TikTok quits HK as US giants suspend processing data requests

NEW YORK: Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok announced on Tuesday it would pull out of Hong Kong within days, as global tech giants struggle to figure out how to operate in the city under sweeping new security rules imposed by Beijing.

Major US internet companies including Facebook, Micro­soft, Google, Twitter and Zoom have all announced they have suspended the processing of requests for user data from the Hong Kong authorities while they study the new law.

The US companies’ social media platforms are generally banned in China, where access is blocked by Beijing’s “great firewall”. Most have operated freely in Hong Kong, but will now have to determine how to comply with new rules for the city, which rights groups say threaten freedoms enjoyed for decades.

Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, said in a statement on Monday it was pausing reviews of user data requests for all of its services “pending further assessment of the National Security Law.

Google and Twitter said they had suspended their reviews of data requests from Hong Kong authorities immediately after the law went into effect last week. Zoom and Microsoft’s LinkedIn issued similar statements on Tuesday.

Apple said it does not receive requests for user content directly from Hong Kong, but requires authorities there to submit requests through the US department of justice under a legal assistance treaty.

“We’re assessing the new law, which went into effect less than a week ago, and we have not received any content requests since the law went into effect,” Apple said in a statement.

Tuesday’s announcement by TikTok of its plan to quit Hong Kong is notable because the short-form video app is owned by a Chinese company but operates only outside of mainland China. Its parent company, ByteDance, runs a separate, similar service inside China, while saying TikTok is intended to appeal to users worldwide. Its exit means Hong Kong users, like those in mainland China, will now be cut off from the global version.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday Washington was considering banning TikTok in the United States. Asked if Americans should download it, he told Fox News: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” A source familiar with TikTok’s decision to exit Hong Kong said the city was a small, loss making market for the platform.

China’s parliament passed the national security legislation last week, setting the stage for the most radical changes to the former British colony’s way of life since it returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago.

Hong Kong late on Monday published more details about how the new law will strengthen police powers over the internet, including the ability to ask publishers to remove information deemed a threat to national security.

Asked about the moves by the US tech firms, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a news conference on Tuesday: “Ultimately, time and facts will tell that this law will not undermine human rights and freedoms.”.

India arrests South Korean CEO, 11 others for gas leak at LG Polymers

Indian police have arrested 12 LG Polymers officials, including its South Korean chief executive, an officer said on Wednesday, two months after a gas leak at the company’s south India chemical plant killed 12.

The arrests were made under a case of culpable homicide filed against the company’s South Korean parent, LG Chem Ltd, when the leak occurred in May, police commissioner Rajiv Kumar Meena said.

“A total of twelve members including the CEO and two directors were arrested on Tuesday evening,” Meena, the top officer in the port city of Visakhapatnam where the plant is located, said.

Among those arrested were two directors, one of whom was a South Korean, Meena said.

Toxic styrene gas leaked from the chemical plant in the early hours of May 7, choking many people who were sleeping.

This week, a government-appointed committee recommended that the plant be shifted away from human habitation and called for action against the top employees. It said LG Chem had been negligent and warning systems were not working.

The company did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Meena said three government officials had also been suspended for negligence.

Cabinet approves formation of Sugar Reforms Committee

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Tuesday approved formation of a high-powered Sugar Reforms Committee to devise a long-term strategy to reform the sugar sector in the light of recommendations of an inquiry commission.

The committee was proposed by federal Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar.

The cabinet meeting that was presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan feared that there would be a new spike in coronavirus cases in the country if the people did not follow preventive measures during holidays for Eidul Azha.

The meeting also thoroughly discussed the issue of alleged fake professional degrees of pilots of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). It was informed that 450 pilots of the national flag carrier had been cleared and 37 suspended for having suspected credentials.

The cabinet held a detailed discussion on the sugar sector and review how to bring reforms in it, said Information Minister Shibli Faraz in a post-cabinet meeting press conference.

The high-powered committee will be tasked to devise long-term strategy to reform sugar sector

The recent forensic audit report of the sugar inquiry commission noted that basic regulation was lacking and called for improvement in the regulatory system. The state’s regulatory institutions — State Bank of Pakistan, National Accountability Bureau and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) — should step up their regulations, it said.

It also recommended that assistant commissioners and deputy commissioners should ensure that farmers were paid their full dues and that technology be used for bookkeeping and a mechanism be developed to “recover the looted amount”.

Meanwhile, a source said that the prime minister said in the cabinet meeting that no one involved in the recent sugar scam would be spared and that an across-the-board accountability would be ensured.

Some top leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), including Jahangir Khan Tareen, are allegedly involved in the sugar scandal.

The sugar commission was constituted by the government in the first week of April following the release of two separate inquiry reports by the FIA on the issue of artificial shortage of sugar and wheat in the country and sudden increase in their prices last year.

After the report’s release, the opposition had demanded that the premier take stern action against those who had been declared responsible for the crisis by the FIA committee.

PIA crisis

According to the source, the cabinet was informed that 28 pilots of PIA had been dismissed from the service and 37 were suspended for allegedly having suspected credentials.

The meeting was apprised that 450 PIA pilots have been cleared.

Likewise, out of 104 pilots of other airlines 100 have been cleared and the case of four others was said to be in process.

Five officials of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have also been suspended and now the government has decided to initiate criminal proceedings against those who have fake and suspected degrees.

