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US Journalists Covering Protests at Risk of Arrest

At least 57 journalists were detained across the U.S. in 2021, with nearly all those cases taking place in just two cities where media were covering protests.

While the number of those detained is less than the record 142 media arrests in 2020, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which documents violations against media, says it is proving to be an ongoing issue. 

“We came off of such a significant year for press freedom violations, but it doesn’t mean that it went down. What it means is that it is systemic and that it’s continuing; they don’t just stop on January 1,” Kirstin McCudden, the Tracker’s managing editor, told VOA.

In most cases, reporters are released quickly from police custody. Often journalists are impeded when police use a tactic known as kettling, where officers surround a group on all sides to confine them.

But McCudden says that even temporary detainment can affect reporting.

“When journalists are kept from doing their job — the ability to report — because they’ve either been moved away from the scene, or kept away somehow in the detainment, or captured in a kettle and not allowed to keep recording, it affects their ability to tell the story, to do what they have a right to do, which is both be there and be there to disseminate news,” McCudden said.

The majority of cases took place in two cities during 2021: Los Angeles in California, where the Tracker recorded 22 cases of media being detained, and Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, with 21. 

Most detentions in LA occurred in March during the Echo Park protests, when police closed a homeless encampment where about 200 people were living.

In Brooklyn Center, 21 journalists were detained over three days in April while covering protests over the death of Daunte Wright, a Black man shot by police during a traffic stop. Wright died about ten miles from where George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020.

Minnesota State Patrol released a statement saying state police had not targeted the media and that it “respects the rights of the media to cover protest activity.” 

It added that following feedback and a temporary court order, officers were “prohibited from enforcing general dispersal orders against the press.”

Neither the Los Angeles Police Department nor the Brooklyn Center Police Department responded to VOA’s requests for comment.

With the rise in arrests, some media organizations and state officials are looking for ways to improve relations.

Training course

This year, the Society of Professional Journalists Georgia Chapter partnered with the Georgia Public Training Center to develop an online training course.

The course offers guidance for officers on how to de-escalate interactions with the press during events such as protests and also seeks to educate journalists about maintaining appropriate boundaries while exercising their rights as members of the press.

Julie Moos, executive director of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, says that although journalists undergo training for how to safely cover protests, following the protocols doesn’t always prevent them from being detained or harassed.

“Journalists, as we’ve seen, too often can do everything right and still be detained, arrested, mistreated by law enforcement or by others in the course of doing their jobs,” Moos told VOA.

“We often don’t know what law enforcement knows, we can’t see through their eyes, we can’t always understand intent,” Moos said. But, she added, there are cases where media were showing press passes, or had vests or equipment clearly labeled “and nonetheless they were detained or arrested while simply doing their jobs.”

Legal action

For some journalists, the arrest results in legal action. 

At least eight journalists in the U.S. are facing criminal charges from earlier arrests, including radio reporter April Ehrlich, who was named one of the One Free Press Coalition’s 10 most urgent press freedom cases.

Ehrlich, whose legal name is Fonseca, was arrested in September 2020 while covering evictions of dozens of unhoused people camping in a Medford, Oregon park.

She has been charged with criminal trespassing, interfering with an officer and resisting arrest, charges that could lead to more than a year in prison and up to $7,500 in fines.

The journalist’s lawyer has previously told reporters that Ehrlich intends to plead not guilty and to contest the charge. 

The trial is scheduled for March 2022, according to the Tracker.

The risk of arrest or assault while covering protests is a global problem for the media, according to UNESCO. Data from 65 countries over a five-year period, from 2015 to 2020, found journalists faced some level of risk while covering demonstrations and rallies.

“Unfortunately, we see press freedom under threat all over the world and increasingly in this country [the U.S.],” Moos said. “It has a very chilling effect on journalist decision-making and it has very challenging consequences for newsrooms that are trying to make decisions about how to keep their team safe while still covering the community.” 


