Simone Biles: USA Gymnastics ‘failed us so many times’ ahead of 2019 championships

Sports News Simone Biles: USA Gymnastics 'failed us so many times' ahead of 2019 championships

ABC News(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles blasted USA Gymnastics on Wednesday, still reeling from the impact of sexual abuse and the organization that “failed to protect” her and dozens of other female gymnasts.

Biles spoke to the press ahead of her sixth U.S. Gymnastics National Championships appearance in Kansas City, Missouri, and expressed her frustration with the sport’s governing body in the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal.

“It’s hard coming here for an organization and having had them fail us so many times. And we had won gold. We’ve done everything that they asked us for, even when we didn’t want to. And they couldn’t do one damn job. You had one job. You literally had one job, and you couldn’t protect us,” the four-time Olympic gold medalist said, wiping away tears.

“It’s just really sad ’cause now every time I go to the doctor or training I get worked on, it’s like, ‘I don’t want to get worked on,’ but my body hurts. I’m 22 and at the end of the day that’s my fifth rotation and I have to go do therapy. But it’s just hard,” she continued. “We try to work through it, but it will take some time. I’m strong, I’ll get through it, but it’s hard.”

Biles, 22, was one of dozens of gymnasts who spoke out about the rampant sexual abuse by the disgraced doctor, who was sentenced in January to up to 175 years in prison.

The four-time defending world champion in the all-around is looking to lock up in her spot for the world championship team in October.

She has won the last five all-around titles she’s taken part in at the U.S. Championships. She took a year off in 2017, the only time since 2013 she hasn’t won.

If Biles notches her sixth title, she will tie Clara Schroth Lomady’s record from the 1940s and 1950s, according to OlympicTalk.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 08 Aug 2019

FDA investigating 127 reports of seizures, other neurological symptoms after vaping

danchooalex/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating 127 reports of people suffering seizures or other neurological symptoms after using e-cigarettes, the agency announced Wednesday.

It remains unclear whether there’s a direct link between vaping and the reported cases of neurological events.

“Although we still don’t have enough information to determine if e-cigarettes are causing these reported incidents, we believe it’s critical to keep the public updated on the information we’ve received based on the agency’s initial request for reports earlier this year,” Dr. Ned Sharpless, the acting FDA commissioner, said in a statement Wednesday. “We appreciate the public response to our initial call for reports, and we strongly encourage the public to submit new or follow-up reports with as much detail as possible.”

In April, the FDA announced that it had received 35 reports of seizures after vaping, especially among youth and young adults.

“We know that nicotine isn’t a harmless substance, especially in the developing brains of our youth,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the then-FDA commissioner, and Dr. Amy Abernethy, the agency’s deputy commissioner, said in a joint statement at the time. “But we’ve also been clear that, even for adults, e-cigarettes are not risk free.”

“Seizures or convulsions are known potential side effects of nicotine poisoning,” they added, “and have been reported in scientific literature in relation to intentional or accidental swallowing of nicotine-containing e-liquids.”

The FDA has received 92 new reports since then.

All of the reported cases occurred between 2010 and 2019. Some people reported experiencing other serious neurological symptoms such as fainting or tremors, which may or may not be related to the seizures, according to the agency.

“Additional reports or more detailed information about these incidents are vital to help inform our analysis and may help us identify common risk factors and determine whether any specific e-cigarette product attributes, such as nicotine content or formulation, may be more likely to contribute to seizures,” Sharpless said. “It is imperative that health care professionals, consumers, parents, teachers and other concerned adults, as well as youth and young adult users, report detailed information about any past or future incidents of seizures following e-cigarette use to the FDA. We’re committed to monitoring this issue closely and taking additional steps as necessary to protect the public, especially our nation’s youth, from the dangers of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

How period tracking can help you

FitrWoman/Orreco(NEW YORK) — In the weeks leading up to the U.S. women’s national soccer team winning its fourth World Cup, the team’s players were tracking not only their diets and workouts but also their period cycles.

