Saudi Arabia: Rights Activist, Bloggers Arrested

The Saudi interior minister should immediately release Fadhil Makki al-Manasif, a human rights activist arrested on May 1, 2011, in ‘Awwamiyya in the Eastern Province for taking part in peaceful demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said today. Al-Manasif’s arrest follows amendments to the Press and Publications Law on April 29 that further restrict the right to free speech in Saudi Arabia, and days after the authorities arrested at least 20 peaceful protesters, including two bloggers. “The latest arrests of peaceful dissidents brings the climate for reform in Saudi Arabia to the freezing point,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi ruling family has shown no signs that it might ease its iron grip on the right to express political opinions.” Al-Manasif, 27, has documented and written about human rights violations, in particular against Shi’a Saudis, for the past two years. He has documented arrests since February of participants in peaceful demonstrations in towns across the Eastern Province, such as a peaceful candlelit march by women in Qatif on April 14. A colleague of al-Manasif told Human Rights Watch that on April 30, officers of the Ministry of Interior’s Criminal Investigation Department came to his family’s house to arrest al-Manasif and confiscated his father’s national identity card when they did not find him there. The next day al-Manasif presented himself at the police station and was immediately taken into custody for “participating in the demonstrations.” Saudi authorities arrested more than 20 participants in peaceful demonstrations in the Eastern Province over the previous week, including two bloggers, Reuters reported. The bloggers, Mustafa al-Badr Al Mubarak and Husain Kazhim al-Hashim, had participated in and written about the protests, local sources reported. Since February, peaceful demonstrations of between dozens and hundreds of Saudis have occurred regularly to call for the release of political prisoners, predominantly in the Eastern Province. Small protests for the release of political prisoners led by women have also taken place in Riyadh, the capital, in March. The latest arrests bring the number detained since February 2011 for peaceful expression or assembly to at least 145, a Saudi human rights activist told Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch has confirmed at least 120 arrests before the recent arrests of more than 20 people. The Sa‘ud family rules Saudi Arabia as an absolute monarchy. There are no elections to national institutions and no effective means of popular participation in decision making. In early March, the Interior Ministry headed by Prince Nayef bin Abd al-‘Aziz and the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, the highest law-interpreting body, reiterated a ban on all demonstrations.On April 29, King Abdullah bin Abd al-‘Aziz issued a decree amending the 2000 Press and Publications Law, further restricting the right to free expression. The decree prohibits publishing anything that “contradicts rulings of the Islamic Sharia [law] or regulations in force,” anything that “calls for disturbing the country’s security, or its public order, or services foreign interests that contradict national interests,” anything that “causes sectarianism or that spreads divisions between citizens,” and that “damages public affairs in the country.” New restrictions also include a prohibition on violating the “reputation, dignity, or the slander or libel” of the chief mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or any other government official or government institution, and publishing without official consent proceedings from any investigations or court trials.

A January 2011 decree extended provisions of the Press and Publications Law to online expression. Two days before his arrest, al-Manasif sent Human Rights Watch a copy of these new regulations, which the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Watan also published.

“The king’s new media decree eviscerates any gains in freedom of expression under his reign,” said Wilcke. “The ongoing crackdown and the media decree effectively throw the kingdom back to a time when dissent of any sort resulted in arrest.”

(www.hrw.org / 03.05.2011)

Gaddafi forces bombard rebel-held Zintan – rebels

Forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi bombarded the rebel-held town of Zintan in the Western Mountains with over 40 Grad rockets late on Tuesday, a rebel spokesman said.

“They were fired in two salvoes,” the spokesman, named Abdulrahman, said by telephone. “The last salvo landed moments ago. We can hear NATO aircraft overhead now.”

A Libyan ambulance driver from Zintan who crossed into Tunisia on Tuesday told Reuters the town had come under intense shelling by pro-Gaddafi forces.

(www.trust.org / 03.05.2011)

Palestinian factions sign unity deal in Cairo 3MAy11

The Palestinian Information Center –   3 May 2011

Palestinian factions headed by Hamas and Fatah have signed an agreement ending the national split, sources in Cairo told the Palestinian Information Center on Tuesday.

Among those who gathered for the signing were Hamas’s political bureau chairman Khalid Mishaal as well as Azzam al-Ahmed and Samir al-Rafaa’i from Fatah, Ramadan Shalah from Islamic Jihad, Ahmed Jibril from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (General Command), Mahir al-Tahir from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Mohammed Ibrahim from the Egyptian intelligence services.