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Лукашенко ввів покарання за заклики до санкцій – до 12 років ув’язнення

Плани запровадити кримінальну відповідальність за заклики до санкцій неодноразово озвучували і російські чиновники, зокрема депутати Держдуми та члени Ради Федерації

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США та ЄС засудили вироки журналістові Лосику та опозиціонерам у Білорусі

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Андрій Юраш став послом України у Ватикані – указ

Андрій Юраш – український релігієзнавець, політолог, експерт з питань державно-церковних відносин, батько народного депутата від «Слуги народу» Святослава Юраша

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Belarus Opposition Leader, Other Activists Given Harsh Prison Sentences

A Belarusian court has delivered verdicts and harsh sentences to a group of bloggers, opposition activists, and the husband of exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. All of those of them were rounded up by security officials before a controversial presidential election that saw authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko claim a sixth term in power despite widespread belief that the vote was rigged.

Rights groups consider all six of those sentenced in the southeastern city of Homel on Tuesday to be political prisoners. At 173 days, the trial was one of the longest in Belarus’s history.

The crackdown on the pro-democracy movement has only intensified since mass protests erupted in the wake of Lukashenko’s August 2020 reelection, which is not recognized by the opposition and the West.

Popular video blogger Syarhei Tsikhanouski , who intended to run against Lukashenko before being disqualified and ultimately arrested ahead of the election, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

After being disqualified, his political novice wife, Tsikhanouskaya, mobilized voters and won the election, according to the opposition and Western countries.

Tsikhanouskaya has been living in exile in Lithuania since fleeing Belarus after the election due to concerns about her safety and that of the couple’s two children.

“The very existence of these people is a crime for the regime. They’re repressed for wanting to live in a free Belarus,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a tweet immediately after news of the verdict broke.

“The dictator publicly takes revenge on his strongest opponents. While hiding the political prisoners in closed trials, he hopes to continue repressions in silence. But the whole world watches. We won’t stop,” she added.

Another blogger, Ihar Losik, who is also an RFE/RL consultant, was handed a sentence of 15 years. He was arrested before the election and accused of using his popular Telegram channel to prepare actions to violate public order.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly called on the Lukashenko regime to end its “reprehensible” treatment of Losik and other journalists.

“The closed-door trial he and his co-defendants have endured for the past five months has been an outrageous travesty of justice. We again call on the Lukashenko regime to stop their assault on news organizations and journalists and bloggers like Ihar and let him return to his wife and daughter,” Fly said ahead of the verdict.

Among the other defendants in the trial, former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich received a prison sentence of 14 years, opposition activist Uladzimer Tsyhanovich 15 years, activist Artsyom Sakau 16 tears, and another activist, Dzmitry Papou, 16 years.

The defendants, who have been in pretrial detention since their arrests, are accused of various alleged crimes, including organizing mass disorder, inciting social hatred, impeding the activities of the Central Election Commission, and organizing activities that disrupt social order. It’s unclear why some of the defendants are being tried together or the reason for the trial being held behind closed doors.

In the wake of the election, tens of thousands of people were detained and human rights activists say more than 800 people are considered political prisoners.

Independent media, opposition social-media channels, and civil society groups have also been harassed and shut down, while much of the opposition is either in prison or exile.

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Верховна Рада дозволила іноземним військам брати участь у навчаннях в Україні в 2022 році

Протягом 2022 року Збройні сили України планують взяти участь у 24 військових навчаннях в Україні та за її межами

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Бойовики з початку доби тричі стріляли на Донбасі – штаб ООС

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СБУ заявляє, що ліквідувала «найбільшу в Україні» мережу з виготовлення підроблених COVID-сертифікатів

«Як свідчать попередні дані, «прибуток» зловмисників становив понад 5 млн грн щомісяця»

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First Federally Funded Climate Migration Nears Fruition

From rising seas in Miami to devastating wildfires in California, climate change is putting more and more U.S. communities at risk. As the risks intensify, many are finding that the best option may be to retreat before disaster strikes. Seventy kilometers southwest of New Orleans, the first federally funded climate relocation is underway. VOA’s Steve Baragona reports.

