Monday, November 29, 2010

Iranian nuclear scientist killed and another wounded, Iran accuses Israel and US

An Iranian nuclear scientist has been killed on Monday and another wounded in two separate attacks in Tehran. Both men were targeted by men on motorbikes who attached bombs to the windows of their cars as they drove to work.
Both worked at the nuclear engineering department of Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran. The killed scientist, was named Majid Shahriari. His wife was injured. The scientist injured in the second attack was named as Fereydoon Abbasi. His wife was also wounded. According to the conservative news website Mashregh News, Dr Abbasi is "one of the few specialists who can separate isotopes" - a process that is crucial in the manufacture of uranium fuel for nuclear power stations and is also required for the creation of uranium-based nuclear weapons. Abbasi has also been a member of the Revolutionary Guards since the 1979 revolution, the website said.

Cartoon from Haaretz. The caption says: Meanwhile in Tehran.
At a news conference, President Ahmadinejad accused Western powers and Israel of being behind the murder. "One can undoubtedly see the hands of Israel and Western governments in the assassination which unfortunately took place," he said, without specifying which Western governments. He said the assassination would not stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear programmes.
Earlier, state television reported a similar claim by Iran's Interior Minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, who accused US and Israeli intelligence services of killing the scientist."Mossad and the CIA are the enemies of Iranians and always seek to hurt this nation. They particularly want to stop our scientific progress," he said. The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, who went to visit the surviving scientist in hospital, said he had a message for the country's enemies: "Do not play with fire".

Egyptian opposition wins only handful of seats in fraudulent, violent election

Early results of Egypt's Sunday parliamentary elections on Monday showed a landslide victory for the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and only 9 seats for the (liberal) Wafd, 7 for the Muslim Brotherhood, 1 for the lftist Tagammu and 1 for the Social Justice Party. This was in line with the predictions by experts, that the opposition would only win a handful of seats in the Egypt’s 508-seat parliament. The elections were characterized by widespread vote rigging, representatives of parties that in many places were barred from entering the polling stations, and violence. Definite results are not expected before Tuesday evening.
The Moslem Brotherhood, which held 20 percent of the seats in the outgoing legislature (88 seats) was aiming to win 30 percent of the seats in the upcoming chamber, despite having been subjected to a fierce government crackdown on candidates and their supporters since the group officially announced its participation in the 2010 PA elections. It seems, however, that the MB, whose candidates run as independnets, will win much less than that.
“Violence and thuggery are the most striking features of this year’s elections,” said Tarek  Zaghloul, spokesperson for the Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring Elections. At midday, Hussein Salama Zeri, a 30-year-old campaigner for an NDP candidate in North Sinai was shot in the head during clashes with supporters of a rival NDP candidate. Earlier in the day, another death was reported in the low-income Matariya district in northern Cairo. The son of Sayyed Abu Amr, an independent candidate for the Matariya/Ain Shams workers’ seat, was stabbed last night while hanging up leaflets in support of his father’s campaign. He later succumbed to his injuries.
Human rights groups reported Sunday the deaths of eight people during the People's Assembly (PA) elections, as well as 45 clashes and 180 total arrests by security forces. The government lateron conced the death of five people. According to the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, the eight deaths occurred in Omraneya (Giza), Al-Raml (Alexandria), Farkous, Wadi Notroun, Menouf, and Al-Arish over stabbings and health emergencies.Clashes were reported in Suez, Hamoul, Beni Suef, Sohag, Abdeen, and involved the use of knives between thugs and candidates’ supporters, while Qena saw gun shootouts occur between supporters of rival candidates. In Al-Raml in Alexandria independent, Moslem Brotherhood affiliated candidate Subhi Saleh was nearly strangled by a mob of supporter of the NDP-candidate Abdelsalam Al-Mahgoub, Human Right Watch reported. HRW also reported that scores of supporters of opposition candidates were wounded in fights with government supporters. The violence was less severe, however, than the elections of 2005, when there were 14 deaths on election day.
Port Said witnessed 100 arrests, the largest number out of all of Egypt's constituencies. An overwhelming majority of those detained were allegedly supporters of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated independent candidate Akram Al-Shaer.
Voting officially kicked off on Sunday at 7 AM with nearly 5000 candidates competing over 508 parliamentary seats in 254 electoral districts. In a number of Cairo districts, polling stations opened at least 45 minutes late, while many others were closed periodically during the day for unknown reasons. The polling station at Dokki’s Hoda Shaarawy School, in particular, was forcibly closed.
Official voter turnout figures will be made available on Tuesday, but election monitors suggest that only 10 percent of Egypt’s 41 million registered voters actually cast ballots today. “We estimate that the national voter turnout rate won’t exceed 10 percent at most,” said Fawzy.
In 2005, 25 percent of registered Egyptian voters participated in parliamentary elections. Al-Masry Al-Youm reporters in Cairo, Qena, Alexandria, Gharbiya and Northern Sinai confirmed that voter turnout had been “modest.”
Moharam’s polling station was only one of several voting spots to be closed to voters during the day and surrounded by thugs.A similar scenario occurred at Al-Haram district, where Muslim Brotherhood campaigners alleged that NDP-backed thugs had been brought to a local polling station to prevent opposition voters from casting ballots.
Speaking from behind her niqab, brotherhood campaigner Hanan Mohamed said that female thugs had briefly prevented women from entering the polling station. “When we began yelling, and the press began to arrive, they allowed us entry,” said Mohamed.
“But when we went in, we found wooden boxes instead of transparent glass ones,” she added. “We could hardly slide our ballots in because the boxes were already full to bursting.” Zaghloul, for his part, claimed that vote rigging had been reported nationwide. “Ballot stuffing is happening in all provinces,” he said.
The state-run High Elections Commission invalided a number of “compromised” ballot boxes in the Beheira governorate after they had been destroyed by candidate supporters who attacked at least three polling stations in the Nile Delta. In a separate incident, ballots were stolen from seven polling stations in the Kom al-Baraka district in the same governorate. Police arrested 43 of the alleged perpetrators.

Al-Jazeera English made the following compilation:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Elections in Egypt


The elections for the Egyptian parliament are in progres this Sunday. How they proceed is described in this tweet by human rights activist Ramy Raoof and others:  

few hours after opening poll stations in : at least 150 cases of Arrest/Detention, 2 dead and at least 6 sites blocked.
  falsification of voting cards in poll station number 27 in Domiat governorate
 Egypt election: Sobhi Salah, a Muslim Brotherhood candidate just survived an assassination attempt.

Moreover The Daily News Egypt reported that the Administrative Court, two days ago, cancelled the elections in 24 districts after its orders to reinstate opposition and independent candidates were ignored by officials. These include 12 districts in the Nile Delta governorates, 10 districts in Alexandria, and two in Upper Egypt.

