New Delhi’s passport denial a ‘punishment,’ minister says

New Delhi’s passport denial a ‘punishment,’ minister says
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader and former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti speaks during a press conference at her house in Srinagar on December 23, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 31 March 2021

New Delhi’s passport denial a ‘punishment,’ minister says

New Delhi’s passport denial a ‘punishment,’ minister says
  • Mufti said that she and her mother applied for a new passport in January this year after the documents expired in May 2020

NEW DELHI: Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti on Tuesday alleged that New Delhi’s refusal to issue her a new passport was “punishment” over her opposition to the abrogation of the region’s special status in 2019.

Her exclusive comments to Arab News came a day after the central government rejected the Kashmiri politician’s request for the document because she was “detrimental to the security of India.”

“Our country is no longer run according to the constitution of India. It is working on a hateful agenda of a particular party which criminalizes dissent,” Mufti, who is also president of the pro-India People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said.

“Anyone who raises his or her voice against their punitive actions is punished. My case is no different. I am being punished for raising my voice against the unconstitutional scrapping of special status of J&K,” she added.

In a dramatic move in August 2019, India scrapped the region’s constitutional autonomy and withdrew Kashmiris’ exclusive rights.

It also divided the state into two union territories: Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir, before placing the entire region under a curfew for several months, denying residents their fundamental rights, and detaining hundreds of political workers and activists.

Mufti and several of her party colleagues spent months under house arrest, while some PDP leaders continue to be detained.

Mufti said that she and her mother applied for a new passport in January this year after the documents expired in May 2020.

On Friday, however, the Srinagar-based Regional Passport Office (RPO) informed Mufti that her application had been rejected based on an “adverse” report and recommendation by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

On Monday, after the Jammu and Kashmir High Court dismissed her plea to intervene in the matter, Mufti sad that she felt “sad to see the judiciary also washing their hands of the matter which denies me my fundamental rights.”

“It is absolutely preposterous that my mother has been denied a passport because she is perceived as a threat to national security,” the 61-year-old PDP leader said, adding: “India’s descent into an electoral autocracy has begun.”

R.R. Swain, the additional director general of police heading Kashmir’s CID refused to discuss the report.

However, he said that “we submitted whatever report we had to submit, and it was the RPO that took the final call.”

“When we submit a report, we take a holistic view, and it is the responsibility of the RPO, which is a quasi-judicial body, to take a call whether a passport has to be granted or not. Our role is to give a full range of information that helps the RPO in taking the decision. It is the final authority,” Swain told Arab News on Tuesday.

Mufti hails from one of Kashmir’s oldest political dynasties, with her father, late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, serving as the union tourism minister in 1986 and as home minister of India in 1989.

He served twice as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

After he died in 2016, his daughter became the PDP president and the head of the coalition government where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was its main ally.

For two years, she led the coalition government before being dismissed in 2018 after the BJP withdrew from the alliance.

Before heading the coalition government in Srinagar, she was a member of the national parliament for four years.

Mufti said that the government’s move to deny her a new passport “smacks of distrust” toward Kashmir.

“When New Delhi is talking to China and also engaging in a dialogue with Pakistan, their actions toward Kashmiris smack of distrust, utter contempt and vengeance,” she said.

“The window for dialogue and engagement seems to be open for everybody except Kashmiris who have had to bear the brunt of this conflict.”

She further underscored the centrality of Kashmir in any talks with Pakistan.

“Kashmiris are the worst sufferers and, therefore, the main stakeholders of the issue. All roads to peace in this region lead through J&K. So Kashmiris cannot be left out of any process for dialogue and reconciliation.”

The BJP justified the government’s move to deny a passport to its former ally by claiming that she was “hobnobbing with terrorists.”

“India anti-terror organization NIA (National Investigative Agency) recently charged Waheed-ur-Rehman Para, the right hand of Mehbooba Mufti, for supporting militants openly. So tell me on what grounds she should be given a passport,” Manzoor Bhat, BJP spokesperson in Kashmir, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“We need to expose Mufti and treat her in the same way as terrorists are treated,” he added.

However, Srinagar-based political analyst Prof. Sheikh Showkat said there was “nothing new about Kashmiris being denied a passport.”

