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Your Thursday Briefing

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We’re covering a trial that’s a test of Hong Kong’s security law and baby panda twins in a Tokyo zoo.

A protester in Hong Kong on Wednesday became the first person to stand trial under the new national security law.

Tong Ying-kit, 23, drove a motorcycle while flying a protest flag, and crashed into several riot police officers as they tried to stop him. He faces life in prison.

He is the first to stand trial among the more than 100 people in Hong Kong who have been arrested under the sweeping new rules. His case is a test of how the city’s judicial system, based on British common law principles of fairness and independence, will interpret and enforce Beijing’s far-reaching security law.

Press crackdown: Apple Daily, the pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper, will print its last issue on Thursday and is officially closing. It comes days after the police froze its accounts, raided its offices and arrested top editors.

“Apple Daily showed we have a vibrant society, with freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” said Emily Lau, a former pro-democracy lawmaker. “But after tomorrow, Apple Daily will be no more.”

About a year ago, genetic sequences from more than 200 viruses that caused early cases of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, disappeared from an online scientific database.

Now, by rooting through files stored on Google Cloud, a researcher in Seattle reports that he has recovered 13 of those original sequences — intriguing new information for discerning when and how the virus may have spilled over from a bat or another animal into humans.

The new analysis, released on Tuesday, bolsters suggestions that a variety of coronaviruses may have been circulating in Wuhan before the initial outbreaks linked to animal and seafood markets in December 2019. It has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

The findings also suggest that by the time the virus known as SARS-CoV-2 reached the meat market, it had been circulating in Wuhan or beyond. The study neither strengthens nor discounts the hypothesis that the pathogen leaked out of a Wuhan lab, but it does raise questions about why the original sequences were deleted.

Context: The virologist who wrote the report, Jesse Bloom, belongs to an outspoken group of scientists who have called for more research into how the pandemic began.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

Four Saudis who were involved in the 2018 murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the U.S. the year before under a contract approved by the State Department, according to documents and people familiar with the arrangement.

The training was provided by Tier 1 Group, a security company based in Arkansas. The company says the training was defensive in nature and devised to better protect Saudi leaders.

There is no evidence that American officials who approved the training or Tier 1 Group executives knew that the four Saudis were involved in a crackdown to crush dissent inside Saudi Arabia. But the fact that the government approved high-level military training for operatives who went on to carry out the grisly killing shows how intensely intertwined the U.S. has become with an autocratic nation.

News From Asia

For years, Nigeria’s artists, historians, activists and royals have been clamoring to get back the stolen Benin Bronzes — more than 3,000 works, many of them religious objects, looted by British soldiers in 1897. Some institutions are beginning to respond. Artists there wonder if their meaning can be restored, too.

“They were made to tell stories, to keep memories,” said Enotie Ogbebor, an artist from Benin City. Western institutions had turned these pieces into “objects of admiration, when these were objects holding information,” he added.

Thousands of videos, in which Chinese citizens deny abuses in the Xinjiang region, migrated from a regional Communist Party news app to YouTube, Twitter and other global sites. Meant to look like unfiltered glimpses of life in Xinjiang, most carry no signs they are official propaganda.

But taken together, the videos reveal clues of broader coordination, and in a monthslong analysis of more than 3,000 of them, The New York Times and ProPublica found evidence of one of China’s most elaborate efforts to shape global opinion.

Western internet platforms are playing a key part. Those platforms serve as high-speed propaganda pipelines for Beijing. In just a few days, videos establishing the Communist Party’s version of reality can be shot, edited and amplified across the global internet.

For Western platforms, the fact that they are not immediately obvious as state propaganda poses a challenge. Twitter suspended many of these accounts in March and April, before ProPublica and The Times inquired about them, for violating its policies against platform manipulation and spam. YouTube said the clips did not violate its community guidelines.

What to Cook

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Melina

P.S. The word “pseudonormalcy” — from an Opinion essay about pandemic reopenings — appeared for the first time in The Times this week.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the failure of a voting rights bill in the U.S.

You can reach Melina and the team at [email protected].


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