UK says Iran’s treatment of Zaghari-Ratcliffe is ‘torture’

UK says Iran’s treatment of Zaghari-Ratcliffe is ‘torture’
In this file photo taken on August 23, 2018 shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (R) embracing her daughter Gabriella in Damavand, Iran following her release from prison for three days. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 May 2021

UK says Iran’s treatment of Zaghari-Ratcliffe is ‘torture’

UK says Iran’s treatment of Zaghari-Ratcliffe is ‘torture’
  • The British-Iranian woman has been held in Iran since 2016
  • Her husband Richard Ratcliffe argues she is being held hostage as part of a diplomatic stratagem

LONDON: Iran’s treatment of detained dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe amounts to “torture,” Britain said on Sunday, after she was convicted anew and banned from leaving the Islamic republic.
“Nazanin is held unlawfully in my view as a matter of international law, I think she’s being treated in the most abusive, tortuous way,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC television.
“I think it amounts to torture the way she’s being treated, and there is a very clear, unequivocal obligation on the Iranians to release her,” he said.
The British-Iranian woman has been held in Iran since 2016. In late April, she was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment and banned from leaving the country for a further 12 months.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe argues she is being held hostage as part of a diplomatic stratagem.
“I think it’s very difficult to argue against that characterization,” Raab said.
“It is clear that she is subjected to a cat and mouse game that the Iranians, or certainly part of the Iranian system, engage with and they try and use her for leverage on the UK.”
Richard Ratcliffe has linked his wife’s plight to a British debt dating back more than 40 years for army tanks paid for by the shah of Iran.
When the shah was ousted in the 1979 revolution, Britain refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic republic.

London admits it owes Iran several hundred million pounds, but is reportedly constrained by US sanctions in its ability to pay the debt back.
“That is not actually the thing that’s holding us up at the moment, it’s the wider context,” Raab said of the debt, pointing to nuclear talks currently ongoing with Iran and its upcoming presidential elections.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, had appeared in court last month to face new charges of “propaganda against the system,” a week after she finished a five-year sentence for plotting to overthrow the regime, accusations she strenuously denies.
Richard Ratcliffe said the family hoped she could at least serve any new sentence under house arrest, with her parents in Tehran. But the situation was “bleak,” he told AFP at the time.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was initially detained while on holiday in Iran in 2016, when she was working as a project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency and data firm’s philanthropic wing.
She has been under house arrest in recent months and had her ankle tag removed, giving her more freedom of movement and allowing her to visit other relatives in Tehran.
In March, legal campaign group Redress handed a report to the UK government which it said “confirms the severity of the ill-treatment that Nazanin has suffered.”
The organization said it “considers that Iran’s treatment of Nazanin constitutes torture.”
Iranian authorities have denied that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been mistreated.

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers
Updated 28 September 2021

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers

‘Leave us alone to heal,’ Libyan envoy tells foreign powers
  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Taher Al-Sonni highlights the challenges facing Libya and how foreign powers are making them worse
  • In addition to national reconciliation there is a need for international reconciliation between the international community and Libyans, he said.