Whoever wants to read background about the situation in the weeks leading to election day, click here for a detailed report by Human Rights Watch. It can be summed up as follows: 1200 followers of Muslim Brotherhood arrested, as well as een number of followers of Mohammed ElBaradei's movement for Change, two popular tv-shows closed, elctions rallies disturbed by security forces and additoional arrests, opposition candidates candidates barred, insufficient supervision by judges or other impartial parties on vote rigging (which will undoubtedly occur massively, as was the case with former elections. 
Riots accompanied the elction in Alexandria.
As the results for sure will be without big suprises, the turnout is not expected to exceed 10%. An update will follow later.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Two dead after Coptic protest against withholding permit to build church in Giza

One Coptic protesters died and scores more were wounded in clashes on Wednesday between police and Copts over a decision to stop construction of a church in Giza. Approximately 2000 Copts attempted to break into the Giza Governorate headquarters, while others attacked police and security vehicles, according to security officials.
Security repulsed the attempted infiltration, the officials said, adding that police have arrested 100 protesters and dispatched thousands of forces to Omraneyya and Talbeyya in southern Giza to prevent the spread of unrest.
Thousands of Copts organized a protest on Tuesday in rejection of the Giza Governorate decision to stop construction of the church. Officials said the building did not possess the appropriate permit. They said that building authorization was approved for a service center, not a church.
Protests resumed on Wednesday with demonstrators hurling stones and bottles at security personnel, after they had marched towards the offices of the governorate in Omraneyya. Security used tear gas and also live ammunition to disperse the Coptic protesters.

Update 26/11: The 19-year old Makarios Gad Shaker was shot in the chest during this last demonstration and was pronounced dead on arrival in hospital. Al Ahram reports on Friday that also a second protester died in hospital. Police kept 156 people in custody, pending investigations into several charges, including the attempted murder of the assistant head of Giza security. Other charges against the defendants are assault of central security force troops, criminal damage of a central security forces vehicle, theft of a central security forces vehicle battery, illegal assembly, causing a disturbance, use of illegal weapons, failure to carry personal identity documents, throwing stones at police cars and pedestrians, deliberate destruction of buildings for a terrorist objective, blocking traffic, possession and use of explosives and disturbing public security.
When some 30 lawyers went to the South Giza public prosecution office on Wednesday night they were surrounded by central security force troops and prevented from representing defendants arrested during the demonstrations.Head of the South Giza public prosecution office is reported to have told a delegation of five lawyers who were able to enter the building that he had received instructions not to allow them to attend interrogations.Lawyers presented a complaint about the incident to the attorney general on Thursday. (End of update)

The Coptic protests started already 11 November, after police sealed of the area where the church of St Mary was being built in Talbeyya district of Giza. Copts claim that about a million Coptsare living in this area without even one church. Protests  like this one are rare from Egypt's Christians. But church building and restoration has been a controversial issue since both require approval from a governor. A government report published last year stated that Egypt has 2000 churches, compared with more than 93,000 mosques. Copts constitute roughly ten percent of Egypt's total population of 79 million.
Earlier this month, on 16 November there was also an incident between Muslims and Copts in the village Al-Nawahid in Qena province, some 465 kilometers south of Cairo. After a christian young man was seen on a cemetery in an encounter with a muslim girl, angry muslims burned down about ten houses belonging to christians, before the police intervened. The young man and the girl had to be taken into protective custody.

Carbomb kills 15 during procession in rebellious North Yemen

A car bomb struck a religious procession in an area of north Yemen where Shiite rebels have been active, killing 15 people on Wednesday, a rebel spokesman told AFP. "Fifteen people were killed and 30 others wounded in the car bombing that targeted a Shiite procession in Al Jawf province," rebel spokesman Mohammad Abdulsalam told AFP by telephone.
Abdulsalam said the attack targeted Shiites who were preparing to mark Al Ghadeer, the day on which Shiites commemorate the annointment of Ali, one of the key figures of their faith.
The anniversary has long been a source of contention between the Sunni and Shiite branches of the faith.
The rebel spokesman did not rule out that the attack could have been a suicide bombing.

Iran temporarily stops work at Natanz enrichment facility. Due to Stuxnet worm?

Enrichment facility at Natanz (EPA)

Iran temporarily halted most of its uranium enrichment work earlier this month, the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA said in a report, an unusual move which Western diplomats said they believed was linked to technical problems.The confidential report, obtained by Reuters, did not say why or for how long Iran stopped feeding material into all centrifuge machines used to refine uranium to a low level.
It also said Iran's uranium stockpile had continued to grow and that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remained concerned about possible activity in Iran to develop a nuclear payload for a missile.

Security experts have said the release of the Stuxnet computer virus could have been a state-backed attack, possibly by Israel or another enemy of Iran, aimed at sabotaging the Islamic Republic's nuclear enrichment programme.

"Was the Stuxnet worm responsible for these disruptions or were they caused by some other event or problem?" said the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security in an analysis.

Any delay in Iran's enrichment campaign could buy more time for efforts to find a diplomatic solution to its stand-off with six world powers -- the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain -- over the nature of Tehran's nuclear work.

Iran has tentatively agreed to meet a representative of the six powers early next month, for the first time in over a year, but analysts do not expect any breakthroughs soon in the long-running dispute.

Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, denied that his country's nuclear programme was experiencing problems.

"There is no problem at all and the enrichment is continued without any interruption," he told Reuters Television. "If a couple of machines are up and down, it is absolutely normal in any industry."

Despite the temporary halt in enrichment, Iran's total output of low-enriched uranium (LEU) has reached 3.18 tonnes since early 2007, the IAEA report said, suggesting Iran had maintained steady production in recent months.Experts say that amount could be enough for at least two bombs if refined to a much higher level.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Egypt arrests critical journalist under pretext of drug possession

Egyptian authorities on Friday arrested Youssef Shaaban, a reporter for the Egyptian online newspaper Al-Badil (The Alternative), during a  demonstration against a new construction project in the Abu Suleyman neighborhood in Alexandria that local residents say threatens their buildings with collapse. Dozens of people were rounded up but most of them were released, according to news reports. Shaaban, however, was accused of possessing drugs.
Ahmed Elmasry, an Egyptian blogger and Shaaban's   friend, told the Committee for the Protection of Journalists that Shaaban was detained several times this year, in April, May, and September, while he was covering street protests calling for reforms in Egypt and against the succession of Gamal Mubarak, the son of the Egyptian president. He said that during these arrests police officers threatened Shaaban: "They told him, 'We will teach you how to write.'"  Elmasry also called the drug possession charges absurd: "He doesn't smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol," he said.
Ahmed Mamdouh, Shaaban's lawyer, said the journalist was interrogated without an attorney present. He said he believes the reason behind Shaaban's arrest was a recent article in which he exposed police brutality and cases of security forces robbing protesters of their cell phones and personal belongings. "The criminal charges against Youssef Shaaban appear to be a pretext to stop him from covering street protests or from writing critically about the authorities," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator. "We call on the Egyptian authorities to release him immediately and drop these charges."
Mamdouh told CPJ that leveling criminal drug-related charges against a journalist sets a dangerous precedent and is meant to intimidate journalists. The government has used such charges against the political opposition before but the lawyer said this is a new and unusual tactic to use against a journalist.
Several hundred people held a demonstration Monday in front of the Journalists Syndicate in Cairo, demanding Youssefs release.

Update Thursday 25/11: Egyptian blogger Zenobia (Egyptian Chronicles) writes that Shaaban has been released earlier today on orders of the assistant attorney general in Alex. So far so good. But that does not make us forget that they kept him for about a week. And on what grounds....  

