ISTANBUL: Turkey has been ranked first among member states of the Council of Europe (CoE) for its annual incarceration rate, with a record number of inmates convicted for terrorism offenses.
Last year, the Turkish parliament adopted a controversial law to release about 45,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding in prisons and protect detainees from the pandemic.
However, the amnesty law was found to be politically biased as several drug dealers and mafia bosses were released while dissident journalists and politicians were excluded.
The Council of Europe released its Annual Penal Statistics report on Thursday: Turkey topped the list with an incarceration rate of 357.2 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants.
Turkey was followed by Russia, Georgia, Lithuania and Azerbaijan in the report.
According to the report, about 300,000 people, including pre-trial detainees, are behind bars in Turkey — second only to Russia.
Terrorism offenses are broadly defined in Turkish laws under which dissident activities such as attending demonstrations and exercising critical journalism are punished.
Based on the ratio of the number of inmates to the number of places available in penal institutions, Turkish prisons were also found to be the most overcrowded in the CoE report, with 127 inmates per 100 available places. Turkey was followed by Italy in the report.
Of 30,524 prisoners convicted for terror charges in the European continent, the majority of them — 29,827 people — were found in Turkey alone. Terrorism offenses are broadly defined in Turkish laws under which dissident activities such as attending demonstrations and exercising critical journalism are punished; disregarding European Court of Human Rights’ judgments.
The Council of Europe has repeatedly demanded that Ankara immediately release from prison the prominent businessman and activist, Osman Kavala, and the Kurdish politician, Selahattin Demirtas, after their years-long detention based on political motives.
The country also has Europe’s second largest prison population, at 297,019, after Russia. Over the past decade, the imprisonment rate in Turkey has increased by 115.3 percent.
Separately, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is working on legal amendments to digitally record and retain all visits to inmates for a period of one year — a move that has been criticized by the opposition as a serious invasion of prisoners’ privacy.
Opposition deputies have called on the AKP to withdraw its controversial bill, saying inmates’ private lives need to be protected.
Turkish penitentiary institutions made headlines recently after opposition party claims about the use of unlawful strip-searching of women as a degrading practice.
UN spokesman added that Guterres urged the parties to allow mediation efforts to intensify
Updated 14 May 2021
Ephrem Kossaify Arab News
NEW YORK: UN chief Anotonio Guterres appealed on Friday for an immediate halt to fighting between Gaza and Israel.
Secretary-General Guterres warned that the ongoing conflict could “unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism,” not just in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel but also elsewhere in the Middle East region.
A UN spokesman added that Guterres urged the parties to allow mediation efforts to intensify and end the fighting more quickly.
Stephane Dujarric said the UN was “actively involved” in those mediation efforts.
Guterres, who said only a sustainable political solution would lead to lasting peace, also reiterated his commitment to support Palestinians and Israelis in resolving the conflict, through the Quartet of Middle East mediators — the UN, US, EU and Russia — on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.
Save the Children urges end to Gaza violence as child deaths reach 31
‘If this does not end, more children will be killed,’ Gaza-based expert warns
Conflict could lead to ‘trauma, mental health issues’ for almost 1m children
Updated 14 May 2021
LONDON: Children’s charity Save The Children has called for an immediate end to all hostilities in Gaza and Israel as the number of children killed by Israeli bombardment reaches 31.
“Save the Children is urging the international community to use its influence with parties to the conflict to seek an urgent path to de-escalation as fatalities in Gaza and southern Israel continue to soar,” said a statement issued by the charity to Arab News on Friday.
“Save the Children can confirm that at least 31 schools and a health facility in Gaza have been damaged by Israeli airstrikes,” it said.
In total, 33 children have now died in the violence — 31 in Gaza, and another two in Israeli territory.
The total death toll from the fighting, which continues to escalate, has now reached 126, including 119 Palestinians and seven Israelis. Hundreds more Palestinians have also been injured in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Gaza-based Mazen Naim, a communications officer at Save the Children, told Arab News: “I’ve been talking to my family, consistently checking in with my friends and colleagues — the situation is very bad everywhere.
“The 2 million people living in Gaza do not feel safe at all in any way. There are explosions and airstrikes and attacks everywhere. There was houses that were hit, even some of them with people inside. Families were wiped out.”
Naim said that children will pay a “serious and lasting price” for the heaviest attack on Gaza in nearly a decade.
“Many children were alive yesterday that are not alive today. If this does not end, more children will be killed. If this continues, we could be looking at a huge humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.
Not only are dozens of children being harmed physically, he added, but the fighting is causing lasting mental distress to the Gaza Strip’s 800,000 children.
“Children are feeling fear, anxiety and sleeplessness. They are having nightmares at night — no one feels safe in any way, everyone is feeling like we could die at any moment.