NEW YORK: Libya’s efforts to heal after 10 years of war will require not only a national reconciliation, but also an international reconciliation between the Libyan people and the global community.
That is the view of Taher Al-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, who on Monday reiterated his country’s demand for an end to external interference and the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries.
“Enough is enough,” he said during an exclusive interview with Arab News. “Libyans are tired of 10 years of chaos.
“As much as we talk about national reconciliation, there should also be international reconciliation. As much as we talk about confidence building, there should be confidence building between the international community and Libyans — and that starts with the simultaneous withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries, and support for the will of Libyans when they go through the electoral process.”
Libyans have been killed and their country ravaged by thousands of foreign fighters recruited by the rival forces in the country. As long as Libya’s “free will” is held hostage by these armed groups and their foreign sponsors, Al-Sonni said, conflicts will continue to rage in the country at a time when the proliferation of such proxy wars is causing instability across the region.
The rebels who killed Chadian President Idriss Deby in April, for example, were based in Libya, where they amassed money, accessed advanced weaponry and gained battlefield experience as guns-for-hire.
“The challenge with mercenaries is that no one acknowledges their presence,” said Al-Sonni.
The UN-brokered Libyan ceasefire agreement in October 2020 included a call for all 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters to withdraw from the country within three months. But when the UN Security Council discussed ways of repatriating them, observers noted that some council members were fueling the problem.
For example, Russia’s support for the Libyan National Army includes mercenaries from Russian private security company Wagner Group. Turkey, meanwhile, provided transport for thousands of Syrians to fight in Tripoli, paid them salaries and offered promises of Turkish citizenship. Other mercenaries operating in Libya hail from South Africa, the US, the UK, Australia and about 30 additional countries.
Meanwhile, Libyans attempt to navigate this sinister foreign presence as they walk an already tricky path toward national reconciliation, and attempt to consolidate the many small victories achieved in the past year as part of the political process.
These achievements — which paved the way for a ceasefire and the formation of an interim unity government tasked with shepherding the nation toward parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for December — would not have been possible without both Libyans and foreign powers reaching the conclusion that no one could win the war through military might, according to Al-Sonni.
“Everything was tried, and in the end everyone was convinced that there can be no military solution,” he said.
He conceded that all countries in the region are entitled to be concerned about preserving their security and national interests, but added: “You don’t need to intervene and interfere the way you did in order to have a stabilized region (and) boost the economy.
“Libya is a hub between Africa and Europe, East and West. Libyans are known for their modesty. I can no longer say Libya is a rich country, but it does have the means and the resources to come back, and with Libya stabilized we can find win-win deals that will satisfy everyone’s national interests as much as possible.
“So, let’s work together, put the past behind us and start a new phase. And let’s not provide an excuse for terrorism and extremism, which feeds on this chaos and perpetuates the conflict.”
The road to the national elections planned for December has been paved with as much fear as hope among Libyans.
Although the new Presidency Council managed to unify civilian executive bodies, the military remains fractured. Some fear that winners with weapons might start another war.
In the absence of a clear constitutional framework setting out the responsibilities of a new president, “who can guarantee that Libyans will not find themselves in the grip of yet another dictator?” asked Al-Sonni.
“There is a group of people that don’t want to lose the power they have today, so they are maneuvering and finding excuses for the elections not to happen,” he added.
“There are also those who fear losing power by having a high-level executive office, in the form of a president, that might lead to them losing popularity. Some want only parliamentary elections, and think a safer option is to have a steady state and give more time to the constitutional framework to be developed.
“And, finally, you have Libyans on the ground who are fed up with all the attempts of the past and want Libya as a state to have separation of power.
“The challenge in this last one is to have an ‘inclusive’ president, not one who has revenge in mind, because those who have ambitions to be president are all affiliated to a certain group, and so that is scaring people.”
All of the fears people have are valid, said Al-Sonni.
“But what are the alternatives that we have today?” he asked. “If I name all the obstacles that we face today, one would conclude that the risk of the elections not happening is high.”
Even if they do go ahead, he said, challenges will remain — but they at least offer the hope for change and a better future.
“Anyone who thinks elections will solve all of Libya’s problems is naive,” he said. “But we have had a sick patient for the past 10 years and we have been using the same medicine.
“Now we have the option of a new medicine in the form of elections. We are not sure how that will unfold — it’s a 50/50 risk. But a certain level of legitimate representation will get the ball rolling.”
Meanwhile, Al-Sonni said, national reconciliation remains “the foundation for any permanent peace in Libya.”
From the establishment of a High Commission for Reconciliation to the release, albeit symbolic, of some prisoners, there have been steps taken in the right direction.
Al-Sonni stressed the importance of “transitional justice” as a means toward lasting reconciliation and true healing of the nation.
“For there to be a comprehensive national reconciliation, truth needs to be revealed, and apologies issued,” he said.
Although he admitted that the responsibility for reconciliation ultimately lies primarily with the Libyan people themselves, Al-Sonni questioned the lack of useful international support for the efforts.
The ambassador, who was a UN staffer for 17 years and so is familiar with the organization’s methodologies, criticized the UN for adopting a “top-down approach” to Libya, which he said has undermined the role of civil society.
“If you follow all the dialogue that took place, they were all technical discussions that tackled military, political and economical challenges, but there was no national reconciliation track,” he said.
“There is also a lack of understanding of the Libyan context by the international community. For Libya to become a success story, we need to adopt a bottom-top approach, work on civil society and try to get the best of the tribal structure that links Libyans together.
“Some have tried to use our tribal structure as a way to fuel the war. But having tribes is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a golden key, I call it, which can lead us to peace if we use it correctly.”
Inclusivity is another important aspect to the process. Al-Sonni took part in the Sukhairat dialogue in 2015, and was one of the signatories to the final agreement for the formation of a national unity government.
“Not all parties who really had power on the ground were represented,” he said. “Many were completely excluded, such as the ex-regime loyalists.”
He warned that such “exclusion in any post-conflict reconciliation is one of the biggest mistakes you could make. It is a fatal error.”
Exclusion can also happen in the form of centralized governance, Al-Sonni said, which can, for example, cause people living outside of Tripoli, where much of the wealth is concentrated, to feel excluded.
Despite all these challenges, however, Al-Sonni is pinning his hopes on the next generation of Libyan youth.
“The only people who will solve this are our young people,” he said. “They are vocal and much more aware than their elders. The problem is that they still lack coordination and leadership.”
Al-Sonni also addressed allegations of flagrant abuses of human rights in Libyan detention centers. While he expressed regret over the fact that his country has become a place where “innocent people die,” he denied any accusation of systemic torture. Once again he pleaded with the international community to “help us make Libya stable and these issues will be resolved.”
He added: “We’re totally against such violations and we’re working hard to fix the system and protect the most vulnerable. But there is a difference between a government that doesn’t care and one that really tries, and sees this as a priority, but is spread thin with all the other different challenges and has resource problems.
“The problem is the hypocrisy of the West, and their unwillingness to devise a comprehensive solution for the migrant crisis. You cannot blame a country in conflict for what happens within it when it comes to migrants. Migrants who come to Libya aim to continue to Europe. Nobody wants to live in the hellfire of conflict, that goes without saying.”
Condemning the “double standards” of the international community, he said: “They ask us to accommodate those migrants when they know our resources are stretched thin. They ask us to shut down detention centers but they won’t tell us what to do with migrants who enter illegally, or those who are arrested at sea and pushed back to Libya.
“If you really care about migrants, then agree on a quota also and take in some of them.
“The countries that are being most forceful with Libya on this issue are the same ones that are shutting their doors to migrants. One such country literally took in four or five migrants out of the thousands that are trying to cross.
“The problem is bigger: it is EU competition between countries, and we know it. You want to blame us? Blame yourself first.”