Dawn Scott, high performance coach for both the USWNT and the National Women’s Soccer League, credited the breakthrough use of period tracking as one of the strategies the team “deployed that helped us win.”

Period tracking — knowing the time of your menstrual cycle as well as the symptoms — is a tool that all women, not just professional athletes, can benefit from, experts have said.

“It’s important to realize as women we do have ups and downs and there are hormones that are predominant in our cycles, and it’s different for every woman,” said Dr. Rashmi Kudesia, a board-certified OBGYN at Houston IVF in Texas. “When you think about how many things you plan ahead for, it totally makes sense to know your body.”

Kudesia noted the majority of her patients do not track their periods and the majority of those who do are tracking to know their ovulation in order to get pregnant.

Period tracking like the USWNT players did, though, is more about improving your everyday life than seeking a big goal like pregnancy. It can help women know when they’ll have the most energy, what week they should keep their evenings free in order to have downtime and when they should plan their hardest workouts, according to both Kudesia and Dr. Georgie Bruinvels, the U.K.-based research scientist who created a period tracking app used by the USWNT.

“People say, ‘I definitely know my mood changes,’ or, ‘Sometimes I just wake up and I’m so hungry,’ but they haven’t had a way to relate that to their natural physiology,” Bruinvels told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “What I’ve found is women wanted to be informed and know their own bodies.”

The menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of a woman’s period up to the first day of her next period. A normal, regular cycle comes every 21 to 35 days, according to Kudesia.

Changing hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) throughout the cycle can cause symptoms like depression and anxiety, asthma, cramping, bloating and gas, in addition to bleeding, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health.

Bruinvels’ app, FitrWoman, breaks the menstrual cycle down into four phases.

Phase one is the bleeding phase of menstruation, when a woman is on her period and bleeding.

Phase two lasts for six to 10 days after that, while phase three starts just after a woman’s body ovulates, when progesterone and estrogen levels are high.

Phase four goes back to pre-menstruation, when a woman’s hormones decline as she prepares for phase one again.

Bruinvels and her team at Orreco, the sports performance company behind the free FitrWoman app, used research-based evidence to match symptoms and solutions with each phase.

The USWNT, for example, had posters throughout their lodging during the month-long World Cup in France reminding them of the different phases and how to treat themselves accordingly, according to Scott.

Phase one, when you’re on your period, is a time to eat fibrous carbs, like whole grains, and avoid foods high in saturated fats and food that are inflammatory, like fast food, according to Bruinvels.

In phase two, the increase in estrogen can boost a women’s mood and leave her feeling more energized. In this phase it’s best to have a healthy, balanced diet, but there is not a major need to avoid any foods.

When it comes to strength and conditioning, research has shown that a body’s ability to adapt and respond is better in these first two phases, so they are a great time to do a high-intensity workout like a circuit class, according to Bruinvels.

When progesterone and estrogen levels are high in phase three, some feel their mood can be altered and a woman’s appetite may increase and she may feel more fatigued.

In this phase, Bruinvels recommends eating healthy fats like avocados and nuts and eating mini-meals throughout the day versus three meals and two snacks. Foods that are processed and high in sugar are best to be avoided, as well as caffeine.

In the pre-menstrual phase, phase four, it’s best to prioritize foods rich in nutrients and fiber, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Foods to avoid during this phase include processed meats and fast food.

“You should be working with your hormones, not fighting them,” Bruinvels said. “Women have just accepted that they’re going to feel pain and feel like rubbish at some point, and we should start challenging that expectation.”

“[My research] makes me excited because though people get bad symptoms, you can do so much about it,” she added.

Both Bruinvels and Kudesia stress how individualized menstrual cycles are for each women, which makes tracking your cycle all the more important, so you know what symptoms to expect and how to treat them.