A high-profile Egyptian official said that Egypt directed an invitation to attend a signing ceremony on Wednesday at Arab foreign ministers as well as those from China, Russia, Turkey, and European countries, Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and First Vice-President of the European Commission Cathy Ashton.

The official said arrangements were being made in full swing to cap off procedures relating to the signing and that the there was a very positive atmosphere. He said parties agreed that the upcoming stage would require increased efforts and “political will” to turn the deal into a reality.

It is scheduled after the signing to begin consultations for forming the new government. An Arab committee headed by Egypt will go to the Palestinian territories to see that the deal is implemented and that obstacles are removed ahead of carrying out the deal’s articles, especially those relating to security and the integration of West Bank and Gaza institutions.

Senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil said in a press statement that Hamas signed two documents, one was the Egyptian paper as was, and the other was the inter-Palestinian understandings paper, a reference for disputed issues listed in the Egyptian paper.

“Talk about Hamas signing the Egyptian paper as is without the inter-Palestinian understandings paper is not accurate. That’s because we signed the Egyptian paper as is, but we added the inter-Palestinian understandings paper that contains Hamas’s observations and amendments required for the Egyptian paper,” Bardawil said.

“Whatever the case, we in Hamas are determined to move forward in achieving reconciliation and ending the split that only serves the Zionist enemy,” he went on to say.

(australiansforpalestine.com / 03.05.2011)

Reportage uitzetten asielzoekers: kinderen fouilleren voor vertrek

08/04/11, 08:25

Fouilleren voor het vertrek.

Woensdagnacht zijn 38 uitgeprocedeerde asielzoekers naar Irak uitgezet. Onder hen 17 kinderen. De Volkskrant volgde de terugtocht. ‘Fuck you allemaal, fuck Nederland.’

  • Een jongen wordt gefouilleerd voor het vertrek. © Joost van den Broek/ de Volkskrant
    Een jongen wordt gefouilleerd voor het vertrek.

De reis naar huis begint in de nacht van woensdag op donderdag in het uitzetcentrum, dat als een zwarte doos naast het vliegveld ligt. Ze gaan naar Irak. Maanden voorbereiding gingen aan de vlucht vooraf, en nu dan gaan de cellen open. 02.40 uur: ‘Goedemorgen meneer! Time to go to Bagdad.’

Kinderstemmen
Achter de celdeur klinken kinderstemmen. De jongens wrijven de slaap uit hun ogen, de meisjes hebben hun haar gekamd. Meisjes in roze, met vlechten en paardenstaarten.  Jongens met sneakers. De veters worden uit hun schoenen gehaald; dat is protocol. Altijd veters uit de schoenen halen, je weet nooit wat er onderweg gebeurt.

Vandaag worden ze uitgezet. Zes gezinnen, uitgeprocedeerd. Plus twaalf individuele deportees, zoals de vreemdelingen in het internationale verkeer heten. Het is niet de eerste keer dat Nederland een groep Irakezen uitzet met een overheidsvlucht, wel de eerste keer dat er kinderen meegaan. Het zijn er zeventien.

Overmacht aan marechaussees
Voor hun celdeuren staat een overmacht aan marechaussees. In de gang liggen bodycuffs klaar, handboeien van klittenband en textiel. Humane handboeien. Er is ook een humaan gezichtsmasker, als er iemand gaat spugen of bijten. De dag ervoor hebben de marechaussees nog geoefend met het fixeren van een persoon in maximale weerstand.

Maar er is geen weerstand; kalm komen de vaders, moeders, zonen en dochters uit hun cellen. Kalm en gespannen. Ook de marechaussees zijn gespannen. Het is niet leuk, zeggen ze, maar het moet gebeuren. Niemand is blij met de reis vandaag.
‘Heb respect voor deze mensen’, had de commandant van de marechaussees gezegd tijdens de briefing van zijn groep. ‘Deze mensen hebben lang gedacht een bestaan in Nederland op te kunnen bouwen.’

Hij zei ook: ‘Wees beducht voor scheermesjes, die ze weleens verstoppen in hun schoenzolen.’

Humaan en respect
Veelvuldig vallen de woorden ‘humaan’ en ‘respect’, tijdens de reis. Aan alles is gedacht. Naast de vliegtuigtrap liggen judomatten om opstandige vreemdelingen niet te verwonden, als ze tegen de grond worden gewerkt. Er is een arts, een tolk, een geestelijk verzorger. Er zijn ambtenaren die een nieuw asielverzoek kunnen beoordelen, er is een lid van de overheidscommissie die toezicht houdt op uitzettingen. Er is speelgoed: kleurboeken met kleurtjes,  vliegtuigjes van schuimkarton.