“This is not something new to Kashmiris. They have always been denied the passports,” Showkat, who teaches human rights and international law at the Srinagar-based Central University of Kashmir, told Arab News.

“Now, for the first time, pro-India parties are facing this problem. If it is the fate of such a person who has been in the good books of New Delhi, you can estimate what would be the fate of the ordinary Kashmiris,” he added.

Showkat said that New Delhi’s latest move was “a sign of growing distrust.”

“New Delhi claims that Kashmir has been integrated with mainstream India, but the fact remains that people remain as alienated as before, maybe more.”


No oxygen, hospitals overwhelmed as India faces pandemic hell

A man performs the final rites of a relative who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium in Jammu, India, Friday, April 23, 2021. (AP)
A man performs the final rites of a relative who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium in Jammu, India, Friday, April 23, 2021. (AP)
Updated 23 April 2021

No oxygen, hospitals overwhelmed as India faces pandemic hell

A man performs the final rites of a relative who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium in Jammu, India, Friday, April 23, 2021. (AP)
  • India reports world’s highest daily tally of coronavirus cases for second day on Friday as oxygen supplies run out
  • In the latest tragedy to hit India’s health care system, 13 coronavirus patients died in a hospital fire on the outskirts of Mumbai on Friday 

NEW DELHI: On a day when intensive care patients died when a fire broke out at a coronavirus hospital on the outskirts of Mumbai, dozens of others choked to death as India’s health care system was overwhelmed, facing a critical shortage of oxygen amid a devastating surge in infections.

India has reported 333,000 new cases in the past 24 hours, for a second day recording the world’s highest daily tally of coronavirus.

Daily coronavirus deaths jumped to 2,263, while officials across northern and western India, including the capital, New Delhi, warned that most health facilities were full and running out of oxygen.

The fire that broke out at the ICU of the COVID-19 hospital in the Virar area of the Palghar district killed 13 patients in what was the second major hospital incident in the western state of Maharashtra within a week. On Wednesday, an oxygen leakage at a hospital in Nasik district claimed the lives of 24 patients who were on ventilators.

“Such accidents show the pressure under which these hospitals are working and also the laxity in enforcing quality regulations in hospitals,” Mumbai-based researcher and Indian Journal of Medical Ethics editor, Dr. Amar Jesani, told Arab News.

“The situation is extremely grim across the country. People are not able to find a bed, oxygen. It seems a significant number of deaths are taking place due to the non-availability of critical care,” he said.

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TV channels showed footage of people with empty oxygen cylinders lining up outside refilling facilities across the country, hoping to save critically ill relatives.

While the situation in Maharashtra is the worst, with more than 67,000 new COVID-19 cases and 600 deaths reported in the past 24 hours, New Delhi is also under increasing pressure as it reported 24,000 new COVID-19 cases and a record of 306 deaths in the past 24 hours.

The chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, warned in a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday that there was a “huge shortage of oxygen” at hospitals in India’s capital territory.

At Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, one of the oldest medical facilities in New Delhi, 25 people have died, the hospital’s medical director, Satendra Katoch, said.

“Low oxygen concentration likely contributed to the deaths of critical patients,” he said. “Critical patients need high pressure, stable oxygen supply.”

As the hospital’s statement that another 60 patients were at risk resulted in panic, oxygen was supplied later in the day.

The developments came as Modi held meetings on Friday with experts, chief ministers of states and oxygen manufacturers to address the crisis, which his government has been accused of mishandling.

The main opposition Congress party said that the government’s response was characterized by “shortage, shortcoming and short-sightedness.

“The priorities of the prime minister and home minister reflect that they have entirely become inefficient, incompetent and indifferent toward the COVID-19 crisis,” Congress spokesperson, Abhishekmanu Singhvi, told a press conference.

Dr. Jesani also said there had been no preparedness in dealing with the pandemic.

“The government had one year to strengthen its public health systems, appoint more doctors and nurses, strengthen primary health care centers in districts, but none of those things were done,” he said.

“The government did not prepare the nation to face the crisis.”

As India’s second wave of infections has been blamed on a new virus variant, Jesani added that scientists had not been engaged in the pandemic response.

“The government identified a new variant of the virus in October itself and they did not take it seriously,” he said. “The government from the beginning is not listening to science. It has its own agenda.”