Monday, November 22, 2010

New evidence that the Mossad had a hand in the killing of German politician Uwe Barschel in 1987

Uwe Barschel and family in 1987, the year of his death. (DPA)

I still remember this mysterious news item that we, journalists at the foreign desk of the newspaper De Volkskrant got on our desk on 11 October 1987: Uwe Barschel, former prime minister of the German Land Schleswig Holstein, had been found dead, fully clothed in a bath in a room of the luxurious hotel Beau Rivage in Geneva, Switzerland. Was it suicide? Murder? Had he been helped to commit euthanasia for some reason or other? Were there circumstances connected to his health that had been kept from the public? The rather bizar circumstances, the fact that 43-year old Christian Democrat, who till that time had been extremely succesful, had that very same year been forced to quitt office after he had been accused of misconduct during the elections, made that there were wild speculations. His family was convinced that he had been murdered after having contacted and lured to Geneve by a mysterious person, who had promised to give him material that could prove his innocence in the scandal. The German prosecution also took this line after some hesitation. However, in spite of  investigations that lasted till 1998, the  case was never solved.

But now the German Sunday newspaper 'Welt am Sonntag' thinks it has unearthed new evidence. In a long article 'Spur nach Israel, Uwe Barschel, der Tote in Zimmer 317' (A Trail towards Israel, Uwe Barschel, the Dead Man in Room 317) it points an accusing finger at the Israeli secret service Mossad. One of the reasons for its accusation is that Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad agent who wrote two books about  his time in this service. In one of them, The Other Side of Deception: A Rogue Agent Exposes the Mossad’s Secret Agenda, published in 1994 (and in Gemany published under the title  ''Geheimakte Mossad') he gave a detailed account of how Barschel's life came to an end.
Ostrovsky describes that the man who contacted him, visited him in his room, left Barschel sipping of the Beaujolais he had brought with him, saying that he had to get something. A while after that five man entered the room, who found Barschel duly lying on the floor, the result of a strong barbiturate that was contained in the wine. The five put him on the bed, fed him, with the help of an oiled rubber tube, a deadly drug and after that a suppository that contained another barbiturate that would enhance the working of this drug. The next thing they did was putting him in the bath tub, which before hand had been filled with ice water.

Ostrovsky's description of what happened was not new. And there was no proof. But now, Welt am Sonntag claims, they have some corroborating evidence. Hans Brandenberger, the Swiss toxicologist who was involved the case from the beginning, has never let the case drop from his mind. The now 89 year old is specalist in the changes that the human metabolism causes in chemical sunstances it absorbs, says the paper (aren't all toxicologists?). Anyhow, Brandenberger discovered already in 1994 that the deadly substance cyclobarbital, that was found in Barzel's  stomac, had been administered relatively late, as most of it was still found in its original composition in the stomac and rather little in an altered form in blood and urine, while both blood and urine contained enough quantities of the other barbiturates to make it sure beyond doubt that he was already unconscious at the time he took the cyclobarbital . It was one of the main reasons that the prosecution continued its murder investigation., Welt am Sonntage says.
Rather recently, however, Brandenberger also found the answer to the questeion that had been plagueing him all along, namely, why the strong working barbiturate Noludar, that also was found in Barschel body, was not present in his stomac and only in its non-altered from in his urine. The answer,  Brandenberger, sayd, is that it must have been administerd to him through the rectum, and even after the cyclobarbital. The people who did it probably wanted to exclude the possiblity that Barschel could be found before he died, and would survive after his stomac was pumped out, he said.
Brandenberger's findings led him to the conclusion that not only it was 100% sure it had been murder, but also it ,must have been the work of a professional team, because of the complexity of administering supositories or deadly doses to the stomac of someone who is already unconscious. Which meant that in an unexspected way Brandenberg is corroborating Ostrovsky's story - unexspectedly mainly because Bandenberger claims that when  he was doing his research, he was unaware of what the ex-agent had written.

About the reasons why Israel might have liked to kill Barschel Welt am Sonntag is less clear. The paper offers various possible explanations, one of them being that Schleswig Holstein played a role as a kind of stepping stone in the shipping of  miliatry hardware by Israel to Iran, that at the time was involved in an ugly  war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Also it hints at American involvement and it tells us that there is evidence that Robert Gates, at the time working with the CIA, lateron US-Defence minister, was in Geneva at the time of the murder. Gates would have been there in relation to the American involvement in these shipments, in the framework of the Iran-contra scandal, the scandal by which de US clandstinely delivered hardware to Iran in order gto free hostages that had been taken by Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon, and used the cash that it received in return to pay Nicarauan contra-rebels which fought against the Sandinistas.
Although it is true that Israel and the USA were both involved in delivering arms to Iran at that time, it sounds somewhat illogical that disclosures Barschel might have been willing to make would have been a reason to kill him. The Iran-contra scandal (and the Israeli involvement) had been brought to light exactly one year earlier by the then Iranian president Rafsanjani. In a speech he disclosed at that time that Robert McFarlane, the head of the American Security Council, had paid a secret visit to Iran with one of these arms shipments and - among other things - brougfht with him presents like a bible with the signature of Ronald Reagan. Subsequently also the Israeli angle became public knowledge. To kill Barschel in order to silence him if he was to disclose an Schleswig-Holsteinian aspect to these shipments, does only make sense if it would have had to do with aspects of the case that hitherto never have been made public. Welt am Sonntag does not provide new clues  in this respect. Which means that, although we may be pretty sure by now that Barschel indeed was killed by a professional secet service, most probably the Mossad, we still have to wait for the next disclosure to be able to know why they did it.. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hundreds arrested after Egyptian security forces disturb Muslim Brotherhood election rallies

Violent clashes have taken place in several places in Egypt on Friday and Saturday between security forces and followers of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hundres were arrested. The clashes, which according to most witnesses were started by the security forces, were particularly severe in Alexandria. The Muslim Brotherhood's website, Ikhwanweb, reported:  

Security forces in Karmooz, Alexandria, attempted to disperse the campaign march of MB MP, Mahmoud Attia of Karmooz constituency; however, their attempt failed and after the march they attacked the MP and his supporters causing serious injuries to three and arresting five including a handicapped person.
Security forces used 12 security vehicles, two fire trucks and a deportation vehicle. Traps were set and there were clusters at street corners to arrest supporters of the MP. Government forces also surrounded the house of MP, Mahmoud Attia.
In other districts security forces used rubber bullets and tear gas against supporters of MB MPs, Sobhi Saleh and al-Mohammady el-Sayed Ahmed. A large number of people were injured. Close to 300 people have been arrested. The security forces smashed shops belonging to MB supporters, who after that attacked the security forces. Clashes continued even after the march had ended.

In Mina el-Basal constituency, security forces pursued the campaigns and marches belonging to MB candidates, Dr Hamdy Hassan and Hussein Ibrahim. They followed the march for three streets then attacked it from behind using tear gas and rubber bullets causing severe injuries among a large number of participants, residents and bystanders. Security forces also arrested a large number of the MP’s supporters including Ibrahim el-Sayed, from the MB executive bureau in Alexandria city.
In el-Dekhela, security forces arrested a number of supporters of Bushra el-Samny, MB candidate who is running for the women quota in Alexandria. Among those arrested is someone who was attending a wedding.

Moreover, 130 supporters of Samery Mansour, MB candidate in the governorate of Sharqeya, witnessed abductions by security forces on Friday. Witnesses saw security forces banning vehicles involved in the rally, and damaging 12 privately owned cars after detaining their owners.
In Beheira, arrests came during clashes that were sparked when security forces tried to break up a gathering of people supporting MB candidates, Ossama Al-Mohamed and Manal Ismail, and three people were arrested.
Security forces in Fayoum abducted 17 supporters of MP Kamal Nur al-Din and candidate Mahmud Faruq after failing to abort the campaigning process in which more than 3000 supporters participated.