“This might end soon, but they will still have nightmares for a long time. This will affect their personality, and their ability to cope and communicate. It will affect their education. Every time they will hear a loud noise — a door shutting, for example — they will have these memories brought back to them.”
Studies show that a large number of people still suffer from mental health issues rooted in previous violent flare-ups in Gaza and elsewhere, Naim said.
Densely populated Gaza has languished for over a decade under an Israeli blockade that has prevented the territory from developing its economy and has eroded critical infrastructure.
The healthcare system, in particular, suffers from a chronic lack of funding, a problem exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and compounded by the sudden influx of seriously injured people.
“The health system in Gaza was actually suffering because of the 14-years blockade on Gaza, but also from a shortage of staff, shortage of medical supplies and the coronavirus crisis,” said Naim.
“And now with this conflict happening, there’s a shortage of hospital beds, a shortage of drugs, and nobody knows when more supplies can enter the territory.”
People and reporters watching after a pro-Palestinian rally in the Lebanese Khiam area, on Friday. A Lebanese demonstrator died and another was wounded by Israeli fire when dozens rallied to protest strikes on Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Lebanese protester shot dead, another wounded by Israelis at border demonstration
Local media reported the death of 21-year-old Lebanese demonstrator who succumbed to his injuries in hospital
The Lebanese army and security forces were deployed to stop the youths from advancing
Updated 37 min 47 sec ago
KFARKILA, Lebanon: Hezbollah said Friday a young man killed by Israeli gunfire along the Lebanese-Israeli border was a fighter with the militant group.
The man, 21-year-old Mohammad Tahhan, died of wounds sustained on Friday when he was struck during a protest at the border.
The National News Agency (NNA) said in the afternoon two demonstrators were wounded “by two Israeli shells that fell near them after a number of youths tried to enter the town of Metula” in northern Israel.
Palestinian and Lebanese youth had gathered in the border area as part of a rally against the Israeli military campaign in Gaza. A small group later breached the fence and crossed the border into Israel, triggering the shooting.
In the aftermath, “the Lebanese army and security forces were deployed... to stop the youths from advancing” again, the NNA added.
The Israeli military said troops fired shots toward the group after they sabotaged the fence and crossed over briefly, confirming on Twitter its tanks had “fired warning shots at a number of rioters... who had crossed into Israeli territory.”
The protesters, some carrying Palestinian flags and that of Hezbollah gathered in the Khiam plain, opposite Metula, a few dozen meters (yards) from the border, an AFP photographer said.
They later set fire to the area, with the flames spreading “all the way to the border,” he added.
After sunset a dozen protesters still lingered by the fence, prompting tear gas from the Israeli side.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun strongly condemned “the crime committed by Israeli forces” when they opened fire at the group.
On Thursday, three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidiyeh toward Israel, a Lebanese military source said. Israel’s army said the rockets landed in the sea.
Small businesses pay big price for pandemic protection measures in MENA
Small, medium-sized enterprises have spent a fortune on cleaning, testing and PPE while absorbing the cost of lost custom
Lockdowns and social distancing rules have forced companies to adopt digital tools to ensure their long-term survival
Updated 14 May 2021
DUBAI: Staying in business through the COVID-19 pandemic has not been cheap for retailers, hoteliers or eateries — to name just a few types of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). All over the world, including the Arab region, SMEs have suffered the double whammy of lost custom combined with new expenditure on cleaning, testing, protective equipment and hand sanitizers.
Companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on hygiene protocols in a desperate bid to keep their doors open. Contact-intensive sectors such as leisure, hospitality and tourism have suffered more than most. Airlines, spas, gyms and galleries have all been forced to limit footfall.
Although the rollout of vaccines has raised hopes of a turnaround this year, with people itching to book summer getaways and nights out on the town after months stuck indoors, a mixture of new virus mutations and the uneven distribution of vaccines means the world is still a long way from returning to normal.
According to an April report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which assessed the impact of the pandemic on SMEs over the past year, such firms have been hit far harder than their larger counterparts.
“SMEs are overrepresented in the sectors most affected by the crisis, in particular in wholesale and retail trade, air transport, accommodation and food services, real estate, professional services, and other personal services,” the report said.
“Smaller firms are typically more financially fragile and have smaller cash buffers than their larger counterparts. This makes them less resilient to crises.”
Small companies also tend to have weaker supply chains and can “lag behind in terms of the uptake of digital tools and technologies which can help to build resilience in the current pandemic crisis.”
Crucially, it would seem, SMEs are also “less likely to have managerial capability to comply with new regulatory frameworks to guarantee customers’ and employees’ safety.”
