Report: Only 15% of World Enjoys Free Expression of Information

A Britain-based group says its latest study of worldwide free expression rights shows only 15% of the global population lives where people can receive or share information freely.

In its 2022 Global Expression Report, Article19, an international human rights organization, said that in authoritarian nations such as China, Myanmar and Russia, and in democracies such as Brazil and India, 80% of the global population live with less freedom of expression than a decade ago.

The report said authoritarian regimes and rulers continue to tighten control over what their populations see, hear and say.

While mentioning Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the report singles out China’s government for “exerting ultimate authority over the identities, information and opinions” of hundreds of millions of people.  

The annual report examines freedom of expression across 161 countries using 25 indicators to measure how free each person is to express, communicate and participate in society, without fear of harassment, legal repercussions or violence. It creates a score from zero to 100 for each country.

This year, the report ranks Denmark and Switzerland tops in the world, each with scores of 96. Norway and Sweden each have scores of 94, and Estonia and Finland both scored 93. The study said the top 10 most open nations are European.

Article 19 ranks North Korea as the most oppressive nation in the world with a score of zero. Eritrea, Syria and Turkmenistan had scores of one, and Belarus, China and Cuba had scores of two.   

The United States ranked 30th on the scale. In 2011, it was 9th in the world. The U.S. has seen a nine-point drop in its score, putting the country on the lower end of the open expression category. It was globally ranked in the lowest quartile in 2021 in its scores for equality in civil liberties for social groups, political polarization and social polarization, and political violence.

The report said that over the past two decades, there have been more dramatic downward shifts in freedom of expression around the world than at any time. Many of these occur as the result of power grabs or coups, but many more nations have seen an erosion of rights, often under democratically elected populist leaders.

Article 19 takes its name from the article under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

144 Ukraine Fighters Freed from Russian Captivity in Prisoner Exchange

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced on Wednesday that 144 of the country’s fighters were freed from Russian captivity via “an exchange mechanism” and that nearly 100 of the freed fighters had participated in the defense of the Ukrainian coastal city of Mariupol.

Earlier, a leading Ukrainian parliamentarian told VOA that Kyiv and Moscow were undergoing a process of prisoner exchange and that Roman Abramovich, a Russian businessman with ties to Putin, was playing “an active role” in the talks.

 

Hours later, in his nightly address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the development “optimistic and very important.” Zelenskyy said 59 of the soldiers that returned to Ukraine were members of the National Guard, followed by 30 servicemen with the Navy, 28 who had served in the Army, 17 with Border Guards and 9 who fought as territorial defense soldiers and one had been a policeman.

“The oldest of the liberated is 65 years old, the youngest is 19,” he said in the video broadcast. “In particular,” Zelenskyy added, “95 Azovstal defenders return[ed] home.”

The defense of Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol stood out as a particularly fierce struggle between Ukrainian and Russian forces from March to May. It ended with an unknown number of casualties on Ukraine’s side and close to 2,500 Ukrainian fighters in Russian captivity, according to figures released by the Russian side.

Wednesday’s news came on the heels of an announcement a day earlier that 17 Ukrainians, including 16 servicemen and one civilian, were freed from Russian captivity in an exchange that saw 15 Russians released and that the bodies of 46 fallen Ukrainian soldiers returned home. In return, Ukraine handed Russia 40 of their fallen servicemen. Among the 46 fallen Ukrainian fighters, 21 took part in the defense of Azovstal, according to the Ukrainian government.

David Arakhamia, leader of Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People Party in the Ukrainian parliament, told VOA during a visit to Washington earlier this month that Abramovich was playing “an active role” in prisoner exchange talks between Kyiv and Moscow.

“As a human being, I think he has [the] intention to stop the war, he doesn’t like the idea that Russia invaded Ukraine,” Arakhamia said of Abramovich.

As negotiations are concerned, “He’s trying to play the neutral role, but for us, we treat him as a Russian representative. He’s closer to Mr. Putin [than to the Ukrainian side], of course,” Arakhamia said, adding that Ukraine sees Abramovich as a “messenger” who could deliver messages to Russian President Vladimir Putin “in their original form.”

Abramovich was the owner of the British football club, Chelsea. He made arrangements for its sale in the aftermath of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions put in place by Britain, the United States and other western nations against Russian businessmen believed to have benefited from close ties with the Russian government and Putin.

On Wednesday, Zelenskyy concluded his nightly address to the nation by thanking those who played a part in securing the return home of 144 Ukrainian fighters from Russian captivity.

“I am grateful to the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine and to everyone who worked for this result. But let’s talk about this later. We will do everything to bring every Ukrainian man and woman home,” Zelenskyy said.

