‘Hunger crimes’ on the rise in crisis-hit Lebanon

Lebanon’s strict and early lockdown was imposed in March. (File/AP)
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Updated 15 July 2020

‘Hunger crimes’ on the rise in crisis-hit Lebanon

  • The small Mediterranean country is mired in an economic crisis marked by a steep currency fall and runaway inflation
  • Tens of thousands of Lebanese have lost their jobs or part of their salaries

BEIRUT: Zakaria Al-Omar was walking through Beirut when a stranger robbed him at knifepoint, a desperate crime of a kind that has become increasingly common in crisis-torn Lebanon.
The small Mediterranean country is mired in an economic crisis marked by a steep currency fall and runaway inflation that have plunged nearly half of the population into poverty.
Omar, a 37-year-old graphic designer, recalled the terrifying and tragic encounter that started when a man in his 40s crept up behind him as he walked alone at night through Beirut’s Hamra commercial district.
“He told me that he didn’t want to hurt me. He asked me to give him money or take him to a grocery store to buy some food,” Omar recounted. “He said his children back home were crying from hunger.”
The robber grabbed the money and darted toward his motorcycle, then stopped dead in his tracks and returned, explaining that he had lost his job and could no longer pay the rent.
“He started crying and apologized to me,” Omar told AFP. “He told me that he was not a thief but that he was hungry and so were his children.”
Omar said he refused to take back the cash.
“I told him that I forgave him, and then he went away,” Omar said. “I was scared but I also felt sad for that man breaking down in front of me.”
Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces say crime rates have shot up this year amid Lebanon’s worst economic turmoil since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The ISF recorded 863 thefts and robberies in the first half of this year, up from 650 for all of 2019, according to a document seen by AFP.
A security official who asked not to be named told AFP that broader crime rates during the first half of 2020 reached a six-year peak, especially murders and robberies.
The rise appeared to be driven by the deepening economic crisis, said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the issue.
Police were noticing a “new kind of theft that involves mainly baby milk, food, and medicine,” the source said.
In another trend that evoked Omar’s encounter, the source added, “more than one victim has said the perpetrators apologized while robbing them.”
Tens of thousands of Lebanese have lost their jobs or part of their salaries, while a crippling dollar shortage has sparked rapid inflation.
The Lebanese pound, though officially pegged to the dollar at 1,507, reached a peak of more than 9,000 to the greenback on the black market in early July.
With Lebanon heavily reliant on imports, the price of medicine, baby milk and food has reached record highs.
The price of a relatively cheap brand of diapers has shot up from 15,000 Lebanese pounds ($10 at the official rate) to 34,000 pounds ($23) per pack.
And the cost of a tin of baby milk has climbed from 23,000 ($15) to 35,000 pounds ($23) on average, with some brands selling for as much as 45,000 pounds ($30).
In a video widely shared on social media this month, three men were filmed walking away from a Beirut restaurant carrying a large and heavy-looking safe.
Walid Ataya, the restaurant owner, said: “They took money from the cash register, even the spare change. Then they scoured the place until they spotted the safe, which they couldn’t open.”
He did not reveal exactly how much was lost but said the robbers stole the proceeds from “two years’ worth of work.”
Ataya, who owns a chain of upscale restaurants in Beirut, said the safe contained cash he did not want to deposit in a bank, now a common concern.
Since the autumn, Lebanese banks have gradually forbidden depositors from withdrawing their dollar savings or transferring them abroad, prompting many to stash cash in their offices or at home.
Apart from money, increasingly more cars are being stolen.
The ISF has recorded 303 vehicle thefts so far this year — more than the 273 in the second half of last year.
The increase, the security source said, was clearly linked to “deteriorating economic conditions and rising youth unemployment.”


