Journalists who fled Myanmar find third-country refuge

Journalists who fled Myanmar find third-country refuge
Five Myanmar nationals, including 3 journalists working for Democratic Voice of Burma during their arrest by Thai authorities in Chiang Mai. The journalists are now safe in a 3rd country and granted asylum. (AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2021

Journalists who fled Myanmar find third-country refuge

Journalists who fled Myanmar find third-country refuge
  • The three journalists of the Democratic Voice of Burma were arrested on May 9 in Chiang Mai
  • On May 28 they were each fined $128 and handed seven-month suspended imprisonments

BANGKOK: Three journalists from military-ruled Myanmar who were convicted of illegal entry after they fled to Thailand have been sent to a third country where they are safe, their employer said Monday.
The three staff members of the Democratic Voice of Burma, better known as DVB, were arrested on May 9 in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai along with two other people from Myanmar described as activists. On May 28, they were each sentenced to a 4,000 baht ($128) fine and seven months’ imprisonment, suspended for a year.
Rights groups and journalists’ associations had urged Thai authorities not to send them back to Myanmar, where it was feared that their safety would be at risk from the authorities. Thailand’s government has relatively cordial relations with Myanmar’s military regime.
Myanmar’s junta seized power in February by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and has attempted to crush widespread opposition to its takeover with a brutal crackdown that has left hundreds dead. It has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and by arresting journalists.
All five people convicted in Chiang Mai of illegal entry left Thailand recently for the third country, Aye Chan Naing, DVB’s executive director and chief editor, said in an emailed statement. He said, without elaborating, that he could not mention where they had been sent “as the entire case remains very sensitive.”
He expressed gratitude to “everyone in Thailand and around the world that helped to make their safe passage possible and for campaigning for a positive outcome,” and said the employees would resume their duties in the near future after “recovering from their ordeal.”
According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, about 90 journalists have been arrested since the takeover, with more than half still in detention, and 33 in hiding. Those still being held include two UScitizens, Danny Fenster and Nathan Maung, who worked for Myanmar media.
At least two other DVB journalists have been sentenced to prison for their reporting. DVB, an independent broadcast and online news agency, was among five local media outlets that were banned in March from broadcasting or publishing after their licenses were canceled. Like other banned media outlets, it continued operating.


Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel

Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel
Updated 1 min 13 sec ago

Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel

Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel
  • Ex-UN appeal judge: Ebrahim Raisi ‘guilty of crimes against humanity’
  • ‘If ever he ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled to arrest him and put him on trial’

LONDON: Iran now has an “international criminal” as its president, according to a panel of experts who warned that this could mean he faces arrest if he leaves the country and may be unable to attend the UN.

At an event on Thursday hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran and attended by Arab News, a panel of diplomats and human rights experts said Ebrahim Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacres of political prisoners means he is guilty of crimes against humanity — a label that could seriously harm his global diplomatic standing.

“We now have an international criminal as president ... He’s guilty of crimes against humanity, committed in late 1988 by the slaughter of thousands of prisoners,” said Geoffrey Robertson, a former UN appeal judge and former president of the war crimes court in Sierra Leone.

Robertson, who has conducted an extensive investigation into the 1988 massacres, added that Raisi and his Justice Department henchmen sent prisoners to their deaths in “two waves.”

First killed, Robertson said, were members, allies and sympathizers of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a political group that participated in the 1979 revolution but was later turned upon by the regime following a political disagreement.

“Most of them had actually already completed their sentences. They were executed without pity,” said Robertson.

“The second wave was of theocratic dissidents: Communists, atheists, left-wingers. They were executed for being opposed to the theocratic state of Ayatollah (Ruhollah) Khomeini. There we have a crime against humanity.”

Most of the people killed were detained for participating in protests in the early 1980s, said Robertson. They were then subjected to what Amnesty International has called “death commissions,” in which judiciary officials led by Raisi, who was then a prosecutor in Tehran, asked them apparently innocuous questions.

