Palestinians release activist jailed for Facebook post

Palestinian activist Issa Amro, center, speaks after his release from detention, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. The Palestinian Authority has released Amro a week after he was arrested for writing a Facebook post criticizing the government of President Mahmoud Abbas. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Updated 11 September 2017

Palestinians release activist jailed for Facebook post

HEBRON, West Bank: A Palestinian activist who has run afoul of both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities was released from a Palestinian jail Sunday, a week after he was arrested for writing a Facebook post critical of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Issa Amro, who says he pursues a path of non-violence against discriminatory Israeli policies and Jewish settlements in the West Bank city of Hebron, now faces the rare predicament of criminal proceedings in both an Israeli military court and a Palestinian court.
Amro was arrested on September 4 for writing a Facebook post criticizing the detention of a Palestinian journalist who was arrested for calling for President Mahmoud Abbas’s resignation.
His attorney said Sunday that Amro was released on $1,400 bail after being held under a recent edict that allows the government to crack down on social media critics. Farid Atrash said it was “shameful” that his client was arrested for exercising his right of free expression.
“They want to silence me and silence every voice defending human rights, but they are wrong. I will continue defending human rights and struggling against occupation,” he said following his release from jail on Sunday. He denied any wrongdoing.
In jail last week, Amro began a hunger strike to protest what he said was an unlawful detention, made without a warrant or due process.
Following his release, Amro said he was verbally and physically abused during his investigation by Palestinian security.
Though he has been freed from jail for now, Amro’s legal battles are only just starting.
Amro, a 35-year-old activist whose organization Youth Against Settlements protests against Israeli settlements in his hometown of Hebron, also faces charges at an Israeli military court for allegedly inciting violence and hindering soldiers during official duties. His trial is to resume in October.
Despite facing double-barrel legal battles for his political activities, Amro vows to press forward with what he says is a non-violent struggle.
“I know the law and never, ever violated it,” he said. “I never incited for violence, I never incited against any official. I call for human rights.”
Amro’s arrest by Palestinian security last week prompted rights groups to urge the Palestinian Authority to release him. Amnesty International condemned his arrest as “a shameless attack on freedom of expression.”
Last week nine members of US Congress penned a letter to Abbas asking him to “immediately drop the baseless charges and release” Amro, calling his detention “extremely concerning.”
In June, 32 members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to persuade Israeli authorities to drop charges against Amro. The lawmakers expressed concern that some of the allegations against him are “not internationally recognizable criminal offenses” and that the military court “will not render a fair and impartial verdict.”
In July, two United Nations human rights rapporteurs said the Israeli charges against him were “directed squarely at his lawful right to peacefully protest.”
Amro, like several other Palestinian journalists, was arrested and charged with disturbing public order under a recently passed Electronic Crimes Law, and “causing strife” under a 1960 Jordanian law. Human rights organizations have noted a spike in journalists arrested by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, particularly after the implementation of the vaguely worded decree in July.
The law enables the Palestinian Authority government to jail those who harm “national unity” or the “social fabric” online. Critics say the edict, issued without prior public debate, is perhaps the most significant step yet by Abbas’ government to restrict freedom of expression in the autonomous Palestinian enclaves of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Amnesty International reported that Palestinian Authority security services arrested at least six journalists in August and shut down dozens of websites in a major crackdown on free speech.


Mideast faces opioid crisis as it rages through developing world

Updated 36 min 14 sec ago

Mideast faces opioid crisis as it rages through developing world

  • Mass abuse of the opioid tramadol spans continents, from India to Africa to the Middle East
  • Abuse is now so rampant some countries consumed by it are asking international authorities to intervene

KAPURTHALA: Reports rolled in with escalating urgency — pills seized by the truckload, pills swallowed by schoolchildren, pills in the pockets of dead terrorists.
These pills, the world has been told, are safer than the OxyContins, the Vicodins, the fentanyls that have wreaked so much devastation. But now they are the root of what the United Nations named “the other opioid crisis” — an epidemic featured in fewer headlines than the American one, as it rages through the most vulnerable countries on the planet.
Mass abuse of the opioid tramadol spans continents, from India to Africa to the Middle East, creating international havoc some experts blame on a loophole in narcotics regulation and a miscalculation of the drug’s danger. The man-made opioid was touted as able to relieve pain with little risk of abuse. Unlike other opioids, tramadol flowed freely around the world, unburdened by international controls that track most dangerous drugs.
But abuse is now so rampant some countries consumed by it are asking international authorities to intervene.