UK MPs anger Beijing by declaring ‘genocide’ against Uighurs in Xinjiang

UK MPs anger Beijing by declaring ‘genocide’ against Uighurs in Xinjiang
Updated 23 April 2021

UK MPs anger Beijing by declaring ‘genocide’ against Uighurs in Xinjiang

UK MPs anger Beijing by declaring ‘genocide’ against Uighurs in Xinjiang
  • So far the government has imposed sanctions on some Chinese officials and introduced rules to try to prevent goods linked to the region entering the supply chain
  • The support for the motion is non-binding, meaning it is up to the government to decide what action, if any, to take next

LONDON: Beijing on Friday criticised British MPs after they approved a symbolic parliamentary motion declaring that Uyghur Muslims in China were “suffering crimes against humanity and genocide,” calling the accusations a “big lie.”

Although the motion, approved late Thursday, is non-binding and does not require the government to act, it is a further indication of the hardening stance of Britain's parliament towards China over the treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.

The Chinese government responded by saying that “the so-called genocide in Xinjiang is a big lie concocted by international anti-China forces.

“The Chinese government and the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang firmly oppose and strongly condemn such allegations,” Zhao Lijian, spokesman of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told AFP in a statement.

“UK's own problems are already enough,” he added. “These British MPs should mind their own business and do more for their own constituents.”

The motion was brought by Conservative former minister Nus Ghani, one of five MPs sanctioned by Beijing for criticising it over the treatment of the Uyghurs.

The British government has said it is “committed to taking robust action in respect of Xinjiang,” but has stopped short of invoking the term “genocide,” arguing only UK courts can make that legal definition.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who has also been sanctioned by China, called it a “historic moment.”

“Even though the government maintains that only a court can determine genocide, parliament has chosen to disregard that and vote itself.

“This puts the UK parliament in line with Holland, Canada and the US.”

British junior foreign minister Nigel Adams in February said that a BBC report into the treatment of the Uyghurs revealed “clearly evil acts.”

In a lengthy investigation based on witness testimonies, the BBC reported allegations of systematic rape, sexual abuse and torture of women detainees by police and guards in the western region.

Ghani said that colleagues had been “reluctant to use the word genocide” but added “there is a misunderstanding that genocide is just one act -- mass killing. That is false.”

Instead, genocide concerns intent to “destroy in whole or in part” a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, she said, arguing that the definition was applicable to China.

“While we must never misuse the term genocide, we must not fail to use it when it's warranted.”

Up to one million Uyghur Muslims are estimated by rights groups to have been detained in internment camps.

The EU, US, Canada and Britain have all imposed sanctions on Chinese officials allegedly involved in rights abuses.

The US has described the situation as genocide and banned all cotton from Xinjiang. Australia's parliament is considering a similar move.


Knifeman stabs female police worker near Paris

Knifeman stabs female police worker near Paris
Updated 23 April 2021

Knifeman stabs female police worker near Paris

Knifeman stabs female police worker near Paris

PARIS: A knifeman stabbed a woman working for the police in the entrance to a police station in Rambouillet, near Paris, on Friday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
The victim died of her injuries, BFM TV and Europe 1 reported.
The attacker's motives were not immediately clear. The assailant was shot and overpowered by police officers. BFM TV reported that he was of Tunisian nationality and had been shot dead.
Darmanin said he was headed to the scene in Rambouillet, a middle class commuter town.
The Versailles prosecutor was investigating, officials said. 


Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 

Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 
Updated 23 April 2021

Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 

Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 
  • People have started to join combat training camps run by paramilitary groups in eastern Karen State
  • National League for Democracy members are reportedly in talks with ethnic groups to form an army against the Myanmar military 

YANGON: A 24-year-old medical student who never imagined he would ever kill anyone, as his vocation was to save lives, did so in late March after Myanmar security forces shot dead dozens of protesting civilians in one of Yangon’s neighborhoods.

“They even used hand grenades and some kinds of explosive ammunition in cracking down on us,” the Yangon University of Medicine student, Swe Min, told Arab News.

At least 739 protesters have been killed by police and military personnel since the beginning of nationwide demonstrations against the junta that ousted the country’s elected National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders in a coup on Feb. 1, according to Friday’s data from Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma.