For Tala Badri, founder and executive director of the Center for Musical Arts in Dubai, most of the past year’s excess expenditure has been spent on COVID-19 safety and hygiene measures for her patrons and staff.
When businesses in Dubai were cleared to reopen in the second half of 2020, under strict public health guidelines, Badri was legally obliged to hire an approved cleaning company to sanitize the entire premises, its equipment and its musical instruments.
“We have to set up systems where you have a sanitization station everywhere that is accessible,” Badri told Arab News. “You have to buy the sanitizer. These are all additional expenses that we never had to face before.
“We also have to put up special screens for teaching, which cost AED 2,000 to AED 3,000 ($545 to $820) and are just plastic screens, not even that big, but they cost money,” she said.
“One of the other things we have to do is increase our Internet usage (for remote teaching). You have (limited) choice (in selecting an Internet service provider). You have just to go with whatever is there. We are paying on average about AED 15,000 ($4,000) per term, and this is like someone’s salary. It is like having another person on staff.”
Badri “totally accepts” the measures are necessary, but says they constitute an “unprecedented extra cost” that businesses like hers were in no position to take on. “When you are losing such a huge amount of your money, and you have to pay extra to stay in business, where there is no support, it is very difficult,” she said.
Other sectors have been forced to absorb cumbersome expenses of their own. Gyms, for instance, have replaced communal soap dispensers with individually wrapped bottles to reduce surface contamination.
Although many fitness facilities are saving on their laundry bill by asking guests to bring their own towels, round-the-clock sanitizing of equipment and surfaces is nevertheless eating into their budget.
Restaurants have also had to radically rethink their business model, relying on local delivery firms to reach a smaller catchment of customers and absorbing the additional cost of single-use takeaway packaging, not to mention the outgoings on additional health and safety measures in the kitchen.
Those eateries with sufficient space have experimented with partitioning and spreading out their customers, but the loss of larger bookings and walk-ins will no doubt have hit their balance sheets.
On top of this, extra signage, QR-code menus, queuing areas, plexiglass screens, sanitizing stations, plastic tablecloths and cashless payment systems have not only multiplied expenses but also taken away some of the magic of the dining-out experience. Who enjoys wearing their mask between courses?
No wonder supermarkets and other food-retail outlets have seen a bounce at the expense of restaurateurs since the pandemic began. According to Somaia Basha, a Dubai-based senior research analyst for Euromonitor International, Saudi Arabia’s restaurant sector lost 37 percent of its value in 2020.
“Because of the initial lockdown, we have seen overspending on food retail. On the other hand, of course, restaurants were massively hit,” she told Arab News.
SMEs have been forced to adapt quickly to new trends, which, although they existed prior to the pandemic, have been pushed into overdrive out of necessity. Take, for instance, the digital transformation of home delivery and payment methods.
“COVID-19 has elevated or increased the speed of a lot of trends that were actually already happening,” said Basha. “So, before COVID-19, there was transformation of payments, there were delivery options that were getting traction. But after COVID-19, these became more important.
“Progress that we expected to take years has been happening over the course of one year in some countries and even just a matter of months in others. This high speed is transforming many industries.
“Now, imagine you are one of these restaurants and suddenly you are faced with this issue of either going digital or shutting down. You are going to have to invest money when you are already making a loss, because you are not generating any revenue, and you are not there on delivery platforms.
“So, you are now going to spend a couple of thousand dollars to be there, to be available in the digital world. And then, when you go into the digital world, you will find you have multiple platforms, which are competing, and you have prices dropping.”
Perhaps, then, the innovations that this pandemic has driven forward, with companies forced to invest and adapt to ensure their long-term survival, are the real silver lining of this traumatic and costly year. True, not all sectors can benefit from digital technologies, but those that do can expect to bounce back much faster.
“It is a challenging time for restaurants all over the world. They are playing in an area they have not maneuvered in before,” said Basha. “It is unknown territory.”
France’s Emmanuel Macron speaks with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for return to peace
Israel pummelled Gaza with artillery fire and air strikes on Friday, killing 13 people including three children
Updated 14 May 2021
PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday about the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinians and called for a return to peace in the region.
In a statement, Macron condemned rocket attacks by Hamas and said Israel had the right to defend itself. He also expressed concern about the plight of the civilian population in Gaza, which is run by Hamas.
Israel pummelled Gaza with artillery fire and air strikes on Friday, killing 13 people including three children, local health officials said, as it targeted Palestinian militant tunnels to try to stop the rocket attacks on Israeli towns.
Netanyahu said Friday that Israel had no plans on relenting in its attacks against Hamas in Gaza, after heavy bombardment targeting the group’s targets in the Palestinian enclave.
“They attacked our capital, they fired rockets at our cities. They're paying and will continue to pay dearly for that,” he said following security consultations at the military’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.