Sri Lanka mulls changes to controversial anti-terror law as EU, UN step up pressure

Sri Lanka mulls changes to controversial anti-terror law as EU, UN step up pressure
Sri Lankan police commandos patrol on the streets of Pallekele, a suburb of Kandy, on March 6, 2018, following anti-Muslim riots that has prompted the government to declare a state of emergency. (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2021

Sri Lanka mulls changes to controversial anti-terror law as EU, UN step up pressure

Sri Lanka mulls changes to controversial anti-terror law as EU, UN step up pressure
  • Sri Lanka has been marred by a protracted 37-year-long civil war that ended in 2009 with the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers
  • Modifications to the PTA on March 9 allow for two years of detention without trial for anyone “who surrenders or is taken into custody on suspicion” of causing or intending to cause “religious, racial or communal disharmony”

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka could “either repeal or revise” a controversial anti-terror law based on a detailed review amid pressure from the EU and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over concerns it violates human rights, a top official said on Wednesday.
Enacted in 1979, the powerful Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which a previous government promised to scrap but did not, allows authorities to make warrantless arrests and searches if a person is suspected of involvement in a “terrorist activity.”
Under the law, suspects have the right to trial but not by a jury, while the country’s defense minister can order detentions of up to three months at a time for a maximum of 18 months.
“The PTA will be either revised or repealed depending on a report by two committees appointed by the Cabinet,” Justice Minister Ali Sabry told Arab News on Wednesday.
“The first will be a ministerial committee, while the second will be a technical group of experts. We will give them three months to submit their findings, and action will be taken based on that,” he added.
Modifications to the PTA on March 9 allow for two years of detention without trial for anyone “who surrenders or is taken into custody on suspicion” of causing or intending to cause “religious, racial or communal disharmony.”
On June 8, the European Parliament passed a motion for a resolution demanding that the PTA be scrapped as it “breaches human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
“The impunity and lack of accountability for past human rights violations by various agents and the excessive application of the PTA (do) not adhere to international practices and human rights principles,” it said.
The EU urged Sri Lanka to “amend the PTA … immediately” and threatened to withdraw its Generalized System of Preferences — a preferential tariff system that provides tariff reduction on various products — plus tax concessions amounting to $2 billion if the act was not amended.
On Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s government told parliament that the PTA would be revised “without compromising the country’s security.”
On what prompted the government to initiate the move now, Sabry said that the PTA “needed to be adjusted with changing times and factor in internet crimes, a high incidence of money laundering and an increasing need to ensure human rights.”

HIGHLIGHT

Government could amend Prevention of Terrorism Act to keep up with ‘changing times,’ official says.

“We want a balanced act now to meet human rights requirements in keeping with local interests and international obligations,” he added.
However, lawmaker and former Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem, who is also the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, told Arab News that the government “stands exposed” for its “abuse of the PTA for political gains” in recent years.
Sri Lanka has been marred by a protracted 37-year-long civil war that ended in 2009 with the defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers.
The UN believes 80,000-100,000 people died in the conflict when the rebels sought to carve out a separate state for the Tamil minority and accused both sides of war crimes. In March, the UNHRC passed a resolution in Geneva censuring Colombo over its treatment of minorities and alleged failure to investigate atrocities during the civil war.
Hakeem said several people had been arrested under the PTA since 2009, in addition to “some 200 people who had been taken into custody” after the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, which killed 269 people and injured more than 500 in separate locations in Sri Lanka.
Human rights groups, for their part, say the PTA is a “draconian” weapon targeting dissidents and minorities in the country: Muslims make up nearly 10 percent of its total population of 22 million, while Buddhists account for 70 percent of the census.
“The recent EU resolution clearly states that the PTA must be repealed, not revised,” Shreen Saroor, a women’s rights activist and co-founder of the Women’s Action Network, told Arab News.
“It is a draconian piece of legislation that has been aggressively used against Muslims and to curb any form of dissent. It must be repealed fully, not revised,” Saroor added.
International lobbyist and human rights activist Muheed Jeeran agrees, adding that international pressure had “brought this government down to its knees to end this act.”  “The PTA is a monster that blatantly and grossly violates the universal declaration of human rights,” he told Arab News.
“It was introduced in 1979 as a temporary measure when the government did not have tools such as mobile phones and investigators had to work at a snail’s speed. But, today, we are in a technological era, and these investigators still detain a suspect for 540 days without any charges. The PTA must be repealed rather than reformed,” he added.