As the war enters the fifth month, the exact number of prisoners held by each side has not been made public. Little is known about how they are treated or precisely where they’re held.

Biden Thanks Erdogan for Dropping Veto on Sweden, Finland NATO Bids

U.S. President Joe Biden thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday for dropping his objections to the bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO, leading the way for the military alliance to expand even closer to Russia.

“I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden,” Biden told Erdogan during a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Madrid. “You’re doing a great job.”

In response, speaking through an interpreter, Erdogan said that Biden’s “pioneering in this regard is going to be crucial in terms of strengthening NATO for the future, and it’s going to have a very positive contribution to the process between Ukraine and Russia.”

Turkey, Finland and Sweden on Tuesday signed a memorandum deepening their counterterrorism cooperation, addressing Ankara’s concerns that the two Nordic countries are not doing enough to crack down on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union, the U.S. and others.

Finland and Sweden also agreed not to support the Gulenist movement, led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey blames for a failed 2016 coup attempt and other domestic problems.

Helsinki and Stockholm will also end support for the so-called Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) in Syria, part of the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against the Islamic State group. Additionally, Sweden agreed to end an arms embargo against Turkey that dated to its 2019 incursion into Syria.

 

Invitation to join NATO

With Turkey withdrawing its veto, NATO formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the alliance earlier Wednesday.

“It sends a very clear message to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. We are demonstrating that NATO’s doors are open,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, characterizing the invitation process as “the quickest in history.”

Helsinki and Stockholm will bring great military capability and strategic outlook to the alliance, said Jim Townsend, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, now at the Atlantic Council.

“Both nations — because they were neutral — they had to spend a lot of money and make a lot of effort to be a very professional force because they weren’t in an alliance. They had to depend on themselves,” Townsend told VOA. “It took the wolf being at the door for those nations to come in.”

 

The two countries applied to join in May, but the process began months earlier during the initial phase of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Biden reaching out to the leaders to discuss the possibility of joining NATO, a senior U.S. administration official told reporters Tuesday.

Since then, the U.S. has been “painstakingly working to try and help close the gaps between the Turks, the Finns and the Swedes,” the official said. “All the while trying, certainly in public, to have a lower-key approach to this so that it didn’t become about the U.S. or about particular demands on the U.S.,” he said, referring to Ankara’s long-standing request to purchase U.S. F-16 fighter jets.

Biden phone call

The official denied that Ankara made the warplane request a precondition to withdraw its objections. However, he noted that Biden conveyed Tuesday during a phone call to Erdogan his desire to “get this other issue resolved, and then you and I can sit down and really, really talk about significant strategic issues.”

The day after Ankara lifted its veto, the administration announced its support for the potential sale of the fighter jets.

Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs at the Pentagon, told reporters that Washington supports Ankara’s effort to modernize its fighter fleet.

“That is a contribution to NATO security and, therefore, American security,” she said.

In 2017, despite American and NATO opposition, Turkey signed a deal to purchase the S-400 Russian missile defense system. In response, Washington issued sanctions and kicked Ankara out of its newest, most advanced F-35 jet program. Since then, Turkey has sought to purchase 40 modernized F-16s, which are older models of the American fighter jets, and modernization kits for another 80 F-16s.

Wallander said any F-16 sales “need to be worked through our contracting processes.” A deal would likely require approval from Congress.

Ukraine grain

In their meeting, Biden also thanked Erdogan for his “incredible work” to establish humanitarian corridors to enable the export of Ukrainian grain to the rest of the world amid the war.

“We are trying to solve the process with a balancing policy. Our hope is that this balance policy will lead to results and allow us the possibility to get grain to countries that are facing shortages right now through a corridor as soon as possible,” Erdogan said in response.

Turkey has played a central role in negotiations with Kyiv and Russia to increase the amount of grain that can get out of Ukraine. Tens of millions of people around the world are at risk of hunger as the conflict disrupted shipments of grain from Ukraine, one of the world’s leading producers.

Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met his Russian counterpart to discuss unlocking the grain from Black Sea ports but failed to reach an agreement. Hurdles remain, including payment mechanisms and mines placed by both Moscow and Kyiv in the Black Sea.

Turkey has suggested that ships could be guided around sea mines by establishing safe corridors under a U.N. proposal to resume not only Ukrainian grain exports but also Russian food and fertilizer exports, which Moscow says are harmed by sanctions. The U.N. has been “working in close cooperation with the Turkish authorities on this issue,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

VOA’s Henry Ridgwell contributed to this report.

Lone Surviving Attacker in Paris Massacre Guilty of Murder

The lone survivor of a team of Islamic State extremists was convicted Wednesday of murder and other charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole in the 2015 bombings and shootings across Paris that killed 130 people in the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history.