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New Studies: Pfizer Vaccine Provides Protection Against Hospitalization in Omicron Patients

A new study out of South Africa shows that Pfizer’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine provides a high degree of protection against hospitalization from the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The real-world study, conducted by the South African Medical Research Council and Discovery Health, the country’s largest private health insurance administrator, was based on more than 211,000 positive COVID-19 test results between November 15 to December 7, with about 78,000 believed to be caused by omicron.

The study concluded that while the vaccine offered only a 33% rate of protection against an overall infection, it provided 70% protection against hospitalization. It also concludes that while there was a higher risk of reinfection during this current surge, the risk of hospitalization among adults was 29% lower than during the initial wave. Pfizer developed the vaccine in collaboration with German-based BioNTech.

South Africa is experiencing a dramatic surge in new daily COVID-19 cases driven by omicron, which was first announced by the country in November.

In a related development, Pfizer announced Tuesday that a new study of its experimental COVID-19 antiviral pill confirms it is highly effective in preventing severe disease among high-risk adults that could lead to hospitalizations and deaths, even against the omicron variant.

The company says it found that the drug, dubbed Paxlovid, reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 89% if given within three days of the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, and as much 88% if administered within five days.

Pfizer has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize use of Paxlovid based on results from a preliminary study.

The FDA is expected to announce soon whether to grant permission for doctors to use Paxlovid and a competing drug, molnupiravir, developed by Merck. Merck said last month a clinical trial revealed molnupiravir reduced hospitalizations and deaths by only 30% among high-risk adults.

The new developments come as health authorities around the world are warning that omicron could soon surpass delta as the most dominant variant of the coronavirus.

Denmark says omicron will trigger 10,000 new infections by the end of the week, compared to the current rate of 6,000 cases driven entirely by delta. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health also warned Monday that omicron “will soon dominate,” with new infections rising from 4,700 daily cases to a record 90,000 to 300,000 daily cases.

The new warnings come just days after the World Health Organization warned that omicron poses a “very high” global risk because its mutations may lead to higher transmission. The U.N. health agency said while the current vaccines are less effective against omicron, early data shows it causes less severe symptoms than other variants.

Meanwhile, China is reporting its second case of omicron infection on its mainland. A 67-year-old man tested positive Monday, two weeks after arriving in Shanghai from overseas. Authorities say the man repeatedly tested negative during his mandatory two-week hotel quarantine before flying to the southern city of Guangzhou, where he was spending another week in self-isolation at his residence. He tested positive for the new variant after researchers conducted genome sequencing.

The first case of omicron on mainland China was a person in the northern port city of Tianjin who tested positive for the new variant after arriving from overseas on December 9. The individual, who was shown to be asymptomatic, is now quarantined and undergoing treatment in a hospital.

The first cases of omicron on mainland China come two years after COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, was first detected in the central city of Wuhan. China has since imposed a “zero-tolerance” strategy, including mass testing, snap lockdowns and extensive quarantines, as a means to prevent any further outbreaks.

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

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US House to Vote on Referring Contempt Charges Against Trump Aide

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to refer charges of contempt of Congress against Meadows, former President Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff, to the Justice Department for his refusal to testify about his role in trying to overturn Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election. 

A congressional committee made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans voted unanimously Monday to recommend that Meadows face criminal charges. 

Meadows said in an interview on the Fox News cable network late Monday the committee’s decision was “disappointing, but not surprising.” 

“This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again,” Meadows said. 

Ahead of the committee vote Monday, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney detailed text messages sent to Meadows as the January 6 attack on the Capitol unfolded with prominent conservative media figures and one of Trump’s sons urging Meadows to encourage Trump to do more to halt the actions of his supporters. 

