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Hurricane Irma caused widespread and catastrophic damage in Barbuda, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands as a Category 5 hurricane.  It caused at 84 deaths, including 45 in the Caribbean and 39 in the United States.  For over a week, Irma’s intensity fluctuated between a Category 5 and 2 hurricanes.  It was also the most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the United States since Katrina in 2005.

All 1,800 residents of Barbuda have been evacuated to its sister island of Antigua after Hurricane Irma’s landfall on September 6 made Barbuda “uninhabitable”  for the first time in 300 years.  Downed phone lines ceased all communication with nearby islands-leaving the exact state of the island unclear for hours.  Irma damaged or destroyed 95% of the structures on Barbuda with preliminary damage assessments of at least $150 million.  Antigua sustained minimal damage with leveled roofs and fences, downed power poles lines, and uprooted trees. Some street flooding also took place in low-lying areas.

On September 6, Irma’s center crossed the island of Saint Martin with peak intensity, sweeping away entire structures, submerging roads and cars, triggering an island-wide blackout and killing 3 people.  The majority of the island’s population was left stranded and without water, electricity or phone service.  Premier William Marlin estimates between $1.2 – 1.5 billion in damage from Irma’s destruction.

Damage in the British Virgin Islands included buildings and roads destroyed on the island of Tortola, which bore the brunt of the hurricane’s core.  Satellite images revealed many residential zones had been left in ruins on the island of Cane Garden Bay.  Irma’s most severe damage were on the islands Saint Thomas and Saint John with 12 inches of rain fall and both island’s suffering widespread structural damage.  Both islands had widespread power outages and three deaths were attributed to Irma.

Hurricane Irma reached the Turks and Caicos Islands on the evening of September 7th. While the eye passed just south of the main islands, crossing over South Caicos and the Ambergris Cays, the most powerful winds on the northern side of the eye swept all of the islands for more than two hours. Communications infrastructure was destroyed with extensive residential damage and some neighborhoods reported to be entirely gone.  Minister of Infrastructure Goldray Ewing estimated that damage exceeding $500 million.

The eye of the storm passed over Duncan Town, in the Bahamas on September 8th and “almost directly over” Inagua and South Acklins.  Damage was largely confined to the southern islands with downed power lines, lost communications, flooding and 70% of homes sustaining roof damage.  Irma hit Cuba overnight September 8th as a Category 5 but weakened to a Category 3 hurricane on September 9th causing significant damage.  Many one homes and roads were completely flooded with waves rolling through some towns.  Irma is estimated to have caused at least $2.2 billion in damage and at least 10 deaths across the country.

Irma hit the Florida Keys on September 10th with reports at least 90% of structures in the Florida Keys suffering damage and a quarter of them were destroyed completely.  Irma hit the Keys as a Category 4 storm causing major damage to nearly everything in its path, knocking out power, water, sanitation and communications. The hurricane was downgraded to Category 1, prior to reaching Tampa but still left nearly 4.5 million Florida residents without power for days.   Damage along the length of the Keys, around Naples and Fort Myers area could reach as much as $300 billion, according to insurance analysts.

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As the flood waters left behind from Hurricane Harvey recede, the search continues for victims not yet counted in the death toll.  The number of confirmed deaths attributed to Harvey has reached 63 and that number is expected to rise as Houston emergency officials continue to search flooded homes.  Emergency officials have said the number of calls for service and rescue has been steadily diminishing.

Hurricane Harvey hit Corpus Christi, Texas on August 25th and continued to batter cities and towns along the Gulf of Mexico with rain.  Some areas got as much as 50 inches of rain.  Some climatologists are calling Harvey the worst rainfall event in the country’s history.  Officials have estimated the damage to be as much as $108 billion but it’s too early to know the full scope of the Texas disaster.

Across Southeast Texas, police, firefighters, the National Guard, the Coast Guard and other agencies responded with immense force trying to help those in need.  With hundreds of miles of heavily flooded area to cover and days of rain- no government response could have been enough.

