Stranded in Turkey, professor seeks return to France

Stranded in Turkey, professor seeks return to France
Turkish mathematician Tuna Altinel poses during an interview with AFP in Istanbul on March 24, 2021. Acquitted of terror charges after a stint in jail, a Turkish professor of a French university remains stranded in Istanbul, stripped of his passport and subjected to an opaque probe. (AFP)
Updated 30 March 2021

Stranded in Turkey, professor seeks return to France

Stranded in Turkey, professor seeks return to France
  • Outlawed Kurdish militants have been waging an insurgency in the mountainous region for decades that has killed tens of thousands
  • Altinel said he has little choice but to conclude that his travel ban is punishment for his commitment to human rights and the Kurdish cause

ISTANBUL: Acquitted of terror charges after a stint in jail, a Turkish professor of a French university remains stranded in Istanbul, stripped of his passport and subjected to an opaque probe.
Tuna Altinel’s colleagues view the 55-year-old as another victim of a crackdown against academia and Kurdish causes that gathered force after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan survived a coup bid in 2016.
The professor of mathematical logic and set theory at Lyon’s Claude Bernard University agrees.
“I am a hostage of the Turkish state,” Altinel told AFP at his Istanbul home.
Gangly, bespectacled and occasionally sporting a shy grin, the professor’s plight gained added attention as a diplomatic feud played out in the past year between Paris and Ankara.
Altinel’s personal nightmare began in May 2019, shortly after he arrived for a holiday in Turkey.
Instead of returning well-rested to Lyon, the French city where he has taught and lived for 25 years, Altinel discovered that he was suspected of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
He was detained and tried for disseminating “terrorist propaganda” while acting as an interpreter at a pro-Kurdish meeting in France earlier that year.
Released in July 2019 and acquitted in January 2020, Altinel has since learned that he is the subject of a new Turkish investigation of which he knows little about.
That probe appears to have served as justification for the government’s refusal to return his travel documents.

Altinel first popped up on officials’ radar in 2016, when he joined nearly 2,000 academics in signing a petition demanding an end of Turkish military operations in the predominantly Kurdish southeast.
Outlawed Kurdish militants have been waging an insurgency in the mountainous region for decades that has killed tens of thousands.
But while the militants are viewed as terrorists by Turkey’s Western allies, Erdogan’s critics believe he is using the fight to suppress ethnic Kurds’ legitimate rights.
Altinel was also charged and acquitted after signing the 2016 petition. Now, he said he is “doing everything I can” to get back his passport and return to Lyon.
He has filed a lawsuit against Turkish officials and been bounced from one court to another by an “administrative machine that seeks to drown, crush people with bureaucracy,” he said.
Altinel said he has little choice but to conclude that his travel ban is punishment for his commitment to human rights and the Kurdish cause.
“The Turkish state prevents opponents who embarrass it from leaving, keeping them hostage,” he said.
“It’s a way of accepting that the country is a prison, which is a little sad.”


Altinel considers himself relatively lucky because — as a French civil servant — he still gets his salary.
He also continues to teach, in his own special way.
“When I was in prison, I taught my fellow inmates English and French,” Altinel said.
“So we continue these lessons through letters. They write to me and I write back letters that are 15 or 20 pages long. I teach them that way.”
And while waiting for his legal problems to play themselves out, he also studies Kurdish, which he began to pick up from his fellow inmates.
Although supported by other academics in France, who are campaigning for him on social media, Altinel fears being forgotten by French officials and “falling into oblivion.”
Nevertheless, and perhaps risking further alienating Turkish officials, Altinel still joins demonstrations for causes he backs in Istanbul, refusing to “self-censor.”
“If I restricted myself, it would mean I accept that the state has won,” he said. “And I do not accept that.”
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Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp
Updated 19 sec ago

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

Geneva sisters repatriated from Syrian desert camp

GENEVA: Two Swiss half-sisters whose mother took them out of the country with her when she joined the Daesh militant group in the Middle East in 2016 have been repatriated from a desert camp in northeastern Syria, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The older girl, now 15, had suffered a severe shrapnel wound to her leg, requiring three operations, while the younger was said to be in poor health.

The ministry confirmed that it had repatriated the two minors from the Al-Roj camp in northeast Syria.

“The children arrived on Swiss soil on Dec. 6 at Geneva airport, having passed through Iraq,” it said in a statement.

The repatriation, believed to be the first of its kind to Switzerland, was carried out with the consent of their mother.

The government has previously said she was still in the camp and has several nationalities, although her Swiss citizenship had been withdrawn for security reasons. The girls have different fathers in Geneva.

The case had been raised by UN  human rights experts in April.

The experts said then that the girls had been allegedly abducted in 2016 by their mother who joined Daesh. A senior Swiss official said at the time that it was working hard to have the girls sent home.

More than 60,000 people, two-thirds of them children, are held in camps for families associated with Daesh. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which visits the camps, has described them as a “tragedy in plain sight.”


Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say
Updated 19 min 16 sec ago

Bethlehem is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

Bethlehem  is not just for Christmas, Palestinian creatives say

BETHLEHEM: A giant Christmas tree takes pride of place in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, between the Church of the Nativity and a mosque adorned with lights cascading down its walls.