The Muslim Brotherhood's website was not the only one which gave details about the clashes. See also Al-Jazeera English and blogster Egyptian Chronicles.

Update: Amnesty International on 20 November called on the Egyptian authorities to ensure that all candidates and voters are not harassed or intimidated by security forces, supporters of the ruling party and others during the country's parliamentary elections on 28 November.
 The warning came amid fresh restrictions by the Egyptian authorities on political opposition activists, clamping down on their freedoms of expression, association and assembly.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Blogging in the Middle East, hazardous at best

The world’s youngest detained blogger, 18-year-old Navid Mohebbi, is currently being tried behind closed doors before a revolutionary court in the northern Iranian city of Amol. His lawyer is not being allowed to attend the trial, which began on 14 November.
Arrested at his home in Amol on 18 September by eight intelligence ministry officials, Mohebbi is facing the possibility of a long prison sentence. A women’s rights activist who keeps a blog called “The writings of Navid Mohebbi” (, he had been summoned and questioned several times by various intelligence services in the past year. He was beaten at the moment of his arrest and has been held in cell with ordinary offenders ever since.
Mohebbi has been accused of “activities contrary to national security” and “insulting the Islamic Republic’s founder and current leader (...) by means of foreign media.” He has also been accused of being member of the “One Million Signatures” movement, a campaign to collect signatures to a petition for changes to laws that discriminate against women (to be found on the “Change for Equality” website).
Mohebbi’s case is not isolated. Many Iranian netizens have been arrested, prosecuted or convicted. Ten of them are currently in prison in Iran. One of the detained bloggers is Ahmad Reza Ahmadpour, a cleric and editor of the “Silent Echo” website ( He has been held since 27 December 2009 in the religious city of Qom and is serving a one-year sentence on charges of “disseminating false information attacking the government” and “discrediting the Shiite clergy.” He went on hunger strike last year in protest against his prison conditions and sent an open to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.
Until Mohebbi’s arrest, the world’s youngest blogger in detention was the Syrian high school student Tal Al-Mallouhi, who was 18 when she was arrested on 27 December 2009 after responding to a summons from a Syrian intelligence agency. She is still being held by the intelligence agency although no charge has so far been brought against her.

 Another blogger who was rcently arrested is Waleed al Husseini, of the West Bank town of Qalqiya. His crime is that he posted  atheistic views in English and Arabic blogs, as well as apparently well made and poetic fake Quranic verses on a Facebook page. (His English blog, with remarkably candid statements can he found here: A proud Atheist). Some call him the new Kareem Amer, an Egyptian blogger who just completed his four year sentence for insulting Islam en president Mubarak and was released ten days late.

A number of people put up a Facebook page, with a call for Husseini's release which - among other things - carried the following statement:
“We call the Palestinian authority to release immediately Walid Husayin from prison. The right to freedom of speech is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”
It does not seem necessary to add something to this statement. Or should I add that the cases of Navib, Ahmad, Kareem, Tal and Waleed demonstrate to what extend the freedom of speech is trampled upon in many Middle Eastern countries and how necessary it is that some brave people take it upon themselves to blog and to fight for more breathing space. The same goes for those bloggers who attack (social) injustice or lack of democracy, like - to name just one recent example - the Bahraini blogger Ali Abduleman. They defend freedoms, we have to defend thèm.   

Office of Netanyahu prevents recognition of two Bedouin villages in Negev

The Bedouin village of Araqib was no less than five times destroyed by Israeli police and army. This is a pictiure of the third time it happened, in August 2010 (I wrote about it here, in Dutch) 

The Israeli sub-committee for principal planning issues in the National Council for Planning and Construction was about to include two so called 'unrecognized' Bedouin villages in the Negev  – Tel Arad and Um Elhiran – in its new plan for the Beer-Sheva greater area. The new plan would have finally given the residents of the villages the opportunity to have an official claim for their lands, to receive basic services and most importantly, not to live under a constant threat of evacuation, as many Bedouin do.
However, two days ago the committee received a letter from the Prime Minister's  advisor for planning, Gabi Golan, demanding not to include the two Bedouin villages in the new plan. The letter repeated the old Israeli demand that the Bedouin leave their lands and their old way of life and move to the small towns Israel has constructed for them.
According to sources in the committee, cited by Haaretz, the Prime Minister’s demand was met, and the new plan, which was submitted yesterday, does not include the two villages.There are more than 40 unrecognized Palestinian-Bedouin villages in Israel, many of which were in place before the state itself came into being. Their residents are Israeli citizens, but they don’t receive basic services such as water and electricity, and occasionally, they are evicted from their homes and lands, like recently happened with the villag Al-Araqib, which was destroyed several times.
A government inquiry committee headed by Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg concluded a few years ago that the state should grant most of the villages official status, but its report, though officially adopted by the government, was never implemented.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Indonesia investigates killing and mistreatement of maids in Saudi Arabia

 Indonesian protest against Saudi mistreatment of domestic workers. (AFP) Under: Yudhoyono and poster of bruised face of Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapha (AFP)

Update 20-11: The Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said there are reports that an Indonesian maid in Saudi Arabia has been killed and her employer has thrown her body out on the street. Yudhoyono said a team had been sent to the Saudi town of Abha to investigate reports of the murder of 36-year-old Kikim Komalasari.

The news comes days after Yudhoyono (photo), demanded justice for what he described as the "extraordinary torture" of an Indonesian maid in Saudi Arabia in hospital with wounds allegedly inflicted by her employer.
Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, is in a stable condition in a hospital in Medina, where she has been receiving treatment since 8 November for wounds including gashes to her lips and face caused by scissors. Yudhoyono said he would dispatch a team to Saudi Arabia to follow up on the case, a day after the Indonesian government summoned the Saudi ambassador to express its concern.
Sumiati, who like thousands of other Indonesian and Malaysian workers went to Saudi Arabia four months ago, was allegedly cut with scissors and burned with an iron by her employers, in the latest in a string of abuse cases against foreign dmomestic workers in the Middle East.
An Indonesian consulate official in Saudi Arabia was quoted in the Jakarta Globe newspaper as saying the jealous wife of Ms Sumiati's employer was suspected of inflicting the injuries. "From the picture on her passport Sumiati is pretty. The wife tortured her because of jealousy. The victim was not treated in an Islamic way," the official, Didi Whayudi was quoted as saying.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Alexandria police again tortures youth to death

Meet the late Ahmed Shaaban. This 19-year old student of tourism from Alexandria in Egypt is the second youth to have been tortured to death by the police of the Sidi Gabr police station in Alexandria in less than a year after Khaled Said was killed by police of the same station.
Ahmed Shaaban was reportedly killed at the station, but his body was then thrown into the Mahmoudia Lake near Alexandria, where it was found some days later. The offical report says that Ahmed committed suicide. His family and friends say that he was tortured to death.
For  more on this story go to Egyptian Chronicles of blogster Zeinobia. 

Update17/11:  Blogger Mohammed Abdelfattah, the man who broke the story, writes that the family of Ahmed, particularly Ahmed's uncle Ashraf Shaaban who took it upon hims;lf to handle the case,  has been under severe pressure. His uncle has been arrested and was later released. A lawyer Ahmad Nassar, who intended to file a complaint, was not able to do so because his family  was harassed. A planned protest in the neighbourhood was made impossible through the presence of a truck load of policemen. And Ahmed's friend Faraq, is still in custody in the Sidi Gabr policestationb. Since Faraq is the only eyewitness, his life may be in danger.  

