Afghanistan fights domestic violence with new initiatives

The campaign relies on local and social media and its website to advertise helpline numbers for victims and perpetrators of violence to seek free assistance. (
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Afghanistan fights domestic violence with new initiatives
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Updated 04 February 2021

Afghanistan fights domestic violence with new initiatives

Afghanistan fights domestic violence with new initiatives
  • Officials report spike in incidents of violence, with fewer cases reported during pandemic lockdown

KABUL: It began with regular beating sessions in which Breshkai’s family would use violent tactics to convince her to marry a boy of their choice.

When that did not work, they barred her from leaving home as a punishment.

This was last year when Breshkai, then 18 years of age, became one of thousands of Afghan women subjected to domestic abuse and unable to seek recourse on account of zero access to government offices, which were shut down due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

With nowhere to go and no one to help her, Breshkai decided she would commit suicide.

But one phone call to a hotline changed everything.

The hotline number, which Breshkai had heard repeated on loop on the radio the previous day, is part of the latest initiative launched by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. It is designed specifically for victims of family violence who were unable to seek help because of the pandemic.

“She informed us about what she had gone through and of her plan to commit suicide,” MOWA Spokeswoman Roya Dadras, who was involved in Breshkai’s rescue, told Arab News.

“Ministry officials immediately contacted the police, who rushed to her house to alert the family and stop her from committing suicide. It prompted the parents to change their plan and allow her to choose her life partner,” she added.

To protect the privacy of the victim and her family, as per MOWA’s code of conduct, Arab News has used the name Breshkai as an alias instead of the woman’s real identity.

MOWA’s initiative snowballed into another by the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), which launched the Talk for Harmony (TFH) campaign to address issues of domestic violence, particularly during the pandemic, which had “contributed to a spike in violence against women.”

“Prior to the pandemic, gender-based violence (GBV) was already endemic in Afghanistan,” Freshta Farah, AWN’s manager, told Arab News.

“A majority of women and men are confined at home, and access to GBV support services was restricted during the pandemic, making matters worse,” she added.

The objective of the TFH project, which is limited to Kabul for now, is to shift community-level perceptions of GBV and “address factors that normalize the practice,” Farah said.

The campaign relies on local and social media and its website to advertise helpline numbers for victims and perpetrators of violence to seek free assistance. All callers’ identities and contact details are kept confidential.

The campaign offers hope to women like Breshkai who are among tens of thousands in Afghanistan bearing the brunt of decades of war, insurgency, archaic traditions and a dilapidated economy.

According to AWN data, approximately “87 percent of Afghan women have experienced at least one form of intimate partner violence.”

Dadras said the issue became far worse during the 10 months of lockdown, which began last year at the outbreak of the virus.

“Unfortunately, cases of violence against women and girls have gone up in the family since the virus broke out,” she said.

While MOWA received 7,191 cases of domestic abuse — out of which 4,138 were referred to courts — Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) recorded 3,477 incidents of violence during the same period.

The AIHRC, for its part, said most cases of violence against women were carried out at home by family members.

“Out of all 3,477 cases of violence against women recorded at the AIHRC, 95.8 percent of them occurred at home, making it the most dangerous place for women in Afghanistan,” excerpts from the AIHRC website read.

The rest took place on the streets, at work, in hospitals, schools or universities, and detention centers or prisons.

But that is not the only concern, with Dadras saying MOWA had registered 136 cases of women being murdered in the name of honor (so-called “honor killings”) or because of their refusal to get married during the pandemic.

Women facing forced marriage or domestic abuse have few options in Afghanistan.

If they escape and ask for help from the police, they risk being returned home or imprisoned. Afghan women who run away from home or refuse to get married are commonly accused of “moral crimes,” a vague concept that does not exist in formal law.

“It is shocking that women and girls are still being arrested, prosecuted and jailed in Afghanistan for these so-called ‘moral crimes’,” Heather Barr, co-director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Arab News.

She added that HRW had examined this issue in 2012. At that time, about 50 percent of women in prison and as many as 95 percent of girls in juvenile rehabilitation centers had been arrested on these charges.

“It was particularly shocking that some of the women and girls we interviewed appeared to be survivors of rape who had been accused of zina (adultery) and treated as criminals rather than victims…They had all also been subjected to abusive and scientifically meaningless so-called ‘virginity exams’,” she said.

As a solution, the HRW official called for the Afghan government to decriminalize all sex between consenting adults, ban virginity exams and release everyone imprisoned on “moral crime” charges.