But there is more to the Palestinian city than its biblical significance, say organizers of the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, which promotes other aspects of the place revered as the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The annual festival features dance, music, art and culinary events in a city whose main source of income — overseas tourists — has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Around Christmas, the world prays to Bethlehem, but actually most people don’t know that Bethlehem is in Palestine,” said festival participant and chef Fadi Kattan as he selected fresh mint from a vegetable market.

“I cook, Umm Nabil sells herbs, there are dance troops, there are artists.”

Bethlehem lies five miles south of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The city is cut off from Jerusalem by an Israel wall, which Palestinians condemn as a land grab but Israel defends as a security measure to protect itself from attack. Talks between the sides collapsed in 2014.

For festival co-founder, Abdelfattah Abusrour, its aim is to show the world that Bethlehem exists as a living city outside the pages of history and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s not just a religious place,” Abusrour said. “It’s full of life, culture, art, beauty, hospitality and generosity of people — despite living under occupation.”


Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
Updated 07 December 2021

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19

Unvaccinated Lebanese face $165 fine for spreading COVID-19
  • Lebanon’s MPs ratify new law to punish country’s anti-vaxxers
  • Citizens criticize, ridicule lawmakers over ‘purposeless, late’ legislation

BEIRUT: Unvaccinated individuals who spread the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lebanon could be fined 250,000 Lebanese pounds ($165, or a black-market rate of around $10) under a new law ratified by the country’s parliamentarians on Tuesday.

The penalty charge sees an increase on the previous fee of 50,000 Lebanese pounds imposed on people who had not been jabbed but had passed on the virus, the National News Agency reported.

However, the updated legislation did not make vaccination against COVID-19 obligatory.

Lebanese health officials have been urging the public to get inoculated amid a surge in daily infections with 1,707 new cases and 10 virus-related deaths recorded on Tuesday.

On whether citizens would take notice of the fine, Health Minister Dr. Firas Abiad told Arab News: “Within the economic financial situation in Lebanon, and the poverty level, it will certainly have an impact.”

However, Lebanese business manager, Hania Michele, criticized lawmakers for what she described as a “purposeless and meaningless law.”

She told Arab News: “It is not my fault if someone contaminates me with COVID-19 which will keep on spreading anyway. I don’t know if they are doing it purposely, to indirectly force the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

“Even those who are vaccinated, they could still get infected and spread the virus. That’s why it’s impractical.”

Barber Yousef said less than 40 percent of Lebanon’s population had been vaccinated. “I am unsure if people, who are already bankrupt, would be able to afford paying 250,000 Lebanese pounds. So, why are people not getting vaccinated?

“It is not wrong to fine those who spread the virus, but people are broke and don’t have the money to pay for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests,” he said.

Banker, Ghalia Khalil, said that due to the country’s economic crisis the majority of people living in Lebanon could not afford to buy a facemask, never mind pay a hefty fine.

“Many parents and children aren’t complying with health restrictions and remain unmasked … they think if they’re vaccinated, they won’t get infected. The challenge will be in the implementation of the law rather than the stipulation.”

Shop owner, Mohammed Itani, said the lawmakers’ move was inefficient and too late.

“Increasing the fine from 50,000 to 250,000 pounds came very late. We are facing a fourth wave of COVID-19 and the daily infections are scary. Fines should have been made high to force citizens to wear masks and get vaccinated when the outbreak started,” he added.

One Lebanese educational consultant, who would only give her name as Nisreen C., said she would not be getting vaccinated and would rather protect herself by wearing a mask. “I am not getting vaccinated no matter how much it costs or what it takes,” she added. 

Schoolteacher, Marwa E., said: “This is a good step, though late. I believe that this steep fine, no matter how harsh it may sound amid our financial downfall, will eventually encourage people to getting vaccinated and wear masks.”


US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria
Updated 07 December 2021

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

US sanctions target individuals, entities in Iran and Syria

WASHINGTON: The US on Tuesday imposed sanctions on more than a dozen people and entities in Iran, Syria and Uganda, accusing them of being connected to serious human rights abuses and repressive acts.

In an action marking the week of the US Summit for Democracy, the Treasury Department said in a statement it was targeting repression and the undermining of democracy, designating individuals and entities tied to the violent suppression of peaceful protesters in Iran and deadly chemical weapons attacks against civilians in Syria, among others.

“Treasury will continue to defend against authoritarianism, promoting accountability for violent repression of people seeking to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

Washington blacklisted two senior Syrian Air Force officers it accused of being responsible for chemical weapon attacks on civilians and three senior officers in Syria's security and intelligence apparatus, according to the statement.

In Iran, the US designated the Special Units of Iran's Law Enforcement Forces and Counter-Terror Special Forces, as well as several of their officials, and Gholamreza Soleimani, who commands Iran's hardline Basij militia. Two prisons and a prison director were also blacklisted over events that reportedly took place in them.

Tuesday's action freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.


Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 07 December 2021

Despite no advances, France expects Iran nuclear talks to resume Thursday

Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week. (Reuters/File Photo)

DOHA: France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday he expected nuclear talks between Iran and world powers to resume on Thursday, but after last week he had not been encouraged and feared Iran’s new negotiating was trying to gain time.

“The elements today of the discussion that re-started are not very encouraging because we have the feeling the Iranians want to make it last and the longer the talks last, the more they go back on their commitments ... and get closer to capacity to get a nuclear weapon.”

He said talks were likely to resume on Thursday despite no advances last week, but he hoped things would take a positive turn otherwise it could lead to a “serious situation.”