Aan alles is gedacht, en toch staan daar drie jongetjes met hun gezicht naar de muur, armen gespreid, als in een politiefilm. Ze worden gefouilleerd. Ze zijn niet crimineel, ze worden enkel uitgezet. Het is geen film, het is de uiterste consequentie van het vreemdelingenbeleid.

(www.volkskrant.nl / 03.05.2011)

Richard Silverstein: Israel prevents return of Gazan to Gaza

Haaretz [Hebrew] reports on the strange case of a mystery Gazan who the Shabak has prohibited from returning to his home there.  The man has a permit to visit Israel and normally travels back and forth from Gaza to Israel.  However, all of a sudden the secret police determined that it would endanger the man for him to return to Gaza.  They’re doing two things here: one, they’re substituting their own judgment about his safety for his own which is quite infantilizing; second, they’re implying that he’s an informer so he will definitely be killed if he returns.  So much for the kinder, gentler Shabak.

The fact that the man has brought a case to the Supreme Court demanding that he be allowed to return to Gaza is a clear repudiation of the stupidity of Shabak’s claim that he is in danger if he returns.
Another strange aspect to this case is that Israel, when it releases West Bank prisoners from detention often refuses to allow them to return there and instead dumps them in Gaza under the assumption that it is the terrorist dumping ground.  In this case, the detained individual seems to be the only Palestinian who wants to return to Gaza but can’t.
The man has been charged with no crime and isn’t even imprisoned.  For the life of me, I can’t understand under what basis can a country forcibly prevent someone who isn’t even a citizen or under arrest from returning to their own home?  It simply beggars belief.  And the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court approved this Shabak hocus pocus speaks very poorly for the Court’s upholding of democratic and human rights.  The ruling seems to imply that a non-citizen of Israel within its boundaries can be treated arbitrarily by the Shabak in almost any way it wishes.
Gisha, the human rights NGO representing the Gazan points out that the court decision was made under the British Mandate emergency laws now 60+ years old and not even originally established by the State.  In 2011, you’d think whatever emergency existed in 1946 would have long passed.  The point is that a state that is not fully democratic feels the need to rely on the same types of emergency laws which the Egyptian just overthrew and which the Syrians are attempting to overthrow.  What about Israel?  Isn’t it time?  Or does Israel feel the need to use the same types of laws beloved of dictators like Mubarak and Assad?

(networkedblogs.com / 03.05.2011)


Solidarity evening for the Askar Centre in Nablus

Tijd
vrijdag 13 mei · 18:00 – 21:00

Locatie
Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Triomflaan – Bvd Du Triomphe – – – Building R, Stoa
Brussels, Belgium

Gemaakt door:

Askar is a centre for invalid children, situated in Nablus, West Bank.
This event is a solidarity event, on which all profit goes to the centre.

Entrance : 7 EUR (included: food and two drinks!)

Program: – Buffet with typical Palestinian mezzeh’s and dishes (no extra payment)

– Documentary about the Palestinian cause

– Dabka preformance: tradition Palestinian dance, preformed by a professional group

– Preformance from the Palestinian singer, Doc Jazz (http://www.facebook.com/docjazz), one of his songs about the Freedom Flotilla: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuDdevj0iLc)

Have a great time enjoying yourselves by experiencing the Palestinian culture on a fun evening, while helping a good cause!

See you there!

Planned museum hopes to shed light on islam

AUSTRALIA’S first Islamic museum is to be built in Thornbury and will work to dispel stereotypes of the often misunderstood religious minority.

The project is spearheaded by a group of Melbourne Muslims, including prominent business figures Ahmed and Moustafa Fahour, and will seek to showcase the community’s cultural contribution in a mainstream museum setting.

Modelled on ventures such as the Chinese Museum, the Museo Italiano in Carlton and the Jewish Museum in St Kilda, the idea for a precinct emphasising heritage and art drawn from the more than 60 ethnicities who identify as Muslim here was developed by Macquarie banker Moustafa Fahour and his wife Maysaa.

“I am a very proud Australian Muslim,” says Moustafa Fahour, 29, one of eight children born to Lebanese migrant parents who settled in Melbourne in the 1960s.

Maysaa Fahour, 27, a teacher who has assumed the chairmanship of the board that will oversee the museum and raise funds for the construction, approached her brother-in-law, Australia Post chief Ahmed Fahour, at a family barbecue and he agreed to become the museum’s patron.