Cheney said the messages show Trump’s “supreme dereliction” and raised questions about whether through his inaction he sought to interrupt the congressional task of certifying the presidential election result showing that he lost. 

“These texts leave no doubt,” Cheney said. “The White House knew exactly what was happening at the Capitol.” 

Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Select Committee and a Democrat from Mississippi, said in his opening remarks, “Whatever legacy [Meadows] thought he left in the House, this is his legacy now.” Meadows is a former Republican representative from North Carolina.

Meadows handed over 6,600 pages of records taken from personal email accounts and about 2,000 text messages to the nine-member House of Representatives committee investigating the violence by hundreds of Trump supporters at the Capitol 11 months ago. The trouble happened as lawmakers were certifying that Democrat Joe Biden had defeated Trump in his reelection bid.      

Meadows initially agreed to testify about his role before January 6 in trying to help Trump claim a second four-year term in the White House and his actions that day. Protesters, urged by Trump to “fight like hell” to keep him in office, stormed the Capitol, smashed windows and scuffled with police. Last week, Meadows changed his mind about testifying, citing Trump’s assertion of executive privilege to keep documents secret to inhibit the investigation.   

The House committee has already held another former Trump aide, Steve Bannon, in contempt of Congress for his refusal to comply with a subpoena to testify. Bannon was later indicted and, if convicted, could face up to a year in prison.         

The investigative panel late Sunday issued a 51-page report that showed Meadows was deeply involved in trying to keep Trump in office even though the former president had lost five dozen court challenges in various states contesting his election loss and numerous vote recounts in individual political battleground states all upheld Biden’s victories.      

State election officials often said there was no appreciable voter fraud, as Trump has alleged to this day, that would have changed the outcome in his favor.  

If Meadows had appeared for a deposition, the committee said it would have questioned him about numerous documents he provided.     

On Monday, Meadows said through his attorney that the committee’s referral was unwise, unfair and contrary to law, according to The Associated Press.  

In a November 7, 2020, email, the committee said that just days after Trump lost the election, Meadows discussed an effort to have state legislators in states Trump lost appoint electors supporting Trump rather than the pro-Biden electors a majority of voters had chosen.     

In text messages with an unidentified senator, Meadows discussed Trump’s erroneous view that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn the Electoral College vote count as lawmakers officially certified the state-by-state tally on January 6. Pence drew Trump’s ire as he refused to upend the Electoral College vote, which Biden won by a 306-232 margin, the same count Trump won by in 2016.      

A day before the riot occurred, Meadows said National Guard troops would be at the Capitol to “protect pro-Trump people.” Other emails touched on the rioting at the Capitol as it unfolded, with pro-Trump supporters shutting down the Electoral College vote count for hours before Biden was finally declared the winner in the early hours of January 7.      

The committee also said it wants to ask Meadows about claims he made in his new book, “The Chief’s Chief,” about his time in the White House with Trump.   

“Mr. Meadows has shown his willingness to talk about issues related to the Select Committee’s investigation across a variety of media platforms — anywhere, it seems, except to the Select Committee,” the panel wrote.     

In turn, Meadows has sued the committee, asking a court to invalidate two subpoenas that he says are “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”   

The panel has interviewed nearly 300 witnesses and lawmakers linked in some way to the rioting or contesting of the election results. The committee says it is planning a series of hearings early next year to make public many of its findings.     

Some of the more than 600 people charged in the rioting, often identified by boasts on social media accounts of being inside the Capitol, have been sentenced to prison terms of a few months or, in more serious cases, to more than four years. But most of the criminal charges have yet to be adjudicated.   

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

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Blinken Advocates Partnership to Promote Free and Open Indo-Pacific

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the United States would work with allies to defend and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region. 