“They didn’t know it, but on their answers their lives depended,” said Robertson. Those who gave answers indicating an MEK or atheist affiliation were blindfolded and “ordered to join a conga line that led straight to the gallows,” he added.

“They were hung from cranes four at a time … Some were taken to army barracks at night, directed to make their wills and then shot by firing squad.”

Raisi’s direct involvement in these crimes could come back to bite Iran in an unexpected way, Robertson said.

“The UN will have to grapple with the fact that one of its members is led by an international criminal,” he added.

“If ever he ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled under its law — universal jurisdiction as we call it — to arrest him and put him on trial,” said Robertson

Nick Fluck, president emeritus of the law society of England and Wales, pointed out that Raisi has said in press conferences that he is “proud” of his role in the 1988 massacres.

This “serves as an important wakeup call that we can’t just sit silently on the sidelines. Silence and inaction don’t produce change, and in this case it’s clear that change is radically needed,” Fluck said.

“This is a leader who’ll be widely, I hope, shunned. There will be a lack of credibility about anything he may say.”

Fluck said Raisi’s domestic legitimacy is also seriously lacking, following an election that saw heavy state involvement, with hundreds of candidates barred from running and millions of Iranians boycotting the poll.

“Dissidents and reformists urged voters to boycott the poll. That’s perhaps why, although he inevitably won the election, he did so with a very low turnout,” Fluck added.


Kashmiri leaders urge Indian PM to restore region's autonomy

Kashmiri leaders urge Indian PM to restore region's autonomy
Updated 14 min 14 sec ago

Kashmiri leaders urge Indian PM to restore region's autonomy

Kashmiri leaders urge Indian PM to restore region's autonomy
  • Government removed protection on land, jobs in 2019

NEW DELHI: Kashmiri leaders from pro-India parties on Thursday urged the prime minister to restore the region's special autonomy and engage in dialogue with Pakistan during their first meeting with him since the region lost its autonomy and saw many of its leaders jailed in a crackdown.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both claiming it in its entirety. 

It became a flashpoint between the neighbors at the end of British colonial rule in 1947, when the Indian subcontinent was divided into predominantly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir.

In Aug. 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government abolished Article 370 of the constitution ending Kashmir's autonomy. It split it into two federal territories — Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir — and placed its entire population under lockdown and a communication blackout. 

In a series of administrative changes that followed, India removed protections on land and jobs for the local population, which many likened to attempts at demographically altering the region. 

Leaders of 14 pro-India political parties were invited for Thursday's meeting in New Delhi. Many of them, including Kashmir's former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, had been under house arrest for months.

“People of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) feel very humiliated after what happened on Aug. 5, 2019,” Mufti told reporters. “The way Article 370 was removed from the constitution — unconstitutionally, illegally and immorally — this is not acceptable to the people of Kashmir, and we will struggle for the restoration of Article 370 because this is the question of our identity.” 

Home Minister Amit Shah, while not commenting on the restoration of Kashmir's autonomy, confirmed that the restoration of its statehood — with a state being of higher administrative importance than federal territory — was discussed.

“The future of Jammu and Kashmir was discussed and the delimitation exercise and peaceful elections are important milestones in restoring statehood as promised in parliament,” he tweeted after the meeting. 

India’s main opposition Congress party demanded that the restoration of the territory's statehood be carried out soon. 

“Statehood should be restored at the earliest,” Congress leader and former Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told the media. “The prime minister and home minister had made a promise that the government would restore statehood.” 

The meeting took place against the backdrop of reaffirming a 2003 ceasefire accord between India and Pakistan in February. The Kashmiri leaders said India should engage in talks with Pakistan for the sake of the region’s economic condition.

“I complimented the PM on (the) ceasefire with Pakistan and told him to hold talks with Pakistan for peace in Kashmir,” Mufti added. “New Delhi should talk with Islamabad for the resumption of the stalled trade between both parts of Kashmir because many people’s lives are involved in this.” 

