Arrests follow rape of Indian anti-trafficking activists

Indian National Congress party activist protest against the abduction and gang-rape of five charity workers in Ranchi on June 23, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 June 2018
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Arrests follow rape of Indian anti-trafficking activists

  • At least 60 NGOS in four networks are working on a memorandum asking the state to protect activists
  • More recently it brought in the death penalty for those who rape children under the age of 12 following a national outcry over the gang rape

NEW DELHI: Police have made a series of arrests in connection with the abduction and rape at gunpoint of five anti-trafficking campaigners in the central Indian state of Jharkhand early this week.

Khunti police station officials, where the incident happened, told Arab News that three people have been arrested, including the head of the school where the play was being performed. 

Police superintendent Ashwini Kumar Sinha said a leader of a local movement called Pathalgadi instigated the accused, telling them that the play performers were against the movement and should be taught a lesson. Pathalgadi is a political movement whose followers recognize their village councils as the only sovereign authority and views all outsiders suspiciously.

Activists working in the area say the incident has left them shocked and worried for their safety.

Earlier this week, nine activists were abducted while performing a street play in Kochang village and driven into a forest, where they were beaten and the women raped.

The activists were from the nonprofit organization Asha Kiran, which runs a shelter in the Khunti district for young women rescued from trafficking. Activists say that while such incidents are rare, the abductions have shaken the community.

“There is definitely fear now,” said Rajan Kumar, of Sinduartola Gramodaya Vikas Vidyalaya, a nonprofit group campaigning against people trafficking in the district. 

“But people have to work. We need to do more to take members of the village council into our confidence.”

Rajiv Ranjan Sinha, of the Jharkhand Anti-Trafficking Network, a coalition of 14 organizations, said the incident has frightened everyone.

“We’ve never had to face this before,” Sinha said. “But it will definitely have an implication. New people will be scared to go into the field.”

Several non-profit organizations have called for a silent protest march at 10 a.m. in the state capital Ranchi on Sunday.

At least 60 NGOS in four networks are working on a memorandum asking the state to protect activists and to take seriously the issue of violence against women.

“We are not only NGO workers, but we are female also,” a spokeswoman said. “There is a lot of fear among workers now.”

India has a poor record of sexual violence against women — at least 39,000 cases were reported in 2016, according to the latest government data available. Activists say many more incidents go unreported.

The country changed its rape laws and introduced Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences legislation after the rape and murder of a 19-year-old student in December 2012 in the Indian capital.

More recently it brought in the death penalty for those who rape children under the age of 12 following a national outcry over the gang rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in the northern state of Kashmir.

The girl was kidnapped, drugged and raped in a temple where she was held captive for several days before being beaten to death.


5 years after mall Kenya attack, Al-Shabab’s threat grows

Updated 44 min 11 sec ago
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5 years after mall Kenya attack, Al-Shabab’s threat grows

  • Analysts say the Somalia-based extremist group has been pushed down Africa’s east coast as far as Mozambique
  • The Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011

NAIROBI: Five years after Al-Shabab fighters burst into a luxury shopping mall in Kenya’s capital, hurling grenades and starting a days-long siege that left 67 people dead, analysts say the Somalia-based extremist group has been pushed down Africa’s east coast as far as Mozambique as its regional threat expands.
The assault on Westgate Mall on a sunny weekend afternoon horrified the world and exposed weaknesses in Kenya’s security forces after it took them hours to respond. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised reforms.
Now the government of East Africa’s commercial hub is praising itself, saying security forces have effectively limited attacks to areas near the Somali border. “We learnt our mistakes and corrected them,” police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet told reporters this week, pointing out real-time intelligence sharing among security agencies.
Analysts, however, say few sustainable lessons have been learned while Al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa, has changed its strategy with devastating effects.
The Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011. The group has killed hundreds of people inside Kenya, which has been targeted more than any other of the six countries providing troops to an African Union force in Somalia.
“Al-Shabab’s goal in carrying out attacks outside Somalia is to pressure authorities within the region to pull their troops out of Somalia. That aim has not been achieved and all indications are that the movement continues to plot assaults in cities across East Africa to advance its objectives,” said Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.
A new report by the think tank says some Al-Shabab extremists previously based on the Kenyan coast have moved south into Tanzania and, in response to crackdowns there, relocated into northern Mozambique and forged ties with local fighters.
The Kenyan government’s initial response to the Westgate attack, involving blanket arrests of Muslims and indiscriminate crackdowns aimed at ethnic Somalis, inflamed communities and made matters worse, Mutiga said.
The government later changed its approach and appointed local ethnic Somalis to lead security operations in the northeast near the Somali border.
That area, however, has seen growing attacks by Al-Shabab that have killed more than 100 police officers since May 2017.
“Kenyan security officials seem to have failed to contain that threat,” Mutiga said. Other major attacks since Westgate in the region, often targeting Christians, have included massacres of bus passengers and the assault on Garissa University in 2015 that left 147 people dead.
The pressure on Al-Shabab since Westgate has included training and counterterrorism equipment provided by Western countries including the US and Britain.
The attack also changed the way Kenyan institutions are protected. Shopping malls, office buildings, university campuses, government facilities and the main airport have invested substantial sums in additional security, including surveillance.
As Al-Shabab focuses its attacks largely on Christians in Kenya’s Muslim-majority border communities, it has managed to stall economic activity and education, said Kenya-based security analyst and former US Marine Andrew Franklin. Many children who drop out of school as teaching staff flee become targets for recruitment by the extremists.
Kenyans make up the majority of Al-Shabab’s foreign fighters.
While economic activity in the borderlands weakens and corruption grows, morale and effectiveness of security forces has eroded, Franklin said.
There is a “tremendous amount of complacency” among security agencies, he said, leading to the conclusion that senior officials have little interest in countering Al-Shabab’s insurgency.
For Andrew Munya, who was injured in the Westgate attack when shrapnel hit his left shoulder, Kenya will not be safe until Al-Shabab is dealt with for good.
“There is no difference whether a life is lost in the border areas or in the city,” said Munya, who later became a security consultant while vowing to never to let his community and family become victims. “All life is precious and must be protected.”