Watchdog urges Russia World Cup opening boycott over Syria

A view of the pitch and the stands of the Nizhny Novgorod Arena in Nizhny Novgorod on May 21, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2018
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Watchdog urges Russia World Cup opening boycott over Syria

  • Russia, which hosts the world’s most-watched sporting event for the first time this year, is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime
  • Britain is already boycotting the tournament over the events that led to a former spy being poisoned

BEIRUT: World leaders should boycott Russian President Vladimir Putin’s VIP box at next month’s World Cup opening unless he takes steps to protect Syrian civilians, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
Russia, which hosts the world’s most-watched sporting event for the first time this year, is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and arguably the most powerful broker in the seven-year-old war.
“In hosting one of the most televised events in the world, Russia is courting world public opinion and looking for respect,” HRW’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, said in a statement.
“World leaders should signal to President Putin that unless he changes track and acts to end atrocities by Russian and Syrian forces in Syria, they won’t be in their seats in the VIP box with him on opening night.”
Billions of people worldwide are expected to watch the World Cup on television and HRW argued that Moscow’s responsibility in the suffering of Syrian civilians should not be forgotten.
Russia is the main exporter of weaponry to the Syrian regime and its forces provide on-the-ground support to government forces and allied militia.
The New York-based watchdog has documented Russian-Syrian joint military operations that “have caused thousands of civilian casualties,” including recently in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
Roth warned that millions of other civilians faced the same fate in upcoming operations, especially in the northwestern province of Idlib that still largely escapes government control.
“World leaders should not allow a sporting event to gloss over a pattern of atrocities in Syria that now looms over two million civilians,” he said.


Trial starts for suspect in tourist killings in Tajikistan

Updated 21 min 16 sec ago
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Trial starts for suspect in tourist killings in Tajikistan

  • Man who swore allegiance to Daesh before killing four foreign cyclists in ex-Soviet Tajikistan went on trial
  • Four of Abdusamadov’s accomplices were killed by police during a manhunt

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan: A man who swore allegiance to Daesh before killing four foreign cyclists in ex-Soviet Tajikistan went on trial Tuesday in a process closed to the public.
Tajikistan’s Supreme Court spokesperson told AFP Tuesday the trial for the “brutal murder of four foreign cyclists” had begun in the suspect’s high-security detention center.
Hussein Abdusamadov, 33, already confessed to killing American cycling tourists Lauren Geoghegan and Jay Austin, Dutch citizen Rene Wokke and Swiss citizen Markus Hummel in July.
The victims were struck by a car as they cycled back from the remote Pamir Highway, a popular route among adventure tourists, before being set upon with knives and firearms.
Four of Abdusamadov’s accomplices were killed by police during a manhunt.
A video of the five men pledging allegiance to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was released by an official Daesh media channel.
Tajik authorities have so far ignored the video evidence, instead blaming a former opposition party — the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan — that was banned by the government in 2015.
The fact the trial is closed has raised concerns about due process in a country with a poor record on political freedoms and human rights.
Abdusamadov implicated the IRPT as the ultimate organizer of the attack in a televised confession, but critics say the government is using the case to tar the opposition.
A dozen senior members of the IRPT are serving long sentences up to life on charges government critics say are trumped up.
In addition to Abdusamadov, 16 other people stand accused of not offering information to the authorities that could have prevented the attack, a source in the police told AFP.