Speaking during a visit to Indonesia, Blinken said the greatest strength against evolving threats is working with other nations, and that the U.S. wants to ensure people and countries have the freedom to decide on their own futures and partners. 

“We’ll adopt a strategy that more closely weaves together all our instruments of national power — diplomacy, military, intelligence — with those of our allies and partners,” he said. 

Blinken reiterated U.S. commitment to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, an area where he said China’s actions threaten the movement of $3 trillion in goods annually.

“That’s why there’s so much concern from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia and from the Mekong River to the Pacific Islands about Beijing’s aggressive actions claiming open seas as their own, distorting open markets through subsidies to its state-run companies, denying the exports or revoking deals for countries whose policies it does not agree with,” Blinken said.  “Engaging in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. Countries across the region want this behavior to change. We do, too.” 

China competes with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam for sovereignty over parts of the resource-rich sea, which stretches from Hong Kong to Borneo.    

Last month, China pledged to avoid dominance in the South China Sea, but experts said the pledge comes too late to convince smaller Southeast Asian claimants to the strategic waterway after years of Chinese expansion.  

Blinken said “defending the rules-based order is not to keep any country down,” and that the United States does not seek conflict in the region. 

He also discussed efforts to promote fair trade in the Indo-Pacific, to address infrastructure shortcomings that challenge inclusive growth, the need to build resilience to tackle challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing climate change by investing in new types of jobs. 

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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Парламент спростив набуття громадянства для учасників бойових дій на боці України

Документ також спрощує процедуру для громадян Росії, які зазнають політичних переслідувань на батьківщині

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Зеленський про постачання оборонної техніки Україні: в деяких столицях усе ще перемагає страх

Росія використовує свої війська біля українського кордону, погрожуючи Україні, щоб шантажувати Захід, заявив президент

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Британська влада: «омікроном» щодня заражається до 200 тисяч людей

13 грудня премʼєр-міністр Борис Джонсон повідомив про перший випадок смерті пацієнта, інфікованого «омікроном»

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Afghan Musicians Look to Recreate Famed School in Portugal

Students and faculty members from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music arrived with their families Monday in Portugal, where they are being granted asylum and where they hope to rebuild their acclaimed school. 

The 273-person group, including some 150 students, flew into Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, from Doha, Qatar. Their departure from Afghanistan was staggered in five airlifts to Doha over six weeks in October and November. 

“The arrival of the (institute’s) community today means that the first and most important step of saving lives and insuring freedom is now over,” said the institute’s founder and director, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast. 

Governments and corporate and private donors met the group’s evacuation and resettlement expenses. 

“From now on, (the institute’s) musicians will be a symbol of courage and resolve, not only for Afghan artists, but also for the people of Afghanistan, in their struggle against the oppression and tyranny of the Taliban,” Sarmast said.

The musicians are among tens of thousands of Afghans, including many from the country’s sports and arts community, who have fled since Taliban fighters seized Afghanistan in August, when the U.S. and NATO ended their 20-year military presence. 

The Afghanistan girls’ youth soccer team has also resettled in Portugal, a country of 10.3 million that has taken in 764 Afghans since summer. 

Afghanistan has a strong musical tradition, and a pop music scene had flourished there over the past two decades. But many musicians fear for their futures under the Taliban, which rules according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law. 

The Afghanistan National Institute of Music, founded in 2010, was renowned for its inclusiveness. It became a symbol of a new Afghanistan, with boys and girls studying together and performing to full houses in the United States and Europe. 

The school’s campus in Kabul is now occupied by a Taliban faction. Its bank accounts were frozen and its offices ransacked, according to former school officials. 

The plan is to recreate the school in Portugal, allowing the students to continue their educations, as part of a wider Lisbon-based center for Afghan culture that will welcome exiles. 


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Air Force Discharges 27 for Refusal to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

The Air Force has discharged 27 people for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, making them what officials believe are the first service members to be removed for disobeying the mandate to get the shots.