Kudesia pointed out that women should not add another stress to their lives by being concerned about tracking every detail of their period, though. While professional athletes and high-powered executives may need to function to a degree that rigorous tracking is required, for the average woman, it’s about being aware and being kind to your body.

“My hope is it gives women a push to be aware of what their symptoms are and plan ahead and intervene so we’re not just struggling through them every month,” she said. “Think of it as a smart self-care approach that takes into account your physiology.”

Kudesia also noted that period tracking is not something that would be effective for women on hormonal birth control, as their hormones are regulated by the birth control pills.

Regardless of how in-depth their period tracking is, Kudesia wants women to know that their menstrual cycle and the hormones that go with it are not a punchline about bad moods and bleeding, but one of the most critical parts of their well-being.

“I think for so long people have treated the concepts of period as something dirty or as a joke,” she said. “But for women, the menstrual cycle is the fifth vital sign and is just as important to your health as your heart rate, blood pressure, pulse and body temperature.”

Bruinvels said she hopes the spotlight the USWNT’s World Cup win has put on period tracking makes women realize that menstruation is more about hormonal changes in their bodies than it is about bleeding.

“There’s a taboo around periods because people think about it only when they’re menstruating and bleeding, but hormone fluctuation is the root of all of it,” she said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Democratic field descends on Iowa for all-important state fair

Political News Democratic field descends on Iowa for all-important state fair

filo/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Democratic candidates for president are flocking to the Iowa State Fair this week, an annual event filled with parades, pumpkin squashes and pork chops — marking the symbolic start to caucus season when the campaigns are expected to shift into high gear.

Wedged between the second and third round of debates, from Thursday to Aug. 18, the state fair offers a key political test for the contenders, who are moving into the tougher, pressure-filled campaign months ahead.

After crisscrossing the Hawkeye state for the first half of the year, more than 20 presidential hopefuls who seek to deny President Donald Trump a second term converge on the state fair for the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox — a hallmark event to pitch to a large crowd of potential caucus-goers six months before the first ballots are cast in 2020.

“The Iowa State Fair is one of the biggest in the country, and it’s a great opportunity for candidates to get their message out and listen to voters’ concerns on the issues,” said Iowa Democratic Party chair Troy Price. “I expect subjects like agriculture, climate change and rural development to come up in conversation given the number of rural Iowans who will be showcasing their goods over the next 10 days.”

Between appearances at the Wing Ding dinner, the Des Moines Register Soapbox and the Dickinson County Dems Summer Sizzler, candidates are eager to make inroads within the state party and foster relationships that will be crucial to capturing the all-important delegates who will decide who becomes the party’s nominee.

For the polling front-runners in the primary, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and California Sen. Kamala Harris, along with the race’s fundraising powerhouse, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, the coming days in Iowa will provide ample opportunity to court the large gathering of caucus-goers who will be the first in the country to weigh in on the 2020 primary.

For the lower tier of candidates, who are still grinding through a crowded field to gain traction, the state fair presents some of the last best chances before the fall to lay the groundwork for a successful showing in the Iowa caucuses next year — if they make it that far.

A total of 21 candidates will take their turns atop the hay bale-encircled soapbox through Sunday afternoon, for 20-minute opportunities to lay out their campaigns’ messages in what is considered the fair’s main political event. The format further allows fair-goers to compare platforms as this year’s schedule features a number of candidates with contrasting ideologies back to back.

On Thursday, a pair of moderates, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Biden, will be the first to speak, before more progressive candidates, such as former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and businessman Andrew Yang lead off the conversations on Friday.

On Saturday, attendees will hear from Harris, Warren, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and six other candidates on the busiest day at the soapbox, before being treated to a moderate-progressive back-to-back between Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Sanders on Sunday. Sunday also will feature the fair’s lone Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

Away from the soapbox, almost all of the candidates have announced they’ll spend time touring the fair — one of the preeminent retail politicking opportunities of the year, where sleeves are rolled up, corn dogs and turkey legs are sampled and midway games are played. Past years have found candidates like Barack Obama riding bumper cars, Donald Trump offering helicopter rides, John Kasich eating pork chops and Jeb Bush trying his hand at a speed-pitch contest.