Manila tightens virus curbs as local transmission of delta variant is confirmed

Manila tightens virus curbs as local transmission of delta variant is confirmed
Updated 23 July 2021

Manila tightens virus curbs as local transmission of delta variant is confirmed

Manila tightens virus curbs as local transmission of delta variant is confirmed
  • The Philippines has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases and related deaths in Southeast Asia
  • Under new restrictions, the Philippines will ban travelers from Malaysia and Thailand from Sunday

MANILA: The Philippines tightened coronavirus restrictions on Friday, after health authorities confirmed local transmission of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19.
The Department of Health said in a statement on Thursday night that while half of the confirmed delta variant cases are of Filipinos returning from abroad, recent phylogenetic analysis showed the emergence of local clusters related to the more aggressive COVID-19 strain.
The local transmission of the delta variant, which is wreaking havoc in other Southeast Asian countries, has prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to approve the recommendation of the country’s pandemic response body to place the metropolitan Manila area — the capital region with more than 13 million inhabitants — under general community quarantine “with heightened restrictions” from Friday until the end of the month.
The provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Davao de Oro and Davao del Norte have been placed in the same quarantine category.
“This action is undertaken to prevent the further spread and community transmission of COVID-19 variants in the Philippines,” Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
Indoor sports and tourist venues have been closed, the operating capacity of indoor dining venues was scaled down to 20 percent, and open air dining is allowed at 50 percent capacity. Children between the ages of five and 17 are not allowed to leave their homes.
As part of the new restrictions, the Philippines will ban travelers coming from Malaysia and Thailand from Sunday until the end of July. The two Southeast Asian nations join the other countries on Manila’s travel ban list due to delta variant outbreaks — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Oman, the United Arab Emirates.
With more than 1.53 million infections and nearly 27,000 deaths, the Philippines has recorded the second-highest number of coronavirus cases and related deaths in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and its health authorities are increasingly coming under criticism.
Senator Panfilo Lacson has accused the Department of Health of being unprepared in responding to the delta variant crisis.
With the Philippine presidential and vice presidential elections scheduled to take place in May next year, he called on the country’s leaders to find more competent health officials for their cabinets.
“Knowing the delta variant has already gripped India and Indonesia, it seems they have not prepared adequately,” he said. “The first order of the day for the next leader of the country is to scout for a more qualified person at the helm of the Health Department.”


In seasonal makeover, Pakistani barbers decorate camels with ancient motifs

Customers wait as barber Ali Hassan decorates their animal at a camel market in Karachi, Pakistan on July 20, 2021. (AN photo by S.A. Babar)
Customers wait as barber Ali Hassan decorates their animal at a camel market in Karachi, Pakistan on July 20, 2021. (AN photo by S.A. Babar)
Updated 23 July 2021

In seasonal makeover, Pakistani barbers decorate camels with ancient motifs

Customers wait as barber Ali Hassan decorates their animal at a camel market in Karachi, Pakistan on July 20, 2021. (AN photo by S.A. Babar)
  • Most of camel art designs are a continuation of southern Pakistan's thousands of years old artistic heritage
  • Demand for camel barbering increases during Eid Al-Adha when Pakistanis want to buy the best and most beautiful sacrificial animals

KARACHI: When the season comes, Ali Hassan often switches off his phone as camel traders from rural Sindh flood him with orders to decorate their animals with elaborate haircuts and ancient Sindhi motifs.

Now in his fifties, Hassan has been practicing camel barbering for the past four decades and is one of the most famous masters of the art.

Demand for his craft usually peaks in the first weeks of January, and again during Eid Al-Adha when Pakistanis want to buy the best and most beautiful sacrificial animals.

"People reach out to get their camels a new makeover, so much so that at times I have to switch off my phone to avoid the influx," Hassan told Arab News at a camel market in Karachi earlier this week, as he finished decorating a camel's hide with rilli, a complex embroidery pattern used in the traditional art of Sindh.

Camel barbering in Pakistan is a distinctive blend of art and symbolism. The artists make the patterns by cutting the rough hairy coat of the camels with scissors in multiple stages. Later, some of them apply natural henna dyes to color these motifs.

Camel hair tattoo designs at a camel market in Karachi, Pakistan on July 20, 2021. (AN photo by S.A. Babar)

"Not every barber is an artist," Hassan said, "but there are many whose artwork has breathed a new life to the Sindh’s traditional culture."

His hometown, Daulatpur in Shaheed Benazirabad district of Sindh, is particularly famous for camel barbering, with hundreds of craftsmen practicing it in the region. At least 40 of them are Hassan's students.

"I tell my students that you can only learn this craft if you are passionate about it," he said, as it takes lots of time, patience and precision to produce good designs.

Most of the designs are a continuation of Sindh's thousands of years old artistic heritage.

Hassan's customers usually choose Sindhi artwork patterns such rilli and the famous ajrak. But some also ask for ancient cities and forts. Or the moon and stars.

