Nemam Ghafouri, Doctor Who Aided Yazidis in Iraq, Dies at 52

Nemam Ghafouri was born on Dec. 25, 1968, in the Chnarok region of Iraq (now the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region), one of 11 children of Mahmoud Agha Kaka Ziad Ghafouri, a Kurdish resistance commander, and Gulzar Hassan Jalal, who relayed food and ammunition to the fighters while raising her children.

Dr. Ghafouri grew up near Tehran and in Naghadeh, in the West Azerbaijan province in Iran. Her family moved to Stockholm as refugees in the 1980s. She studied medicine at the University of Pecs in Hungary and at Umea University in northern Sweden.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, she designed and conducted one of the first epidemiological surveys on risk factors faced by conflict-zone survivors.

Dr. Ghafouri engaged in wide-ranging relief efforts in recent years, including missions to Iran to help earthquake survivors. But her primary focus since 2014 had been dealing with the humanitarian crisis created by the ISIS takeover. Even after escaping ISIS, Yazidis were left for months with no shelter and no coordinated relief operations. Seven years later, more than 150,000 remain in displacement camps.

“She didn’t think it would last for so many years, but the more involved she got, she couldn’t leave them alone without any help,” Nazdar Ghafouri said of her sister. “She saw the disaster beyond the first emergency — food, water, medicine. Then she saw the catastrophe — all the life stories behind every tragedy.”

In addition to her sister, Dr. Ghafouri is survived by her mother; five more sisters, Nergiz, Neshmil, Shilan, Chinar and Bijar Ghafouri; and three brothers, Diari, Ari and Karwan.

Dr. Ghafouri was evacuated to Sweden after contracting Covid-19 during the mission to reunite the mothers and children. On a ventilator, as her oxygen dropped to dangerously low levels, she continued to post political messages on Twitter before she was transported.

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A ‘System of Espionage’ Reigned at Ikea, a French Prosecutor Charges

VERSAILLES, France — The USB stick mysteriously appeared from an unidentified deliveryman. It held an explosive trove: a cache of startling emails detailing an intricate effort by Ikea executives in France to dig up information on employees, job applicants and even customers.

“Tell me if these people are known to the police,” read one executive’s message to a private investigator, seeking illicit background checks on hundreds of Ikea job applicants.

“A model worker has become a radical employee representative overnight,” read another. “We need to find out why.”

A decade after those emails surfaced, they are at the center of a criminal trial that has riveted public attention in France. Prosecutors are accusing the French arm of Ikea, the Swedish home furnishings giant, and some of its former executives of engineering a “system of espionage” from 2009 to 2012.

The alleged snooping was used to investigate employees and union organizers, check up on workers on medical leave and size up customers seeking refunds for botched orders. A former military operative was hired to execute some of the more clandestine operations.

The case stoked outrage in 2012 after the emails were leaked to the French news media, and Ikea promptly fired several executives in its French unit, including its former chief executive. There is no evidence that similar surveillance happened in any of the other 52 countries where the global retailer hones a fresh-faced image of stylish thriftiness served with Swedish meatballs.

unsuspecting customers who tangled with Ikea over big refunds. He insisted that he had never broken the law in gathering background material.

Some Ikea managers tapped police sources to gain access to government databases for job applicants at up to nine stores, seeking records on drug use, theft and other serious offenses. People whose files turned up “dirty” would not be hired, according to plaintiffs’ lawyers. As in the United States, applicants in France must consent to background checks.

The surveillance encompassed career workers. In one case, Mr. Fourès was hired to investigate whether Ikea France’s deputy director of communications and merchandising, who was on a yearlong sick leave recovering from hepatitis C, had faked the severity of her illness when managers learned she had traveled to Morocco.

He engaged a contact to pose as an airline worker and ask the 12-year Ikea employee, Virginie Paulin, to furnish copies of her passport stamps to win a free ticket offer. The passport confirmed her travel to Morocco.

“Excellent!” Mr. Baillot, the chief executive at the time, wrote in an email to Mr. Paris and Claire Héry, who was the director of human resources. “We’ll do more checks after Christmas to corner her,” he wrote. (Ms. Héry’s lawyer, Olivier Baratelli, said there was no evidence she had been aware of systemic surveillance. The charges against her were dropped.)

told The New York Times in 2012 that she had a second home in Morocco, and had flown there to recuperate from her illness. She said she had been so distraught by her dismissal that she attempted suicide.