The AIHRC said that the most prevalent causes of violence against women were customs and traditions, such as forcibly marrying a woman to settle a tribal dispute and child marriage; a lack of accountability for the crimes; and the government’s inaction in provinces.

While the law pushes for imprisonment and fining violators, an ongoing culture of impunity, corruption, abuse of official authority and interference of influential persons in the cases often result in criminals escaping without retribution.

South America squid left exposed amid surge in China fishing

South America squid left exposed amid surge in China fishing
Updated 39 sec ago

South America squid left exposed amid surge in China fishing

South America squid left exposed amid surge in China fishing
  • The number of Chinese-flagged vessels in the south Pacific has surged 13-fold from 54 active vessels in 2009 to 707 in 2020, according to the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization

MIAMI, US: Negotiators from the US, China and 13 other governments failed to take action to protect threatened squid stocks on the high seas off South America amid a recent surge in activity by China’s distant water fishing fleet.
The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization, or SPRFMO, is charged with ensuring the conservation and sustainable fishing off the west coast of South America.
At the SPRFMO’s annual meeting that ended Friday, Ecuador and the European Union proposed measures that would require all ships to have observers on board by 2028 and mandate they unload their catches only in ports instead of at sea to giant refrigerated vessels — both considered key tools in limiting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
There were also competing proposals, one of them from China, to limit the amount of squid that could be caught.
However, none of the proposed measures were adopted during the closed-door meeting, thwarting the efforts of environmentalists and some seafood importers in the US and Europe who have been pushing for restrictions of fishing on the high seas that make up about half of the planet.
CALAMASUR, a group made up of squid industry representatives from Mexico, Chile, Peru and Ecuador, attended the four-day virtual meeting as an observer and said it was deeply disappointed by the results, which it said expose the SPRFMO to being seen as “non-cooperative” in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,
“This situation cannot be accepted as an outcome,” the group said in a statement.
Craig Loveridge, the executive secretary of the New Zealand-based SPRFMO, did not respond to a request for comment.
The number of Chinese-flagged vessels in the south Pacific has surged 13-fold from 54 active vessels in 2009 to 707 in 2020, according to the SPRFMO. Meanwhile, the size of China’s squid catch has grown from 70,000 tons in 2009 to 358,000.
Biologists warn that the boom has left the naturally bountiful Humboldt squid — named for the nutrient-rich current found off the west coast of South America — vulnerable to overfishing, as has occurred in Argentina, Mexico, Japan and other places where squid stocks have disappeared in the past.
An investigation by The Associated Press and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision last year revealed how the traditionally lawless area has become a magnet for some of the seafood industry’s worst offenders, many of them Chinese-flagged vessels with a history of labor abuse accusations and convictions for illegal fishing.

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers
Updated 57 min 33 sec ago

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers
  • The AAPP estimates more than 8,000 people are detained in Myanmar prisons and interrogation centers
  • More than 1,500 were estimated to have been killed, some after they were placed behind bars

Nearly a year after his son was last seen being hauled away by Myanmar junta troops, 66-year-old Win Hlaing says he just wants to know whether he is alive.
One night last April, a neighbor phoned to tell him his son, Wai Soe Hlaing, a young father who ran a phone shop in Yangon, had been detained in connection with protests against the Feb. 1 military coup.
They traced the 31-year-old to a local police station, according to Win Hlaing and The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit that has been documenting arrests and killings.
Then the trail went cold. He had vanished.
Reuters called the police station but was unable to determine the whereabouts of Wai Soe Hlaing, or the missing relatives of two other people who were interviewed for this article.
A spokesman for the junta did not respond to emailed requests for comment and did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
Wai Soe Hlaing is among many people who activists and families say have disappeared since Myanmar was plunged into turmoil after the military overthrew the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The AAPP estimates more than 8,000 people are detained in prisons and interrogation centers, including Suu Kyi and most of her cabinet, while about 1,500 have been killed. Reuters was unable to independently verify the figures from the AAPP.
They say hundreds have died after being detained. The junta has said the figures are exaggerated and that the AAPP spreads false information. The junta has not disclosed the number of people in detention.