His prices range from Rs1,000 ($6) for Hassan said for a simple makeover to even Rs10,000 for special, more complicated designs.

Despite the price, camel owners still want their animals to be decorated by the best barbers whose touch everyone would notice.

"Artwork on camels costs much more than simple hair dressing, but everyone wants their camel to look different," Allah Bux, a camel owner, told Arab News.

Hassan knows exactly which motif would look best on the animal.

"When I glance at the camel, I instinctively know what to design," he said. "I've been doing this since my childhood. This scissor is my companion. I love the art."

 


UK police investigate after woman threatens ‘Algerian’ man on train

Footage emerged of a woman racially abusing and threatening to stab and behead people on a train, and of physical altercations breaking out between her and fellow travelers. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Footage emerged of a woman racially abusing and threatening to stab and behead people on a train, and of physical altercations breaking out between her and fellow travelers. (Screenshot/YouTube)
Updated 23 July 2021

UK police investigate after woman threatens ‘Algerian’ man on train

Footage emerged of a woman racially abusing and threatening to stab and behead people on a train, and of physical altercations breaking out between her and fellow travelers. (Screenshot/YouTube)
  • In footage uploaded to Instagram, the woman racially abuses fellow passengers, threatening to stab and behead them

LONDON: Police in the UK have appealed for witnesses after footage emerged of a woman racially abusing and threatening to stab and behead people on a train, and of physical altercations breaking out between her and fellow travelers.

The incident took place near West Ham station in east London. In footage shared on social media site Instagram, the woman — wearing a purple and white top and skirt, and appearing to be drunk — calls a fellow passenger a “f— Algerian c—,” and tells him she will spit in his face.

She then threatens to “stab him in the f— face” and to “knock him out,” and tells him that if he looks at or raises his hands to a fellow passenger, who appears to be her friend, she will cut his head off.

“I don’t want to have to punch up this Asian guy,” she tells her friend, before calling the man a “n—.” Other passengers can be heard calling her racist and telling her to calm down.

The passenger whose footage was uploaded to Instagram tells her that he has to film what she is doing “for my safety, your safety, his safety, everyone else’s safety.”

In the video, after he accuses her of being racist, she tells him: “You don’t know what country I’m from, I’m half f— Kenyan you little b—.” He responds: “If you’re Kenyan then you should know better.”

Unperturbed, she replies: “Carry on recording me because I don’t care. I don’t give a f—. You’re some civilian mother— from the middle of Essex.”

She later knocks the phone out of his hand, and is seen pushing and slapping another male passenger who pushes her back, knocking her into a luggage rack.

The British Transport Police said it received a report of a racially aggravated public order offense, and urged members of the public to assist with its investigation.


Bankruptcy looms for UK Islamophobe after Syrian refugee libel case defeat

Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, made various unsubstantiated claims about Syrian refugee Jamal Hijazi. (Reuters/File Photo)
Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, made various unsubstantiated claims about Syrian refugee Jamal Hijazi. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 23 July 2021

Bankruptcy looms for UK Islamophobe after Syrian refugee libel case defeat

Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, made various unsubstantiated claims about Syrian refugee Jamal Hijazi. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Court orders Tommy Robinson to pay $137,600 damages, legal costs that could exceed $500k over unfounded claims

LONDON: A British far-right figurehead and anti-Islam activist who lost a libel case against a Syrian refugee he had made unfounded accusations against on Thursday claimed he could now face bankruptcy as a result of damages and legal costs that could amount to more than $637,000.

Tommy Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, made various unsubstantiated claims about Jamal Hijazi, including that he was violent toward female students, after the teenager was filmed being assaulted and bullied by his classmates.

Hijazi, a refugee from Homs, a city in western Syria, took Robinson to court over the accusations, which he said were inaccurate and had deeply disrupted his life.

On Thursday, a London court ordered Robinson to pay Hijazi £100,000 ($137,600) in damages and, because of the nature of the English legal system, the English Defence League founder was also on the hook for legal costs for both parties that could total more than $500,000.

Robinson said: “I’ve not got any money. I’m bankrupt. I’ve struggled hugely with my own issues these last 12 months … I ain’t got it.”

He added that he was gobsmacked by Hijazi’s legal team’s costs, which included £70,000 ($96,318) for taking witness statements.

In two videos viewed nearly 1 million times, Robinson accused Hijazi, 17, of beating a girl “black and blue” as well as threatening to stab another boy at school — both claims denied by Hijazi and unproven by Robinson.

The judge said Robinson’s accusations were “calculated to inflame the situation,” and that the abuse Hijazi was then subjected to was predictable in its nature.