The special court also convicted 19 other men involved in the assault following a nine-month trial.

Chief suspect Salah Abdeslam was found guilty of murder and attempted murder in relation to a terrorist enterprise. The court found that his explosives vest malfunctioned, dismissing his argument that he ditched the vest because he decided not to follow through with his attack on the night of Nov. 13, 2015.

Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian with Moroccan roots, was given France’s most severe sentence possible.

Of the defendants besides Abdeslam, 18 were given various terrorism-related convictions, and one was convicted on a lesser fraud charge. They were given punishments ranging from suspended sentences to life in prison.

During the trial, Abdeslam proclaimed his radicalism, wept, apologized to victims and pleaded with judges to forgive his mistakes.

For victims’ families and survivors of the attacks, the trial has been excruciating yet crucial in their quest for justice and closure.

For months, the packed main chamber and 12 overflow rooms in the 13th century Justice Palace heard the harrowing accounts by the victims, along with testimony from Abdeslam. The other defendants are largely accused of helping with logistics or transportation. At least one is accused of a direct role in the deadly March 2016 attacks in Brussels, which also was claimed by the Islamic State group.

The trial was an opportunity for survivors and those mourning loved ones to recount the deeply personal horrors inflicted that night and to listen to details of countless acts of bravery, humanity and compassion among strangers. Some hoped for justice, but most just wanted tell the accused directly that they have been left irreparably scarred, but not broken.

“The assassins, these terrorists, thought they were firing into the crowd, into a mass of people,” said Dominique Kielemoes at the start of the trial in September 2021. Her son bled to death in one of the cafes. Hearing the testimony of victims was “crucial to both their own healing and that of the nation,” Kielemoes said.

“It wasn’t a mass — these were individuals who had a life, who loved, had hopes and expectations,” she said.

France was changed in the wake of the attacks: Authorities declared a state of emergency and armed officers now constantly patrol public spaces. The violence sparked soul-searching among the French and Europeans, since most of the attackers were born and raised in France or Belgium. And they transformed forever the lives of all those who suffered losses or bore witness.

Presiding judge Jean-Louis Peries said at the trial’s outset that it belongs to “international and national events of this century. ” France emerged from the state of emergency in 2017, after incorporating many of the harshest measures into law.

Fourteen of the defendants have been in court, including Abdeslam, the only survivor of the 10-member attacking team that terrorized Paris that Friday night. All but one of the six absent men are presumed to have been killed in Syria or Iraq; the other is in prison in Turkey.

Most of the suspects are accused of helping create false identities, transporting the attackers back to Europe from Syria or providing them with money, phones, explosives or weapons.

Abdeslam was the only defendant tried on several counts of murder and kidnapping as a member of a terrorist organization.

The sentence sought for Abdeslam of life in prison without parole has only been pronounced four times in France — for crimes related to rape and murder of minors.

Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for nine other defendants. The remaining suspects were tried on lesser terrorism charges and face sentences ranging from five to 30 years.

In closing arguments, prosecutors stressed that all 20 defendants, who had fanned out around the French capital, armed with semi-automatic rifles and explosives-packed vests to mount parallel attacks, are members of the Islamic State extremist group responsible for the massacres.

“Not everyone is a jihadi, but all of those you are judging accepted to take part in a terrorist group, either by conviction, cowardliness or greed,” prosecutor Nicolas Braconnay told the court this month.

Some defendants, including Abdeslam, said innocent civilians were targeted because of France’s policies in the Middle East and hundreds of civilian deaths in Western airstrikes in Islamic State-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq.

During his testimony, former President François Hollande dismissed claims that his government was at fault.

The Islamic State, “this pseudo-state, declared war with the weapons of war,” Hollande said. The Paris attackers did not terrorize, shoot, kill, maim and traumatize civilians because of religion, he said, adding it was “fanaticism and barbarism.”

During closing arguments Monday, Abdelslam’s lawyer Olivia Ronen told a panel of judges that her client is the only one in the group of attackers who didn’t set off explosives to kill others that night. He can’t be convicted for murder, she argued.

“If a life sentence without hope for ever experiencing freedom again is pronounced, I fear we have lost a sense of proportion,” Ronan said. She emphasized through the trial that she is “not providing legitimacy to the attacks” by defending her client in court.

Abdeslam apologized to the victims at his final court appearance Monday, saying his remorse and sorrow is heartfelt and sincere. Listening to victims’ accounts of “so much suffering” changed him, he said.

“I have made mistakes, it’s true, but I am not a murderer, I am not a killer,” he said.

