HRW blasts Turkey for using COVID-19 pandemic to silence dissident views

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media after receiving the vaccine for COVID-19 in Ankara, on Thursday. (AP)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media after receiving the vaccine for COVID-19 in Ankara, on Thursday. (AP)
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Updated 15 January 2021

HRW blasts Turkey for using COVID-19 pandemic to silence dissident views

HRW blasts Turkey for using COVID-19 pandemic to silence dissident views
  • Says ruling party further consolidated its authoritarianism by adopting a law on early prison releasel that excluded political prisoners

ANKARA: Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its World Report 2021 on Jan.13 and its chapter on Turkey highlights the country’s increasing crackdown on human rights over the past year.

The New York-based watchdog criticized the Turkish government for using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext for increasing authoritarianism by silencing dissident views and adopting legislation that further sidelined opposition parties.

HRW asserts that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) further consolidated its authoritarianism in part by adopting a law on early prison release in April that excluded political prisoners, including journalists and politicians.

The report also highlights restrictions on social media adopted in July that allow the government to further monitor alternative media channels on which opposition views were being freely expressed and fine them for not removing or blocking content when told to do so.

A legal change in the structure of independent bar associations further undermined judicial independence in the country because the new law was designed to “reduce the institutional strength of Turkey’s largest bar associations, which have strongly criticized Turkey’s backsliding on human rights and the rule of law,” according to the report.

HRW also criticized a law that was passed at the end of 2020 giving the Interior Ministry the right to perform annual inspections of the activities of nongovernmental groups and to suspend board members if those activities are found to be unlawful.

The report also highlighted the ongoing pre-trial detention of human rights defender Osman Kavala and the former co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.

“Executive interference in the judiciary and in prosecutorial decisions are entrenched problems, reflected in the authorities’ systematic practice of detaining, prosecuting, and convicting on bogus and overbroad terrorism and other charges, individuals the (President Recep) Erdogan government regards as critics or political opponents,” it noted.

Berk Esen, a political scientist from Sabanci University in Istanbul, agrees with the report’s claims that the Turkish government has used the COVID-19 pandemic to widen its authoritarianism.

“This is not surprising, because other populist governments have similarly used the pandemic as a pretext to expand their judicial and political powers, while stifling the opposition,” he told Arab News. “The social media law has brought into question the long-term viability of social media as a potential ground for opposition, while the recently enacted civil society law may further challenge the few genuine civil society organizations that are not controlled by the ruling party.”

Esen believes that Erdogan’s government is attempting to limit opposition before calling new elections.

“The AKP is hemorrhaging (supporters) amid the worsening economic situation in the country. This has limited Erdogan’s room for maneuver and left him weakened vis-a-vis his nationalistic coalition partner. With sanctions by the EU and the US still on the table, the government does not have many options left heading into 2021,” he said.

But the New Year doesn’t seem to hold out much hope of a new Turkey in terms of human rights. A presidential decree issued on Jan. 6 provided Turkish police with increased military and intelligence resources to crack down on public demonstrations that “seriously threaten national security and public order.”

The decree coincided with violent clashes between students of Istanbul’s Bogazici University and the police over Erdogan’s appointment of a loyalist as the rector of the university. Several students were taken into custody for attending the protests, with some arrested in nighttime house raids. And on the same day as the launch of HRW report, a lawsuit was filed against journalist Melis Alphan for posting a photograph from the 2015 Newroz celebrations in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, even though that celebration was legal and broadcast across mainstream TV channels at the time. The image featured the flag of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and Alphan now faces up to seven years and six months in prison on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda, as the PKK is classified as a terrorist organization by Ankara.

“All recent talk of judicial reform, a human rights action plan and Turkey’s place being in Europe will be utterly hollow unless the president makes it absolutely clear that Turkey is ready to comply with rulings of the European Court of Human Rights,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, director of Human Rights Watch Turkey, told Arab News. According to Sinclair-Webb, releasing Kavala and Demirtas from prison — in line with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights — should be the first item on a long agenda for 2021.

“We want to see the government drop the new social media law, which is all about deepening online censorship, and the new law that allows massive restriction of NGOs in the name of combatting the financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” she said.

While creating an independent judiciary will take years, Sinclair-Webb noted that as a first step the government needs to drop the pervasive misuse of the charge of membership of a terrorist organization against people with no material link to armed groups.