The venture has recently been granted charity status by the Australian Tax Office and has the personal endorsement of Victoria’s Multicultural Affairs Minister Nick Kotsiras.

Land has already been acquired at a Thornbury industrial site. While plans to refit the former factory will have to go through council approval processes, the Darebin Council had signalled that an Islamic museum would be welcome in the neighbourhood, Moustafa Fahour said.

The museum will include a permanent exhibition featuring basic information about Muslims’ religious beliefs provided in a digestible form to the public.

School groups are also expected to tour on a daily basis.

”As a mother, I love the NGV and Scienceworks and have my kids participate in knowledgeable activities. Nowhere was there something about Islam … It struck me as something to really strive for,” said Mrs Fahour, who settled here as a child-migrant from Lebanon.

Apart from a six-member board, which has been collaborating on the idea for about two years, an advisory committee includes SBS board member Hass Dellal, Immigration Museum manager Padmini Sebastian and ABC personality and politics lecturer Waleed Aly. Islamic art expert Phillip George is among the arts advisers.

At the 2006 census there were more than 340,000 Muslims in Australia, of whom 128,904 were born here.

(www.theage.com.au / 02.05.2011)

The Death of Bin Laden: Suspicions and Questions

It can be of no doubt that many around the world are relieved, some even ecstatic, by the death of Osama bin Laden. Reports from all over the world following US President Obama’s announcement that US military personnel had killed bin Laden show scenes of jubilation in America, Europe, and even expressions of relief from many Muslim organisations around the world. However, there are many unanswered questions and even details that can be drawn out and analysed following the killing of bin Laden.
Bin Laden and al-Qaeda have been the US governments scapegoats and raison d’être for a number of wars and even technically illegal drone attacks in areas like North Western Pakistan for a very long time now. Whenever something violent happens in the news, one can be certain that buzzwords and terms such as “terrorists”, “Islamists”, “Jihadists”, and “al-Qaeda” will be bandied about and sensationalised in the mainstream media before any significant evidence has even been provided, and without a real intellectual understanding of what these terms really define and mean. It has become very convenient for governments around the world to declare many threats posed to them as representative of elements of al-Qaeda. Witness the crazed despot, Muammar al-Gaddafi, who insisted that the recent uprisings in Libya are a result of al-Qaeda dosing impressionable young men with hallucinogens. Clearly, that is one extreme example, but it is not hard to find others all over the world.

The most pertinent question is this; has the US known about bin Laden’s whereabouts for a long time and done nothing because it served their interests to have an international bogeyman? If the above is true, then it is clear that bin Laden had outlived his usefulness.

What is instantly striking about this US operation is that bin Laden was purported to be living in a compound worth millions of dollars in the city of Abbottabad, north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad by some 100km. A CIA official was reported on Aljazeera as saying; “We were shocked by what we saw, an extraordinarily unique compound. It has 12-to-18-foot walls, topped with barbed wire; internal walls sectioned off different areas of the compound; access was restricted by two security gates”. In addition to all of this, it also had its own waste burning facility. If we compare bin Laden’s “hideout” with a previous fugitive hunted by the US, we can see instant oddities. When Saddam Hussein went on the run, he significantly changed his appearance, fled from place to place, and eventually was found hiding underground in what was dubbed a “spider hole”. Saddam, as we have been led to believe, was far less a wanted man than bin Laden, yet he went out of his way to travel discreetly and not stay in one place for too long. Bin Laden on the other hand lived in a fortified compound; hardly low profile. The waste disposal facility located inside would indicate that a large amount of people lived within, or at least transited through, this compound. The barbed wire walls and two security gates make this seem more like a military base than a hideout. How did the US find Saddam in an underground hole but could not find bin Laden in a suspicious complex? Also, surely bin Laden is not stupid enough to seek refuge in an eyesore like that unless he had some sort of assurances, and this leads to our next point.

President Obama’s administration was keen to distance itself from any link between their operation and collusion with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). According to one US official, “An operation like this has the utmost operational security attached to it. No other country was informed, and a small circle of people within the United States new about it”. Considering that bin Laden’s compound has been shown to have been significantly brazen, and that according to Aljazeera it was not far from a Pakistani military academy, then it might be safe to conclude that Pakistan certainly was not informed by the US. Indeed, perhaps Pakistani ISI did the informing, as the CIA are apparently adept at finding targets to illegally send drones after but not good  or even competent enough to find a blatant compound and investigate via easily bribed Pakistani sources who are known for their corruption. It might be interesting to view US-Pakistani relations in the coming months to see if Pakistan gains anything. If relations improve, then it hints at ISI knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts and also that they were seemingly just waiting for the right indication from the US so that they could let the cat out of the bag. If relations degenerate, then it is a possibility that Pakistan intended to hold onto bin Laden to maybe bargain with the US, but were coerced by Washington into handing bin Laden over or else suffering consequences. As it stands, the Pakistani foreign minister has declared this operation a “great victory” while Obama has said that Pakistan needs to do more in the fight against terrorism which perhaps indicates Pakistan’s desire to ingratiate themselves with the US, but their overtures are receiving a lukewarm response at best.

