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Hard Numbers: Saudi women’s rights icon sentenced, Russia updates COVID death toll, Trump caves, Wuhan citizen journalist verdict

Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. Reuters

6: Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to almost six years in prison for allegedly conspiring with foreigners to undermine the kingdom. Ms. al-Hathloul was jailed in early 2018, just before the Saudi government removed the ban on women's right to drive. She will likely be released early next year, however, because the presiding judge suspended more than half of the sentence and applied the time she has already served in prison.


186,000: Russian authorities have revised the country's official coronavirus death toll, admitting that more than 186,000 Russians have died from the disease, more than three times the amount previously reported. This means Russia — long suspected of having downplayed the severity of the pandemic within its borders — now has the third highest overall mortality from COVID-19, only behind the US and Brazil.

2,000: The US government avoided a shutdown and a lapse in additional unemployment benefits after President Trump backed down on his threat to not sign a $2.3 trillion budget and pandemic relief package agreed to by Congress. Trump wanted to cut foreign aid spending and to increase from $600 to $2,000 the amount in checks sent to individual Americans (which Democrats are in favor of, but most Republicans don't want).

4: A Chinese court sentenced a citizen journalist who reported on the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan to four years in jail for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" (Chinese legal code for publishing what the government doesn't want people to know). Zhang Zhan was detained in May and is currently in poor health after several months on hunger strike to protest her arrest in China.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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