As first responders were overwhelmed with calls for rescue, emergency lines were jammed and people were posting desperate pleas for help on social media.  Many had been stranded for days with no electricity, food or water.  Civilians with boats, high water vehicles and small watercrafts, took to the murky waters to help save lives.  Texans hours away-loaded up fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and flat-bottomed skiffs and headed to areas inundated with flood water and over the next six days, rescued hundreds of people and animals.

Others without boats stepped up to help as well.  Stories of people who were out of harms way using social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Nextdoor and Snapchat along with google maps to connect civilian rescue boats with people who posted pleas for help from their smartphones.    Boaters used Zello, a free “walkie-talkie” app to help each other navigate through rescues.

Three friends created the website “Houston Harvey Rescue,” in under 3 hours, in a leaky office, with intermittent power.  The site allowed users to drop a pin on a Google map to alert rescuers to people in trouble. The color of the pin could be changed to indicate the degree of urgency, and the pin could be removed when the rescue was completed, giving rescuers a real-time view of needs across the city.

While it’s too soon to know how many of the more than 37,000 heavily damaged homes in Texas are salvageable.  Officials say some will be submerged in water for up to a month and the longer a house is under water, the greater the damage.  Thousands have already been destroyed in the state and evacuees are slowly returning to their homes to try to assess the damage and gather any salvageable belongings.

At least 33,000 people in Texas have fled to more than 230 shelters, with 11,000 people inside Houston’s largest sports stadium. Churches and many businesses have opened their doors to evacuees as well.  Hundreds of thousands could seek some kind of disaster assistance, officials said.  It will likely take years for some areas of Texas to rebuild while other areas will never be the same.  The power of social media and people compelled to help others saved hundreds of lives during this disaster.  The heroes that emerged to help those in need remind us all that our country is not as divided as it sometimes seems.

Brazil has lifted restrictions on mining for gold in a 17,800-square mile area in the country’s north known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates, thought to contain rich veins of gold, iron, manganese and other minerals.  President Michel Temer signed a decree abolishing protection of the area in order to help his country’s struggling economy.

The government, which has previously said that the region is rich in minerals, gold and iron, framed the decision as an effort to bring new investment and jobs to a country that recently emerged from the longest recession in its history.  The 17,800 square mile area that is now open for mining is twice the size of New Jersey.

Brazil announced a plan in July to revitalize its mining sector, and increase its share of the economy from 4% to 6% by opening 10% of all protected rainforest areas to mining. The industry employs 200,000 people in a country where a record 14 million are out of work.  They have said that mineral extraction would only be allowed in areas where there are no conservation controls or indigenous lands.

The move comes amid signs that deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest and home to one-in-ten of Earth’s species, has accelerated.  World Wildlife Fund Brazil warned that deforestation would result, along with a loss of biodiversity and water resources. It said that even areas that remain under formal protection are at risk.

Deforestation and mining are destroying the rainforest at a stunning rate. The Rainforest Foundation estimates that about 1 acre is wiped out every second, and an estimated 20% of the rainforest has been destroyed over the past 40 years.  The Amazon covers 1.2 billion acres and produces 20% of the world’s oxygen.

A major concern arising from deforestation in Brazil is the global effect it produces on climatic change. The rainforests are of vital importance in the carbon dioxide exchange process, and are second only to oceans as the most important sink on the planet to absorb increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting from industry.

Another concern is that over a million species of plants and animals are known to live in the Amazon.  There are also millions of species of plants and animals that are unclassified or unknown.  The rapid process of deforestation of the habitats of the millions of animals and plants that live in the rainforests threatens these species that may face extinction. The deforestation has the effect of reducing a gene pool amongst species meaning that there is less genetic variation that is needed to adapt to climate change in the future.

The Brazilian Amazon is known to possess a vast resource for the treatments of medicines and scientific research conducted to find a cure for major global killers such as AIDS, cancer, and other terminal diseases.