Update II, 18/11: Amnesty International has called for a full investigation into claims that Ahmed Shaaban was tortured to death at a police station in Egypt. Amnesty has also called on the Egyptian authorities to guarantee the safety of Mr Shaaban's friend, Ahmed Farrag Labib, who is still in police custody.
Two policemen from the same force were charged earlier this year in connection with the death of another young man, 28-year-old Khaled Said. The officers are due to stand trial soon.
The family of Ahmed Shaaban says he went missing on 7 November while on his way home from a wedding with his friend. Witnesses told the family that the pair were stopped at a police checkpoint and arrested when they refused to be searched. But the police denied holding Mr Shaaban, telling his family that they had only detained Mr Labib on suspicion of stealing a mobile phone. Four days later, Mr Shaaban's corpse was recovered from a canal and returned to them covered in bruises to the head and body, which family members attribute to police torture and beating.

Lebanon arrests imam Omar Bakri

Lebanese security forces arrested Islamist preacher Omar Bakri Mohammed on Sunday, three days after a court sentenced him and 21 other people to life in prison for carrying out "terrorist acts."
A police statement said Bakri tried to flee when they came to arrest him at his home in the northern city of Tripoli, but he was captured after shots were fired at his car's back tires.
He was one of 47 people sentenced on Thursday night who received terms ranging from three months to life imprisonment. Those who received life were sentenced in absentia and have the right to appeal against the verdict.
A judicial source said the convicted people "belonged to an armed group with the purpose of ... killing and sabotaging. They also helped terrorists in moving and gave them weapons to kill civilians and troops." The source did not specify which attacks were involved but said they took place in Lebanon.
Bakri, a Lebanese citizen of Syrian origin, denied the charges and told Reuters on Friday the sentence was politically motivated. He said he had not even been informed about the court session at which he was sentenced.
Bakri, who used to live in London, became infamous when he referred to the hijackers behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States as the "magnificent 19." He has been banned from entering Britain for the last five years.
He has insisted his message is peaceful and said the controversial "magnificent 19" comment was a stunt.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Egypt detains blogger even after completion of sentence

Reporters without Borders has raised a protest against the prolongued detention of the Egyptian Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, whose four year prison sentence was completed on 5 November but who has been rearrested nevertheless and is kept in detention illegally.
Suleiman, who is better known under his blog name Kareem Amer, was arrested in November 2006 for criticising the government’s religious and authoritarian excesses in his blog ( He was sentenced on 22 February 2007 to three years in prison for inciting hatred of Islam and another year for insulting the president. His blog entries also criticised discrimination against women and the Sunni University of Al-Azhar where he studied law until he was expelled and sued by his professors. He was previously arrested for similar reasons on 2005.
Kareem Amer has been subjected to appalling conditions in detention. In letters he has described being put in solitary confinement for 10 days and “physical torture that was covered up by the prison doctor, who altered my medical file.” His request for a new trial was rejected in 2009. His request for early release, for which he qualified a year ago on completing three quarters of his jail term, was also rejected.
Countless protests have been organised by the Free Kareem Coalition during past four years to press for his release. Reporters Without Borders awarded him its “Cyber-Freedom” prize in December 2007. That year, Reporters Without Borders demonstrated outside the Egyptian embassy in Paris and the Egyptian stand at the world tourism trade fair in Paris. Last year, Reporters Without Borders staged another demonstration in support of Kareem Amer in front of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris.
Egypt is ranked 127th out of 178 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet,” above all because of its harassment of bloggers.

Update 17/11: Abdel-Kareem Nabil (or Kareem Amer) has been released on Tuesday, ten days after his sentence expired. He had been due to be released on  5 November. The fact that he was kept in custody beyond this date led to protests from bloggers and other media. 'He was released yesterday morning," said Gamal Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
Amer was the first blogger in Egypt convicted specifically for his writings. His prosecution was part of a government crackdown on bloggers and media outlets.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Two largest Iraqi parties consent to a deal under which finally a government can be formed

Left Nouri al Maliki, right Iyad Allawi

At long last, eight months after the parliamentary elections of March 7, it seems that the two most important Iraqi parties have agreed on a formula for a new government. Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani was elected president again on Tursday by the parliament. Under constitution he should ask the leader of the bloc with the largest following to form the government within 30 days.
The leader of the largest party is Iyad Allawi., whose secular Iraqiya Party has 91 seats, while al-Maliki’s Shiite State of Law coalition won 89. But al-Maliki has found new coalition partners since the election, which means that he is in een better position than Allawi and consequently he was given the job..
Iraqiyya consented, but according to Al-Jazeera English, .Iraqiya has said its participation to the deal hinged on four conditions: a bill forming a new security body of which Allawi will become president; the forming of a committee examining cases against political detainees; codification of the power-sharing deal; and annulment of the bans against three Iraqiya members, Salih al-Mutlak, Zafar al-Ani, and Rasim al-Awadi, who the ‘Justice and Accountability Commission,’ led by partisan Shiites, had banned for having been too close to the former Baath Party of the late president Saddam Hussein.A fifth condition was not named, but that was apparently that parliament voted to make Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab member of the Iraqiya coalition, the new speaker of parliament.
Iraqiya, a cross-sectarian political bloc, expressed hope it "would not be obliged to change its decision to participate in the political process if these conditions are not met".The backing of Iraqiya was seen as vital to preventing a resurgence of violence.
A series of attacks on Christian targets across Baghdad on Wednesday stirred renewed fear in the minority community.The bomb and mortar blasts occurred just 10 days after a bloody siege at a Catholic cathedral in the capital that killed 52 people.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Confrontations in Jerusalem

 Children of Samer Sarhan at the monument or teir killed father, which has now been taken away. However the street is now locally known as Samer Sarhan Street. 

Confrontations erupted on Tuesday morning between Israeli forces and hundreds of Palestinian school children in the East Jerusalem town of Al-Isawiya. According to the Israeli police workers from the Jerusalem municipality were performing car safety checks when they were pelted with stones by local youth. However,
Palestinian sources in the town said that the confrontations erupted after Israeli forces erected road-blocks at the eastern entrance of the residential area, preventing school children from accessing their classrooms. When students attempted to cross the road blocks, locals said, police and border guards chased them away.

The clash followed three days of car safety checks in the neighborhood, which residents called "provocative," as Israeli municipal officials stopped cars on the street at road blocks, performing maintenance checks and writing tickets for cars deemed unfit for the road, creating long delays. Residents questioned the use of the spot checks, citing mandatory maintenance tests every year for licenses to drive in Israel. Despite having passed the tests, locals said, most cars were said to have failed the spot check and were mandated to have service performed on them.
Tensions were high all over Jerusalem, particularly in Silwan, where police a few days ago, in a blitz operation at dawn, took away the memorial that had been erected by the inhabitants for Same Sarhan (32), who was killed on 22 September  by an armed guard of the settlers in the area. That happened after Knessetmember Miri Regev, a member of Likud and a former spokeswoman for the army, complained about the monument and demanded from mayor Barkat that he would remove it. (The guard that killed Srahan is still free and on duty in the neighbourhood).
Residents of Silwan said that undercover officers entered the area on Tuesday and detained five young men while four others sustained bruises when they attempted to repel the officers, who entered a grocery store at Beir Ayyoub belonging to Hammouda Siyam. As locals attempted to prevent the police, said to have been undercover at the time, from entering the shop, the officers threw tear-gas canisters inside and assaulted those attempting to prevent access.