Exhibition displays key expansions at the Makkah Grand Mosque

Exhibition displays key expansions at the Makkah Grand Mosque
Updated 28 September 2021

Exhibition displays key expansions at the Makkah Grand Mosque

Exhibition displays key expansions at the Makkah Grand Mosque

MAKKAH: President General for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Sheikh Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais inaugurated the Field and Digital Saudi Expansions at the Grand Mosque Exhibition.

Al-Sudais said that the exhibition showcases the most prominent Saudi projects and expansions at the Grand Mosque. The exhibition also aims to enrich visitors’ experience and highlight the efforts of the Saudi leadership in this regard.

Saudi talent foundation awards 3,000 scholarships to youth

Saudi talent foundation awards 3,000 scholarships to youth
Updated 28 September 2021

Saudi talent foundation awards 3,000 scholarships to youth

Saudi talent foundation awards 3,000 scholarships to youth
  • The average time spent training and following up with students reached 7,000 hours for some students

JEDDAH: Three thousand scholarships were granted to students by King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) during the foundation’s three-day Saudi National Day celebrations.
The educational and training scholarships covering various scientific fields are part of Mawhiba’s three-day photography exhibition, “A home for every talent ... a story for every passion,” held under the auspices of Dr. Saud bin Saeed Al-Mutahmi, secretary-general of the foundation, at Granada Mall in Riyadh.
Mawhiba students in the Kingdom who have undergone training programs have achieved significant international achievements: 453 international awards in scientific competitions and 83 awards at the International Science and Engineering Fair, the most important scientific competition in the world.
In cooperation with the Ministry of Education, students were granted scholarships after completing their training. The average time spent training and following up with students, from discovering their talent to their participation at an international level, has reached 7,000 hours for some students.
“The exhibition, which has witnessed a high turnout of visitors from different segments of society, chose to replace regular gifts and prizes by gifting participants opportunities to improve their future, raise the quality of their lives and work with them to discover, develop and guide their children’s talents properly,” Mawhiba said in an official statement.
The 91-picture exhibition followed the journey of some of the Kingdom’s talents, starting with scouting them to winning awards and the empowerment of talented students in institutions across
Saudi Arabia.
The Mawhiba exhibition was divided into three parts. The first is a photo exhibition for students who have won local and international competitions.
The second is an interactive theater with general competitions, various questions, and free scientific scholarships. The third included the “I am a talent” event for children, featuring activities on creative thinking skills, a drawing competition about the Kingdom, and documentaries by Mawhiba and its programs.

Who's Who: Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh

Who's Who: Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh
Updated 28 September 2021

Who's Who: Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh

Who's Who: Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil, secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh

Dr. Mansour bin Abdullah Al-Zamil was recently appointed as secretary of the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh following Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah’s decision.

Al-Zamil is the former supervisor of the Deanship of Library Affairs at King Saudi University in Riyadh, where he worked for the past 20 years.

He joined King Saudi University in 2008 as an associate professor at the Department of Library and Information Sciences. He was promoted to associate professor in 2011 and then to professor in 2018.

Prior to that, Al-Zamil worked at the King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh, where he served as an associate professor between 2002 and 2008 and lecturer between 1991 and 1999.