The incident in South Dagon township, where more than 30 people were killed on March 29, happened two days after the deadliest crackdown on protesters, when security forces killed 114 people across the country.

Footage shared on social media showed how a barricade built by protesting South Dagon residents was blown up with explosives by security forces.

Witnessing the state violence was beyond Swe Min’s threshold of endurance.

“There were randomly shooting and brutally assaulting residents,” he said.

Swe Min and other protesters seized a plainclothes police officer near the main demonstration site and started beating him indiscriminately.

“Seeing the slaughter of civilians, we got very upset and angry,” he recalled.

“We were out of our minds, and we have beaten and kicked him to death.”

As night raids followed the officer’s killing, Swe Min managed to escape Yangon the next morning with a group of friends.

Earlier this month, they joined a militant training camp in the mountainous eastern Karen State that borders Thailand.

“We have joined combat training a week ago,” he told Arab News over the phone from an undisclosed location. There is not much choice left for us. We have to choose to kill or to be killed.”

Arrest, torture and the daily forced disappearances of protesters since the military regime took power have pushed many like Swe Min to take up arms as they no longer seem to believe in non-violent resistance.

The Karen National Union (KNU), the oldest insurgent group fighting for the eastern state’s greater autonomy, said that thousands of people who are against the regime have sought refuge in their control area.

Padoh Man Man, a spokesperson for one of the KNU’s brigades, told Arab News that many are eager to join their combat training.

“Since they came here, most are determined to take up arms. After witnessing the momentum of brutality by the regime, it is understandable why they are in favor of armed resistance,” he said over the phone earlier this week.

The group, he added, had trained hundreds of volunteers alongside new KNU members in basic guerrilla warfare over the past two months.

“They are, therefore, more or less ready to join armed resistance,” he said.

Not only ordinary citizens but also dissident politicians are considering the option.

The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a group of National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers ousted in the February coup that formed a parallel government in mid-April, has reportedly also been in negotiations with ethnic rebel groups in the hope of forming an army against the Tatmadaw — the armed forces of Myanmar.

However, this may not happen soon as, although opposed to the regime, ethnic minorities do not entirely trust NLD, which during its rule had alienated them, Sai Tun Aung Lwin, an ethnic affairs analyst and a researcher with the Yangon-based Pyidaungsu Institute, told Arab News.  

“Small community-based defense units have been formed across the country, but it seems only to defend themselves at the moment,” he said. “People are doing what they have to do. They are dutiful.”

Some are even ready to abandon their monastic life.

A Buddhist monk known for his charity work in Yangon’s Hlaing Thar Yar township, who now identifies himself with a changed name, Ashin Rsara, took off his religious robes and completed combat training in Karen State.

“The regime considers us their enemy, and I witnessed the merciless crackdown in Hlaing Thar Yar last month. Then I realized that we would never have peace as long as it is in power,” he told Arab News.

“Buddha teaches us to love each other in any situation. I have been trying to follow Buddha’s teachings my whole life, but I can’t this time,” he said. “I have to live with hate till the resistance prevails or I die.”


More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study

More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study
Updated 23 April 2021

More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study

More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study
  • An infection of the new coronavirus in such newborns is associated with a three-fold risk of severe medical complications
  • The study was conducted in more than 2,100 pregnant women across 18 countries

Pregnant women infected with COVID-19 and their newborn children face higher risks of complications than was previously known, a study by British scientists showed on Friday.
An infection of the new coronavirus in such newborns is associated with a three-fold risk of severe medical complications, according to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Oxford. 
While pregnant women are at higher risk of complications such as premature birth, high blood pressure with organ failure risk, need for intensive care and possible death.
“Women with COVID-19 during pregnancy were over 50% more likely to experience pregnancy complications compared to pregnant women unaffected by COVID-19,” said Aris Papageorghiou, co-lead of the trial and a professor of fetal medicine at Oxford University.
The study was conducted in more than 2,100 pregnant women across 18 countries, where each woman affected by COVID-19 was compared to two non-infected women giving birth at the same time in the same hospital.
Findings from the study, published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, also showed a delivery by caesarean section may be associated with an increased risk of virus infection in newborns.
However, breastfeeding does not seem to heighten risks of babies contracting COVID-19 from their mothers, scientists said.