PunjabArt council launches online search for new talent

The Punjab Council of the Arts plans to scout for new talent in music, fine arts and creative arts through a talent hunt and by exhibiting the works of artists online for virtual tours.

Operations Director Muhammad Abrar Alam told Media on Monday that the talent hunt had been launched to find talented youths to encourage artists, artisans and intellectuals.

The council has decided to hold this talent hunt through online exhibitions, talks and performances in various districts of Punjab. Competitions among the youth would be held at the district, divisional and provincial levels in music, fine arts, crafts, drama and literature.

Mr Alam said this programme will involve several stakeholders, especially education department and district and divisional heads of arts councils. The directors of divisional arts councils operating under the Punjab Council of the Arts will be responsible for execution of all the activities.

Initially, the directors will conduct auditions in various disciplines at local level. The selected candidates will then be invited to perform at the divisional level and the position holders awarded prize money. Additionally, encouragement prizes will also be given to competitors in each discipline.

For the grand finale at provincial level, a mega show will be organised in Lahore where the top performers will win prizes in addition to the encouragement prizes for other competitors. The main objective is to introduce young talent to create economic opportunities for them. All these programmes and performances however will be held online amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, said Mr Alam.

IHC disposes of pleas against Hindu temple construction

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday disposed of three identical petitions filed against the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad’s Sector H-9/2, observing that the construction of a worship place requires mandatory approval of the regulator i.e. the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

IHC Justice Aamer Farooq, however, dismissed objections over the allotment of the temple’s plot.

The government allotted the plot measuring 3.89 kanals for the temple in January 2017. The plot was handed over to the Islamabad Hindu Panchayat (IHP) in 2018.

The petitioners questioned the allotment of the plot on the basis that the same is not provided for in the city’s master plan.

The court noted that “the referred objection has no basis inasmuch as designated plots are not provided in the Master Plan rather a broad outline of areas for various purposes is given. It is only later that through Layout Plans and the decisions by the Capital Development Authority through its Chairman/Board that it develops Sectors and Sub-Sectors and designates plots.”

Observes construction of worship place requires mandatory approval of regulator

A representative of the Capital Development Authority and its counsel submitted that Sub-Sector H-9/2 has plots allocated for graveyard of minorities, hence on that basis the allocation was made. It seems that the allottee, namely IHP, did not adhere to the Rules and Regulations of the Capital Development Authority by submitting a building plan and seeking its approval and on the said basis the construction of the plot was stopped.

“Even otherwise Capital Development Authority is entitled to take appropriate action in accordance with the term of the allotment (Clauses 3 and 24 of Allotment letter dated 26.12.2017) and its laws for violation of the terms of allotment, if any,” the court order read, adding: “The fact remains that no construction at present is taking place at the site, in question and is unlikely to commence till compliance is made with terms of allotment and Capital Development Authority laws.”

As noted above, the Capital Development Authority is still to approve the building plan as and when the same is submitted and while doing so can holistically review the matter. It is an admitted position that no construction on any site can commence by any allottee/lessee unless it complies with the Rules and Regulations of Capital Development Authority, the order states.

The petitioners challenged the allotment of the plot bearing No. 2, Sector H-9/2, Islamabad and construction of the temple. The petitions questioned the construction of the temple in Islamabad Capital Territory on the plot in question; whereas a petitioner also assailed allotment of the land for construction of temple and allocation and disbursement of funds in the sum of Rs100 million by the federal government.

The counsel for the petitioner contended that permission by the federal government and funding of the construction of Mandir in Islamabad Capital Territory is in violation of Article 2-A of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973. It was further contended that no new church or temple or any place of worship for non-Muslims can be established in light of Hadiths on the subject.

The petitioner contended that there are already three temples in the areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad Capital Territory, which duly cater to the needs of the Hindu community in the area. It was further contended that allocation and funding by the federal government for construction of the Hindu temple, especially in the times of the Covid-19 pandemic, amounts to wasting public money.

The counsel for the Capital Development Authority argued that the land was allotted for establishment of a temple community centre and cremation to the Islamabad Hindu Panchayat on Dec 26, 2017. It was submitted that in the subsector H-9/2, Islamabad graveyards of the minorities are situated on land/plot allotted by the Capital Development Authority and the referred sub-sector is designated for such purposes.

It was further contended that the construction commenced, but it was stopped by the Capital Development Authority as no formal approval of the building plan was obtained from the competent authority. It was reiterated that the plot was not allotted solely for a temple, but the site is to include temple, community centre and the place for cremation.

Deputy Attorney General Raja Khalid Mehmood Khan representing the federal government contended that no funding had yet been disbursed by the federal government for the purpose of temple’s construction. It was further submitted that the matter has been referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology for seeking its opinion regarding funding of money for the purpose of the temple’s construction and this fact was confirmed by a representative of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony.

It was submitted that, otherwise, there was no bar for the allottee to construct the temple on its own in light of the fact that under Article 20 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, the minorities are entitled to profess, practice and propagate their religion with freedom which is subject to law, public order and morality.

The court noted that “in so far as funding for the construction of Temple, Community Centre and place for Cremation qua Hindu Community is concerned, the Federal Government has already referred the matter to Council of Islamic Ideology and no amount has yet been disbursed as submitted by Representative of Ministry of Religious Affairs; hence the grievance of the petitioners on the specific issue stand allayed and has become infructuous, for the time being.”