Finally, the decision to kill bin Laden is interesting in itself. Although Washington has said that US forces tried to capture bin Laden but were forced to kill him after he resisted, this can probably be discounted as hogwash. US forces brought in combat helicopters and enough firepower to devastate the compound, as images show fires amidst the wreckage. Going back to Saddam, he was captured easily enough without significant infrastructure damage and reportedly via the use of gas to render him unconscious. Saddam was hiding in a rural farm where gas use can potentially be dissipated depending on wind conditions and relative density of the gas compared to the air. Could similar tactics not have been used for bin Laden? After all, he was in a compound that was enclosed by high walls which meant that the area could have been saturated with less risk. Perhaps he was killed to make sure that he was never able to divulge information. As is well known, bin Laden had a relationship with the CIA when they used to provide him with arms and expertise. The fact that the ISI appeared to have been hosting bin Laden – and also that it is difficult to believe that the CIA did not know this – perhaps indicates that his relationship with the US extended beyond what has been commonly reported. Saddam Hussein was put on a trial that can largely be considered a sham. Whenever he was about to reveal something interesting, audio and video would be cut under the weak excuse of Iraqi national security. As bin Laden is not a head of state like Saddam, this excuse cannot be recycled and he could potentially reveal many embarrassing details about US activities so therefore he had to be killed.

Did bin Laden outlive his usefulness because he was no longer really taken as a serious threat? After all, al-Qaeda is about as collected and organised as thin air, and do not operate from any known bases (evidently excluding bin Laden himself). Additionally, the new Arab revolutions show that many across the Arab world do not care about al-Qaeda’s ideological leadership, and instead cherish the idea of freedom and democracy. If Arabs appear to be more democratic in the public eye, demonising them and some of their leaders via scare-mongering and the threat of al-Qaeda becomes less credible and less workable. Saddam’s Iraq was accused of harbouring al-Qaeda, but it would have been difficult to believe that if Iraq had a leader who was considered to be democratically elected and who also engaged with other international democracies. Now, however, Obama can claim a major domestic political victory and will likely use it in his next election campaign. In terms of real gain, nothing has really been achieved with the death of bin Laden. As US military analyst Mark Kimmet said, bin Laden has not directly led al-Qaeda for many years and was more of a figurehead. This analysis is apt, though obvious, and shows that the “War on Terror” will likely continue unabated.

(the-war-journal.blogspot.com / 02.05.2011)

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Outlines Political Ambitions

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest Islamic group, today announced that it will not enter a candidate in the presidential election but will contend for as many as half of the seats in parliament.

The group earlier said it would contend for only one-third of parliament’s 508 seats.

Mahmoud Mosri, head of the group’s newly formed Freedom and Justice party, told reporters today that they are open to Muslim, Christian, and women candidates because, as he said, it is “not a religious party, not a theocratic party.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is seen as one of the best-organized political parties in Egypt and its dominance has raised fears that political Islam will become a powerful force in Egyptian politics.

The formerly banned group is also believed to have played a leading role in the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Egypt’s parliamentary elections are scheduled for September.

(www.rferl.org / 02.05.2011)

Israeli jets prepare in Iraq to strike Iran

Israeli F-15 fighter jets
Israeli jet fighters have reportedly conducted drills at a military base in Iraq in order to strike targets inside Iran.

A considerable number of Israeli warplanes were seen at al-Asad base in Iraq, reported a source close to prominent Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sader’s group.

The aircraft reportedly included F-15, F-16, F-18, F-22, and KC-10 jet fighters.

The warplanes carried out their week-long exercises at nights, the same source added.

The drills were reportedly aimed at preparing to strike Iran’s air defense systems, disrupt Iran’s radars and attack targets deep inside Iran.

Iraqi officials had not been notified of the exercises, which were conducted in collaboration with the US military.

The United States maintains numerous bases in Iraq, and the Baghdad government is not involved in any of the military deployments taking place there.

(www.presstv.ir / 02.05.2011)