A federal appeals court has thrown out the prison sentences of former Blackwater contractors who were involved in a 2007 massacre in Nisoor Square in central Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead and 20 injured when they opened fire with machine guns and threw grenades into the crowded public space.   The appeals court ruled three of the contractors could be resentenced, meaning their 30-year prison sentences could be dramatically shortened. A fourth contractor’s murder conviction was thrown out entirely, so he’ll now face a new trial.

The Blackwater guards claimed that the convoy was ambushed and that they fired at the attackers in defense of the convoy. The Iraqi government and Iraqi police investigator Faris Saadi Abdul stated that the killings were unprovoked.  The Iraqi government claimed that as the convoy drew close to Nisour Square, a Kia sedan carrying a woman and her adult son was approaching the square from a distance, driving slowly on the wrong side of the road, ignoring a police officer’s whistle to clear a path for the convoy. The security team fired warning shots and then lethal fire at the Kia. They then set off stun grenades to clear the scene. Iraqi police and Iraqi Army soldiers, mistaking the stun grenades for fragmentation grenades, opened fire at the Blackwater men, to which they returned fire.

The Blackwater guards contend that the Kia continued to approach even when fired upon and after an Iraqi policeman went over to the car, it looked as if the policeman was pushing it.  They feared they were under attack by a car bomb so they fired at the car, killing both occupants as well as the Iraqi policeman.  Iraqi police officers began to fire at the Blackwater men. The guards felt they could not be sure they were dealing with actual police since insurgents often disguise themselves by wearing police uniforms.

A military report appeared to corroborate “the Iraqi government’s contention that Blackwater was at fault.  Blackwater Worldwide’s license to operate in Iraq was temporarily revoked.  An FBI investigation found that, of the 17 Iraqis killed by the guards, at least 14 were shot without cause.

In 2008, the U.S. charged five Blackwater guards with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and a weapons violation.  On December 31, 2009, a U.S. district judge dismissed all charges on the grounds that the case against the Blackwater guards had been improperly built on testimony given in exchange for immunity.

In 2011, a U.S. federal appeals court reinstated the manslaughter charges against Paul A. Slough, Evan S. Liberty, Dustin L. Heard and Donald W. Ball after closed-door testimony. A fifth guard had his charges dismissed, and a sixth guard -Jeremy Ridgeway pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempted manslaughter.

On October 22, 2014, a Federal District Court jury convicted Nick Slatten of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison.  Three other guards Paul A.Slough, Evan S. Liberty and Dustin L.Heard were found guilty of all three counts of voluntary manslaughter and using a machine gun to commit a violent crime.  They were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed Slatten’s murder conviction and ordered the other defendants to be re-sentenced. A new trial was also recommended for Slatten, on the grounds that it was unjustifiable to try him with his co-defendants, and that he should have been tried separately.

The cholera outbreak in Yemen has become a dire situation as the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms the number of cases has reached over 400,000.   U.N. leaders say the outbreak has increased the number of people in need of assistance to nearly 21 million.  Since late April, the total has reached 402,484 suspected cases, 1,880 of them fatal.  Illnesses have been reported in all but 2 of the country’s 23 governorates.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, along with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, said in a statement that more than 2 years of hostilities have crippled health, water, and sanitation systems, creating ideal conditions for the disease to spread.

“We now call on the international community to redouble its support for the people of Yemen. If we fail to do so, the catastrophe we have seen unfolding before our eyes will not only continue to claim lives but will scar future generations and the country for years to come,” the three said in their statement.

They warned that Yemen is on the brink of famine and 60% of the population doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. They added that nearly 2 million of the country’s children are acutely malnourished, making them susceptible to cholera, which leads to more malnutrition.

The outbreak began last year but a second wave of the waterborne disease has spread even more quickly in the last couple of months.  UNICEF and WHO have attributed the outbreak to malnutrition, collapsing sanitation and clean water systems due to the country’s ongoing conflict.

The impact of the outbreak has been exacerbated by many factors including the collapse of the Yemeni health services, where 30,000  health workers have remained unpaid for 10 months but are still reporting for duty. Less than half of Yemen’s medical centres are still functional.  WHO officials said “We have asked the Yemeni authorities to pay these health workers urgently because, without them, we fear that people who would otherwise have survived may die.”