“It is my responsibility to make clear that the defendant has failed in his defence of truth, to vindicate the claimant and to award him a sum in damages that represents fair compensation,” the judge added. He also warned that Robinson’s bankruptcy declaration may make it difficult to extract from him the full sum awarded by the court.

Robinson’s accusations had a “devastating effect” on the schoolboy, Hijazi’s lawyers said, and they also landed him with multiple death threats. He was forced from his home and had to abandon his education after becoming the subject of a social media storm.

The judge said: “(Robinson) is responsible for this harm, some of the scars of which, particularly the impact on the claimant’s education, are likely to last for many years, if not a lifetime.”

The court also handed Hijazi an injunction against Robinson, preventing him from repeating the claims. However, Robinson said that he had been commissioned to create a film of the incident, which he pointed out had already been completed.

“It’s left for the viewer to make their mind (up) on what’s happened,” Robinson added, and he told the judge that by granting an injunction, “it will look like you are trying to prevent (the film), but the film will go out in the United States anyway, so I don’t see the point.”

Hijazi’s lawyers said they were “delighted” that the teenager had won his case.

Francesca Flood, from Burlingtons Legal, said: “It took great courage for our client, Jamal Hijazi, to pursue his libel action against such a prominent far-right and anti-Islam activist as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson.

“Jamal and his family now wish to put this matter behind them in order that they can get on with their lives.

“They do however wish to extend their gratitude to the great British public for their support and generosity, without which this legal action would not have been possible,” she added.


As cases soar, Spaniards keep their masks firmly on

As cases soar, Spaniards keep their masks firmly on
Updated 23 July 2021

As cases soar, Spaniards keep their masks firmly on

As cases soar, Spaniards keep their masks firmly on
  • Spaniards have largely opted to hang onto the face coverings that have become part of the daily lives
  • So far, just over 50 percent of Spain's 47 million people have been fully vaccinated

MADRID: It’s over 35 degrees Celsius and although masks are no longer obligatory in the streets of Spain, masks are everywhere in Madrid as people fear soaring Covid cases.
Unlike people in many other European countries who have dropped their masks, Spaniards have largely opted to hang onto the face coverings that have become part of the daily lives of billions of people over the past 18 months.
“Just in case,” says Katherin Castro, an 18-year-old who has already had one dose of the vaccine.
“Covid’s still around and even with the vaccine, there are a lot of infections.”
Walking down one of Madrid’s wide avenues, Juana Delgado, 65, has her face covered with a surgical-grade FFP2 mask which she wears every day.
“I’m in a risk category so I wouldn’t think of dropping it at the moment although I was fully vaccinated two months ago,” she said.
Despite being fully vaccinated two months ago, she says she only feels safe “at home.”
Nearly a month after Spain dropped its requirement for people to wear masks in the street, few here have done so unlike in the UK where face coverings were discarded this week, as France mulls a similar move for vaccinated people in some indoor locations.
“In the coming days, our streets and our faces will regain their normal appearance,” said Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ahead of the lifting of the requirement on June 26 — as long as a safety distance of 1.5 meters can be observed.
But with new cases of the highly-contagious Delta variant spreading rapidly, Delfin Rapado believes that “until 80 or 85 percent of the population is vaccinated, we shouldn’t be taking them off.”
So far, just over 50 percent of Spain’s 47 million people have been fully vaccinated.
Rapado, who is pushing his granddaughter in a buggy and keeps his distance while speaking, says “the government was wrong to drop mask-wearing so soon,” dismissing it as a ploy to bring back tourists.
And tourists “don’t wear masks,” complains Flor Cardena, 64, who has a shop in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas, grumbling as two bare-faced visitors walk past.
“I don’t feel safe. I’m not going to take off my mask even when the pandemic ends,” she says.
For Marie-Helene Leheley, a 57-year-old French tourist visiting Barcelona, it’s a surprise to see so many people “wearing masks all the time.”
In areas where virus cases have shot up such as the northern Basque Country, the Balearic Islands, Catalonia in the northeast or Andalusia in the south, regional leaders have urged the central government to reimpose the outdoor mask rule — but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Despite defending its decision to drop the requirement, the government has tempered its language, with Health Minister Carolina Darias saying Tuesday that masks were “still compulsory” in Spain except “in very specific cases.”
On Wednesday, when parliament passed the so-called “Smiles Law” which formally ended mandatory mask-wearing at all times, some of the government’s key allies abstained and the right-wing voted against.
Oscar Zurriaga, deputy head of the Spanish Epidemiology Society, believes mask-wearing in the open air should never have been made compulsory.
“In well-ventilated outdoor areas where there aren’t big groups of people and where the safety distance can be maintained, it’s never been necessary,” he said.
But he said “the subliminal message” sent through dropping the use of masks is significant in that it causes people to drop other health precautious such as keeping the safety distance.