US lawmaker says she met with Assad on secret Syria trip

In this July 26, 2016 file photo, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Updated 26 January 2017
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US lawmaker says she met with Assad on secret Syria trip

WASHINGTON: The US congresswoman who made a recent secret trip to war-torn Syria confirmed on Wednesday that she met there with President Bashar Assad as part of her effort to end the years-long conflict.
House Democrat Tulsi Gabbard this month traveled to Damascus and the decimated city of Aleppo on a fact-finding mission, where she met with refugees, Syrian opposition leaders and relatives of fighters on both sides of the divide, in addition to Assad.
“Originally, I had no intention of meeting with Assad, but when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it,” Gabbard said in a statement.
“I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering.”
In an interview on CNN, she added: “Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria. In order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him.”
Gabbard, 35, was a member of the Hawaii National Guard and was deployed to Iraq in 2005.
Two weeks after Donald Trump won the November 8 election, she met with him to discuss Syria, raising speculation that he might consider her for a position at the Pentagon or State Department.
Gabbard, who often clashes with her own party on issues related to Syria, has long opposed a US policy of regime change there, arguing that the country would descend further into chaos should Assad be ousted.


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.