New NATO Strategic Concept Targets Russia, China

NATO heads of state and government meeting in Madrid on Wednesday approved a new Strategic Concept for the alliance, naming “Russia’s aggression,” “systemic challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China” and the “deepening strategic partnership” between the two countries as its main priorities.

In this document, the Western military alliance that was formed after the Second World War defined Russia as the “most significant and direct threat” and for the first time addressed challenges that Beijing poses toward NATO’s security, interests and values.

At the summit that runs until Thursday, the alliance agreed to boost support for Ukraine as it defends itself from the Russian invasion, now in its fifth month. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters earlier this week that NATO will boost the number of troops on high alert by more than sevenfold to more than 300,000 — amid what he characterized as “the most serious security crisis” since the Second World War.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced the United States is bolstering its military presence in Europe, including the deployment of additional naval destroyers in Spain and positioning more troops elsewhere, in response to “changed security environment” and to strengthen “collective security.”

Biden said the U.S. would establish a permanent headquarters for the U.S. 5th Army Corps in Poland, add a rotational brigade of 3,000 troops and 2,000 other personnel to be headquartered in Romania, as well as send two additional squadrons of F-35 fighter jets to Britain. 

“Earlier this year, we surged 20,000 additional U.S. forces to Europe to bolster our lines in response to Russia’s aggressive move, bringing our force total in Europe to 100,000,” he said, adding the U.S. will continue to adjust its defense posture “based on the threat in close consultation with our allies.”

Also Wednesday, in a virtual address to NATO, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country needs more advanced weapons and approximately $5 billion per month to defend itself.

“This is not a war being waged by Russia against only Ukraine. This is a war for the right to dictate conditions in Europe—for what the future world order will be like,” Zelenskiyy told summit leaders.

NATO allies plan to continue to give military and types of support to Ukraine indefinitely, said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a security analyst at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

“What I’ve heard collectively from everyone is that insight of how important it is that Russia does not win, the idea being that if Russia learns the lesson that widespread use of military force gains it something, Europe will not be stable or safe in the future, and therefore Russia must not win, Ukraine must win,” he told VOA.

Significant shift

NATO’s Strategic Concept’s language suggests a significant shift in its unity and sense of urgency on great power rivalry, said Stacie Goddard, professor of political science at Wellesley College. She underscored the alliance’s warning of a deepening Russia-China partnership as a challenge to the existing order.

“To be sure, these are only words, but both the novelty and the clarity of the rhetoric is striking,” she told VOA.

Beijing is not backing Russia’s war in Ukraine militarily, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping has stated support for Moscow over “sovereignty and security” issues. The country continues to purchase massive amounts of Russian oil, gas and coal.

“This is seen as extremely threatening, not only to the United States, but to Europe as well,” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center, to VOA.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that allies have had “growing concerns about China’s unfair trade practices, use of forced labor, theft of intellectual property and their bullying and coercive activities, not just in the Indo-Pacific, but around the world.”

NATO’s Strategic Concept is an assessment of security challenges and guides the alliance’s political and military activities. The last one was adopted at the NATO Lisbon Summit in 2010, and ironically included the words: “NATO poses no threat to Russia. On the contrary: we want to see a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia.”

Sweden and Finland

Biden praised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who on Tuesday dropped his objections to bids from Sweden and Finland bids to join the alliance.

“I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden, and all the incredible work you’re doing to try to get the grain out of Ukraine,” Biden told Erdoğan during a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the summit.

With Ankara lifting its veto of NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, the administration threw its support behind the potential sale of U.S. F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

As NATO is set to expand membership, the summit also focused on reinforcing partnerships with non-NATO countries. Participating in the summit are leaders from Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

“President Putin has not succeeded in closing NATO’s door,” Stoltenberg said. “He’s getting the opposite of what he wants. He wants less NATO. President Putin is getting more NATO by Sweden and Finland joining our alliance.”

NATO’s Strategic Concept also states that climate change is “a defining challenge of our time.”

VOA’s Chris Hannas and Henry Ridgwell in Madrid contributed to this story.

UN: Climate of Fear and Impunity Reigns in Belarus

A U.N. investigator warns that systematic and widespread repression in Belarus is eroding peoples’ civic and political rights. The investigator’s report was presented Wednesday at a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Belarus boycotted the meeting.

Special Rapporteur Anais Marin says the human rights situation in Belarus has gone from bad to worse. She says authorities are enacting laws that are stripping the rights and freedoms of their citizens.

She says the criminal code has been amended to restrict freedom of expression, the right to peacefully assemble and other fundamental rights. She says the new laws retroactively criminalize activities that previously were only considered administrative offenses.

Speaking through an interpreter Wednesday in Geneva, she warned the action raises the troubling prospect of potential abuse resulting from the arbitrary application of very restrictive legislation.

