently requires new updates. Elements such as themes and plugins will also need to be kept up to date to ensure that they are fully optimized.

If you allow your website to remain out of date, there is an increased security risk. Partially due to its large scale, WordPress is a popular target for hackers and other people with nefarious intentions. Remaining left behind with older versions of WordPress will leave you exposed to weaknesses that hackers are probably well-aware of.

Implement Excerpts Rather Than Full Text

For many websites, but especially blogs, people will have multiple web pages with different discussion topics. On your homepage, WordPress will automatically showcase full paragraphs from all your different pages. This is detrimental to you because your homepage will load slower, and viewers will not be as tempted to click through your other pages.

To avoid this, you can change the settings so that only short summaries of the articles appear on your homepage. This will encourage viewers to click into the article to get the whole story, and your loading speed will improve. You can change this through “Settings – Reading”, and then choose the option “For each article in a feed, show: Summary.”

Consider Using a Content Delivery Network

A content delivery network, or CDN for short, is when a collection of worldwide servers stores your site’s static files. The purpose of this is to reduce the distance between your virtual visitor and the server. When a visitor accesses your site, they will receive the files from the server in their city or the nearest alternative.

Using a CDN also reduces a website’s downtime, as there will constantly be a redistribution between servers if one goes down.

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Instagram, ahead of U.S. Senate hearing, tightens teen protection measures

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Instagram said on Tuesday it will be stricter about the types of content it recommends to teens in the photo-sharing app and will nudge them toward different areas if they dwell on one topic for a long time.

In a blog post, the social media service announced a slew of changes for teen users. Instagram head Adam Mosseri is to testify in a congressional hearing on Wednesday about protecting kids online.

Instagram and its parent company Meta Platforms Inc, formerly Facebook, have been under scrutiny over ways their services could cause issues around the mental health, body image and online safety of younger users.

In the post, Mosseri also said Instagram was switching off the ability for people to tag or mention teens who do not follow them on the app. He said that starting in January, teen Instagram users would be able to bulk delete their content and previous likes and comments.

He said Instagram was exploring controls to limit potentially harmful or sensitive material suggested to teens through its search function, hashtags, short-form video Reels and its ‘Suggested Accounts’ feature, as well as on its curated ‘Explore’ page.

The blog post also said that on Tuesday, Instagram was launching its ‘Take a Break’ feature in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, which reminds people to take a brief pause from the app after using it for a certain amount of time.

It said Instagram in March next year would launch its first tools for parents and guardians to see how much time their teens spend on the app and set time limits.

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn criticized the company’s product announcement as “hollow,” saying in a statement: “Meta is attempting to shift attention from their mistakes by rolling out parental guides, use timers, and content control features that consumers should have had all along.”

An Instagram spokeswoman said it would continue its pause on plans for a version of Instagram for kids. Instagram suspended plans for the project in September amid growing opposition to the project.

The move followed a Wall Street Journal report that said internal documents, leaked by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, showed the company knew Instagram could have harmful mental health effects on teenage girls, for example on their views of body image. Facebook has said the leaked documents have been used to paint a false picture of the company’s work.

State attorneys general and lawmakers had also raised concerns about the kids-focused app.

Last month, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. state attorneys general said it had opened a probe of Meta for promoting Instagram to children despite potential harms.

 

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Dan Grebler)

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