Search for loved ones
The military does not notify relatives when a person is arrested and prison officials often do not do so when they arrive in jail, so families laboriously search for their relatives by calling and visiting police stations and prisons or relying on accounts from local media or human rights groups.
Sometimes they send food parcels and take it as a sign their relative is being held there if the package is accepted, a Human Rights Watch report said.
In many cases, AAPP co-founder Bo Kyi said, the organization has been able to determine someone has been detained but not where. Tae-Ung Baik, chair of the United Nations’ working group on enforced disappearances told Reuters the group had received reports from families in Myanmar of enforced disappearances since last February and was “seriously alarmed” by the situation.
In a border town, 43-year-old activist Aung Nay Myo, who fled there from the northwestern Sagaing region, said junta troops took his parents and siblings from their home in mid-December and he does not know where they were.
He believes they were detained because of his work as a satirical writer. Among them is his 74-year-old father, left disabled by a stroke.
“There is nothing I can do but worry every moment,” Aung Nay Myo said.
Two police stations in the town of Monywa, their hometown in Sagaing region, did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
In some areas, resistance to the junta has spiralled into conflict, with fighting displacing tens of thousands of people across the country, according to the UN Thousands have fled across borders to Thailand and India.

Viral image
In the northeastern Kayah state, where fighting has been fierce, Banyar Khun Naung, director of the non-profit Karenni Human Rights Group, said at least 50 people were missing.
The group is trying to help families search, asking recently released prisoners any names they remembered.
“The families of missing people are in great pain, especially mentally, as it is exhausting not to know where their loved ones are,” he said.
Myint Aung, in his mid-50s and now living in a camp for internally displaced people in Kayah, said his 17-year-old son Pascalal disappeared in September.
The teenager told his father he was going to travel to their home in the state capital Loikaw to check on the situation, but never came back, Myint Aung said.
Instead, he was detained by security forces, Myint Aung told Reuters by phone, saying that local villagers told him. When he visited the station to deliver food, he found soldiers guarding the area and ran away.
Since then, Myint Aung has heard nothing of his son, but the rights group told him he was no longer at the police station, citing conversations with several people recently freed. Reuters was unable to independently verify this information.
Banyar Khun Naung, the Karenni rights group director, said the teenager was one of two young men pictured making the “Hunger Games” salute adopted by protesters as they were detained kneeling by the side of a road, lashed together with rope by a soldier, in an image widely circulated on social media. His sister confirmed by phone it was Pascalal.
The photo appeared in a viral post from an account that appeared to belong to a high-ranking soldier, with the caption, “While we let them do what they want before we put bullets through their heads.” The account was subsequently deleted and Reuters was not able to reach its owner for comment.
“He’s an underage civilian boy and he didn’t do anything wrong,” his father Myint Aung said.
Police in Loikaw did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment.
In Yangon, the family of Wai Soe Hlaing tell his four-year-old daughter her father is working somewhere far away. Sometimes, Win Hlaing said, she murmurs about him: “My papa has been gone too long.”

One of three suspects accused of murdering British imam pleads not guilty

Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
Updated 7 min 17 sec ago

One of three suspects accused of murdering British imam pleads not guilty

Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
  • The other two defendants failed to appear for a scheduled hearing at Southwark Crown Court in London on Friday
  • One of them had been moved to another prison and his papers were ‘lost in transition,’ the judge said, while a lawyer for the other said his client was unwell

LONDON: A 22-year-old man accused of killing a British-Bangladeshi imam in East London has pleaded not guilty. Muzahid Ali, one of three men charged with murdering Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, appeared at Southwark Crown Court on Friday and was remanded in custody.

The other defendants, Majid Ahmed, 18, and Abul Kashem, 28, did not appear for their plea hearings. Ahmed had been transferred to the Category-A Belmarsh prison and his “papers had been lost in transition,” said Judge Deborah Taylor.

Prosecutor Gareth Patterson QC said Kashem was listed as “not attending.” His attorney, Benjamin Gordon, said his client was “unwell and complaining of stomach pains.” Judge Taylor said Kashem was “fit to attend court” and there was “no justification” for not doing so.

Ahmed and Kashem were ordered to attend their arraignment, which was set for May 6, days before the time limit on their custody is due to expire. All three of the accused were previously refused bail and have been in custody since they were charged on Nov. 10.

Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, 22, was in his second year at Greenwich University, studying accounting and finance. (Supplied/Shamam Chowdhury)

Ali spoke only twice during his court appearance on Friday, once to answer “yes” when asked by the judge whether he had spoken to counsel, and then to plead “not guilty.”

Paramedics found Mahdi, 22, who lived in north London, with stab wounds on Nov. 6, police said. He was unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene.

Mahdi was in his second year at Greenwich University, where he was studying accounting and finance. He also taught the Qur’an in his spare time and had led Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan at various mosques around London for the past nine years.

“He wanted to dedicate his time by making a difference and impacting young children and teenagers’ lives by teaching the Qur’an alongside his studies,” his mother, Shamam Chowdhury, told Arab News.