The Air Force gave its forces until November 2 to get the vaccine, and thousands have either refused or sought an exemption. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Monday that these are the first airmen to be administratively discharged for reasons involving the vaccine. 

She said all of them were in their first term of enlistment, so they were younger, lower-ranking personnel. And while the Air Force does not disclose what type of discharge a service member gets, legislation working its way through Congress limits the military to giving troops in vaccine refusal cases an honorable discharge or general discharge under honorable conditions.

The Pentagon earlier this year required the vaccine for all members of the military, including active duty, National Guard and the Reserves. Each of the services set its own deadlines and procedures for the mandate, and the Air Force set the earliest deadline. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said the vaccine is critical to maintaining the health of the force and its ability to respond to a national security crisis. 

Failure to obey an order 

None of the 27 airmen sought any type of exemption — medical, administrative or religious — Stefanek said. Several officials from the other services said they believe that so far only the Air Force has gotten this far along in the process and discharged people over the vaccine refusal. 

As a result, they were formally removed from service for failure to obey an order. Stefanek said it is also possible that some had other infractions on their records, but all had the vaccine refusal as one of the elements of their discharge. 

It is not unusual for members of the military to be thrown out of the service for disobeying an order — discipline is a key tenet of the armed services. As a comparison, Stefanek said that in the first three quarters of 2021, about 1,800 airmen were discharged for failure to follow orders. 

According to the latest Air Force data, more than 1,000 airmen have refused the shot and more than 4,700 are seeking a religious exemption. As of last week, a bit more than 97% of the active-duty Air Force had gotten at least one shot. 

Members of the Navy and the Marine Corps had until November 28 to get the shots, and their Reserve members have until December 28. Army active-duty soldiers have until Wednesday, and members of the Army National Guard and the Reserves have the most time to be vaccinated, with a deadline of June 30, 2022. 

Across the military, the vaccine reaction has mirrored that of society as a whole, with thousands seeking exemptions or refusing the shots. But overall, the percentage of troops — particularly active-duty members — who quicky got the shots exceeds the nationwide numbers. 

As of Friday, the Pentagon said that 96.4% of active-duty personnel had gotten at least one shot. The number plummeted to about 74%, however, when the Guard and Reserve are included. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 72% of the U.S. population 18 and older have gotten at least one shot. 

Austin has made it clear that the Guard and Reserve are also subject to the mandate and has warned that those who fail to comply risk their continuing membership in the military. But that has proven to be contentious. 

Challenging the military mandate 

Oklahoma’s Republican governor and the state attorney general have already filed a federal lawsuit challenging the military mandate for the state’s Guard. Governor Kevin Stitt — the first state leader to publicly challenge the mandate — is arguing that Austin is overstepping his constitutional authority. 

Stitt had asked Austin to suspend the mandate for the Oklahoma National Guard and directed his new adjutant general to assure members that they would not be punished for not being vaccinated.

Austin rejected the request and said unvaccinated Guard members would be barred from federally funded drills and training required to maintain their Guard status. 

Oklahoma’s adjutant general, Brigadier General Thomas Mancino, posted a letter on the state Guard’s website, however, warning his troops that those who refuse the vaccine could end their military careers. 

“Anyone … deciding not to take the vaccine, must realize that the potential for career ending federal action, barring a favorable court ruling, legislative intervention, or a change in policy is present,” Mancino wrote. 


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Insurer Agrees to $800 Million Settlement in Boy Scouts Bankruptcy

Attorneys in the Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy case have reached a tentative settlement under which one of the organization’s largest insurers would contribute $800 million into a fund for victims of child sexual abuse. 

The agreement announced Monday calls for Century Indemnity Co. and affiliated companies to contribute $800 million into the fund in return for being released from further liability for abuse claims. The payment would bring the amount of money in the proposed trust to more than $2.6 billion, which would be the largest sexual abuse settlement in U.S. history. 