Grunenthal, the German company that originally made the drug, is campaigning for the status quo, arguing international regulations make narcotics difficult to get in countries with disorganized health systems, and adding tramadol to the list would deprive patients in pain access to any opioid at all.
“This is a huge public health dilemma,” said Dr. Gilles Forte, the secretary of the World Health Organization’s committee that recommends how drugs should be regulated. Tramadol is available in war zones and impoverished nations because it is unregulated. But it is widely abused for the same exact reason. “It’s a really very complicated balance to strike.”
Tramadol is not as deadly as other opioids and the crisis isn’t killing with the ferocity of America’s struggle withe the drugs. Still, individual governments from the US to Egypt to Ukraine have realized the drug’s dangers are not as limited as believed and worked to rein in the tramadol trade. The north Indian state of Punjab, the center of India’s opioid epidemic, was the latest to crack down. The pills were everywhere, as legitimate medication sold in pharmacies, but also illicit counterfeits hawked by street vendors.
This year, authorities seized hundreds of thousands of tablets, banned most pharmacy sales and shut down counterfeit pill factories, pushing the price from 35 cents for a 10-pack to $14. The government opened a network of treatment centers, fearing those who had become opioid addicted would resort to heroin out of desperation. Hordes of people rushed in to seek help in dealing with excruciating withdrawal.
For some, tramadol had become as essential as food.
“Like if you don’t eat, you start to feel hungry. Similar is the case with not taking it,” said auto shop welder Deepak Arora, a gaunt 30-year-old who took 15 tablets day, so much he had to steal from his family to pay for pills. “You are like a dead person.”
Jeffery Bawa, an officer with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, realized what was happening in 2016.
Police began finding pills on terrorists, who traffic it to fund their networks and take it to bolster their capacity for violence, Bawa said.
Most of it was coming from India. The country’s sprawling pharmaceutical industry is fueled by cheap generics. Pill factories produce knock-offs and ship them in bulk around the world, in doses far exceeding medical limits.
In 2017, law enforcement reported that $75 million worth of tramadol from India was confiscated en route to the Islamic State terror group. Authorities intercepted 600,000 tablets headed for Boko Haram. Another 3 million were found in a pickup truck in Niger, in boxes disguised with UN logos. The agency warned that tramadol was playing “a direct role in the destabilization of the region.”
“We cannot let the situation get any further out of control,” that alert read.
Grunenthal has campaigned to keep tramadol unregulated. It funded surveys that found regulation would impede pain treatment, and paid consultants to travel to the WHO to make the case that it’s safer that other opioids.
Spokesman Stepan Kracala said regulation would not necessarily curtail illicit trade and could backfire: Some desperate pain patients turn to the black market if no legal options exist.
This has happened in India, which regulated tramadol in 2018. Regulators say exports overseas and abuse at home came down. But they acknowledge that the vastness of the pharmaceutical industry and the ingenuity of traffickers makes curtailing abuse and illegal exports all but impossible. Tramadol is still easy to find.
Jyoti Rani stood on her front steps and pointed to house after house in the small city of Kapurthala where she said tramadol is still sold in her neighborhood of narrow roads and open drains, where school-aged boys sit hunched over the street in the middle of a weekday.
Rani’s addiction began with heroin. When her 14-year-old son died, she fell into depression.
“I wanted to kill myself, but I ended up becoming an addict,” she cried. A doctor prescribed tramadol to help kick the habit — instead, she formed a new one.
Now she is among about 30,000 people in Punjab who go to government-run addiction clinics for daily treatment.
Countries’ efforts to control tramadol on their own often fail, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, particularly in places where addiction has taken hold.