An online fund has been set up in Mahdi’s memory to raise money for a mosque in Egypt where he studied in 2019 to receive his ijazah, a license for those who want to teach Islam’s holy book.

“Aqil was a very special student of mine whom I had the blessed opportunity to teach and mentor for the past 10 years,” said Ishaaq Abu Rahmiyyah Jasat, Mahdi’s Qur’an teacher. “Words cannot describe how much he meant to me.”

He added that his student always tried hard and excelled in his Islamic journey, and recited the Qur’an in a melodious and soothing tone.

“Despite his hardships, he always had a good heart and cared so much for others,” he said.

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’
Updated 29 January 2022

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’
  • China downgraded its diplomatic ties with Lithuania after Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last year

WASHINGTON: A senior US official will visit Lithuania next week to discuss enhancing economic cooperation with the small Baltic nation, which has faced pressure from China for boosting ties with Taiwan.
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Jose Fernandez will be in Vilnius from Sunday to Tuesday, and in Brussels from Wednesday to Friday, where he will also discuss efforts to counter economic “coercion” with EU officials, the State Department said in a statement.
In Vilnius, he will discuss bilateral economic cooperation, and US “strong support for Lithuania in the face of political pressure and economic coercion from the People’s Republic of China,” the statement said.
Fernandez will be accompanied by US Export-Import Bank officials to discuss implementation of a $600 million memorandum of understanding to expand opportunities for US exporters and Lithuanian buyers in areas such as high-tech manufacturing, business services and renewable energy, according to the statement.
In Brussels, Fernandez will discuss transatlantic trade and investment through the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, the statement said.
The United States, which is seeking to push back against growing Chinese influence worldwide, has backed Lithuania in its dispute with China over Taiwan, a self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own.
China downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Lithuania and pressed multinationals to sever ties with the country after Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last year called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, rather than using the word Taipei as is more common.
EU authorities launched a challenge at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday, accusing China of discriminatory trade practices against EU member Lithuania that they say threaten the integrity of the bloc’s single market.
Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it hopes its trade dispute with China will be solved with consultations between China and the EU.
Commenting on the WTO case, Taiwan’s Cabinet’s Office of Trade Negotiations said late Friday it “fully supports” the EU and Lithuania and opposes China’s “inappropriate economic coercion.”
“Our country will work with other like-minded partners such as Lithuania and the EU to prevent China from using coercive economic and diplomatic measures, to maintain a rules-based international trading system,” it added in a statement.

Philippines says to use supersonic anti-ship missiles in disputed South China Sea 

Philippines says to use supersonic anti-ship missiles in disputed South China Sea 
Updated 29 January 2022

Philippines says to use supersonic anti-ship missiles in disputed South China Sea 

Philippines says to use supersonic anti-ship missiles in disputed South China Sea 
  • The Philippines' armed forces is one of Asia’s most underfunded

MANILA, Philippines: The Philippine defense chief signed an 18.9 billion peso ($378 million) deal Friday with India to acquire the military’s first shore-based anti-ship missile system that he said would be used to defend the country’s sovereignty especially in the disputed South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana signed the contract with BrahMos Aerospace Director General Atul Dinkar Rane in a ceremony via video and a face-to-face meeting attended by Philippine and Indian government and military officials.
Despite financial constraints and the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippines has managed to proceed with a decades-long program to modernize its military, one of Asia’s most underfunded. It has acquired warships, aircraft and weapons to deal with Muslim and communist insurgencies and China’s increasingly assertive actions in the South China Sea.

A Brahmos anti-ship missile system is on display in this file photo. (Shutterstock)

“As the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missiles, the BrahMos missiles will provide deterrence against any attempt to undermine our sovereignty and sovereign rights, especially in the West Philippines Sea,” Lorenzana said, using the Philippine name for the disputed waters.
The missile firepower “will provide counterattack capabilities within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” he said.
Lorenzana was referring to a 200-nautical-mile (370-kilometer) stretch of sea where coastal states have been granted exclusive rights to explore and tap fish and other sea resources under the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. Many disputes involving Chinese coast guard and fishing ships and Philippine vessels have occurred in the waters off the Philippine archipelago.
The weapons system consists of three batteries of missiles, mobile land-based launchers, training for operators and maintenance units and logistical support, the Department of Defense said. The missiles could travel up to three times the speed of sound, making it hard to interdict, Philippine military officials said, adding the missiles would be employed mainly by the coastal defense units of the Philippine marines.
Security officials from both countries signed a defense cooperation pact in March last year that allowed the Philippines to become the first foreign buyer of the high-tech missiles developed by India and Russia.