But the State Fair can also bring fallout: In 2011, former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said “corporations are people, my friend” amid a testy back-and-forth with hecklers. Democrats seized on that one-liner, aiming to paint the former Massachusetts governor as an out-of-touch businessman in the 2012 race.

The next big spotlight for the candidates will be in mid-September, when the third Democratic primary debates, hosted by ABC News in partnership with Univision, will be held in Houston. So far, only eight candidates have qualified for the debate, according to an ABC News analysis of polling and grassroots donors.

The third debate comes at a critical nexus — winnowing the field down to only viable campaigns that are built to last, while others likely will exhaust their resources in the six-week buildup to the debate.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 08 Aug 2019

Scoreboard roundup — 8/7/19

Sports News Scoreboard roundup -- 8/7/19

iStock(NEW YORK) — Here are the scores from Wednesday’s sports events:


Atlanta 11, Minnesota 7
Houston 14, Colorado 3
Chi Cubs 10, Oakland 1
Seattle 3, San Diego 2

Toronto 4, Tampa Bay 3
Chi White Sox 8, Detroit 1
Cleveland 5, Texas 1
NY Yankees 14, Baltimore 2
Kansas City 4, Boston 4 — Suspended due to weather

NY Mets 7, Miami 2
LA Dodgers 2, St. Louis 1
Washington 4, San Francisco 1
Milwaukee 8, Pittsburgh 3
Arizona 6, Philadelphia 1

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 08 Aug 2019

Seventeen countries facing water crises, organization says

WORLD NEWS Seventeen countries facing water crises, organization says

LisaValder/iStock(NEW YORK) — Seventeen countries — home to 25% of the global population — are facing “extremely high” water stress, according to the The World Resources Institute, a research non-profit.

Several drought-stricken places around the world have experienced water crises in recent years, with populated cities like Cape Town, Sao Paolo and Chennai inching toward “Day Zero,” the day when taps run dry and water is no longer available.

In the 17 countries facing water risk, from India to the Middle East to North Africa, agriculture, industry and municipalities are sucking up 80% of the available surface and groundwater every year, according to WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, a tool that ranks water stress, drought risk and riverine flood risk across 189 countries.

This means that even “small dry shocks,” which the nonprofit says will likely increase due to climate change, can produce “dire consequences.”

“Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about,” WRI president and CEO Dr. Andrew Steer said in a statement. “Its consequences are in plain sight in the form of food insecurity, conflict and migration, and financial instability.”

The most water-stressed regions on Earth are the Middle East and North Africa, also known as the MENA region, and home to 12 of the 17 at-risk countries. This region could experience the greatest economic losses from climate-related water scarcity, between 6% and 14% of GDP by 2050, the World Bank found.

One possible solution could be to harness the wastewater in this area, 82% of which is not reused to generate a new source of clean water.

India ranks 13th on the Aqueduct list of water-stressed countries, but has more than three times the population of the other 16 countries combined, according to WRI.

While Chennai in southeast India is in danger of its reservoirs drying up, Northern India faces severe groundwater depletion, according to WRI.

“The recent water crisis in Chennai gained global attention, but various areas in India are experiencing chronic water stress as well,” said Shashi Shekhar, former secretary of India’s Ministry of Water Resources and senior fellow of WRI India. “India can manage its water risk with the help of reliable and robust data pertaining to rainfall, surface and groundwater to develop strategies that strengthen resilience.”

The Indian government is taking critical steps to alleviate the crisis, including placing all water issues — including supply, drinking water and sanitation — under one government umbrella. The WRI said the country can also pursue more efficient irrigation, collect and store rainwater, and conserve and restore lakes, floodplains and groundwater recharge areas.