The settlement comes as more than 82,000 sexual abuse claimants face a December 28 deadline to vote on a previously announced Boy Scouts reorganization plan. 

That plan called for the Boys Scouts and its roughly 250 local councils to contribute up to $820 million in cash and property into a fund for victims. They also would assign certain insurance rights to the fund. In return, the local councils and national organization would be released from further liability for sexual abuse claims. 

The plan also includes settlement agreements involving another one of the Boy Scouts’ major insurers, The Hartford, and the BSA’s former largest troop sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon church. The Hartford has agreed to pay $787 million into the victims’ fund, and the Mormons have agreed to contribute $250 million. In exchange, both entities would be released from any further liability involving child sex abuse claims. 

The Century settlement, which is subject to court approval, provides for additional contributions from the BSA and its local councils on behalf of chartered sponsoring organizations. They include a $40 million commitment from the local councils and additional potential payments of up to $100 million from the BSA and local councils attributable to growth in membership because of chartered organizations’ continued sponsorship of Scouting units.

“This is an extremely important step forward in the BSA’s efforts to equitably compensate survivors, and our hope is that this will lead to further settlement agreements from other parties,” the Boy Scouts said in a prepared statement. “In addition to our continued negotiations with other insurers, the BSA has worked diligently to create a structure that will allow the Roman Catholic-affiliated churches and United Methodist-affiliated churches who sponsored Scouting units to contribute to the proposed settlement trust to compensate survivors.” 

The Boy Scouts, based in Irving, Texas, sought bankruptcy protection in February 2020, seeking to halt hundreds of individual lawsuits and create a fund for men who say they were sexually abused as children. Although the organization was facing 275 lawsuits at the time, it’s now facing more than 82,000 sexual abuse claims in the bankruptcy case. 

‘The only fund on the table’

Attorneys with an ad hoc group called the Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice, which represents about 18,000 abuse claimants, said in a news release that the Century settlement is another reason for victims to vote for the BSA’s reorganization plan. 

“Not only is the coalition creating the biggest possible compensation fund for survivors — it’s the only fund on the table, and it vanishes with a ‘no’ vote,” said attorney and coalition co-founder Anne Andrews. “The coalition also continues to work with the Boy Scouts of America on accountability and safety measures to ensure that no child will have to endure the horrific harm and abuse our clients have suffered.” 

The coalition, which is affiliated with more than two dozen law firms, has played a dominant role in the bankruptcy, despite the existence of an official committee charged with representing the best interests of all abuse claimants. It also has been at the center of various disputes over information-sharing and how the BSA’s reorganization plan and trust distribution procedures were crafted. 

Plan called ‘grossly unfair’ 

Opponents of the plan include several other law firms, as well as the official abuse claimants committee appointed by the U.S. bankruptcy trustee. The committee has said the plan is “grossly unfair” and represents only a fraction of the settling parties’ potential liabilities and what they should and can pay. 

The committee, for example, has said the settlements with local Boy Scout councils would leave them with more than $1 billion in cash and property above what they need to fulfill the scouting mission. The committee has also noted that sponsoring organizations such as churches and civic groups can avoid liability for abuse claims dating to 1976 simply by transferring their interests in insurance policies purchased by the BSA and local councils to the victims fund, without contributing any cash or property. 

News of the Century settlement came the same day that a bankruptcy judge in Indiana approved a $380 million settlement involving USA Gymnastics and more than 500 victims of sexual abuse by former national team doctor Larry Nassar. The agreement, which also involves the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, is in addition to the $500 million that the University of Michigan agreed to pay in 2018 to settle lawsuits brought by more than 300 victims of Nassar, a former associate professor and sports doctor at the school. 

The $880 million in the combined Nassar settlements represents an average of more than $1 million per victim, while the proposed $2.6 billion settlement in the Boy Scouts bankruptcy averages about $31,600 per victim.