How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis

 How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis
Updated 30 min 15 sec ago

How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis

 How scrap metal scavengers have revived Lebanon’s garbage crisis
  • The hunt for metal is taking place amid soaring unemployment and a dollar shortage in the small Mediterranean country

Lebanon’s waste management system is the newest target in a trend of metal thefts that officials believe are being carried out by residents rendered desperate by the country’s unprecedented economic collapse.

The latest casualty? One of two landfills servicing the greater Beirut area was forced to shut down over the past week because of rogue scavengers.

The landfill, located in Jdeideh, on the outskirts of the capital, had become a hunting ground for residents scouring for metal and other valuables that can fetch a hefty price on the market.

For decades, Lebanon has been producing more waste than it could manage, culminating in mountains of trash filling streets in 2015 as mass protests erupted condemning the government’s failure to come up with an effective waste management strategy.

Built in 2018 for what was supposed to be a temporary fix to the region’s endemic garbage problem, the landfill has undergone numerous expansions as authorities failed to conjure up a sustainable solid waste management plan.

Instead, successive governments have elected to keep piling trash higher, reaching a height of some 20 meters.

Toufic Kazmouz, the project manager at a local contracting company managing the landfill, told Arab News that the landfill was being expanded while still receiving 1,200 tons of garbage per day before being forced to shut down.

“This is definitely not a sustainable solution to the garbage problem, but the scavengers have made it even worse and have forced us to close shop,” Kazmouz said.

Hundreds of people were trespassing into the landfill daily, he said, forcing the company to halt both construction and operations last week.

According to Kazmouz, scavengers would wait patiently for a dump truck to empty its load before entering the site, armed with plastic bags.

Several scuffles had erupted between scavengers and workers in an environment filled with heavy machinery and equipment.

“It’s simply become an unsafe work environment for everyone involved,” Kazmouz said.

With the landfill shut down, piles of garbage have lined the streets of the Metn and Kesourwan districts after the waste management company Ramco stopped collecting trash.

“We stopped collecting trash because we had nowhere to dispose of it,” Walid Bou Saad, director of Ramco, told Arab News.

Scavengers have forced Kazmouz to shut down the landfill twice since April, despite both the “Internal Security Forces and Lebanese intelligence sending patrols to cordon off the area.”

Discussions are currently ongoing with the Interior Ministry to increase security, he said.

“Municipality workers are expected to be stationed at the site starting today, but we’ll face the same problem again later,” Kazmouz noted.

The hunt for metal is taking place amid soaring unemployment and a dollar shortage in the small Mediterranean country that has caused the local currency to lose some 90 percent of its value while the prices of basic goods and commodities skyrocket.

“It’s metal,” Kazmouz pointed out. “People are really suffering and looking for any means to make some money.” 

Metal has become an increasingly valuable commodity in Lebanon, with desperate residents even stealing manhole covers and metal supports from electricity pylons.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told AFP in February that he attributed the theft of manhole covers to the fact that they “are made out of cast iron, which has become much more expensive.”

The covers, weighing up to 60 kg, can fetch up to $100 when sold for scrap. At the current black-market rate, this is equivalent to some LL1.5 million, or more than double the current monthly minimum wage.

The dire situation has also pushed thieves to target Lebanon’s already deficient electricity grid, causing the collapse of a 55-meter pylon connecting one of the country’s four power plants to the region of the Bekaa.

After its metal supports had been stolen, the pylon was no match for the high winds that blew across Lebanon in the winter season.


Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say

Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say
Updated 22 June 2021

Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say

Train collision in Alexandria leaves several injured, local reports say

CAIRO: Scores were injured in a train collision in Alexandria on Tuesday morning, Egyptian media reports say.

Al Arabiya TV reported that two people were killed in the  incident, citing their local correspondent.  

The two trains collided near “Mahatet Masr” and the transportation ministry will release more information. 


Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood
Updated 22 June 2021

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood

Palestinians, Jewish settlers clash in tense Jerusalem neighborhood
  • Settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families
  • Threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month’s 11-day Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Palestinians and Jewish settlers hurled stones, chairs and fireworks at each other overnight in a tense Jerusalem neighborhood where settler groups are trying to evict several Palestinian families, officials said Tuesday.
The threatened evictions fueled protests and clashes in the runup to last month’s 11-day Gaza war and pose a test for Israel’s new governing coalition, which includes three pro-settler parties but is hoping to sideline the Palestinian issue to avoid internal divisions.
Israeli police and border officials said they arrested four suspects in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. It was unclear who started the brawl. One woman was reportedly injured when she was hit in the back by a stone, police said.
The Red Crescent emergency service said its crews treated 20 Palestinians, including 16 suffering from pepper spray and tear gas and others wounded by rubber-coated bullets. Two other people were wounded, including an elderly man who was hit in the head, it said.
The Red Crescent said settlers threw stones at one of its ambulances and Israeli forces sprayed skunk water on a second ambulance belonging to the service.
The eruption of violence is the latest friction in Sheikh Jarrah, where weeks of unrest captured international attention ahead of the 11-day Israel-Hamas war last month. The cease-fire took effect on May 21, but the long-running campaign by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families continues.
And so the cycle of tension endures, in a stark early test for Israel’s new coalition government, which is just over a week old.
At the helm under a rotation agreement is Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party. In two years, he’ll be replaced by Yair Lapid, leader of centrist Yesh Atid. And leading the opposition is Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, ousted from the premiership after holding the post for 12 years.
An intervention by Israel’s attorney general at the height of the unrest has put the most imminent evictions on hold. But rights groups say evictions could still proceed in the coming months as international attention wanes, potentially igniting another round of bloodshed.
The settlers have been waging a decades-long campaign to evict the families from densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods in the so-called Holy Basin just outside the walls of the Old City, in one of the most sensitive parts of east Jerusalem.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Israel views the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The settlers say the homes are built on land that was owned by Jews prior to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation. Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim such property, a right denied to Palestinians who lost lands and homes in the same conflict.


Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders
Updated 22 June 2021

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders

Houthi’s escalation of violence, rejection of peace, will not go unpunished: Yemen leaders
  • Group’s military escalation in Yemen as well as attacks against Saudi Arabia undermine peace efforts

DUBAI: The Houthi escalation in attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia will not go unpunished and government forces are ready to thwart the Iran-backed group’s violence after its rejection of peace efforts, senior Yemeni officials said.

The government and the Yemeni people stand with all their capabilities behind the national army, the popular resistance and the tribesmen until the restoration of the state and ending the Houthi group and its racist project supported by Iran, Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik said, state news agency Saba reported.

The escalation in the attacks carried out by the Houthi militia and its repeated targeting of those displaced and the civilians in Marib, Hodeidah and elsewhere, as well as against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, will not go unpunished, Abdulmalik added.

Muamar Al-Eryani, the minister of information, culture and tourism, stressed that the group’s military escalation in Yemen as well as attacks against Saudi Arabia have undermined peace efforts or worse, a rejection of peaceful solutions.

“This hysteric and dangerous escalation confirms Houthi militia’s continuation of its coup and loyalty to Iranian agenda and destructive policies aiming at spreading chaos and terrorism in the region,” Al-Eryani said in a statement.

Al-Eryani added that the military escalation coincided with the recruitment of child soldiers and brainwashing them in summer camps, and again called on the international community to denounce the violence and pressure the militia to respond to peace efforts.


Egypt affirms support for Libya

Egypt affirms support for Libya
Libyan Government of National Accord fighters stand guard at the reopening of a road between Misrata and Sirte. (AFP)
Updated 22 June 2021

Egypt affirms support for Libya

Egypt affirms support for Libya
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stresses full support toward efforts to restore security and stability to Libya

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has affirmed that restoring Libya’s sovereignty begins with the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries, stressing Egypt’s full support for these efforts during all its actions at the bilateral, regional and international levels.
During his meeting with the Libyan foreign minister, Najla El Mangoush, in Cairo, President El-Sisi affirmed Egypt’s full support for the Presidential Council and the Libyan Government of National Unity during the transitional period with the aim of restoring security and stability to Libya, leading to holding national elections in December. He said that this is an essential step on the path to a political settlement of the Libyan crisis by activating the free will of the Libyan people.
He affirmed Egypt’s firm support for preserving the territorial integrity of Libya, safeguarding the capabilities of the Libyan people, and not interfering in Libya’s internal affairs.
The Libyan foreign minister expressed the Libyan government’s appreciation of the Egyptian role in the region and Egypt’s tireless efforts to support its brothers in Libya, which stem from the principles of preserving the unity of the Libyan territories and restoring stability and preserving the national institutions of the Libyan state.
These include the unification of the military establishment, the end of foreign interference, the exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters, and the establishment of the principles of dialogue between the Libyan parties.
These include the unification of the military establishment, the end of foreign interference, the exit of all mercenaries and foreign fighters from Libya, the establishment of the principles of dialogue between the Libyan parties, support for national reconciliation in preparation for fair and transparent elections.
She commended Egypt’s support of efforts to settle the Libyan crisis, in light of the historical ties between the two countries.

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