“Emblematic in that respect is that the scope of the death penalty in Belarus has been expanded by including cases of planning or attempts to plan terrorist acts. Terms that are not clearly defined moreover. This paves the way for abusive application of the death penalty, even if no crime has been committed.”

Investigator Marin says the deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus has resulted in the significant shrinking of civic space. She says the government is pursuing a deliberate policy to eradicate all media and expression of dissent.

Marin says 1,214 people are imprisoned in Belarus on politically motivated charges. She says the climate of fear and impunity in Belarus has forced tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of repressed and intimidated Belarusians into exile. She speaks through an interpreter.

“Let me add that my mandate has been informed of severe repression by the authorities against anti-war protesters in Belarus, but also difficulties and cases of discrimination and hate speech that certain Belarussians have been forced to leave their country have endured since the start of the Russian armed aggression in Ukraine.”

Marin urges the international community to support and protect the human rights of those Belarussian nationals that have been forced into exile due to repression and intimidation by the state.

Belarus boycotted Wednesday’s meeting, renouncing its right of reply. Contacted by VOA after the meeting, the Belarussian U.N. mission in Geneva said it had no comment.

NATO Leaders Gather for Madrid Summit

NATO leaders are gathering in Madrid, Spain, for a summit that will include discussion of support for Ukraine and how the alliance will adapt to face current and future challenges.

The leaders are expected to agree to boost support for Ukraine as it defends itself from a Russian invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is addressing the summit by video.

U.S. President Joe Biden said that at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin “has shattered peace in Europe and attacked the very tenets of rule-based order,” the United States and its allies are “proving that NATO is more needed now than it ever has been, and it’s as important as it ever has been.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the gathering will be a “historic and transformative summit for our alliance,” adding that it comes amid “the most serious security crisis we have faced since the second world war.”

Russia’s attack is also influencing NATO’s own long-term plans, with a new strategic concept that includes what the alliance has called its “changed security environment.” The guiding agreement will also address other challenges, including China.

In the short term, NATO is strengthening its readiness to respond to outside threats, including boosting the number of troops under direct NATO command and pre-positioning more heavy weapons and logistical resources.

“Today, I’m announcing the United States will enhance our force posture in Europe to respond to the changed security environment, as well as strengthening our collective security,” Biden said. “Earlier this year, we surged 20,000 additional U.S. forces to Europe to bolster our lines in response to Russia’s aggressive move, bringing our force total in Europe to 100,000. We’re gonna continue to adjust our posture based on the threat in close consultation with our allies.”

Biden said the United States is sending additional naval destroyers to be stationed in Spain, establishing a permanent headquarters for the U.S. 5th Army Corps in Poland, adding a rotational brigade of 3,000 troops and 2,000 other personnel to be headquartered in Romania, and sending two additional F-35 fighter jets to the United Kingdom.

As NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, the summit is also set to include talks about reinforcing partnerships with non-NATO countries. Participating in the summit are leaders from Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

“President Putin has not succeeded in closing NATO’s door,” Stoltenberg said. “He’s getting the opposite of what he wants. He wants less NATO. President Putin is getting more NATO by Sweden and Finland joining our alliance.”

Other areas of discussion include terrorism, cyberattacks and climate change.

VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this story.

German Court Gives 101-year-old Ex-Nazi Guard Five Years in Jail

A German court on Tuesday handed a five-year jail sentence to a 101-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard, the oldest person to go on trial for complicity in war crimes during the Holocaust. 

Josef Schuetz was found guilty of being an accessory to murder in at least 3,500 cases while working as a prison guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Oranienburg, north of Berlin, from 1942 to 1945. 

Given his age, Schuetz is highly unlikely to be put behind bars.

The pensioner, who now lives in Brandenburg state, had pleaded innocent, saying he did “absolutely nothing” and had not even worked at the camp. 

“I don’t know why I am here,” he said at the close of his trial Monday. 

But presiding judge Udo Lechtermann said he was convinced Schuetz had worked at Sachsenhausen and had “supported” the atrocities committed there. 

“For three years, you watched prisoners being tortured and killed before your eyes,” Lechtermann said. 

“Due to your position on the watchtower of the concentration camp, you constantly had the smoke of the crematorium in your nose,” he said. “Anyone who tried to escape from the camp was shot. So every guard was actively involved in these murders.” 

More than 200,000 people, including Jews, Roma, gays and regime opponents, were detained at the Sachsenhausen camp from 1936 to 1945. 

Tens of thousands of inmates died from forced labor, murder, medical experiments, hunger or disease before the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, according to the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum. 