Local authorities and humanitarian groups have set up more than 1,000 treatment centers and oral rehydration units.  The UN is working with the World Bank on a partnership to support the response needs and maintain the local health system.

Two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels have taken a heavy toll on Yemen, causing widespread internal displacement and leaving millions facing famine.  The collapse of the country’s infrastructure has led to 14.5 million people, including nearly 8 million children,  having no access to clean water and sanitation.

With thousands more cases reported each day the number of cholera cases in Yemen is expected to exceed 600,000 by the end of the year.

 

 

Six Burundi teenagers have been reported missing after taking part in an international robotics competition in Washington DC. A police spokesperson said authorities “do not have any indication of foul play” as the investigation continues into what happened after the group attended the FIRST Global Challenge robotics competition with students from 157 nations.

Teams of high school students from more than 150 countries took part in the competition organized by FIRST Global, a U.S.-based non-profit that organized the competition which was designed to encourage careers in math and technology.

Police reports indicated that the four boys and two girls were last seen in the early evening of July 18th in northwest DC after which their adult mentor was unable to locate them. FIRST Global informed the police later that day.  All six members of the robotics team Audrey Mwamikazi, 17, Nice Munezero, 17, Don Charu Ingabire, 16, Kevin Sabumukiza, 17, Richard Irakoze, 18, and Aristide Irambona, 18 reportedly have one-year US visas.

The DC police have said that Ms Mwamikazi and Mr Ingabire are in Canada because they were spotted crossing the border but no details have been released about how they got there or why.  Canada’s Border Services Agency said it could neither confirm nor deny that the pair entered Canada.  DC police also said the other four teenagers seem to be in a safe place, but police are not reporting any further details.

The Republic of Burundi,has a population of 11.2 million people and is a landlocked country in the African Great Lakes region of East Africa.  It is bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It has been plagued by instability for decades with bouts of ethnic cleansing and ultimately two civil wars and genocides during the 1970s and again in the 1990s left the country undeveloped and its population as one of the world’s poorest.

Burundi continues to experience civil unrest after a failed coup in 2015.  The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning in late June about the African nation, advising Americans of “political tensions, political and criminal violence, and the potential for civil unrest.”  The warning also stated that rebel forces, ex-combatants and youth gangs from the Democratic Republic of Congo reportedly crossed into Burundi and attacked and kidnapped civilians; armed criminals have ambushed vehicles.

There have also been reports of human rights abuses as well. According to the UN, over 300,000 people fled the country since 2014 due to violent gangs from Congo and disappearances and killings allegedly committed by Burundian security forces.

 

Nearly a dozen families are struggling to understand how a loved one died or was injured after consuming alcohol while vacationing in Mexico.  Tourists to multiple upscale resorts in and around Cancun and Playa del Carmen say they believe they were drugged or served bootleg alcohol after small amounts of booze caused them to lose consciousness.

Tourists to multiple upscale resorts in and around Cancun and Playa del Carmen say they believe they were drugged or served bootleg alcohol after small amounts of booze caused them to lose consciousness.  These accounts have happened at Iberostar’s property in Cancun and at the company’s cluster of resorts 30 miles to the south in Playa del Carmen as well as other all-inclusive resorts in the region, such as Secrets and the Grand Oasis.

Victims range in age, male and female, all have reported consuming different types of alcohol, including tequila, rum and beer.  Some said they had as few as one or two drinks before losing consciousness-waking up hours later with no memory of where they had been or what had happened to them. In each case they said their reactions were unlike any other response they had ever had to alcohol, leaving them terrified.

College student Abbey Conner was on a family vacation when she was found face down in a swimming pool at the Iberostar Hotel & Resorts’ Paraiso del Mar.  Her brother Austin, who also nearly died, said she had taken about five shots of tequila earlier.  Iberostar’s parent company made a statement when asked about tainted alcohol possibly being served to Abbey Connor.  “We only purchase sealed bottles that satisfy all standards required by the designated regulatory authorities. We are deeply saddened by this incident and reiterate our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family.”

