Philippine jails release over 15,000 inmates amid pandemic

Philippine jails release over  15,000 inmates amid pandemic
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Updated 03 July 2020

Philippine jails release over 15,000 inmates amid pandemic

Philippine jails release over  15,000 inmates amid pandemic
  • A majority of those released were elderly, or who had committed light or bailable offenses

MANILA: The Philippines has released over 15,000 inmates to ease congestion in its notoriously overcrowded jails and halt the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), officials announced on Thursday.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the move proved that prisoners were not being neglected by the government, as the country scrambles to contain its COVID-19 outbreak. 

“It also shows that the justice system in the country is working even during the pandemic,” he said, countering claims by leftist groups that the government was not doing enough to decongest the country’s jails.

Based on data released by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), a total of 15,322 inmates were released from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) facilities between March 17 — a day after President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire island of Luzon in lockdown — and June 22.

A total of 5,910 of the freed inmates were from the National Capital Region; 2,598 from other parts of Luzon; 1,487 from Central Visayas; 897 from the Zamboanga Peninsula; 762 from Northern Mindanao, and the rest from other regions. 

The DILG pointed out that the majority of those released were elderly, or who had committed light or bailable offenses.

“All of these (inmates) were released by (the) authority of the courts, with some released in accordance with new guidelines issued by the Supreme Court because of the pandemic,” Año stressed.

To date, the BJMP has recorded 783 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, and 135 among its personnel. Año added that 549 of the infected inmates and 90 from the COVID-19 positive jail personnel have already recovered.

Despite budgetary and personnel limitations at the BJMP, he said, the bureau had established COVID-19 isolation centers for inmates.

 The bureau also intensified its triaging process, provision of more focused medical care to patients, daily disinfection of jails, targeted and expanded testing, and health education campaigns. 

“These are on top of the usual precautionary measures such as wearing of face masks, thermal scanning, use of foot baths, hand washing, and maintaining good hygiene,” Año said.

“We are closely monitoring the situation at BJMP jails across the country and we are not neglecting the COVID-19 positive cases ... We will not stop until all of them have recovered.”

Because physical distancing is a challenge inside jails, Año said that the BJMP also expanded its “virtual visitation” (e-Visitation) program for its inmates while jails remained in lockdown.

The Philippines has the most congested penal system in the world, with a total jail population of more than 215,000 as of November 2019, occupying space intended for a maximum capacity of 40,000, based on data from World Prison Brief.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that the 467 jails nationwide were at 534 percent capacity in March 2020.


Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban

Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban
Updated 6 min 50 sec ago

Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban

Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban
  • Pakistani officials under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through: Customs officials
  • Relations between neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks

QUETTA/ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday reopened a major southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan that is currently under Taliban control on the Afghan side, Pakistani customs officials said, allowing over 100 trucks carrying goods to cross into Afghanistan.
The Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, a key port for landlocked Afghanistan, had been closed by Pakistan for commercial traffic since fierce fighting for control of the crossing erupted between Taliban insurgents and Afghan security forces earlier this month.
“Pakistan has opened its border with Afghanistan at Chaman today and resumed Afghan Transit Trade which was suspended since the last one month,” Arif Kakar, a senior official of the Chaman border district, told Reuters.
He said it would remain open six days a week.
Two Pakistani customs officials, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that Spin Boldak and the border town of Wesh were still under Taliban control, and they did not know what arrangements were in place across the border or who was clearing the goods through customs.
They said Pakistani officials were under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through as the goods they were carrying would otherwise perish.
Afghanistan’s interior and finance ministries, and the Taliban spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment.
US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, which oversees American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that Spin Boldak was a “contested space” and the Afghan government was looking to regain control of it.
The reopening came hours after 46 Afghan soldiers sought refuge in Pakistan after losing control of military positions further north along the border following advances by Taliban insurgents taking advantage of foreign forces’ withdrawal.
The Afghan military commander requested refuge at the border crossing in Chitral in the north, the Pakistan army said in a statement, adding safe passage into Pakistan was given on Sunday night after clearance from Afghan authorities.
Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighboring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks after Taliban offensives in border areas.
“Afghan soldiers have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms,” the statement said.
Relations between neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks, particularly over repeated allegations by Kabul that Pakistan is backing the Taliban — a charge Islamabad denies.
Afghanistan recalled its diplomats from Pakistan after the brief kidnapping of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter in Islamabad earlier in the month.
Afghan officials did not respond to a request for comment on the soldiers’ crossing.
The Taliban has escalated its offensive since the United States announced in April that it would withdraw its troops by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.
Washington has said it will continue to carry out air strikes to support Afghan forces facing insurgent attacks.
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have failed to make substantive progress since beginning in September last year.
Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, and border crossings.
The Pakistan army said the soldiers who sought refuge will be returned to Afghanistan after due process, as had occurred in the case of another batch of 35 soldiers earlier in July.


