Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bahrain detains human rights activist at the airport

Maryam al-Khawaja

Bahraini authorities detained prominent human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja on Saturday on her arrival at the Gulf state's airport, her mother told Reuters.
Maryam is the daughter of Shi'ite Muslim activist Abdulhadi Abdulla Hubail al-Khawaja, who has been detained in the Sunni monarchy since 2011 and is on hunger strike.
"Maryam told me that she will be transferred to the court tomorrow," her mother, Khadija al-Musawi, told Reuters, adding that her daughter, who holds dual Bahraini and Danish citizenship, was coming back from Denmark.
Charges against al-Khawaja include insulting Bahrain's king, and assaulting a policewoman at the airport, her mother said.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif el-Islam dies

Seif al-Islam

Prominent Egyptian activist and human rights lawyer Ahmed Seif El-Islam has died Wednesday at 63 years old, after a long struggle with heart problems. He had been in coma for nearly two weeks after an open heart operation.
Seif was involved in political activism since his student days, but studied law and became a human rights defender following his detention in 1983, during which time he was reportedly tortured.
After being released, he was involved in important human rights-related cases. In 1999 he founded, with other rights advocates, the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre to challenge human rights violations in Egypt and to offer support to victims through legal assistance in and outside courts.

Monday, August 25, 2014

IS captures airbase in Raqqa, the last remaining government outpost in this province

 An Islamic State militant uses a loud-hailer to announce that Tabqa air base has fallen, in Raqqa city August 24
IS uses loudhailers to announce to the population Raqqa the capture of the airbase. (Photo Reuters)

ISIS fighters captured Sunday a major military air base in Syria’s northeast, eliminating the last regime-held outpost in a province otherwise dominated by the jihadist group. Tabqa airfield – home to several warplane squadrons, helicopters, tanks, artillery and ammunition bunkers – is the third military base in the area to fall to the militants since last month.
The jihadists launched their long-anticipated offensive last week to seize the sprawling Tabqa facility, located some 45 kms from the extremists’ stronghold in the city of Raqqa along the Euphrates River. After several failed efforts to breach the walls in recent days, fighters managed to punch through and storm the air base Sunday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group. Government warplanes carried out waves of airstrikes to try to beat back the attack, but those ultimately proved unable to stem the assault. “Some of the Syrian regime troops pulled out, and now [ISIS] is in full control of Tabqa,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said. “This makes Raqqa province the first to fully fall out of government hands.”

Two governements in Libya, after islamist rebels capture Tripoli

 A damaged aircraft is pictured after shelling at Tripoli International Airport August 24, 2014. REUTERS/Aimen Elsahli
 Damaged aircraft at Tripoli aiport. Fighting has been raging since July at the airport,  fuel reserves have been burning for weeks an several aircraft have been destroyed. But on Sunday the aiport terminal has burnt down as well. (Photo Reuters).
The former Libyan parliament replaced in national elections in June reconvened on Monday to elect an Islamist-backed deputy as prime minister, challenging the authority of the turbulent country's new legislature.
The old General National Congress (GNC), where Islamists had a strong voice, has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of its successor assembly, the House of Representatives, which is dominated by liberals and federalists.

The GNC reconvened after armed factions from the western city of Misrata forced a rival faction from Zintan out of Tripoli's main airport on Saturday after a month of fighting. The Islamist-led militias seized the airport in the capital, Tripoli, proclaimed their own government, and presented the world with yet another crisis.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Saudi Arabia beheaded 19 since 4 August

Saudi Arabia’s judicial authorities have beheaded at least 19 convicted criminals since Aug. 4, nearly half of them for nonviolent offenses, including one for sorcery, Human Rights Watch said Thursday, calling the spate of executions “particularly egregious.” In a report on its website drawn from Saudi government news dispatches, Human Rights Watch said seven convicts were beheaded for drug smuggling, including four in the southeast city of Najran this week. Amnesty International, which also reported on the Najran beheadings, said the four had been forced to confess under torture. Saudi Arabia has executed at least 34 people this year, Amnesty International, said, and it executed at least 79 in 2013. The country has historically rejected international standards for offenses deemed insufficient for capital punishment, applying it to crimes that include adultery, armed robbery, apostasy, drug trafficking, rape and witchcraft.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Houthis increase pressure on Yemeni president, want a share in the government

Tens of thousands Houthis marched through Sanaa in a protest demonstration on Friday 22 August 2014. 