New building plans for East-Jerusalem (and Ariel) announced as Netanyahu visits US

 Har Homa.

The United States said it was "deeply disappointed" on Monday by Israel's announcement of a plan to build over 1,000 new Jewish homes beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem.
"We were deeply disappointed by the announcement of advance planning for new housing units in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. It is counter-productive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties," said U.S. State Department Spokesman Philip J. Crowley.  

 According to Hagit Ofran, who monitors settlement activity for the organisation Peace Now, it is in fact three plans which were deposited for public review in the last few days:
  1. City Plan No. 10310 – “Har Homa C” – a plan to expand dramatically the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa with 983 new housing units.
  2. City Plan No. 12825 – a plan for an addition of 42 housing units in the already built part of Har Homa.
  3. City Plan No. 4280b – a plan to build 320 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramot.
Ofran calls it a huge provocation by Netanyahu, that the plans are being submitted right now ´at a very sensitive time in the negotiation process. The timing of this depositing is not accidental. The plan in Har Homa, had been approved for depositing in July, 2008 and suddenly now it is being deposited. It seems to be a calculated attempt by Netanyahu to torpedo peace talks and also avoid blame, by forcing the Palestinians to be the ones to walk away from the negotiation table. Har Homa has become a symbol of Netanyahu’s refusal of peace. In 1998 as Prime Minister he established the settlement, which became a major cause for the failure of the Oslo Process.

Ofran adds some remarks about the planning process. It works as follows:  The planning authorities publish every plan for public review. The public is granted 60 days to express objections to the plan, after which the Regional Planning Committee would convene to discuss the objections and to approve the plan accordingly. After the final approval of the plan, there is another long procedure before the construction can start. In cases of big projects initiated by the Ministry of Housing, such as the case of Har Homa, there is a need for a public tender, offering potential contractors the opportunity to bid for the right to build. After winning the bid, the contractors apply for a construction permit from the municipality, a procedure that might take a few months to a year, and only then can they start to construction.
The depositing is one major step in promoting the plans, but it is going to take a few years until the bulldozers can start the construction.

 So really the fact that the submission of the plans coincides with Netanyahu´s visit to the US, can only be interpreted as a provocation. What Haaretz wrote on Monday, that they might be an embarrasment to the prime minister, does not make sense. It is simply unthinkable that the planning has not been coordinated with him beforehand.

Update Haaretz writes on Tuesday that also a plan for 800 new homes in the settlement Ariel has been approved. According to Haaretz execution of this plan can start as soon as the planning and construction committee of Ariel will give its approval, which it no doubt will do.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Amnesty concerned about arrest of Sakineh's lawyer and son

Amnesty International on 3 November called on the Iranian authorities to immediately release the lawyer and son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman who is at risk of execution. The call came amid increased international concern for Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, held on death row since her conviction in 2006 on charges of “adultery while married”. These dententions leave her without legal representation and without access to familiy visits, Amnesty said.
The Iranian State Prosecutor, in his role as spokesperson for the judiciary, confirmed on Monday that Javid Houtan Kiyan, Sakineh Ashtiani’s lawyer, had been arrested on October 10 and that he was still under investigation for links to “anti-revolutionary groups abroad”. He also said that Javid Houtan Kiyan had been found in possession of three forged or duplicate ID cards.
 Media reports have said that Javid Houtan Kiyan was arrested along with Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and two German nationals.
“We fear that Javid Houtan Kiyan may have been detained for no more than fulfilling his responsibilities as Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s lawyer, and for talking to foreign nationals” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

The Iranian authorities have not confirmed either the arrest or the whereabouts of Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, Sakineh Ashtiani’s son. Amnesty International has been unable to contact him since and believes he too has indeed been arrested.
The two German nationals appear to have been conducting an interview with Sajjad Ghaderzadeh and Javid Houtan Kiyan in the latter’s office when all four were arrested, according to reports received by Amnesty International. The State Prosecutor Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei confirmed on 11 October that two foreign nationals had been arrested. On 1 November he said that the two Germans had been granted consular access.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Five months house arrest for 13-year old

Karam and his father. (Picture en text Charlotte Silver)

On 28 September, the Ofer Military Court, located outside Ramallah, sentenced Karam Daana to five months house arrest at his uncle’s home and fined the family 2,000 NIS during his pre-trail hearing. During this time, Karam may not attend school or leave the parameters of this home.
The charge was throwing rocks at a settler. Children are routinely picked up on similar charges: The Defence for Children International organisation estimates that 700 children are imprisoned every year, 300 of which are prosecuted in a military court. Typical sentences are approximately three months in prison, of which one month is served during pre-trial detention.
Yet, this time the prosecutors sought a uniquely harsh punishment of five months confinement without school. The loss of this time in school will prevent Karam from moving onto the eighth grade with his peers; he will need to make up the seventh grade. A DCI spokesperson commented on the sentence, “It’s a very draconian punishment for someone who maintains his innocence and he has not yet had a trial. There are lots of other measures they could take without preventing him from going to school. Why deprive a 13-year-old from going to school?”
After leaving the Offer court, Karam told his uncle, Basan Daana, “I only need this: I want to see my friends, to play with my friends, to go to school, to carry my bag, to go outside, to feel free, to move, to play.” Confounded, Basan repeats, “He doesn’t have the right to play.”
Khalid describes Karam’s daily agony under house arrest, “Every morning he looks out the window and sees all of his friends, all of his cousins, they are going to the school and sometimes he wants to run away to go with them.”
There are constant surveillance cameras monitoring the activities of Palestinians in the Old City of Hebron, if Karam is caught violating his sentence, his family will be charged 20,000 NIS.
The punishment did not stop at 2,000 NIS and house arrest for Karam. A few days after Karam returned from Ofer, the Israeli soldiers revoked Khalid’s permit to work in Israel while he was crossing a checkpoint in Hebron. “Now he doesn’t have work. Just because he’s the father.” A neighbour explained.
Karam lives in the Old City of Hebron, 100 metres from the settlement of Kiryat Arba. On September 22, he was arrested after a settler accused him of throwing rocks at her car, causing her to crash. When the police picked Karam up, they blindfolded him as they took him to Ja’bara police station in Hebron. Once there, the police interrogated Karam, shouting at him and asking “Why do you throw rocks.” Karam told them that he did not throw rocks. After reviewing the surveillance cameras, the Israeli soldiers saw that Karam was nowhere near the accident and released him that same day.
However, the next day during Karam’s sister’s wedding party, the Israeli soldiers returned to his home and took Karam back to Ja’bara police station, where they further interrogated him until 1:00 am. “They tied his hands, covered his eyes, and his legs also. They were shouting in his face,” said Basan.
Karam broke his silence, and answered with a raspy voice, “They only asked who throws stones, who do you know that throws stones, do you know who throws stones.”
In the middle of the night, the police transferred the boy to Ofer prison, where he remained for the week.
A neighbour of Karam explained, “The Israelis want to do this: they want to make the kids scared, not to go to these streets, not to use it. They don’t want anyone to come here, to stay here. They want to make people leave.”
The roads leading to Karam’s and many other Palestinian homes in the Old City are forbidden to non-settler cars. In order to get to Karam’s family’s house, one must park outside the village and walk along roads that settlers drive on freely.
Karam is still awaiting trial, at which point the military court will hear from prosecuting and defence attorneys. It has become customary for children to plead guilty regardless of their culpability, as it ensures a shorter detention period. However, Karam will plead innocent.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Egypt refuses registration of 57 Muslim Brotherhood candidates for parliament