International summit urges UN to take tougher action against Iran

Updated 19 September 2020

International summit urges UN to take tougher action against Iran

  • More than 100,000 people from Europe, the US and Iran took part in the online Transatlantic Summit to Support a Free Iran
  • Among them were Republican and Democratic US politicians who set aside domestic differences to join the condemnation of the Iranian regime

CHICAGO: An international summit of activists and political leaders on Friday called on the UN to get tough on Iran’s “murderous, terrorist” government by implementing stronger sanctions against the regime in Tehran.

More than 100,000 people from Europe, the US and Iran took part in the online Transatlantic Summit to Support a Free Iran, which was organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).

Among them were Republican and Democratic US politicians who set aside domestic differences to join the condemnation of the Iranian regime and demand an end to its campaign of repression.

Several speakers highlighted a “new wave of executions” in Iran stemming from mass protests that began in 2018 and surged again in November 2019 after the Iranian regime increased the price of gasoline.

There was an international outcry this week after it was announced on Sept. 12 that Navid Afkari, an Iranian national wrestling champion, had been executed. He was arrested during the 2018 protests and accused of killing a security guard, a charge he denied.

“His only crime was to rise up and fight to overthrow a regime that has devastated Iran and drenched it in blood while plundering the nation,” said Maryam Rajavi, the newly elected president of NCRI, during her opening remarks at the summit.

“The people of Iran had been protesting for weeks against the death sentence handed down to him by (Iranian Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei’s judiciary. The people of Iran, human-rights advocates, freedom lovers and athletes launched an unprecedented worldwide campaign to stop the inhuman verdict.

“Today, Navid Afkari lives on in the hearts and struggle of thousands of resistance units in Iran, (which) will continue to resist and rise up for freedom and justice.”

The Iranian leadership has a long history of executing activists who oppose its rule. In 1988, more than 30,000 protesters were rounded up and put to death. Rajavi said that Iran’s leaders should face justice for those killings and the murders that followed in the following three decades.

“The experience of the past 40 years of the clerical regime’s rule in Iran has shown that it has continued its rule by committing 120,000 executions on political grounds, including the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, 90 percent of whom belonged to the PMOI,” she added.

“The regime has been condemned 66 times so far by the UN General Assembly, as well as in the Human Rights Commission and Council for its gross human rights violations.”

Iran has spent more than $30 billion to protect the regime of dictator Bashar Assad in neighboring Syria, Rajavi said, ordering Iranian militants and their allies deployed there to target and kill American soldiers and advisers.

With American politics increasingly divided in the run-up to the presidential election on Nov. 3, there was a rare display of harmony between Republicans and Democrats.

The long list of speakers included Republicans such as Trump adviser and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former house speaker Newt Gingrich, and senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. On the Democratic side, senators Bob Menendez, Jeanne Shaheen and Kirsten Gillibrand, and former senator Joe Lieberman all called for tougher and more restrictive sanctions on Iran.

“Iran is a regime of terror,” Giuliani said during his live video address. “Every year brings a new year of violations of human rights, deprivation and terrorism.”

Although most speakers looked to the future, urging the UN to strengthen its sanctions against Iran, Giuliani took the opportunity to criticize former President Barack Obama for trying to “appease” Tehran in 2015 by agreeing to give the Iranians $1 billion at the time of the negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the so-called nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to give up its research into nuclear weapons.

British MP David Jones said that the (JCPOA) and the failure to crack down on the Iranian regime had “encouraged them to pursue terrorism against its critics,” including members of the US Senate and Giuliani, who has been an outspoken critic of the regime for many years.

Other speakers including former general James Jones, who served during the Obama administration. He denounced the regime in Tehran as one that engages in “scandalous, outrageous and unspeakable cruelty to their own people.”

On Aug. 14, the UN Security Council rejected a US-led draft resolution calling for an extension of a UN arms embargo on Iran, which is due to expire in October. Trump is expected to announce this week that the US will impose its own embargo against Iran, and urge other nations to follow suit.

Rajavi criticized the UN for failing to act after the attacks on protesters last fall, or to condemn the execution of Afkari.