Nolan Webster, 22, also drowned in a swimming pool at a Mexican resort.  Witnesses testified that Nolan was not drunk at the Grand Oasis pool in Cancun when he died. A nurse signed a statement saying hotel staff forbade her from performing CPR on the man, who was breathing at the time.  Kathy Daley, 53, lost consciousness after taking a single shot of tequila, and Nancy Mahowald Nelson, 57, reported waking up in bloody sheets after having just two drinks with lunch.

Jamie and Rick Valeri stayed at an all-inclusive resort in 2015 where they both blacked out after a few drinks from the beach bar.  They said the hotel ignored complaints that they thought they had been drugged.  A Wisconsin woman said she was assaulted while both she and her husband were unconscious — something supported by an exam done by her OB-GYN when she returned to Neenah. Her husband woke up with a broken hand — a “boxer’s break” that his doctor said likely resulted from hitting someone — but also no memory of what had happened.

A 2015 report from Mexico’s Tax Administration Service found that 43% of all the alcohol consumed in the nation is illegal, produced under unregulated circumstances resulting in potentially dangerous concoctions.  The national health authority in Mexico has seized more than 1.4 million gallons of adulterated alcohol since 2010 from small local establishments, hotels and other entertainment areas

One Baltimore police officer has been suspended and two others placed on desk duty, after newly surfaced body camera video appeared to show one of the officers planting drugs during an arrest last January. In the video, Officer Richard Pinheiro is seen stashing a soup container in a lot strewn with garbage as two of his colleagues look on.

The officer briefly walks out to the street and returns to the site where he removes a plastic bag full of white capsules from the soup container. The officer was apparently unaware of a feature of his camera that stored 30 seconds of extra footage ahead of the moment he activated the device.  The footage was caught on camera in January but not discovered by a public defender until this month.  The public defender forwarded the video to the prosecutors in the case.   After the video’s release, prosecutors dropped heroin possession charges against the man who had been held in jail since January, unable to pay his $50,000 bail.  The prosecution team said that they were appalled by the behavior of the police officer.

Body cameras capture the 30 seconds before an officer actually hits the record button, but without audio. Baltimore police have said they believe the officer was recreating the discovery of drugs for the body cam.  The video has led to an investigation by the BPD’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Officials have since released more video to back up their claims as they continue to investigate these serious allegations. Footage taken moments before the original video shows the man being arrested and the officers finding marijuana and heroin on his person. They then headed into the alley to continue their search, where they “found” the bag of 25 heroin pills.

Police are investigating if the officer planted the second set of drugs there or if he was recreating the discovery when his body camera was rolling.  “It’s certainly a possibility that we’re looking into, to see if the officers, in fact, replaced drugs that they had already discovered to document the discovery with their body-worn cameras on,” said Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis.

During a press conference, Davis said that they will look at “what happened, crimes committed, policies or procedures violated” and that he’s “convinced we’re going to get to the bottom of it, if evidence was planted and take assertive action if that’s the case.”  “This is a serious allegation of police misconduct,” Davis added. “There’s nothing that deteriorates the trust of any community more than thinking for more than one second that uniformed police officers — and police officers in general — would plant evidence of crimes on citizens.”

Baltimore Police are not new to scandal.  In 2016, the Justice Department found that officers from the Baltimore Police had planted drugs on a suspect on at least one occasion. In the same year, the police were also forced to settle a lawsuit with a man who accused officers of orchestrating a bogus drug bust at his residence.   They also sparked massive backlash for an incident in April 2015 when a young, black man named Freddie Gray died days after suffering a spinal injury while under police custody.

 

 

A horrific incident of human trafficking was discovered in the parking lot of a Walmart in San Antonio, TX.  Eight people were discovered dead inside a tractor-trailer and around three dozen people more were in very bad shape, many of them unconscious and unable to speak.  Thirty people were taken to the hospital, 17 were listed in critical condition with two critical patients dying later-bringing the total to 10 dead.  Another 13 people were in serious condition.  In total, 39 people were in the back of the trailer, two were school age children but most were in their twenties and thirties.