At least 57 Muslim Brotherhood candidates who attempted to register to run in Egypt's parliamentary election have been rebuffed by the government, the group has said.
The Brotherhood was banned in 1954 but participates in elections by having candidates run as independents. In the 2005 election it mnaged to win 88 seats or 20% of the total.
The group tried to register 132 candidates on Wednesday for the November 28 vote, but the government only accepted 75 of their registration papers.
The registration process, which lasts until Friday, is heavily bureaucratic and involves significant paperwork.
The candidates who were unsuccessful on the first of the three-day registration period are likely to have the chance to remedy small problems, or appeal against the decision, before Egypt's Higher Electoral Commission releases the final list of candidates on Sunday.
However, opposition groups are wary that Egyptian authorities will do whatever they can to limit challenges to the ruling National Democratic Party [NDP], with observers both inside and outside the country accusing the government of a pre-election crackdown.

In recent weeks, authorities have arrested more than 100 people associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Four Muslim Brotherhood members accompanying the candidates were arrested in the city of Fayoum on Wednesday.
Hundreds of people there reportedly came out to protest against the government action.
At least 2,500 people were said to be protesting in the governorate of Gharbiya, where Abdel Halim Hilal, a senior Brotherhood member, was not allowed to submit his paperwork.
Also on Wednesday, judges heard some of around 40 election-related cases that have been put before courts in Cairo, the capital.
Ikhwan web, the English website of the Brotherhood reported on 26 October that the security forces in Alexandria arrested at least 70 the MB campaigners as they began a poster campaign for the group's female candidate Bushra Alsamny. The posters read, “Together we can introduce change and the Brotherhood’s traditional but controversial slogan “Islam is the Solution".

Muslim Brotherhood urges Egyptian state to protect Copts after Iraqi al-Qaeda group issued threats

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood urged the state to protect Christian places of worship after an Al-Qaeda group in Iraq, which earlier this week claimed the  deadly attack on a church in Baghdad, issued a threat against Egypt's Coptic church. Al-Azhar also condemned the attacks in statement on Tuesday.
"The Muslim Brotherhood is stressing to all, and primarily Muslims, that the protection of holy places of all monotheistic religions is the mission of the majority of Muslims," the group said in a statement on its website late on Tuesday. "The Brothers reject all stupid threats against Christian places of worship in Egypt issued by anyone and under any pretext," the group said. "The Egyptian state and the Egyptian people must protect holy places of all worshippers of monotheistic religions," it added.
The Iraqi group 'Islamic State of Iraq' (ISI) has declared Christians "legitimate targets" as a deadline expired for Egypt's Coptic church to free women allegedly held after converting to Islam. ISI said in an internet statement its threat was justified by the church's refusal to indicate the status of the women who it believes are being held captive in monasteries. "All Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen (holy warriors) wherever they can reach them," said the statement.
The group which claimed the capturing of Christians in a Baghdad church that ended Sunday with the killing of 58 people in a rescue drama, had said that the attack was to seek the release of the alleged converts in Egypt.
An Egyptian security source told AFP that security around Coptic places of worship had been "discreetly reinforced with plainclothes police and patrols."

In related news, an Egyptian judicial source on Tuesday told DPA the country's Administrative Court has suspended a lawsuit demanding the disclosure of the whereabouts of Kamilia Shehata, one of the alleged captives. The court ruled to hold a session to deliver its verdict at a later time.
In July, Shehata, a Minya pastor's wife, was reported missing. Her disappearance ignited protests by Copts. She may have been a forced convert to Islam. She was later found by security authorities. She then made a video in which she said she remained Christian. The footage, however, did not lead the protests to subside.
The other convert referred to in the statement is Wafaa Konstantin, whose adoption of Islam in 2004 ignited the Coptic community, who believed the conversion was coerced.
The lawyers who introduced the case demanded it bind President Mubarak to issue a decree forcing Pope Shenouda III to release Shehata, whom the petition claimed to have been confined at a monastery since 24 July.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Report: 'Palestinian prisoners regularly ill-treated by Shin Bet, bordering on torture'

The law enforcement authorities in Israel are regularly violating the human rights of detainees in a Shin Bet detention facility in Petah Tikva, according to a report released Tuesday morning by the human rights organisations B'Tselem and Hamoked. The report reveals ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees, claiming that complaints on the matter have never led to criminal investigations. The State explained in response that the interrogations were being supervised, and that the court had rejected similar claims in the past.

The research of B'tselem and Hamoked is based on the testimonies of 121 Palestinians and reveals severe human rights violations. The violations begin from the moment of their arrest and continue until the detainee’s transfer from the facility. According to the report , the violations include cruel detention conditions in sealed cells, in isolation and disgraceful hygienic conditions, continuous cuffing of detainees’ hands in the interrogation room in a way that makes it impossible for them to move, sleep deprivation, and other methods that harm the detainees physically and mentally.

Nine percent of the witnesses related that the interrogators used physical violence against them in the interrogation room. Nine percent of the detainees reported that interrogators used physical violence in the interrogation room. According to the report, "The use of any one of these means, certainly their combined use, constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and in some instances, torture. All are strictly forbidden under international law and Israeli law."

Thirteen of the 121 detainees reported of sleep depravation which lasted more than 24 hours. Thirty-six percent of the detainees said they were humiliated and cursed by their investigators, 56% reported of threats, and 9% said they were treated violently.

Many of the detainees reported that the interrogators used family members as a means of pressure: Thirty-six percent of the witnesses mentioned curses, threats, or acts of extortion regarding family members. In one case, a 63-year-old widow was held in the facility so that members of her family could see her suffering while under detention. Two days later, the woman was released without any charges brought against her.

The testimonies show that each time people were arrested from their homes, they were taken in the late-night hours. In 30 percent of the cases, security forces used physical violence toward the detainee during arrest or en route to the detention facility. The detainees related that they were taken in military vehicles; some reported that they were forced to crouch or lie on the floor rather than sit on the bench seat of the vehicle. They were not allowed to bring articles they would need in detention that are allowed under prison regulations, and articles they wore, such as watches, were taken from them.

From the time detainees arrived at the Petach-Tikva facility, they were kept in interrogation rooms or in cells. Almost all the floor space in these tiny cells is taken up by the thin mattress provided to the inmate, or several mattresses in cells intended for several persons. The ceiling is so low an inmate can touch it. Most of the cells are windowless, therefore night and day are undistinguishable. The ventilation was artificial at all times, and 26 percent reported that the air flowing into the cell was either very cold or very hot. The artificial light was kept on around the clock, causing sore eyes, impaired vision and difficulties falling and staying asleep. The walls of the cells are gray and very rough with bumps, and so it is impossible to lean against them. Seventy-eight percent of the detainees were held in isolation in these cells, without the companionship of another inmate, for at least part of their time in the facility.
Most of the cells are underground, or were perceived thus by the witnesses. The interrogation rooms, by contrast, are aboveground and have windows, enabling the detainee to know if it is day or night.