Ikea officials paid particular attention to unions and their efforts to recruit members. In 2010, tensions erupted when Adel Amara, a union leader at an Ikea store in Franconville, northwest of Paris, rallied employees to strike for a 4 percent raise. Ikea said the strike had cost it millions of euros in lost sales.

After that, Ikea “tried to prevent more strikes by turning to a system of espionage,” said Vincent Lecourt, a lawyer for one of the store’s French unions. Ikea managers set up a surveillance net to gather information to fire Mr. Amara and curb militant union activity, plaintiffs’ lawyers said.

GSG, a French security company hired by Mr. Paris, advised Ikea to set a “legal trap” for Mr. Amara, and sent one of its agents to pose as a cashier, court documents showed. The mole infiltrated workers’ ranks, reporting conversations with Mr. Amara and his wife, also an Ikea employee, while spying on a number of other union activists.

“Their plan was to infiltrate the unions and explode them from the inside,” Mr. Lecourt said.

Mr. Paris also hired a bodyguard disguised as an administrative assistant with the goal, he testified, of protecting officials who claimed that Mr. Amara had harassed them. Mr. Amara was later found liable by a criminal judge for moral harassment after Ikea France filed a complaint.

Mr. Daoud, Ikea France’s lawyer, said there was no proof of the unions’ allegations. “There was no hunting down of union members,” he said.

That claim has not doused a sense of injustice among workers who said they were forever marked by the moment they learned their employer was spying on them.

Soon after Ikea fired Mr. Amara in 2011, he said in an interview, a USB stick was delivered to his home by a person who refused to identify himself, containing the explosive email trove that became the basis of the lawsuit.

The documents included receipts of nearly €1 million for surveillance operations, as well as a 55-page internal report on Mr. Amara’s union activities, personal situation and legal records dating to when he was a teenager. There were lists naming hundreds of job applicants and employees to undergo undisclosed checks, as well as the orders to investigate some customers.

“That’s when I understood that Ikea was spying this whole time, and that it was a regular practice,” Mr. Amara said. “It was absolutely surreal.”

Mr. Amara said he took the USB stick to French news outlets, he said, unleashing the media firestorm around Ikea France that led to police investigations and the current trial.

“Ikea acted as if it was all powerful over its employees,” he said.

“If Ikea hadn’t been exposed,” he added, “it would have just kept going.”

Gaëlle Fournier contributed reporting.

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U.K. Reports More Blood-Clotting Cases in People Who Received AstraZeneca Shot

Britain reported 30 cases of extremely rare blood clots in people who had received the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, the same sort of events that have prompted some European countries to restrict use of the shot in certain at-risk age groups.

The reports represented 25 more cases than Britain’s medicines regulator had previously received, going some way toward addressing a mystery that has hung over safety concerns about the vaccine: why Britain had not observed the same phenomenon that has been seen in continental Europe, driving countries including France, Germany and Sweden to stop giving the shot to younger people, who are believed to be at higher risk from the rare clotting events.

Britain’s medicines regulator said that it had received reports of no such clotting cases in people who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The clotting cases have generated concern because, scientists said, they were somewhat unusual. They involve blood clots combined with unusually low levels of platelets, a disorder that can lead to heavy bleeding.

has also recommended that countries continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine. Both agencies are continuing to investigate.

Scientists said on Friday that the overall risk of the particular clotting events that have drawn concern was extremely low: roughly one case in 600,000 recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Britain. And it is difficult to know how common the cases are in the general population, given that it can be hard to diagnose. Scientists have said that case counts would inevitably rise among vaccinated people as doctors began looking more closely for the condition.

David Werring, a professor at University College London’s Institute of Neurology, said that the unusual presentation of the cases in vaccinated people was creating concern about possible links with the shot.

But, he said, “The key thing to remember is how rare these brain clots are, and how powerful the proven benefit of vaccination is against Covid.” He added that doctors and people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine should be on the lookout for symptoms of the clotting events, like severe headaches or signs of a stroke.

“More research is urgently needed,” he said.

Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.