Authorities were alerted when the employees of the San Antonio Walmart saw the tractor-trailer in their parking lot for a long time. When some employees went to check on the trailer, the driver asked for water. While giving him the water, police were alerted who reached the scene within a short time.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said that when police arrived on the scene, they discovered eight people dead and 30 suffering from various injuries.  The driver, identified as James M. Bradley Jr., 60, of Clearwater, Florida was arrested at the scene.

Bradley appeared in court and was charged with transporting undocumented immigrants for the purpose of private financial gain.  He claims he was unaware that people were packed into the back of his tractor-trailer until he parked outside the Wal-Mart to use the bathroom and heard loud banging noises. If convicted, Bradley could face the death penalty or life in prison.

The eight people whose bodies were initially found were believed to have died from heat exposure and asphyxiation.  San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood told the media “We quickly called a ‘mass casualty incident’ and had about 29 units arrive out there and start transporting people”.  “With heat strokes or heat injuries, a lot of them are going to have some irreversible brain damage”.

He added, “Unfortunately, some of them were severely overheated, and that was a refrigerated truck with no refrigeration…So the inside of the truck was just austere condition that nobody was going to survive in it. So we were very fortunate that they were found because if they would have spent another night in that environment, we would have 38 people who would not have survived.”

San Antonio police are investigating what they believe is a massive human trafficking operation.  Officials from the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement were helping with the investigation. Surveillance video showed that several vehicles had approached the trailer to pick up people. Some occupants fled into the woods nearby.  Authorities are searching the entire area on foot and by air using helicopters to locate those that ran into the woods.

Smugglers often transport large groups of migrants from stash houses near the border in tractor-trailers, or disperse them in smaller vehicles, taking them to cities like Houston or San Antonio.  A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, said that the people in the truck were probably migrants who had crossed the Mexican border on foot and been taken to a stash house before being put in the tractor-trailer to be transported farther north.

Just this month in Houston, about a dozen immigrants being smuggled in a cargo truck were rescued after being left in the locked vehicle for about 12 hours in a strip-mall parking lot. A police officer heard the immigrants, including a 16-year-old girl, banging on the walls for help.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has extended the state of emergency for another three months.  The extension followed weekend ceremonies to commemorate the first anniversary of the failed military coup in which around 250 people, mostly unarmed civilians, were killed.  Anniversary celebrations came a week after the leader of the main opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, ended a nearly 280-mile “March for Justice” from Ankara to Istanbul by holding a rally attended by more than a million people calling for an end to emergency rule and injustice.

President Erdogan vowed to continue the brutal crackdown against activists, journalists, teachers and opposition lawmakers.  He also called for the reinstatement of the death penalty in Turkey.  Since emergency rule was imposed on July 20 last year, more than 50,000 people have been arrested and 150,000 people have been suspended in a crackdown which Erdogan’s opponents say has pushed Turkey on a path to greater authoritarianism.

Speaking at parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said the emergency rule had helped created the necessary legal environment to cleanse the state of Gulen’s network. The Turkish government says it is necessary to root out supporters of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who is believed to be behind the coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement.

Since the failed coup where Turkish military forces tried to overthrow the government, the Turkish government has taken what some say are controversial steps to strengthen its power.   In March, the Jurist Report was published by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The report describes a plethora of human rights violations committed by the Turkish government between July 2015 and December 2016.

The same month the report was published, around 330 individuals were put on trial for alleged involvement in an attempted coup.  In November Turkey significantly restricted the activities of NGOs like human rights organizations and children’s groups and arrested opposition party leaders alleging they were connected to terror organizations.  Earlier this month the Turkish Parliament elected seven new members to the country’s 13-member Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) in an overnight vote.

Ten human rights activists, including Amnesty International Turkey director Idil Eser, were in court to face terrorism related charges.  The targeting of human rights defenders and similar earlier crackdowns on lawyers and associations raises the question of who will be left to defend the tens of thousands of people caught up in the post-coup purge.