The leader of the North Yemeni Houthi's, Abdel Malik Al-Houthi, said Thursday that his followers will continue their peaceful protests until their clear demands are met. "I call on President, the Defense Minister and the authorities to avoid attacks on and aggressive looks at peaceful protesters," he said in a speech on the Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV. Al-Houthi spoke on the eve of the last day of a deadline he gave to the government earlier this week to meet their demands.
Thousands of armed Shiite rebels in Yemen have strengthened their positions in the capital Sanaa since  Wednesday as they pressed their campaign to force the government to resign, AFP correspondents witnessed.The rebels have been fighting an off-conflict with government troops in the northern mountains for the past decade, but analysts warned their bid for a greater share of power in a promised new federal Yemen was creating a potentially explosive situation.

Davutoğlu designated as AKP leader and Turkey 's new prime minister

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) and Ahmet Davutoğlu (L) shake hands at the AKP headquarters in Ankara on Aug. 21, 2014
Davutoğlu en Erdoğan (r) shake hands at the AKP meeting in Ankara (Photo HürriyetDailyNews, 21 August 2014) 

 Turkey’s ruling party has formally designated Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to be the successor of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as both prime minister and chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), marking the start of a new era in Turkish political life.
The AKP’s Central Executive Board (MYK), which was convened under Erdoğan’s leadership, decided to propose Davutoğlu’s name for the chairmanship of the party, which will be elected during the AKP’s extraordinary congress in Ankara on Aug. 27.
The decision was announced by Erdoğan after a three-hour meeting at the party headquarters. ''Our nominee is our foreign minister, our Konya deputy, our brother Ahmet Davutoğlu," Erdoğan told the crowd, which included government ministers and journalists, at the AKP headquarters in Ankara.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Samih al-Qassim 1939-2014

The Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim died Tuesday in a hospital in Safed hospital in northern Israel. He had been suffering from cancer of the liver for the past three years, Issam Khuri, a novelist and close family friend, told the press agency AFP. Al-Qassim who was of Druze descent, was best known for his nationalist poetry in which he passionately defended the rights and identity of Israel's Arab minority.

Here a short poem by him (in the translation of A.Z. Foreman) about the infamous killing of 48 inhabitants of the Arab town Kafr Qassim in 1956 by the Israeli border police.

Kafr Qasim
No monument raised, no memorial, and no rose.
Not one line of verse to ease the slain
Not one curtain, not one blood-stained
Shred of our blameless brothers clothes.
Not one stone to engrave their names.
Not one thing. Only the shame.

Their ghosts are gyring even now, their groaning shades
Digging through Kafr Qasim's wreckage for graves.

Here the Arabic  original: 
كَفرْ قاسم
لا نُصْبَ... لا زهرة... لا تذكار
لا بيت شعر يؤنّس القتلى ولا أستار
لا خِرقة مخضوبة بالدم من قميص
كان على اخوتنا الأبرار
لا حجرٌ خُطّت به أسماؤهم
لا شيء ... يا للعار!
اشباحهم ما بَرَحَت تدور

Monday, August 18, 2014

Iraqi tv: Pershmerga's retook Mosul dam

Kurdish fighters at the town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul. (AFP)

Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iraqi counter-terrorism forces have pushed Islamic State militants out of Mosul dam, Iraqi state television reported on Monday. The television station quoted Lieutenant-General Qasim Atta, a military spokesman, as saying the forces were backed by a joint air patrol. He did not give details. An independent verification was not immediately possible.
A Twitter account belonging to a media organization that supports the Islamic State said the dam was still under the group's full control. The Peshmergas started an offensive on Saturday to take control of the country’s largest dam at Mosul, which has been in IS hands for over a week. The peshmerga's were helped bu U.S. airstrikes. US Central Command in Washington said the air strikes targeted Islamist militants near the dam and the Kurdish capital Arbil. “The nine air strikes conducted thus far destroyed or damaged four armoured personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and an armoured vehicle,” it said in a statement, adding: “All aircraft exited the strike areas safely.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Human Rights Watch publishes damning report about Raba'a al-Adawiya killings in Egypt