Contradictory statements 

Schuetz, who was 21 when he began working at the camp, remained blank-faced as the court announced his sentence. 

“I am ready,” said Sc

huetz when he, dressed in a gray shirt and striped trousers, entered the courtroom in a wheelchair.

Schuetz was not detained during the trial, which began in 2021 but was postponed several times because of his health. 

His lawyer, Stefan Waterkamp, told AFP he would appeal, meaning the sentence will not be enforced until 2023 at the earliest. 

Thomas Walther, the lawyer who represented 11 of the 16 civil parties in the trial, said the sentencing had met their expectations and “justice has been served.” 

But Antoine Grumbach, 80, whose father died in Sachsenhausen, said he could “never forgive” Schuetz as “any human being facing atrocities has a duty to oppose them.” 

During the trial, Schuetz had made several inconsistent statements about his past, complaining that his head was getting “mixed up.” 

At one point, the centenarian said he had worked as an agricultural laborer in Germany for most of World War II, a claim contradicted by several historical documents bearing his name, date and place of birth. 

‘Warning to perpetrators’ 

After the war, Schuetz was transferred to a prison camp in Russia before returning to Germany, where he worked as a farmer and a locksmith. 

More than seven decades after World War II, German prosecutors are racing to bring the last surviving Nazi perpetrators to justice. 

The 2011 conviction of former guard John Demjanjuk on the basis that he served as part of Hitler’s killing machine, set a legal precedent and paved the way for several of these justice cases. 

Since then, courts have handed down several guilty verdicts on those grounds rather than for murders or atrocities directly linked to the individual accused. 

Among those brought to late justice were Oskar Groening, an accountant at Auschwitz, and Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at Auschwitz. 

Both were convicted at the age of 94 of complicity in mass murder but died before they could be imprisoned. 

However, Schuetz’s five-year sentence is the longest handed to a defendant in such a case. 

Guillaume Mouralis, a research professor at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, told AFP the verdict was “a warning to the perpetrators of mass crimes: whatever their level of responsibility, there is still legal liability.”

Finland, Sweden on Path to NATO Membership as Turkey Drops Veto

NATO ally Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance on Tuesday after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The breakthrough came after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of 30 leaders that aims to show resolve against Russia, now seen by the U.S.-led alliance as a direct security threat rather than a possible adversary.

It means Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their application to join the nuclear-armed alliance, cementing what is set to be the biggest shift in European security in decades, as the two, long neutral Nordic countries seek NATO protection.

“Our foreign ministers signed a trilateral memorandum which confirms that Turkey will … support the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement.

“The concrete steps of our accession to NATO will be agreed by the NATO allies during the next two days, but that decision is now imminent,” Niinisto said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkey’s presidency confirmed the accord in separate statements, after talks between the NATO chief, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted, “Fantastic news as we kick off the NATO summit. Sweden and Finland’s membership will make our brilliant alliance stronger and safer.”

Stoltenberg said NATO’s 30 leaders would now invite Finland, which shares a 1,300 km border with Russia, and Sweden to join NATO, and that they would become official “invitees.”

“The door is open. The joining of Finland and Sweden into NATO will take place,” Stoltenberg said.

However, even with a formal invitation granted, NATO’s 30 allied parliaments must ratify the decision by leaders, a process that could take up to a year.

Terms of the deal

Turkey’s main demands, which came as a surprise to NATO allies in May, were for the Nordic countries to stop supporting Kurdish militant groups present on their territory and to lift their bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.

Stoltenberg said the terms of the deal involved Sweden intensifying work on Turkish extradition requests of suspected militants and amending Swedish and Finnish law to toughen their approach to them.

Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland would lift their restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey.

Turkey has raised serious concerns that Sweden has been harboring what it says are militants from the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. Stockholm denies the accusation.

The Turkish presidency statement said the four-way agreement reached on Tuesday meant “full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the PKK and its affiliates.”

It also said Sweden and Finland were “demonstrating solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

U.S. President Joe Biden, who arrived in Madrid before a dinner with his fellow NATO leaders, did not directly address the issue in his public comments with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and King Felipe of Spain.

But he stressed the unity of the alliance, saying NATO was “as galvanized as I believe it’s ever been.”

Biden is to have a meeting with Erdogan during the NATO summit. Erdogan said before leaving for Madrid that he would push Biden on an F-16 fighter jet purchase.

He said he would discuss with Biden the issue of Ankara’s procurement of S-400 air defense systems from Russia which led to U.S. sanctions as well as modernization kits from Washington and other bilateral issues.

The resolution of the deadlock marked a triumph for intense diplomacy as NATO allies try to seal the Nordic accession in record time as a way of solidifying their response to Russia — particularly in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give the alliance military superiority.

