Almost 500 migrants brought back to Libya after foiled attempts to reach Italy

In this photo taken on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, a Sea-Watch ship approaches a dinghy boat to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2019
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Almost 500 migrants brought back to Libya after foiled attempts to reach Italy

  • 473 migrants returned to Libya since Saturday -coastguard
  • Already 203 have drowned in Mediterranean this year

TRIPOLI/GENEVA: The United Nations criticised European countries on Tuesday for not allowing migrants to disembark at safe ports, as Libya's coastguard said almost 500 migrants trying to reach Italy by inflatables had been brought back to the North African country.
The 473 people found trying to cross the Mediterranean on inflatables in different rescue operations since Saturday included some who were rescued by a cargo ship, coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem said.
U.N. aid agencies had earlier condemned the transfer of migrants to Libyan detention centres in which they often face abuse, lack of medical care, rape or forced labour, according to 61-page U.N. report in December.
"In Libya's current context, where outbreaks of violence and widespread human rights violations prevail, no rescued refugees and migrants should be returned there," Charlie Yaxley, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, told a briefing.
Qassem said Tuesday's figures included more than 140 migrants rescued at sea by the 'Lady Sham' cargo ship, whom the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said were brought to the western city of Misrata and then to a detention centre.
Four people with burns were taken to hospital, while two others other died after having spent 24 hours at sea, Qassem said. The migrants were from different sub-Saharan and Arab countries and included nine children and 25 women.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) denounced "politicking around sea rescues" by European states that have restricted aid groups from conducting missions. More than 200 have already drowned in January and 4,507 have reached Europe by sea despite "bitter cold and great danger", Yaxley said.
Libya’s western shores are the main departure point for thousands of migrants mainly from sub-Saharan countries fleeing poverty and conflict trying to reach Europe.
But since July 2017, smuggling networks inside Libya have been disrupted under an Italy-backed deal with local authorities in a former smuggling hub of Sabratha town in western Libya.
The coast guard has stepped up patrols after receiving new boats from Italy as part of efforts by the right-wing government there to stop migrants reaching Italian shores from Africa.
Migrants are bought to overcrowded detention centres that are formally under the control of the Interior Ministry but in reality are run by armed groups.


Iran 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 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.