More than a billion people currently live in water-scarce regions, and as many as 3.5 billion could experience water scarcity by 2025, according to WRI. Smaller pockets of extreme water stress even occur in countries with relatively low water stress overall.

Global water crises are stemming from more than just drought. Increasing populations degrade freshwater and coastal aquatic ecosystems, and WRI found that global water withdrawals have more than doubled since the 1960s due to growing demand — with no signs of slowing down.

Water stress poses threats to human lives, livelihoods and business stability, and it is “poised to worsen unless countries act,” according to WRI.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 08 Aug 2019

Ohio family’s lawsuit alleges mom’s embryo was fertilized with sperm of a stranger

ktsimage/iStock(DELAWARE, Ohio) — An Ohio family announced a lawsuit Wednesday, claiming a stranger’s sperm was used to create an embryo when a couple underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF) in 1994.

According to the complaint, Joseph Cartellone, of Delaware, Ohio, alleges he discovered earlier this year that he is not the biological father of his 24-year-old daughter, Rebecca, with his wife, Jennifer.

The family claims they made the discovery after Rebecca gave them at-home DNA kits last Christmas. They allege they received the results in late January and almost immediately noticed something was off.

“When we looked at the results, what we immediately noticed was that that there were no traces of Italian DNA in [Rebecca’s results] at all,” Cartellone told ABC News’ Good Morning America Wednesday. “And her DNA matched my wife’s pretty closely.”

Cartellone said he called the maker of the DNA kit thinking there had been a mistake, but after they walked him through the process, he believed the test was accurate. According to the lawsuit, he and Rebecca later underwent a legal paternity test that confirmed he is not her biological father.

“My disbelief turned quickly to shock and then ultimately to anger that this could possibly be the case,” Cartellone said.

The Cartellone family used the results of the DNA test to trace Rebecca’s biological father to a “handful of individuals,” one of whom worked at Christ Hospital, which is named defendant in the lawsuit, one of the family’s attorneys, Joseph Peiffer, said at a news conference Wednesday.

In addition to Christ Hospital, the lawsuit was also filed against the Institute for Reproductive Health and Ovation Fertility in Cincinnati.

“While we are evaluating the allegations surrounding events alleged to have occurred in the early 1990’s, it is The Christ Hospital Health Network’s practice to not publicly comment on pending litigation,” the health network told ABC News in a statement.

The Institute for Reproductive Health and Ovation Fertility did not immediately reply to ABC News’ request for comment.

Cartellone says this has all been “extremely difficult” for his family.

Rebecca, who lives in Dublin, Ohio, is the couple’s only child. She is experiencing “significant emotional distress and confusion regarding her own identity,” according to Cartellone.

“My wife Jennifer is still in shock,” he said at the news conference about the allegations in the lawsuit. “She has to deal with the fact that this clinic … fertilized her eggs with a complete stranger’s sperm and placed them in her body.”

“She’s also faced with a difficult series of emotional challenges and questions,” he added. “She is profoundly disappointed that she no longer can give birth to a child with both of our genetics.”

According to the complaint, in addition to not knowing the identity of his daughter’s biological father, Cartellone does not know if his sperm was potentially used to create embryos with another woman’s eggs.

“One of the things we really want to find out through our lawsuit is what happened,” said Adam Wolf, another attorney for the family. “Right now we have no idea.”

The Cartellones’ lawsuit, filed in Hamilton County, Ohio, comes just weeks after a couple in California sued a Los Angeles fertility center after they say they went court to get custody of their baby from a woman across the country who had unwittingly given birth to a child using their embryo as a result of the facility’s error.

A different California fertility center, this one in San Francisco, faced class-action lawsuits last year from people who say their embryos were destroyed by a freezer tank failure at the clinic.

The Cartellones are asking in their lawsuit for compensatory damages with interest, and for the defendants to provide the identity and medical history of Rebecca’s biological father.

Cartellone and his attorneys said Wednesday they also want their lawsuit to spark change in the fertility industry.

