Syria frees horse rider who rivalled Assad brother

Updated 19 June 2014

Syria frees horse rider who rivalled Assad brother

BEIRUT: Syria has freed after 21 years in jail an ex-horse rider known to have been an equestrian rival of one of President Bashar Assad’s late brothers, reports said Sunday.
The release of Adnan Qassar is part of a wide-reaching amnesty that Assad decreed last week, and has seen some 1,500 people freed from the war-ravaged country’s prisons, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“In 1993, Adnan Qassar was one of the top horse riders in Syria and the Arab world. He won a horse race against Bassel Assad,” who at the time was being groomed for the presidency, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
“Qassar was thrown in Saydnaya jail (near Damascus) for his ‘crime’,” said Abdel Rahman.
Aks Alser, a Syrian opposition activist website, also reported Qassar’s release, and said he had been accused of “possessing explosives, and of trying to assassinate Bassel Assad.”
Qassar was jailed “without trial,” it added.
A year later when Bassel Assad died in a traffic accident, “Qassar was dragged out of his cell to a public square, beaten and then thrown back in jail. It took them 21 years to release him,” said Abdel Rahman.
The Assad clan has ruled Syria with an iron fist for more than 40 years.
“Qassar was not a political activist. But in Syria, no one is allowed to be better at anything than the Assads,” Abdel Rahman said.
Qassar was set free as part of a wide-reaching general amnesty that President Assad decreed last week.
So far, some 1,500 people have been set free from jails across the country, most of them from Damascus, according to the Observatory.
The amnesty is unprecedented because it pledges pardon and reduce sentences for people jailed under Syria’s controversial 2012 anti-terror law, which has seen tens of thousands of people jailed over political charges.
The regime has systematically branded armed and unarmed dissidents, including journalists, of being “foreign-backed terrorists.”
“Some of those released so far are prisoners of conscience, others were in jail over criminal charges,” Abdel Rahman said.
The number of those released so far pales in comparison to the estimated total of 100,000 people imprisoned, including some 50,000 held in security buildings dotted across the country.
Rights groups say torture and ill-treatment are systematic in Syria’s jails.


Malaysia’s poverty levels far higher than reported, UN expert says

Updated 3 min 24 sec ago

Malaysia’s poverty levels far higher than reported, UN expert says

  • Malaysia’s official poverty rate dropped to 0.4% in 2016
  • Independent groups said the actual poverty rate is 15%

KUALA LUMPUR: A UN human rights expert on Friday disputed Malaysia’s assertion that it has nearly eliminated poverty, saying that official figures were vastly inaccurate and do not reflect realities on the ground.
Malaysia’s official poverty rate dropped from 49% in 1970 to just 0.4% in 2016.
But Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the official numbers relied on outdated measures, with the poverty line remaining at the same level for decades despite increasingly high costs of living.
Analyzes done by independent groups suggest that Malaysia has “significant poverty” and that its true poverty rate was about 15%, Alston said.
“The government’s official figures would make it the world champion in eliminating poverty ... but I think it’s pretty obvious that that’s not the case,” Alston told a news conference at the end of an 11-day visit to Malaysia.
The prime minister’s office and finance ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Alston’s assertion.
Alston said the national poverty line of $234.00 per household per month was “ridiculous,” as it would mean an urban family of four would have to survive on 8 ringgit, or less than $2, per person per day.
“It can’t be done except under really dire circumstances,” he said.
Undercounting the poverty rate has led to a lack of effective government policies targeting the problem, with too many underfunded and ineffective programs in place, Alston said.
He urged Malaysia to reassess its methods for measuring poverty and take into account vulnerable groups excluded from the data such as stateless families, migrant workers, and refugees
“Only then can Malaysia begin devising policies that can systematically address their needs,” he said.