Al-Zamil received his bachelor’s degree with a second-class honors in library and information studies from the Department of Literature at King Saud University. After that, he moved to the US to complete his higher education in library and information studies. He earned his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and his Ph.D. from the Public University of Florida. He participated in various regional and international conferences. His research interests include e-government, digital libraries, e-learning and distance learning, and research methodologies in the libraries and information field.

He is a member of several scientific and academic societies, including the Saudi Library and Information Association, the Saudi Computer Society, and the Beta Phi Mu International Honor Society for library and information studies.

The King Fahd National Library in Riyadh is one of the most prestigious libraries in Saudi Arabia. It was established as a monument on the occasion of King Fahd bin Abdulaziz ascending to the throne in 1982.

The library is one of the most important cultural buildings in Saudi Arabia and an architectural masterpiece. It was designed by Professor Eckhard Gerber and his Gerber Architekten team in cooperation with the Riyadh Municipality, which provided the land and technical, architectural, and administrative supervision.

Makkah’s museums open their doors again to visitors for a cultural journey

Makkah’s museums open their doors again to visitors for a cultural journey
Updated 28 September 2021

Makkah’s museums open their doors again to visitors for a cultural journey

Makkah’s museums open their doors again to visitors for a cultural journey
  • They show how people of the city shaped a wealth of human knowledge through various epochs

MAKKAH: Ten museums in Makkah have opened their doors to showcase Makkah’s unique identity throughout history.

The museums house some of the rarest artifacts, illustrations, and collections that reveal the human experiences of the city.

They show how the people of Makkah managed to shape a wealth of human knowledge through various epochs and the progress made after the prophecy and its noble teachings came into existence.

The museums also contribute to raising cultural and humanitarian awareness with all their cognitive messages and elaboration of the life of fathers and grandfathers.

The Culture Ministry’s Museums Commission told Arab News that it is giving Al-Zaher Palace Museum special attention, hoping to reopen the museum to visitors as soon as possible after it was closed due to the pandemic.

The director of the Makkah History Center, Dr. Fawwaz Al-Dahhas, told Arab News that the museums have put in extraordinary efforts to further the Islamic, civilizational and cultural heritage of the city. 

The museums include Byzantine and Roman coins of all kinds and the Islamic dinar, silver, and gold used during the Umayyad era.

He added: “It’s best that the efforts are united under the auspices of one national museum called ‘Makkah throughout history,’ where visitors can expand what they needed to know about Makkah.” 

Al-Dahhas said that developing the Al-Saqaf Palace in the Maabad neighborhood would combine heritage and culture through its restoration. Once completed, it will become an Islamic museum.

In his book “The Presidential Palace in Maabad,” Al-Dahhas described the surface area of the palace and its rooms still have their original furnishings and design.

Saad Al-Sharif, a researcher in Makkah’s history, said museums are essential to educate societies and advance science and evolution. “A student can leave a museum knowing that they would like to become a scientist, a leader, a musician or a writer,” he said.


The Two Holy Mosques Architecture Exhibition is one of the most prominent museums in Saudi Arabia and is home to treasures and artifacts dating back more than 1,400 years. Opened in 2000 during the reign of the late King Fahd, it contains seven main halls highlighting Islamic civilization.

“Our society’s knowledge must be consolidated and presented through the museums to form a harmonious cultural structure. Some museums teach what the classrooms students do not teach,” Al-Sharif added.

The researcher said tourists always look for museums in new countries as “we believe them to be the true wealth of any people; ancient collections in those museums constitute an important source for society, as well as economic, social and cultural support, as they provide a rich and different experience for visitors, and express a person’s identity, existence and depth and authenticity of their culture.”

Al-Sharif said that Saudi museums inspire delight and that they illustrate a history they could only learn about through museums and their evidence, tools, places, and names.

Majdouh Al-Ghamdi, owner of the Museum of Human Heritage, said that Makkah’s museums complement each other and exhibit their rare heritage artifacts for all visitors.

Its exhibits include household appliances used in Makkah before electricity was introduced, a section on Saudi tribes, and displays on the role of the city’s residents in serving pilgrims and the history of the ancient Madrasah Al-Sawlatiyah, one of the oldest schools in the Arabian Peninsula.

It also includes Byzantine and Roman coins of all kinds and the Islamic dinar, silver, and gold used during the Umayyad era. Visitors will also discover weapons such as cannons, knives, daggers, swords and guns.

Al-Ghamdi said that museums offer full knowledge and satisfy people looking to feel passion about heritage. They feel content in the historical depth and wealth of Makkah in particular, he added. He said that all those museums seek to occasionally develop their exhibits by buying rare stamps, newspapers, maps, coins, rifles, swords, old household items, spears, and traditional clothes.