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Crime

Author Salman Rushdie attacked on lecture stage in New York

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CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was attacked and apparently stabbed in the neck Friday by a man who rushed the stage as he was about to give a lecture in western New York.

An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and punch or stab him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced. The 75-year-old author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was arrested.

State police said Rushdie was apparently stabbed in the neck and was flown to a hospital. His condition wasn’t immediately known. The moderator at the event was also attacked and suffered a minor head injury, police said.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the roughly 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheater.

The assailant ran onto the platform “and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie. At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.

Another spectator, Kathleen Jones, said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.

“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said.

A bloodied Rushdie was quickly surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, presumably to send more blood to his chest.

Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes. He is a former president of PEN America, which said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.

“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

Rushdie “has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” she added.

His 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims. Often-violent protests against Rushdie erupted around the world, including a riot that killed 12 people in Mumbai.

The novel was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death. Khomeini died that same year.

Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack.

A bounty of over $3 million has also been offered for anyone who kills Rushdie.

The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included a round-the-clock armed guard. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

He has said he is proud of his fight for freedom of expression, saying in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.

“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.

Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. The Index on Censorship, an organization promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for his killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa for his death still stands.

In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie had used while in hiding.

Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”

The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served for more than a century as a place for reflection and spiritual guidance. Visitors don’t pass through metal detectors or undergo bag checks. Most people leave the doors to their century-old cottages unlocked at night.

Police said a state trooper was assigned to Rushdie’s lecture.

The Chautauqua center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before. Speakers address a different topic each week. Rushdie and moderator Henry Reese were set to discuss “the United States as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.”

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Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; and Jennifer Peltz in New York City contributed to this report.

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Crime

Memphis braces for release of video in Tyre Nichols’ arrest

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By Adrian Sainz in Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The city of Memphis and the nation on Friday awaited the release of a police video depicting five officers viciously beating Tyre Nichols, a Black man whose death prompted murder charges against the cops and outrage at the country’s latest instance of police brutality.

The officers were charged Thursday with murder and other crimes in the killing of Nichols, a motorist who died three days after a confrontation with the officers during a traffic stop.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told a news conference that although the officers each played different rolesin the killing, “they are all responsible.”

The officers, who are all Black, each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

Nichols’ family members and their lawyers said the footage shows officers savagely beating the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes in an assault that the legal team likened to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King. His family urged supporters to protest peacefully.

Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis said she expected protests after the release of video showing officers’ actions, which she described as “heinous, reckless and inhumane,” but she also urged the community to remain peaceful.

“I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand actions and results, but we need to ensure our community is safe in this process,” she said. “None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens.”

Davis said Friday that her department has been unable to substantiate the reckless driving allegation that prompted the stop.

“As far as I know today, I do believe that the stop itself was very questionable,” she told Good Morning America.

Video of the Jan. 7 traffic stop will be released to the public sometime Friday evening, Mulroy said, noting that local and state investigators wanted to complete as many interviews as possible before releasing it.

Davis told GMA that the decision to release the video on Friday evening rather than earlier in the day had been made after consulting with other local leaders, who believe it’s best to do it when schools are out and people are home from work.

As a precaution, Memphis area schools canceled all after-class activities and postponed a school event scheduled for Saturday morning.

Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, told The Associated Press by phone that he and his wife, RowVaughn Wells, who is Nichols’ mother, discussed the second-degree murder charges and are “fine with it.” They had sought first-degree murder charges.

“There’s other charges, so I’m all right with that,” he said.

The Wellses were joined by several dozen supporters on a cold Thursday night for a candlelight vigil and prayer service at a Memphis skate park. Nichols, who had a 4-year-old son, was an avid skateboarder.

RowVaughn Wells, who said her family is “grief-stricken,” warned supporters of the “horrific” nature of the video set to be released Friday, but like Davis, pleaded for peaceful protests.

“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”

Activists and clergy led the group in prayer and a drummer played a steady rhythm to lead into the spoken part of the vigil. Afterward, skaters rode their boards as the Wellses watched.

Court records showed that all five former officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were taken into custody.

Martin’s lawyer, William Massey, confirmed that his client had turned himself in. He and Mills’ lawyer, Blake Ballin, said their clients would plead not guilty. Lawyers for Smith, Bean and Haley could not be reached.

“No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” Massey said.

Both lawyers said they had not seen the video.

“We are in the dark about many things, just like the general public is,” Ballin said.

Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.

The attorneys for Nichols’ family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, issued a statement saying that Nichols “lost his life in a particularly disgusting manner that points to the desperate need for change and reform to ensure this violence stops occurring during low-threat procedures, like in this case, a traffic stop.”

At the White House, President Joe Biden said the Nichols family and the city of Memphis deserve “a swift, full and transparent investigation.”

“Public trust is the foundation of public safety, and there are still too many places in America today where the bonds of trust are frayed or broken,” Biden said in a statement.

Davis said other officers are still being investigated for violating department policy. In addition, she said “a complete and independent review” will be conducted of the department’s specialized units, without providing further details.

Two fire department workers were also removed from duty over the Nichols’ arrest.

As state and federal investigations continue, Davis promised the police department’s “full and complete cooperation” to determine what contributed to Nichols’ Jan. 10 death.

Crump said the video showed that Nichols was shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained when he was pulled over near his home. He was returning home from a suburban park where he had taken photos of the sunset.

Police have said Nichols was stopped for reckless driving and at some point fled from the scene.

Relatives have accused the police of causing Nichols to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have only said Nichols experienced a medical emergency.

One of the officers, Haley, was accused previously of using excessive force. He was named as a defendant in a 2016 federal civil rights lawsuit while employed by the Shelby County Division of Corrections.

The claims were ultimately dismissed after a judge ruled that Sledge had failed to file a grievance against the officers within 30 days of the incident.

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Associated Press reporters Aaron Morrison in New York, Travis Loller in Nashville and Rebecca Reynolds in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

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Alberta

Alberta spiritual community leader charged with four counts of sexual assault

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Photo from Johnderuiter.com

Edmonton – A self-styled spiritual leader has been charged with four counts of sexual assault stemming from separate occasions between 2017 and 2020.

Police say Johannes de Ruiter, the leader of an Edmonton group known as the College of Integrated Philosophy or the Oasis Group, was arrested Saturday.

Edmonton police allege that de Ruiter, who is 63, would tell certain female members that he was directed by a spirit to engage in sexual activity with them, and that doing so would provide them with the opportunity to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

The group operated out of a building in an industrial area in northwest Edmonton from 2007 to 2021.

Before his arrest, de Ruiter was holding meetings at an office building in St. Albert, Alta., and would host spiritual retreats out of a campground near Smith, Alta., a hamlet more than 200 kilometres north of Edmonton.

Police say in a news release that investigators believe there may be additional victims and are encouraging them to come forward to police.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 23, 2023.

 

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