“We keep asking, ‘Why hasn’t someone done something about this already?’ We’re talking about the creation of life,” Cartellone said. “There need to be stronger oversight and controls put in place.”

“These clinics need to be held accountable and they need to suffer real consequences for their actions,” he added. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that this doesn’t happen again to anyone else.”

Cartellone said he wants other parents and parents-to-be to learn from his family’s ordeal and go into the fertility process with their “eyes wide open.”

“I would strongly urge them to have their eyes wide open and understand something we did not at the time, which is that this is an industry that has a lot of issues and errors and mistakes, and even some intentional,” he said, noting that parents should demand to have DNA tests done on fertilized embryos “before they are implanted in the mother-to-be.”

“They need to do as much research as they can and I would highly recommend they get as much transparency as they can into the process,” Cartellone added. “And not just blindly trust that the experts are doing what needs to be done always.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Welcome to Zamunda: Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones board the ‘Coming to America’ sequel

Entertainment News  Welcome to Zamunda: Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones board the 'Coming to America' sequel


TM & COPYRIGHT © 1988 BY PARAMOUNT PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.(NEW YORK) — Wesley Snipes and Leslie Jones are officially headed to Zamunda.

The Hollywood Reporter has learned that Snipes and the SNL star have been added to the cast of Coming 2 America, the sequel to the classic 1988 comedy. They join original stars Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, who have already been confirmed for the sequel. 

The original 1988 film Coming to America starred Murphy as Akeem Joffer, crown prince of the fictional African nation of Zamunda. In an effort to find a wife, Akeem, along with his trusty assistant Semmi, played by Hall, decide to travel to Queens, NY.

In the sequel, Akeem learns about a long-lost son and must return to America to meet the “unlikely heir to the throne of Zamunda.” 

Snipes will play a new character, General Izzi, a man who rules a neighboring nation.  Jones’ role is being kept secret. The Hollywood Reporter says If Beale Street Could Talk star Kiki Layne has also joined the cast, as Akeem’s daughter.

In addition to Murphy and Hall, most of the original film’s cast, including Shari Headley and James Earl Jones, is expected to return. However, as of now, only Murphy, Hall, Snipes and Jermaine Fowler have officially signed on.

As previously noted, black-ish creator Kenya Barris is rewriting a script from original Coming to America writers Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield.

Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer has signed on to direct the project, which Murphy’s also producing. The two recently worked together on the Netflix comedy Dolemite Is My Name, which follows the story of real-life comedian Rudy Ray Moore.

Coming 2 America is set to hit theaters August 7, 2020.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 08 Aug 2019

Ann Curry helps solve medical mysteries in real time on ‘Chasing the Cure’

Entertainment News  Ann Curry helps solve medical mysteries in real time on 'Chasing the Cure'


Warner Media(NEW YORK) — Ann Curry doesn’t want anyone to suffer in silence. The Emmy award-winning journalist hosts and produces an innovative new show called Chasing the Cure, designed to help solve medical mysteries in real time.

The show, airing live tonight on TNT and TBS, will follow a series of patients searching for answers to their mysterious ailments, including a woman who’s had a severe headache every day for nine years and a teen girl who woke up one day deaf in one ear.

Curry explains the benefits to the show’s unique crowd-sourcing capabilities.

“We are each other’s best resource and when we expand how many people know about our suffering, our challenges, we have a better chance of rising from them, we have a better chance of easing our suffering and becoming well again,” Curry tells ABC Radio.

She adds that by airing live, producers are able to get immediate advice from every doctor or medical professional watching, as well as anyone who’s had a similar symptom or who knows someone that has. Viewers can call in, email or use social media to connect — even if it’s just to share some kind words.

“You fall in love with these patients, you start to cheer for them and you want them to be well,” Curry says. “And even encouragement online, even if you know nothing, sending encouragement, I’ve seen it already in our interactions with these patients — that it matters.  It matters that they’re seen, it matters that they’re heard, it matters that they’re not suffering alone.”