In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already NATO members. Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation,” helped overturn decades of Swedish opposition to joining NATO.

US Accuses 5 Firms in China of Supporting Russia’s Military

President Joe Biden’s administration added five companies in China to a trade blacklist on Tuesday for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base, flexing its muscle to enforce sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The Commerce Department, which oversees the trade blacklist, said the targeted companies had supplied items to Russian “entities of concern” before the February 24 invasion, adding that they “continue to contract to supply Russian entity listed and sanctioned parties.”

The agency also added an additional 31 entities to the blacklist from countries including Russia, UAE, Lithuania, Pakistan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the Federal Register entry. However, of the 36 total companies added, 25 had China-based operations.

“Today’s action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the globe that if they seek to support Russia, the United States will cut them off as well,” Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said in a statement.

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Three of the companies in China accused of aiding the Russian military, Connec Electronic Ltd., Hong Kong-based World Jetta, and Logistics Limited, could not be reached for comment. The other two, King Pai Technology Co., Ltd and Winninc Electronic did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hong Kong is considered part of China for purposes of U.S. export controls since Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s autonomy.

Blacklisting of firms means their U.S. suppliers need a Commerce Department license before they can ship to them.

The United States has set out with allies to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special operation,” by sanctioning a raft of Russian companies and oligarchs and adding others to a trade blacklist. 

While U.S. officials had previously said that China was generally complying with the restrictions, Washington has vowed to closely monitor compliance and rigorously enforce the regulations.

“We will not hesitate to act, regardless of where a party is located, if they are violating U.S. law,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Thea Rozman Kendler said in the same statement.

As Key French Terror Trial Ends, Europe Faces New Security Landscape 

One of France’s most high-profile trials in history wraps up this week amid a sharply changing security landscape across Europe, where the war in Ukraine and far-right violence have reshaped threat perceptions once dominated by Islamist extremism.

Verdicts are expected Wednesday in Paris, where 20 men stand accused of being involved in the November 2015 Islamic State attacks around the French capital in which 130 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

Top defendant Salah Abdeslam, considered the lone surviving attacker, has captured news headlines throughout the months-long trial. He risks life without parole, France’s toughest sentence.

Since opening last September, the trial has revived memories of Islamist violence that spiraled across Europe and the Middle East a few years ago, when IS controlled a swath of Iraq and Syria, and French and other fighters were recruited to join its ranks and sow chaos at home.

But today, the IS caliphate has collapsed. Jihadi violence has dispersed, transformed and migrated to sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, other security threats are on the rise in Europe, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marking the newest and possibly most significant change, analysts say.

“After the war on terror that has dominated the last 20 years, there is a return to the politics of great power rivalries, to the more traditional nature of international relations,” said Thomas Renard, director of the International Center for Counter-Terrorism, referring not only to a rising Russia but also China.

“That doesn’t mean terrorism is going to magically disappear,” Renard added, “but it’s going to be a lesser priority, certainly at the international level.”

Across Europe and other Western countries, terrorist attacks declined by more than two-thirds in 2021 from their peak in 2018, according to the Global Terrorism Index that was published in March by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Meanwhile, Africa’s Sahel has become the world’s latest terror hotspot, the index said.

In Europe, politically motivated attacks — driven by far-left and far-right ideologies —have eclipsed Islamist and other religiously driven attacks that once controlled the region’s terrorism landscape, the index found.

“Terrorism is becoming more centered in conflict zones, underpinned by weak governments and political instability,” IEP Executive Chairman Steve Killelea said, adding, “as [the] conflict in Ukraine dominates global attention, it is crucial that the global fight against terrorism is not sidelined.”

Bodies, haunted survivors

A few years ago, there was little chance that terrorism would be sidelined. In January 2015, Paris saw a pair of radicalized brothers and a fellow assailant gun down more than a dozen people in separate attacks targeting the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket.

In November of that year, Paris experienced far worse: a bloody bombing and shooting rampage by a French-Belgian IS cell on a balmy Friday night. The extremists targeted young people packing the city’s bars, restaurants, soccer stadium and the Bataclan concert hall, leaving a trail of hundreds of bodies and haunted survivors in its wake.

With police barricading streets around Paris’ main courthouse during the lengthy trial, Abdeslam has been variously contemptuous, defiant and seemingly contrite.

He has apologized to victims, yet maintained allegiance to IS. Abdeslam claimed he chose not to detonate his explosive belt to avoid more carnage. Prosecutors argued instead that the belt malfunctioned.

Many of the 19 remaining defendants also face life sentences for playing key roles in assisting the killers in November 2015. Several have been tried in absentia.