Libyan election talks get underway in Rome

The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 26 July 2021

Libyan election talks get underway in Rome

The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Members of respective parliaments meet to discuss ways of enhancing Libyan-Italian cooperation

ROME: Intra-Libyan talks on adopting the legal framework for the country’s next general election began in Rome on Monday, July 26, and are expected to continue until July 29.

A source in the Italian Prime Minister’s office told Arab News that members of the Libyan special commission arrived in Rome on July 25, “to discuss … an electoral law for the next general elections” scheduled for Dec. 24, 2021.

The commission, which holds a largely technical role from a legal perspective, will present a proposal to the Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk for its final approval.

The meeting in Rome will include representatives from across Libya, as well as members of the UN Support Mission in Libya.

Parliamentary spokesman Abdullah Blehik told Italian news agency Nova that House Speaker Aguila Saleh “will not participate in meetings aimed at developing a constitutional foundation for the parliamentary and presidential elections.”

Piero Fassino, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, told Arab News: “We are very happy that the meetings will be held in Rome — it signals that the new democratic Libya sees Italy as a reliable partner on the path towards democracy and the final end of the violence in that country.”

Fassino recalled that in the past few weeks, several meetings had taken place between members of the Italian and Libyan parliaments, which were attended also by Saleh.

“When he met us, Aguila Saleh stressed that cooperation with Italy is very important as it is the closest European state to Libya, and there are so many common interests between the two states,” Fassino added.

“We believe that this meeting, starting today in Rome, shows another real sign of the wish to enhance our cooperation.”


New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids

New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids
Updated 26 July 2021

New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids

New Zealand to accept alleged Daesh militant, 2 kids
  • PM Ardern: New Zealand could not remove citizenship from anybody if it left them stateless
  • The woman and her children were arrested when they tried to illegally cross from Syria into Turkey

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand on Monday agreed to repatriate an alleged Daesh militant and her two young children, who have been detained in Turkey since February.
The decision follows a bitter dispute with Australia over which country needed to shoulder responsibility for the woman, who had been a dual citizen of both countries until Australia stripped her citizenship under its anti-terrorism laws.
The woman and her children were arrested when they tried to illegally cross from Syria into Turkey, according to Turkey’s Defense Ministry. Turkey identified her only by her initials, S.A., while New Zealand media say she is Suhayra Aden, who was 26 at the time of her arrest.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand had taken into account its international responsibilities and could not remove citizenship from anybody if it left them stateless.
“I made very strong representations to Australia that she should be permitted to return there. Her family moved to Australia when she was 6 and she grew up there before departing for Syria in 2014 on an Australian passport,” Ardern said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Australia would not reverse the cancelation of citizenship.”
Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the woman lost her citizenship as a result of her own actions, and that ending citizenship for dual nationals engaged in terrorist conduct was an integral part of Australia’s response to terrorist threats.
“The government’s first priority is always to protect the Australian community,” Andrews said in a statement.
Ardern said the safety and wellbeing of New Zealanders was the government’s paramount concern. She said there had been extensive planning with the police and other agencies.
“I can assure people great care is being taken as to how the woman and her young children are returned to New Zealand and how they will be managed in a way that minimizes any risk for New Zealanders,” Ardern said.
Authorities declined to say when the family would be repatriated, citing legal and security concerns.
Ardern said anybody suspected of being associated with a terrorist group should expect to be investigated under New Zealand laws, although the case remained a matter for the police.
New Zealand police confirmed an investigation was underway but declined further comment on whether the woman would face any criminal charges.


Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns
Updated 26 July 2021

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns

Southern India’s only chief minister from PM Modi’s party resigns
  • BJP has failed to make inroads in other southern states despite running the country since 2014
  • Modi recently dropped many senior ministers from his cabinet as he tries to reinvigorate his administration

BENGALURU: The chief minister of India’s Karnataka, the only state ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in the country’s prosperous south, resigned on Monday in the latest political shake-up in the Hindu nationalist group.
B.S. Yediyurappa, a four-time chief minister of the state, home to India’s technology capital of Bengaluru, had helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) form its first government in India’s southern region in 2008.
The party has failed to make inroads in other southern states despite running the country since 2014. Aside from Yediyurappa’s resignation, Modi recently dropped many senior ministers from his cabinet as he tries to reinvigorate his administration dented by a huge second surge in coronavirus infections.
Yediyurappa, 78, quit because he was older than its cut-off age of 75 years for ministerial positions, BJP spokeswoman Malavika Avinash said.
“I had no pressure from senior party leaders. I am voluntarily submitting my resignation,” Yediyurappa said in an emotional address broadcast live on local television channels.
Bengaluru hosts offices of big multinational companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Goldman Sachs.
Analysts said the BJP will have to move fast to name a successor or risk being outmaneuvered by the opposition.
“If the BJP cannot come up with a name soon enough, it would give the opposition a chance to swoop in,” said Narendar Pani, dean, School of Social Sciences at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bengaluru.
“The challenge for the BJP will be to find a successor who will have the same kind of pull and can bring various groups together.”
The BJP changed the chief minister of the northern state of Uttarakhand twice this year, months ahead of local elections. Karnataka elections are due only in 2023.


Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak
Updated 26 July 2021

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak

Malaysian doctors stage walkout amid worsening COVID-19 outbreak
  • The doctors are on contracts for a set period and say their treatment is worse than that of permanent government staff

SUNGAI BULOH, Malaysia: Hundreds of junior doctors at state-run Malaysian hospitals staged walkouts Monday demanding better conditions as the country faces its worst coronavirus outbreak yet.
Dressed in black and holding signs with slogans including “equal pay, equal rights, equal opportunity” and “we are your future specialists,” they protested at medical facilities nationwide.
The doctors are on contracts for a set period and say their treatment is worse than that of permanent government staff, even as they have found themselves on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19.
They complain of a lack of job security, poor benefits and that very few are eventually offered permanent positions.
We want “equal rights, to be a permanent doctor,” said a medic at a government hospital that treats virus patients outside Kuala Lumpur.
“We would definitely not be here if we were treated fairly... we should be appreciated for what we do,” the doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
The medic was among dozens who took part in the action at the hospital, which lasted around half an hour.
Local media reported that several hundred participated across the country, but some doctors complained they were threatened by police and senior hospital staff in a bid to halt the protests.
Those involved said senior doctors took over their duties before they walked out, to ensure that patient care was not jeopardized.
Malaysia is currently battling its most serious outbreak, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant. Officials have reported over one million cases and about 8,000 deaths.
There are over 23,000 doctors on these contracts in Malaysia — about 45 percent of the total medical doctors in the public health care system, according to official estimates.
Last week, the government said it would extend junior doctors’ contracts for up to four years in a bid to forestall the protests.
But they stopped short of offering permanent jobs, and the organizers of Monday’s walkout criticized the move as “short-sighted.”