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How China’s Outrage Machine Kicked Up a Storm Over H&M

When the Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M said in September that it was ending its relationship with a Chinese supplier accused of using forced labor, a few Chinese social media accounts dedicated to the textile industry took note. But by and large, the moment passed without fanfare.

Half a year later, Beijing’s online outrage machine sprang into action. This time, its wrath was unsparing.

The Communist Party’s youth wing denounced H&M on social media and posted an archival photo of slaves on a Mississippi cotton plantation. Official news outlets piled on with their own indignant memes and hashtags. Patriotic web users carried the message across far and varied corners of the Chinese internet.

Within hours, a tsunami of nationalist fury was crashing down upon H&M, Nike, Uniqlo and other international clothing brands, becoming the latest eruption over China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, a major cotton producer.

sanctions imposed on Chinese officials last week by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada in connection to Xinjiang. China has placed hundreds of thousands of the region’s Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in indoctrination camps and used harsh methods to push them into jobs with factories and other employers.

“The hate-fest part is not sophisticated; it’s the same logic they’ve followed going back decades,” said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the founder of China Digital Times, a website that tracks Chinese internet controls. But “their ability to control it is getting better,” he said.

“They know how to light up those ultra-pro-government, nationalist users,” Mr. Xiao continued. “They’re getting very good at it. They know exactly what to do.”

rejected the notion that Beijing had led the boycott campaign against H&M and the other brands.

“These foreign companies refuse to use Xinjiang cotton purely on the basis of lies,” Mr. Zhao said at a news briefing. “Of course this will trigger the Chinese people’s dislike and anger. Does the government even need to incite and guide this?”

After the Communist Youth League ignited the outrage on Wednesday, other government-backed groups and state news outlets fanned the flames.

They posted memes proposing new meanings behind the letters H and M: mian hua (cotton), huang miu (ridiculous), mo hei (smears). The official Xinhua news agency posted an illustration depicting the Better Cotton Initiative, a group that had expressed concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang, as a blindfolded puppet controlled by two hands that were patterned like an American flag.

The buzz quickly drew notice at Beijing’s highest levels. On Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman held up a photo of slaves in American cotton fields during a news briefing.

shared a clip showing a worker removing an H&M sign from a mall. A user in Beijing who posts about television stars highlighted entertainers who had ended their contracts with Adidas and other targeted brands.

“Today’s China is not one that just anyone can bully!” he wrote to his nearly seven million followers. “We do not ask for trouble, but we are not afraid of trouble either.”

A fashion influencer named Wei Ya held a live video event on Friday hawking products made with Xinjiang cotton. In her Weibo post announcing the event, she made sure to tag the Communist Youth League.

By Monday, news sites were circulating a rap video that combined the cotton issue with some popular recent lines of attack on Western powers: “How can a country where 500,000 have died of Covid-19 claim the high ground?”

One Weibo user posted a lushly animated video that he said he had worked through the night to make. It shows white-hooded men pointing guns at Black cotton pickers and ends with a lynching.

“These are your foolish acts; we would never,” a caption reads.

Less than two hours after the user shared the video, it was reposted by Global Times, a party-controlled newspaper known for its nationalist tone.

Many web users who speak up during such campaigns are motivated by genuine patriotism, even if China’s government does pay some people to post party-line comments. Others, such as the traffic-hungry blog accounts derided in China as “marketing accounts,” are probably more pragmatic. They just want the clicks.

tests conducted by China Digital Times, internet platforms have been diligently controlling search results and comments related to Xinjiang and H&M since last week.

An article in Global Times urged readers to “resolutely criticize those like H&M that make deliberate provocations, but at the same time, stay rational and beware of pretend patriots joining the crowd to stir up hatred.”

The Communist Youth League has been at the forefront of optimizing party messages for viral engagement. Its influence is growing as more voices in society look for ways to show loyalty to Beijing, said Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communications at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

apologized for the “bad impact” her post had made.

“Don’t just support Xinjiang cotton, support Xinjiang people too!” another Weibo user wrote. “Support Xinjiang people walking the streets and not having their phone and ID checked.”

The post later vanished. Its author declined to comment, citing concerns for his safety. Weibo did not respond to a request for comment.

Lin Qiqing contributed research.

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