After 2015, Europe experienced dozens of other deadly attacks. The following year saw bombings in Brussels and an attack on a Christmas market in Germany. Terrorists also mowed down pedestrians in the French Riviera city of Nice in July 2016 and on the London Bridge a year later. Among the most horrific incidents was the beheading of a French schoolteacher in a Paris suburb, in October 2020.

Today, experts and state security services worry not only about the potential threat posed by Islamists who have recently been released from European prisons or soon will be, but also other challenges.

“The threat has become more diffuse and more diverse,” Renard said. “We’re no longer confronted with a clear terrorist organization with a clear network of trained individuals. Rather, we’re dealing with a lot of loose individuals, loners, either linked to jihadi or to far-right ideology.”

Russia’s influence in Africa

Russia’s war in Ukraine is also reshaping European security priorities both at home —where the European Union has designated billions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine, and where Baltic states fear they may be next in Moscow’s crosshairs — and in Africa.

In Mali, Russia’s Wagner Group, with its reportedly close ties to the Kremlin, has edged out France and the European Union as the ruling junta’s key partner in its war on terror. Along with fighting the country’s myriad armed groups, Wagner mercenaries are allegedly waging a disinformation war against France and are blamed by rights groups for civilian atrocities.

Russia’s influence and interests extend well beyond Mali, analysts say, with Wagner a potent force in the Central African Republic, and Moscow’s influence expanding in other Sahel countries.

“The EU increasingly understands that its contest with Russia — sparked by [Russian] President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine — is spreading to different theaters, including those in Africa,” European Council on Foreign Relations analysts Andrew Lebovich and Theodore Murphy wrote in a recent commentary.

Their warning — also signaled by France in recent months — is being echoed in other European capitals, including Madrid, ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Spain.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine could spin off other security threats, Renard said, pointing to the influx of foreign volunteers joining Ukraine’s side against Russia.

“If this conflict continues over time and loses international attention, you could see some of these battalions splinter and reorganize along more ideological narratives. And that could become another form of terrorist organization,” Renard said.

Zelenskyy Calls for Missile Defense System Ahead of NATO Talks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday he stressed the need for a “powerful missile defense system for Ukraine to prevent Russian terrorist attacks” in talks with NATO’s leader. 

The phone call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came ahead of the start of a summit of NATO leaders in Madrid where Ukraine is expected to be among the major topics of discussion. 

“At our NATO summit we will step up support for our close partner Ukraine, now and for the longer term,” Stoltenberg tweeted after speaking with Zelenskyy. “NATO allies stand with you.” 

Stoltenberg said Monday that the Western military alliance is declaring a sevenfold increase in the number of its troops on standby alert — from 40,000 to more than 300,000. 

Rescue crews in central Ukraine worked Tuesday to search for survivors at a shopping center where Russian forces carried out a missile strike on Monday, killing at least 18 people. 

Zelenskyy said there were more than 1,000 civilians inside the mall in the city of Kremenchuk at the time of the attack, which he called “calculated.” 

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping center,” Zelenskyy said Monday in his nightly video address. He added that the strike “is one of the most daring terrorist attacks in European history.” 

Zelenskyy had said earlier on Telegram that the number of casualties is “impossible to even imagine” and said the shopping center, in a city 300 kilometers southeast of the capital, Kyiv, was “no danger to the Russian army, no strategic value.” 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, “The world is horrified by Russia’s missile strike today, which hit a crowded Ukrainian shopping mall — the latest in a string of atrocities. We will continue to support our Ukrainian partners and hold Russia, including those responsible for atrocities, to account.” 

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric called the attack “deplorable” and said the U.N. Security Council would meet Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the strike. 

Group of Seven 

The missile strike took place as the Group of Seven leading industrialized economies met in Germany’s Bavarian Alps and pledged continued support for Ukraine. 

Leaders from the group called Monday’s missile strike “abominable” and said in a joint statement, “We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack.” 

The United States and the other members of the G-7 on Monday imposed new sanctions against Russia for its four-month invasion of Ukraine. 

These include measures to cut off Moscow from materials and services needed by its industrial and technology sectors. 

The White House said the United States will commit $7.5 billion as part of a G-7 effort to help Ukraine cover its short-term budget needs, and that the governments are making “an unprecedented, long-term security commitment to providing Ukraine with financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support as long as it takes.” 

In a joint communique, the G-7 said, “We remain appalled by and continue to condemn the brutal, unprovoked, unjustifiable and illegal war of aggression against Ukraine by Russia and aided by Belarus. We condemn and will not recognize Russia’s continued attempts to redraw borders by force.” 

Zelenskyy addressed the conference by video link earlier Monday and requested more weapons as well as help exporting grain past Russian blockades. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.