Chasing the Cure airs live tonight at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on TNT, TBS and on

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved. 

Posted On 08 Aug 2019

Russian couple threatened with losing their son after bringing him to opposition protest

WORLD NEWS Russian couple threatened with losing their son after bringing him to opposition protest

republica/iStock(MOSCOW) — Russian prosecutors are seeking to take an infant child away from his parents after they brought him to an opposition protest in Moscow, a move condemned by human rights campaigners who called it part of a broader attempt by authorities to intimidate anti-Kremlin demonstrators.

As protesters have gathered in Moscow for three weekends in a row to demand fair elections, authorities have used harsh tactics to try to quash the protests, and more than 2000 people have been arrested.

Prosecutors in Moscow on Tuesday accused one couple, Olga and Dmitry Prokazov, of handing their one-year-old child to another man during a protest two weeks ago, thereby putting his “health and life in danger.” Prosecutors asked a court to strip the couple of their parental rights.

The boy’s mother and father have rejected the case against them as invented, saying they were not near any clashes with police and that the man who held their child is a close relative. Dmitry Prokazov told the Russian-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that the case felt like a “surreal film.”

Police had searched the couple’s apartment, Prokazov said, and on Tuesday the two were called in for questioning by investigators.

“It is completely outrageous. Pure intimidation and nothing more,” Yulia Gorbunova, a researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Moscow, told ABC News, adding she believed the attempt to remove the child was “illegal.”

“It seems the Russian authorities are going to great lengths to basically dissuade and discourage people from continuing to protest,” she said.

The friend who was with the couple was an activist, Sergey Fomin, who is being sought by police for taking part in what they allege were “mass disorders” during one of the protests. Prosecutors accused the Prokazovs of giving their baby to Fomin to help him escape arrest.

The couple has told reporters that that allegation is a fiction and they had not seen any police or disorder when they were with Fomin.

The protests in central Moscow have attracted several thousand people each weekend, sparked by authorities’ refusal to allow opposition candidates to take part in city council elections. In response, heavily-armored riot police with batons and wearing masks have roughly detained hundreds of people, often seemingly at random. Videos have shown police clubbing protesters on the ground.

But authorities have sought to paint the peaceful protests as violent. Russian state media has produced reports using crudely-cut video to make it appear as though demonstrators were attacking police.

The case of the Prokazovs and Fomin has become a prominent plot-line in these reports and also in videos posted by Russia’s foreign ministry insinuating the protest were directed by foreign powers.

“This story just fell right into that narrative and they really took off with it,” Gorbunova said. “In fact the only people who endangered others during this protest were the police.”

Some officials have criticized the case. The city’s children’s rights ombudsman, Yevgeny Bunimovich told the Interfax news agency that it was “unacceptable in any political situation to use children for blackmail.”

There have been signs that investigators might back off. The Investigative Committee, which handles serious crimes, has told the Prokazovs they are not suspected of any crime, their lawyer Maksim Pashkov told reporters Tuesday. But the request to strip the Prokazovs’ parental rights remains open, Dmitry Prokazov said.

Prosecutors have now charged 11 people with involvement in “mass disorder”, which carries potentially lengthy prison sentences. On Wednesday, the national election commission rejected the final appeal of two leading opposition candidates, Lyubov Sobol and Dmitry Gudkov, to be placed on the ballot.

Authorities have also sought to diminish the protests in other ways. State TV did not cover the protests on the day, instead showing a previously unknown kebab-themed music festival in a central Moscow park called “Shashlik Live,” which was hastily promoted. Afterwards, the mayor’s office said 300,000 people had attended the festival, which would make it one of the world’s most popular, dwarfing the crowds at major festivals like Coachella or Glastonbury in the UK.

Officials appeared set to repeat the trick this Saturday when the opposition has called another protest. Moscow’s mayor’s office announced it would hold another festival on the same day, called “Meat and Beat.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 08 Aug 2019