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UNESCO Mutant Deal with Space State Asgardia Typifies Corrupt UN System of Guterres

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS GATE, November 9 – Another month, another scandal at UNESCO the agency that has in its mandate press freedom but has done nothing as Antonio Guterres had Inner City Press roughed up and still banned from the UN after 128 days amid its reporting on (his) corruption. Now it emerges that former UNESCO boss Irina Bokova cut a deal with a non-existent planet resulting in financial liability for the already (rightly) struggling UN agency. Auto-translated from the Russian: "UNESCO terminates the agreement with the virtual "space state Asgardia" headed by the former general director of "Almaz-Antey" Igor Ashurbeyli. Asgardia sponsored the release of a medal of this international organization for 260 thousand euros, in fact receiving in return the first serious recognition at the international level. Now the "space state" has put a financial claim to the UN structure.

The Cosmic State of Asgardia is a virtual structure with a hymn and flag that exists only on paper. Admission to the "citizenship" of this state is carried out via the Internet, as of autumn 2018, 270,000 people received the corresponding status.

The small satellite Asgardia-1, which was launched into a near-earth orbit for the money of entrepreneur Igor Ashurbeyli, is responsible for the space status in the project: information about the first "citizens of Asgardia" was recorded in his memory ... In June 2017, the then UNESCO Director of the Bulgarian Irina Bokova and Igor Ashurbeyli signed an agreement on the release of a commemorative medal "For the Contribution to the Science of Space". UNESCO expenses on the issue of a medal and awarding the laureates were to be paid by the public organization Asgardia, Ashurbeyli told the BBC Russian Service. It is about the sum of 260 thousand euros, follows from the contract between the two organizations (there is at the disposal of the BBC). It was assumed that it will be paid in two tranches - in 2017 and 2019. This money should have been enough to give the medal for five years. The initiative to launch the project came from Asgardia, says the former head of Almaz-Antey.

Although Ashurbeyli put his signature as the head of a public organization, the entrepreneur positioned the agreement on his website differently. "The first space state of Asgardia and UNESCO have established a new award," was the news about the signing of the treaty.

The first award ceremony took place at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in October 2017. The first woman cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova and the first Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Mendez received the gold medal with the image of the planet Earth.

Rightholder illustrations ASHURBEYLI.RU
A similar ceremony was to be held in 2018, but at the end of September, Asgardia received a notice from UNESCO about the termination of the treaty without giving reasons. The press service of the international organization confirmed that this decision was made without specifying specific reasons. In response to a message about the termination of the project, Ashurbeyli asked the current UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay to report on the costs of the contract: the first tranche of 129 thousand euros was calculated for 2.5 years of cooperation. However, in fact, only one award was given to the laureates. The difference "Asgardia" intends to demand back, summarizes Ashurbeyli, without naming a specific amount." And what will be the accountability? We'll have more on this. That jobs in the UN system are essentially for sale is on display at UNESCO, where Norway is pulling funding because its candidate Gry Ulverud didn't get the top educational post. (Italy got, or in context probably bought, the position for Stefania Giannini.) On September 26 Inner City Press asked the UN in writing, "September 26-3: On reports that Norway is cutting its funding to UNESCO because it was not given a high position there, what is the SG's comment and action on this? Is such a quid pro quo approach acceptable or the norm in his UN system?" By the next day, no answer. Aftenpost behind a paywall describes a demarche of UNESCO boss Audrey Azoulay by representatives not only of Norway but also Denmark and Sweden. This is ironic because these two countries are moving to cut funds to UNEP because of (Antonio Guterres-like) travel waste by UNEP chief Erik Solheim, who happens to be Gry Ulverud's husband. Does her losing out on the UNESCO job make Solheim less tempted to spend public money flying to Paris? Nothing, it seems, can stop Guterres' Lisbon air shuttle on the public dime, for which he has been willing to have Inner City Press which asks about it roughed up and banned, even on September 26 from a UN human rights speech by Michelle Bachelet it had RSVP-ed for and had a ticket to, video here. Today's UN system is corrupt.
The UN talks a lot about freedom of the press but this summer at its headquarters in New York has twice physically ousted critical Inner City Press, banned by Secretary General Antonio Guterres from entering the UN since July 3 when it was covering the UN Budget Committee. This was captured on video and now the September 23 NY Post, here.

And so, seeing that the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has whole sections devoted to Protection of Journalists and Fostering Freedom of Expression, Inner City Press reached out to UNESCO's Director of Freedom of Expression Guy Berger, whom it had questioned in the UN Press Briefing Room back in March before being banned from that room, about UNESCO sexual harasser Frank Larue, and to the New York-based liaison Ricardo de Guimarães Pinto.

A similar request for action directed first to a.azoulay [at], then to dg [at] was blocked: it seems Ms Azoulay accepted mail and information only from within UNESCO. So much for protecting journalists.

Here is what Inner City Press has sent to UNESCO, Berger and de Guimarães Pinto: Dear Messrs. de Guimarães Pinto (NY), Berger (Paris), DG:

This is a formal request for freedom of the press action by UNESCO. I am an investigative journalist who has covered the United Nations system for a decade. But but I have now been banned from the UN with no end in sight since July 3, when I was physically ousted from the UN for the second time in 11 days, while I was doing reporting.

I am told by the UN that the “suspension” of my access to the UN, now for 22 days, is for a review of being physically ousted by UN Security from covering the UN Budget Committee meetings on July 3, the type of meeting I have staked-out and covered for 11 years, the last two as a non-resident correspondent. I managed to film some of my ouster, beginning half way through as UN Security Lieutenant Ronald Dobbins tried to grab my phone, video here.

Something has gone wrong in the UN - on which UNESCO must act, immediately -- when a journalist typing up notes from an interview with the UN Budget Committee chair has been approached and assaulted by UN Security officers at least one of whom had and has a personal vendetta springing from previous (and accurate) Press coverage.

But it has become or exposed a more systemic problem: I have been banned from the UN for doing my job as a journalist, with no due process, no end in sight.

USG DPI Alison Smale has gone on a three week vacation, after vaguely claiming I was uncivil as my arm was being twisted, and that a few e-mail responses to my questions by the UN spokespeople means the UN is respecting my rights as a journalist.)

DPI has caused this problem by downgrading Inner City Press to “non resident correspondent” status for my coverage of the John Ashe / Ng Lap Seng UN bribery case, which allows UN Security to target me any time I cover a meeting after 7 pm. I am allowed by rule to stay for such meetings, and for an hour afterward. But this is not been communicated to or accepted by these UN Security officers.

The only solution is to restore Inner City Press, which produces substantial UN coverage, to its long time shared work space in UN Room S-303 (which sits almost entirely unused) and to restore me to resident correspondent status. And then to ensure rules, and the rule of law and freedom of the press at the UN, going forward. If you have any questions, I am available (for now outside the UN gates) on my cell phone, or on email here. Please confirm receipt of this request.”

  They did not even confirm receipt. So much for protection of journalists.


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