The witnesses stated that an electric bulb lights the cell 24 hours a day, and the detainee is unable to change its intensity or turn it off. This creates severe distress and causes eye pain, headaches, and vision problems.
The report's authors reveal harsh hygiene conditions: "One-person cells had a squat toilet that reeked; the mattresses and blankets were filthy; the detainees were not given the means to clean the cell, except in isolated cases and following insistent demand; 35% of the detainees were not provided a change of clothes for long periods and, in some cases, even during their entire stay in the facility; 27% of the witnesses were not allowed to shower.

B'Tselem and Hamoked have no doubt that "the handling and treatment of the detainees, as revealed in the report, are consistent with the philosophy of interrogation that seeks to break the detainees by causing shock and fear, detaching the detainees from things to which they are normally accustomed, and by severely depriving them of sensory stimuli, movement, and human contact. Other components of this philosophy are physical weakness by means of sleep deprivation, reduction in food intake, exposure to cold and heat, and pain, the primary source of the pain being forced prolonged sitting in rigid bodily positions.This philosophy is described in CIA interrogation manuals of the 1960s and 1980s, which were used to guide interrogators in tyrannical regimes in Latin America. The result of the use of these methods, as stated in the manuals, is psychological regression and a detainee who becomes putty in the hands of the interrogator."

The organizations claim that the treatment of the Palestinian detainees, as described in the report, receives the backing of the State. Since 2001, Palestinians interrogated by Israel Security Authorities agents have filed 645 complaints to the Ministry of Justice regarding the manner in which they were interrogated, but not one of the complaints led to a criminal investigation against the interrogator.

"The State of Israel attempts to justify the severe infringement of the detainee’s rights by claiming the actions are necessary to thwart serious acts of terrorism. This claim does not warrant violation of the absolute prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," the report states.

The report's authors demand that the State of Israel put an end to the use of the described means. "Toward this objective, action must be taken to achieve three results: Cessation of the breaches of the inmates’ rights, punishment of the offending officials, and payment of compensation to the victims. In addition, it is important to conduct a thorough, independent, and transparent investigation of the ostensible breaches and to publish the findings in full."
The Israeli Justice ministry issued a four-page response. It concludes that "the report makes general assumptions, some very serious, without any foundation apart from general statements, which are presented without any details which could be examined, confirmed or refuted. The ministry also claimed that the [procedures are overseen by judicial authorities. It said to ''regret the fact that the draft report repeats unfounded claims that have already been rejected by the State of Israel's Supreme Court."

Fot the full report (pdf) by B'tselem and Hamoked, click here

On my blog in Dutch I have a story about two boys which were arrested in June by border police, and kept naked in a toiletroom in the settlement Binyamin for two days. During those days they did not get anything to eat or drink, the airconditioning was blowing and from time to time soldiers entered, either to wake them up, or to urinate over their heads and faces. For a full version of the story in English, click here.

Israeli minister Meridor cancels trip to Britain out of fear for arrest, Israel suspends dialogue with UK

The Israel minister for Intelligence and Atomic Energy, Dan Meridor,  on Monday a planned visit to London, England, after receiving information that he might be facing a lawsuit or an arrest warrant upon arrival. 
He was due to speak at a fund-raising dinner organized by the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre.
Meridor was not a member of the cabinet of Ehud Olmert which staged the onslaught on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, but the Israeli Foreign and Justice Ministries notified him  that he might face charges connected to his alleged role in the IDF raid on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010. That raid resulted in the deaths of 9 Turkish activists. Meridor refused to comment on the cancellation.
Meridor is member of a forum of seven ministers that advises Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The forum discussed the arrival of the Gaza-bound flotilla in a meeting that took place on May 26, according to Netanyahu's testimony before a committee investigating the raid.

This is not the first case of Israeli politicians facing legal charges in Britain. In 2009, a British court issued an arrest warrant for Kadimah-leader Tzipi Livni over war crimes allegedly committed in Gaza while she served as foreign minister. Livni canceled her trip to London as a result of information of the warrant issued against her.

In 2005, a retired Israeli general, Doron Almog, returned to Israel immediately after landing in London because he was tipped off that British police planned to arrest him. The warrant against Almog - who oversaw the bombing of the Gaza home of a leader of the military wing of Hamas, Salah Shehadeh, in which 14 people were killed, including his wife and nine children - was later canceled.
Other Israeli leaders, including former military chief Moshe Ya'alon and ex-internal security chief Avi Dichter faced similar difficulties. The last one cancelled a trip to Spain last month, where he was to take part in a conference.

Update 4/11:
Israel has postponed all strategic dialogue with Britain in protest at a law which allows UK courts to prosecute visiting Israeli officials for alleged war crimes. Strategic dialogue between the two countries takes place annually and focuses on defence and security issues. "The strategic dialogue has indeed been postponed," Yigal Palmor, a foreign ministry spokesman, said on Wednesday.
The development came as William Hague, the British foreign minister, arrived in Israel for a two-day visit. On top of the agenda would  the law that prohibits visits of Israeli politicians to Britain, Palmor confirmed. The law in question gives British courts "universal jurisdiction" to issue warrants against individuals accused of war crimes, including visiting foreign politicians. Britain's embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that the government was taking the issue very seriously and said that a draft amendment to the law would be put before parliament "in the coming weeks".

Monday, November 1, 2010

Five month for picture of Israeli corporal abusing Palestinian

An Israeli military court on Sunday found a corporal guilty of abuse and behaviour unbecoming of a soldier after photos emerged of him pointing his gun at a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian prisoner. The corporal, who was only named 'corporal S' was sentenced to five months. He was the first to be jailed for such an offence.
The photos were found on his mobile phone after he was arrested on suspicion of taking drugs, Israeli media reports said on Monday. Other pictures found on his phone showed two other soldiers in similar poses, who are also now on trial, they said.
The picture that will cost corporal S. five month in jail. 

In August, photos a former Israeli soldier posted on the social networking site Facebook which showed her posing next to blindfolded Palestinian prisoners sparked an outcry. Last month, a YouTube video showing a soldier belly-dancing next to a blindfolded female detainee wearing a headscarf also caused outrage.

The Israeli military has said such incidents are isolated cases that do not represent the the army as a whole. Palestinians don't agree. Neither do I. One could also ask questions like: why five months for a coporal only threatens someone and was stupid enough to carry the pictures with him, and no punishment at all for .. say .. settlers who cut olive trees or set fire to land belonging to Palestinians, soldiers who beat up children, or a lot of other abuses that come to mind?

Hostage taking in catholic church in Baghdad ends with 52 dead

A policeman stands guard in front of the Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad (Reuters, file photo).

Fifty-two hostages and police were killed on Sunday when security forces raided a Baghdad church to free more than 100 Iraqi Catholics held by al Qaeda-linked gunmen, a deputy interior minister said.
Lieutenant General Hussein Kamal said on Monday that 67 people were wounded during the raid of the church in central Baghdad by gunmen demanding the release of al Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt.
The toll only included hostages and police, not attackers.
The Our Lady of Salvation church in the Karrada neighbourhood of central Baghdad was attacked by gunmen on Sunday night, who took more than 100 people hostage. The standoff was ended after police stormed the church two hours later.
The Islamic State of Iraq, a group which is linked to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack. Al-Baghdadiya television station said it had received a phone call from someone claiming to be one of the attackers, who demanded the release of all al-Qaeda prisoners in Iraq and Egypt.