British PM vows to strengthen prison sentences after London attack

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Cars, buses and lorries remain in position as police officer stands guard inside a cordon on the south side of London Bridge in the City of London, on December 1, 2019, following the November 29 deadly terror incident. (AFP)
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Members of the public walk past police vans, blocking off the south side entrance to London Bridge in the City of London, on December 1, 2019, following the November 29 deadly terror incident.(AFP)
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A photograph of the first victim to be named, Jack Merritt, is pictured among floral tributes left close to London Bridge in the City of London, on December 1, 2019, following the November 29 deadly terror incident. (AFP)
Updated 01 December 2019

British PM vows to strengthen prison sentences after London attack

  • law and order has raced to the top of the election agenda after Usman Khan, wearing a fake suicide vest and wielding knives, killed two people
  • Johnson’s Conservatives have long championed tough police and prison measures

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday he would strengthen prison sentences, vowing to boost security after an attack in the British capital by a man convicted of terrorism who was released early from prison.
With less than two weeks before Britain heads to the polls, law and order has raced to the top of the election agenda after Usman Khan, wearing a fake suicide vest and wielding knives, killed two people on Friday before being shot dead by police.
Johnson’s Conservatives have long championed tough police and prison measures, but opposition parties have criticized the governing party for overseeing almost a decade of cuts to public services.
Trying to distance himself from those cuts, Johnson said if he won the Dec. 12 election he would invest more money in the prison system and make sentences tougher.
“We are going to bring in tougher sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders and for terrorists,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
“I absolutely deplore the fact that this man was out on the street, I think it was absolutely repulsive and we are going to take action.”
He was keen to portray his rival for prime minister, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as being weak on crime, blaming the opposition party for bringing in a law that automatically released some prisoners early when it was in government.
Corbyn, a veteran peace campaigner, said he believed convicted terrorists should “not necessarily” serve their full prison terms, suggesting it would depend on the nature of their sentence and also how they had behaved in prison.
“It depends on the circumstances, it depends on the sentence, but crucially it depends on what they’ve done in the prison,” Corbyn told Sky News.
Despite criticizing cases where police and the army were accused of operating a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland, the Labour leader said the police had no choice but to shoot the attacker dead.

INVESTIGATION
Khan’s attack on a Friday on London Bridge stirred memories of Britain’s last election in 2017, when three militants drove a van into pedestrians in the same part of the capital and attacked people, killing eight and injuring at least 48.
Khan’s rampage was brought to an end, in part, because of bystanders, who wrestled him to the ground before the police shot him dead. So far the police have found no evidence to suggest Khan was working with others.
Queen Elizabeth expressed her “enduring thanks to the police and emergency services, as well as the brave individuals who put their own lives at risk to selflessly help and protect others.”
Three people remain in hospital, two of them in a stable condition, after Friday’s attack. The third person is suffering from less serious injuries.
The attack brought a somber tone to what has often been an ill-natured election campaign, which is presenting voters with a stark choice — Labour’s promise to raise taxes on the rich and businesses to fund a much expanded state or the Conservatives’ pledge to “get Brexit done” and move onto other issues.
While Corbyn’s team struck a moderate tone, with his top legal policy adviser Shami Chakrabarti questioning whether it was the time to make “knee-jerk” policy changes, Johnson again said only he could deliver Brexit, allowing Britain to move on to reforms such as to the criminal justice system.
“Obviously, I think we should be investing more in the criminal justice system,” said Johnson.
“What we are doing now, under this new one nation Conservative administration, (is) we are investing ... It is new in our approach and it is new in the way we will tackle the issue of public services.”


‘We don’t want to leave’: Sikhs consider future in Afghanistan

Updated 28 February 2020

‘We don’t want to leave’: Sikhs consider future in Afghanistan

  • Decades of violence has seen them flee to India, Canada and Germany

KABUL: When Sikh community leader Hakam Cha Cha Singh leaves his Kabul home for work each day, he says goodbye to his family as if it is for the last time, unsure he will make it back home safely in a country where embattled minorities face daily prejudice, harassment and violence from militant groups.

“We used to travel in the middle of the night from one province to another,” a white-bearded Singh told Arab News. “Now when I leave home, I say goodbye to my family, telling them there is a chance I might not return home because of insecurity.”

Then he paused and added: “But still we love Afghanistan.”

Singh is part of a fast-shrinking minority in Afghanistan, thousands of members of which have fled conflict and moved to countries like India, their spiritual homeland, or Canada and Germany over the last four decades.

Although almost an entirely Muslim country, Afghanistan was home to as many as 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus before a devastating civil war in the 1990s. For centuries, Hindu and Sikh communities played a prominent role in merchant trade and moneylending in Afghanistan, although today they mostly run medicinal herb shops.

Once spread across the country, the Sikh community is now concentrated in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Ghazni and the capital Kabul.

FASTFACT

Afghanistan was home to 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus before 1990s civil war.

Afghan Sikhs boast no more than 300 families. It has only two gurdwaras, or places of worship, one each in Jalalabad and Kabul.

In 2018, an explosion in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad killed at least 20 people, including several members of the small Sikh minority, pushing hundreds to flee the country. Among those killed was Avtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate running in Afghanistan’s then-upcoming parliamentary election.

Many Sikhs say local Muslim hard-liners have stirred up hostility against them, and the community now requires police protection for their funeral rituals.

But while most of the Sikhs who remain in Afghanistan are wary of religious discrimination and the absence of economic opportunities, some Sikhs, especially those with land or businesses and no ties to India, say they do not plan to leave and Afghanistan remains their “motherland.”

“We have suffered a lot. Our honor, property and life have been in danger, but still, we call Afghanistan our mother, our home,” said 31 year-old Gajandar Singh Bashardost at his traditional medicinal herb shop in the once-bustling Sikh neighborhood of Karte Parwan.

“It is bad for us Sikhs, Afghanistan ... if we leave and seek asylum in India or any other place,” Bashardost said. “I do not want to give my country a bad name.”

Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance allocated $650,000 to renovate Hindu and Sikh temples communities across the country.

“Hindus and Sikhs love their country and despite the prejudice and discrimination do not want to leave,” said Anar Kali Honaryar, the only Sikh member of the Afghan Senate.

Zabihullah Farhang, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said the level of discrimination and prejudice shown towards the Hindus and Sikhs compared to the past has come down.

However, he added that the government needs to do more to “protect their rights, help them with building schools, providing them health facilities, finding job opportunities and giving them opportunities in the government.”

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