Omar Abdullah, another former chief minister of Kashmir and leader of the region's oldest political party the National Conference, also supported talks with Pakistan. “We can change friends but not neighbors,” he said. “Pakistan is our close neighbor and we should use the back channel to address the existing tensions between the two nations.” 

But, among observers and Kashmiris themselves, there was little hope about the meeting.

“Modi needed a photograph to convey to his international audience that he is engaged with the Kashmiri leadership, that is what (he) has got on Thursday,” Srinagar-based political analyst Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, who teaches at the Central University of Kashmir, told Arab News. “It was not meant for something serious, and this is the common impression in Kashmir.”


WHO estimates COVID-19 boosters needed yearly for most vulnerable

WHO estimates COVID-19 boosters needed yearly for most vulnerable
Updated 22 min 56 sec ago

WHO estimates COVID-19 boosters needed yearly for most vulnerable

WHO estimates COVID-19 boosters needed yearly for most vulnerable
  • WHO considers annual boosters for high-risk individuals as its "indicative" baseline scenario
  • Spokesperson for Gavi said COVAX was planning to take a wide range of scenarios into consideration

BRUSSELS: The World Health Organization (WHO) forecasts that people most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as the elderly, will need to get an annual vaccine booster to be protected against variants, an internal document seen by Reuters shows.
The estimate is included in a report, which is to be discussed on Thursday at a board meeting of Gavi, a vaccine alliance that co-leads the WHO’s COVID-19 vaccine program COVAX. The forecast is subject to changes and is also paired with two other less likely scenarios.
Vaccine makers Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc, with its German partner BioNTech, have been vocal in their view that the world will soon need booster shots to maintain high levels of immunity, but the evidence for this is still unclear.
The document shows that the WHO considers annual boosters for high-risk individuals as its “indicative” baseline scenario, and boosters every two years for the general population.
It does not say how these conclusions were reached, but shows that under the base scenario new variants would continue to emerge and vaccines would be regularly updated to meet these threats.
The UN agency declined to comment on the content of the internal document.
A spokesperson for Gavi said COVAX was planning to take a wide range of scenarios into consideration.
The document, which is dated June 8 and is still a “work in progress,” also predicts under the base case that 12 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses will be produced globally next year.
That would be slightly higher than the forecast of 11 billion doses for this year cited by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), signalling that the UN agency does not expect a significant ramp-up of vaccine production in 2022.
The document predicts manufacturing problems, regulatory approval issues and “transition away from some technology platforms” as potential drags on supplies next year.
It does not signal which technologies could be phased out, but the European Union, which has reserved the world’s largest volume of COVID-19 vaccines, has bet heavily on shots using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, such as those by Pfizer and Moderna, and has forgone some purchases of viral vector vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson.
The scenarios will be used to define the WHO’s global vaccination strategy and the forecasts may change as new data emerges on the role of boosters and the duration of vaccine protection, Gavi says in another document, also seen by Reuters.
So far about 2.5 billion doses have been administered worldwide, mostly in rich countries where over half of the population has received at least one dose, whereas in many poorer countries less than 1 percent has been vaccinated, according to Gavi’s estimates.
See graphic: COVID-19 global vaccination tracker: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access/
This gap could widen next year under the WHO’s most pessimistic forecast, as the need for annual boosters could once again push poorer nations to the back of the queue.
In its worst-case scenario, the UN agency says production would be 6 billion doses next year, due to stringent regulation for new shots and manufacturing issues with existing ones.
That could be compounded by the need for annual boosters for the entire world, and not just the most vulnerable, to combat variants and limited duration of protection.
In the more optimistic situation, all vaccines in the pipeline would get authorized and production capacity would ramp up to about 16 billion doses to meet demand. Vaccines would also be shared equitably across the world.
There would be no need for boosters as vaccines would show strong efficacy against variants and long protection.


Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Qatar emir on anniversary of accession

Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Qatar emir on anniversary of accession
Updated 28 min 25 sec ago

Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Qatar emir on anniversary of accession

Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Qatar emir on anniversary of accession

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday sent congratulatory messages to Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, on the occasion of the anniversary of his assumption of power.
The king and crown prince expressed their sincerest congratulations and best wishes of good health and happiness to the Qatari emir, and to the government and people of Qatar further progress and prosperity, Saudi Press Agency reported.


How Saudi women engineers are transforming a male-dominated industrial environment

With a growing number of Saudi women opting for careers in STEM and contributing to a more gender-balanced  work environment, the Kingdom’s industrial sector is leading the way in inclusivity. (Shutterstock)
With a growing number of Saudi women opting for careers in STEM and contributing to a more gender-balanced work environment, the Kingdom’s industrial sector is leading the way in inclusivity. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 min 2 sec ago

How Saudi women engineers are transforming a male-dominated industrial environment

With a growing number of Saudi women opting for careers in STEM and contributing to a more gender-balanced  work environment, the Kingdom’s industrial sector is leading the way in inclusivity. (Shutterstock)
  • Young Saudis are blazing a trail for MENA women in science, tech, engineering and math
  • To mark International Women in Engineering Day, two Saudis recounted their life stories

DUBAI: Despite recent progress, women remain a minority in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions, especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

Nevertheless, with a growing number of Saudi women opting for careers in STEM and contributing to a more gender-balanced work environment, the Kingdom’s industrial sector is leading the way in inclusivity.

Razan Alraddadi, a development specialist at Amaala — one of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 megaprojects planned on the Red Sea coast — and Ruaa Mahmoud, a graduate consultant at WSP Middle East — a leading professional-services consultancy — are among a new crop of Saudis blazing a trail for women in STEM.

“Like most engineering students, I was good at math and I loved problem solving,” Alraddadi said in a recently recorded podcast titled “Engineering role models for a more diverse future,” hosted by WSP and Amaala.

Razan Alraddadi (L) is a development specialist at Amaala and Ruaa Mahmoud (R) is a graduate consultant at WSP Middle East. (Supplied)

“I was a creative child growing up. I was solving everything that was broken around the house. My father noticed that and said he thought I’d make a good engineer and the first woman engineer in our family.”

The podcast was broadcast to mark International Women in Engineering Day, which this year took place on June 23. The objective was to raise the profile of women in engineering professions and focus attention on the career opportunities available to aspiring technologists.

Alraddadi recalled the first year of her scholarship at the University of Washington in 2014, where she found women significantly underrepresented in engineering courses.

But after listening to a female electrical engineer from NASA sharing her experiences during a panel discussion led by the Society of Women Engineers, she was filled with inspiration.

A rendering of Amaala, on the Red Sea coast, where Razan Alraddadi works as a development specialist. Amaala will be an ultra-luxurious international destination, and one of Saudi Arabia’s key Vision 2030 megaprojects. (Supplied/Amaala)

“It wasn’t until that moment that I saw another woman in engineering excelling. At that moment, I had the confidence needed to continue my career in engineering,” said Alraddadi.

“Since that day, it has been an amazing experience joining Amaala as an engineer, and I’m surrounded by an amazing team of engineers in a very inclusive and very good environment for women and engineering.”

For Mahmoud, the turning point came after she saw the 2006 American drama “The Astronaut Farmer,” in which a Texas ranger constructs a rocket in his barn in order to launch himself into space.

The movie sparked her interest in astrophysics and aeronautic engineering, and taught her that anything is possible with grit and determination — even visiting outer space.

WSP provides opportunities for young Saudis working in STEM, and Saudi women are at the forefront of delivering Vision 2030. (Supplied/WSP)

“As a child, I felt like it was realistic and, growing up, I continued to feel that I’d get there,” she said.