Embedded image permalink
One of the improvised mortuaries for victims of the Raba'a al-Adawiya killings. (Photo Matthew Cassel) 

Human Rights Watch onm Tuesday published a report on the way the Egyptian authorities in July and August 2013 dispersed demonstrations against the removal of the elected president Mohammed Morsi, thereby killing at least 1.150 people. According to HRW the killings probably amount to crimes against humanity.
HRW documented that the operation was executed following a detailed plan. In the 188-page report, “All According to Plan: The Rab’a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt" it describes the way the Egyptian police and army methodically opened fire with live ammunition on crowds of demonstrators opposed to the July 3 ouster of Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first elected civilian president, at six demonstrations between July 5 and August 17, 2013.
“In Rab'a Square, Egyptian security forces carried out one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.”
The authorities have failed to hold even a single low-level police or army officer accountable for any of the killings, much less any official responsible for ordering them, and continue to brutally suppress dissent. In light of the continued impunity, an international investigation and prosecutions of those implicated are needed, Human Rights Watch said. States should further suspend military and law enforcement aid to Egypt until it adopts measures to end its serious rights violations.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Iraqi president appoints new Prime Minister in order to sideline Al-Maliki

Haïdar al-Abadi, en 2009 à Bagdad
Haidar al-Abadi
The Iraqi president Fouad al-Masoum had nominated the deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, Haidar al-Abadi, Prime Minister. Al-Abadi had 30 days to form a new government. A bloc comprising Iraq's biggest Shi'ite parties stands behind Al-Abadi, who is taking the place of  Nuri al-Maliki, who had been Prime Minister Prime Minister since 2006. Since the inconslusive elections of April Al-Maliki headed a caretaker governmentand he was seeking a third term, resisting mounting pressure from different sides, including from his former ally the United States, to step down, as he had been estranging the Sunnis, the Kurds and even several trends amongst his own Shiíte constituency, which accused him of  fuelling sectarian violence. Maliki remained defiant till the very last moment.

Human Rights Watch staff denied entry to Egypt

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, and HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson have been denied entry to Egypt, after being held at Cairo's international airport for 12 hours.
Whitson wrote on Twitter: "It's official - shortest visit to Cairo ever - 12 hours before deportation for 'security reasons'- the new Egypt certainly 'transitioning'."
Roth and Whitson had flown to Cairo for the release of a report to mark a year since the mass killing of an estimated hundreds of opposition protesters by security forces, on the Raba'a al-Adawiya Square and near Cairo University in Giza, in one of the deadliest incidents of its kind in decades. "We came to Egypt to release a serious report on a serious subject that deserves serious attention from the Egyptian government," Roth said in a statement. "Rab'a massacre numbers rank with Tiananmen and Andijan but Egypt gov't wouldn't let me in to present report on it," he wrote on Twitter.
Human rights in Egypt have deteriorated sharply since the overthrow of the country's elected President Mohamed Morsi by the former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in July 2013, righht groups have warned.
Human Rights Watch's European media director, Andrew Stroehlein, said it was the first time ever that the authorities in Egypt had denied entry to HRW staff.

Turkey awaits choice of Prime Minister after Erdoğan wins presidential elections

 Erdoğan's presidential win starts race for new Turkish govt
 Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife Ermine wave to supporters at terh headquarters of the AK party after the  election results had become known. (Reuters)

Turkey's ruling party began deliberations on the shape of the next government on Monday after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan secured his place in history by winning the nation's first direct presidential election.
Erdoğan's victory in Sunday's vote takes him a step closer to the executive presidency he has long coveted for Turkey. But it is an outcome which his opponents fear will herald an increasingly authoritarian rule, the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman writes.
In the coming weeks, Erdoğan will for the last time chair meetings of the ruling AK Party he founded and oversee the selection of a new party leader, likely to be a staunch loyalist and his future prime minister. He will be inaugurated on Aug. 28.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

''IS killed at least 500 Yazidis''

Displaced families from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence, walk on the outskirts of Sinjar, west of Mosul
Fleeing Yazidis (Reuters)

Reuters on Sunday.Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq's Yazidi ethnic minority during their offensive in the north, Iraq's human rights minister toldMohammed Shia al-Sudani said the Sunni militants had also buried alive some of their victims, including women and children. Some 300 women were kidnapped as slaves, he added.
"We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar," Sudani said in a telephone interview, in his first remarks to the media on the issue.
Sinjar is the ancient home of the Yazidis, one of the towns captured by the Sunni militants who view the community as "devil worshipers" and tell them to convert to Islam or face death.
A deadline passed at midday on Sunday for 300 Yazidi families to convert to Islam or face death at the hands of the militants. It was not immediately clear whether the Iraqi minister was talking about the fate of those families or others in the conflict. "Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar," Sudani said.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Egyptian army: 60 militants killed in Sinai

Egyptian tanks in the Sinai (Al-Ahram)
The Egyptian armed forces announced on Saturday that it has killed 60 militants in Sinai over the past 12 days, and arrested 102 others suspected of involvement in recent attacks, reported Al-Ahram's Arabic website.
 The military said it has also confiscated weapons hidden in tunnels at the Rafah borders and had discovered three cars carrying 650kg of cannabis. The Sinai peninsula has witnessed a wave of militant attacks against security forces since the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July. Over 500 security forces have so far been killed in attacks in Sinai and the rest of the country.

US bombs positions of the Islamic State and drops food for the Yazidis

Outside Arbil airstrikes could be seen. 

U.S. warplanes bombed Islamist fighters marching on Iraq's Kurdish capital on Friday after President Barack Obama said Washington must act to prevent "genocide". The Islamic State fighters have advanced to within a half hour's drive of Arbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdish region and a hub for U.S. oil companies.They have also seized control of Iraq's biggest dam, Kurdish authorities confirmed on Friday, which could allow them to flood cities and cut off vital water and electricity supplies.
The Pentagon said two F/A-18 aircraft from an aircraft carrier in the Gulf had dropped laser-guided 500-pound bombs on the fighters' artillery and other air strikes had targeted mortar positions and an Islamic State convoy.
 The U.S. Defense Department said planes dropped also additional bundles of supplies, bringing the total to 36,224 ready-to-eat meals and 6,822 gallons of drinking water, for threatened civilians near Sinjar, home of the Yazidis. They are ethnic Kurds who practice an ancient faith related to Zoroastrianism. The Islamic State considers them to be "devil worshippers". After fighters ordered them to leave, convert or die, most fled their towns and villages to camp out on Sinjar mountain, an arid peak where they believe Noah settled after the biblical flood.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Human tragedy in North Iraq deepens after new victories of Islamic State, Yazidis still trapped

Map of Iraq
(Map: BBC)
Thousands of Christians are reported to be fleeing after Islamic militants seized the minority's biggest town in Iraq. The Islamic State (IS) group captured Qaraqosh in Nineveh province overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces.An international Christian organisation said at least a quarter of Iraq's Christians were leaving Qaraqosh and other surrounding towns. IS has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria to create an Islamic caliphate.
Eyewitnesses in Qaraqosh said IS militants were taking down crosses in churches and burning religious manuscripts. The town - referred to as Iraq's Christian capital - is located 30km (19 miles) southeast of the city of Mosul, which was captured by IS in June. As many as 100,000 people are believed to be fleeing toward the autonomous Kurdistan Region.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

12 Death sentences in Egypt and retrial of Alaa Abdel Fattah and 24 others postponed

Alaa Abdel Fattah (R), one of the activists who was summoned by the public prosecutor on whether he had a role in the recent violent anti-Islamists protests, arrives with his wife and child to the public prosecutor's office in Cairo, March 26, 2013. Fattah was arrested November 28 on charges he violated Egypt's new anti-protest laws. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
Abdel Fattah and family
 An Egyptian court sentenced on Wednesday 12 defendants to death over charges of killing a police officer in Giza's Kerdasa neighborhood last September, 10 others got life imprisonment and  only one was acquitted.
The authorities had raided Kerdasa last September to capture fugitives when Nabil Farag, Giza's deputy security chief, was killed and nine others, from the police and army, were wounded.
The operation had followed an attack on Kerdasa police station on August 14 that took place as the authorities dispersed two sit-ins supporting ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The court referred the defendants' files to the Grand Mufti, the top religious authority, in June. The Mufti's decision is non-binding yet it is customary for the court to adopt it. The verdict can be appealed before a higher court.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Refugee problem unfolding after ISIS in suprise attack took over Kurdish areas in Sinjar

Displaced Iraqis from the northern town of Sinjar head towards the autonomous Kurdistan region on August 4, 2014, as they seek refuge after Islamic State  Sunni militants took control of their hometown. The Islamic State  raised its black flag in Sinjar on August 3, 2014 after ousting the peshmerga troops of Iraq's Kurdish government, forcing thousands of people from their homes. [AFP]
Kurds fleeing Sinjar heading north deeper into Kurdistan. (Photo AFP, 3 August)

The take-over, on 3 August, by ISIS of the Kurdish towns of Sinjar and Zumar has caused a major refugee problem.  According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “some 35-50,000 people displaced in nine locations” are currently “surrounded” by ISIL members. About 30,000 people, mostly women and children, have reportedly fled to Dahuk governorate in the autonomous Kurdistan region. More are expected to enter the city in the coming days. The OCHA added that there is an immediate need for water, food, fuel, shelter and health services.” Earlier reports by the United Nations indicated that 200,000 people were forced to escape Sinjar, a town with an estimated population of 310,000.

Hundreds flee Ersal in Lebanon after attack by Islamists

Lebanese army soldiers stand guard as ambulances wait at the entrance of Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border, in eastern Lebanon, Sunday, Aug 3, 2014. Syrian rebels killed at least 10 Lebanese troops and likely captured over a dozen more in an ongoing raid on a Lebanese border town, the country's military chief said, the most serious spillover of violence yet into the tiny country from its neighbor's civil war. 
Lebanese army and ambulances at the entrance of Ersal. (Photo AP)

Lebanese troops shelled militant positions in the mountains around the town of Ersal on the Syrian border on Monday, after 14 soldiers and dozens of Islamists were killed in three days of fierce fighting. Another 86 soldiers were wounded and 22 remain missing, the army said in a statement, as Prime Minister Tammam Salam said there would be no political deal with the militants. The violence is the worst in the area since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011.
An AFP correspondent on the outskirts of the town said soldiers were firing mortar shells into the mountains and the sound of heavy machine gun fire could also be heard in the area. In the early hours of Monday morning, several hundred people fled the town during a lull in the fighting.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

New Libyan parliament meets in Tobruk

Plumes of smoke and 100ft flames soared over the tanks that store 90 million litres of petrol
Burning oil storage tanks in Truipoli. (Photo EPA)

Libya's new nationalist-dominated parliament held its first meeting Saturday, boycotted by Islamists. The parliament, elected June 25, is to take over from the interim General National Congress chosen in the wake of the 2011 NATO-backed revolution that ousted longtime dictator Muammar Ghaddafi. It was to have convened in Benghazi on Monday, but the meeting was brought forward and shifted to Tobruk for security reasons.
Benghazi and the capital, Tripoli, are the scene of regular fighting that has killed more than 200 people and wounded another 1,000 in the past two weeks. The growing insecurity has prompted thousands of people to flee, mostly overland to neighbouring Tunisia.Tripoli airport has stayed closed since gunmen, mostly Islamists, assaulted it on July 13 in a bid to take over control from the Zintan brigade of former rebels who have held it since 2011.

Islamic State captures oilfield in northern Iraq

 Islamic State Sunni insurgents have captured the northern Iraqi town of Zumar and a nearby oil field after a battle with Kurdish forces who had control of the area, witnesses said on Sunday.
Islamic State, which staged a lightning advance through northern Iraq in June, has warned residents of nearby villages along the border with Syria to leave their homes, suggesting they were planning an assault, witnesses said.

 An official in the Northern Oil Company said Islamic State fighters had taken control of the Ain Zalah oil field and a nearby refinery. The insurgents had already seized four oil fields, which help fund their operations.
In a statement on its website, Islamic State said its fighters killed scores of Kurdish fighters in a 24-hour battle and then took over Zumar and 12 villages.
"Hundreds fled leaving vehicles and a huge number of weapons and munitions and the brothers control many areas," Islamic State said, including Zumar and "the area of Ain Zalah which is rich with oil.