“That’s what actually encouraged me to choose electrical and computer engineering — whatever would get me to work on spacecraft, autonomous systems or robotics that would help astronauts or help me get to the International Space Station and assist that vision of going into space.”

Both women recall forming a strong bond and a common sense of mission with the other women on their undergraduate engineering courses.

“You kind of formed this squad or this sisterhood-like group where we thought, ‘OK, we can conquer the world’,” Mahmoud said.

Although racked with self-doubt when she first arrived at university, Alraddadi soon found a support network that gave her the encouragement she needed throughout her studies. “That’s when I knew engineering was such a good major and career path,” she said.

Women in STEM

* June 23 has been designated International Women in Engineering Day.

* 8% - Female enrolment in engineering, manufacturing and construction courses worldwide in 2018 (UNESCO).

According to 2018 figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, just 28.8 percent of the world’s researchers are women.

Female enrollment in engineering, manufacturing and construction courses stand at just 8 percent worldwide, while in natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, it is even lower — 5 percent. For information and communications technology, the figure drops to a paltry 3 percent.

In the Middle East, women now account for almost half of the total STEM student population.

And although 38 percent of Saudi graduates in the field are women, only 17 percent of them work in STEM sectors.

Women such as Mahmoud and Alraddadi are defying that trend. After studying abroad, they both chose to return to the Kingdom to launch their careers.

In the Middle East, women now account for almost half of the total STEM student population, reflecting the societal reforms for women in Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)

Alraddadi said: “I chose to come back to be around my family in my home country, working on a very big project that will potentially be revolutionary in Saudi Arabia’s history. So, definitely having those opportunities back home influenced my decision and made me so excited and proud to be back in Saudi Arabia.”

Providing graduate programs for both genders, such as the one hosted by WSP Middle East, is seen as a vital first step to attracting more female engineers to the industry and students into these fields.

But based on Mahmoud’s experience, gender stereotypes and cultural norms concerning the role of women in vocations traditionally dominated by men persist in the Middle East in general, and in the Kingdom in particular.

“I’ve been told that numerous times, and I’ve had friends who’ve been told that as well,” she said. “We need to break that barrier down and just talk with our community, our people, friends and family about how it’s normal for women in engineering to pursue such fields or to pursue such jobs.”

For Alraddadi, who has been working with Amaala for nine months, engineering could be made more attractive as a career path for women if their work, projects and lives were properly highlighted.

“I also believe in graduate programs that will take you and train you as an engineer after you graduate,” she said.

“That would make you feel like engineering is a really good profession in a place you’d benefit from.”

For Alraddadi, who has been working with Amaala (pictured) for nine months, engineering could be made more attractive as a career path for women if their work, projects and lives were properly highlighted. (Supplied/Amaala)

Working in the industry has helped both women advance personally and professionally. Alraddadi said: “As I continue to grow in my career, I’ll learn more and get more involved. It’s a learning process every day, and I feel like every day I’m discovering something new that I want to learn so much.”

Mahmoud believes working in the industry, as opposed to merely studying engineering, has provided her with a much broader view of the avenues open to her.

“Working at WSP, I’ve learned things that I wouldn’t otherwise have known, especially in construction, like electrical engineering,” she said.Globally, although women in STEM fields tend to have higher salaries than those in non-STEM fields, there still exists a gender pay gap in STEM professions.

Women in these professions also have higher rates of attrition than both their male counterparts and women in other non-STEM professions.

Even so, as noted by Shona Wood, the Gender Balance Steering Committee representative and head of integrated project delivery and architecture at WSP Middle East, the traditionally male-dominated industrial environment is undergoing a transformation as more and more women discover the rewards of a career in engineering.

“However, we all have a part to play in nurturing the development and pathways of future engineers,” she told podcast listeners.

“The key to this will be ensuring all industry professionals — both male and female — unite to empower our female youth by being bold allies and ensuring their voices are heard as they navigate the road to a more diverse future.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek