Amnesty calls for release of Iranian rights activist

Amnesty calls for release of Iranian rights activist
Narges Mohammadi, vice president of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders in Iran, was detained on Nov. 16, 2021 in Karaj, Iran. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 November 2021

Amnesty calls for release of Iranian rights activist

Amnesty calls for release of Iranian rights activist
  • Narges Mohammadi faces 80 lashes, years behind bars for role in 2019 protests
  • Amnesty slams “crisis of systemic impunity in Iran for crimes under international law”

LONDON: Amnesty International has called on Iran to release a human rights activist arrested by security services during a memorial service.

Narges Mohammadi, vice president of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders in Iran, was detained on Nov. 16 in Karaj, capital of Alborz province, while attending a ceremony for Ebrahim Ketabdar, who was killed by security forces during nationwide protests in November 2019. 

Mohammadi was reportedly beaten by officers from the Intelligence Ministry before being transferred to Evin prison.

She had been sentenced in May by a court in Tehran to two and a half years in prison and 80 lashes, as well as receiving two fines, for a number of charges including “spreading propaganda against the system,” for her role in the November 2019 protests. She was summoned to begin her sentence in September but failed to turn up in protest.

“Narges Mohammadi is a prisoner of conscience targeted solely for her peaceful human rights activities and is now at imminent risk of receiving 80 lashes,” said Amnesty’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Heba Morayef.

“We call on the Iranian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her, quash her unjust sentence and ensure she is protected from all forms of torture and other ill-treatment, including floggings,” Morayef added.

“To arrest a human rights defender for calling for truth and justice on the two-year anniversary of the November 2019 protests, where hundreds of men, women and children were killed by Iranian security forces, is a callous act — and another reminder of the crisis of systemic impunity in Iran for crimes under international law.

“For far too long, the Iranian authorities have subjected Narges Mohammadi to arbitrary detentions, unjust prosecutions, torture and other ill-treatment for her human rights work.

“Amnesty International urges the international community, including the UN and the EU, to speak out about her case and put the unbridled repression of Iranian human rights defenders into scalpel-sharp focus.”

Mohammadi was arrested in May 2015 and sentenced to 16 years in prison for her human rights work, but was released in October 2020 following international pressure.


UN envoy praises ‘potential’ of Syria prisoner amnesty

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

UN envoy praises ‘potential’ of Syria prisoner amnesty

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
  • The regime’s Justice Ministry has said hundreds of inmates had been released, and a military official, Ahmad Touzan, told local media this week that the amnesty would cover thousands, including those who are wanted but not detained

DAMASCUS: UN special envoy Geir Pedersen has welcomed a general amnesty aimed at freeing thousands of Syrians convicted on terrorism charges.
President Bashar Assad has decreed several amnesties during the country’s devastating 11-year war, but the latest in April was the most comprehensive related to terrorism charges since the conflict began, rights activists said.
Pedersen, speaking to reporters in Damascus after a meeting with the regime’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, said he had been briefed “in quite some detail” on the latest measure.
“I am very much looking forward to being kept informed on the progress on the implementation for that amnesty,” Pedersen said before talks on a new constitution for Syria are to resume in Geneva.
“That amnesty has potential, and we are looking forward to see how it develops,” Pedersen said.
The regime’s Justice Ministry has said hundreds of inmates had been released, and a military official, Ahmad Touzan, told local media this week that the amnesty would cover thousands, including those who are wanted but not detained.
Touzan refused to disclose the number of inmates freed, saying “numbers are changing by the hour.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which relies on a large network of sources inside Syria, says around 1,142 inmates have so far been released across the country under the amnesty, with hundreds more expected.
In the next few days Syria’s warring parties are to hold the latest round of constitutional talks in Switzerland, under a process that began in 2019.
It is hoped the talks can pave the way toward a broader political process.
Pedersen said he is “hopeful that this will be a positive meeting that can help bring us forward so that we can start to see... some confidence building measures,” Pedersen said.
Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011 after the violent repression of protests demanding regime change.
The war has left around half a million people dead and displaced millions.
Throughout the war, the UN has been striving to nurture a political resolution.


Four killed as Jordanian army thwarts drug smuggling attempt from Syria

Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

Four killed as Jordanian army thwarts drug smuggling attempt from Syria

Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
  • Hezbollah resorting to narcotics trade to secure funding after US sanctions hit Iran

AMMAN: The Jordanian army announced it had killed four people who attempted to smuggle “large amounts” of drugs into the country from Syria.

A source from the Jordanian Armed Forces said that troops on Jordan’s eastern borders with Syria opened fire on people who attempted to infiltrate the kingdom, killing four of them and injuring others.

The source said that the infiltrators were forced to retreat into Syrian territory.

“After inspecting the area, 181 palm-sized sheets of hashish, 637,000 Captagon narcotic pills, and 39,600 tramadol pills were found and handed over to the concerned authorities,” the source told Arab News.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London said that six people were injured in the operation with some of them in a critical condition.

It said that one of those killed by the Jordanian army was the leader of a group that works in the narcotics industry in southern Syria and had “strong” ties with Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah.

The operation on Sunday was the latest since Jordan announced a crackdown on drug smuggling from Syria and a change in rules of engagement to curb what it described as a “dramatic increase” in drug trafficking from its neighbor.

Jordan has warned that Syria was becoming a narco-state, posing cross-border threats to Jordan, the region, and the rest of the world.

The JAF has recently said that a total of 361 smuggling attempts from Syria were foiled in 2021, leading to the seizure of about 15.5 million pills of narcotics of different types.

It foiled more than 130 smuggling attempts from Syria in 2020 and seized about 132 million Captagon pills and more than 15,000 sheets of hashish.

Describing the figures as “dramatically high,” a military source, who requested anonymity, told Arab News that “Illicit drug cultivation and manufacture has become a growing industry in Syria.”

According to the Syrian news website Enab Baladi, drug smuggling operations are most active in the southern regions of Daraa and Al-Suwayda.

Most of the smuggling routes are controlled by armed Bedouin tribes that have affiliations inside Jordan, the news website quoted sources as saying.

Experts say the strong presence of the militant organization Hezbollah in Syria and the expansion of its drug trafficking operations are the main reasons for the war-torn country becoming a narco-state and for the increase of drug smuggling into Jordan, Arab Gulf states, and Europe.

In recent remarks to Arab News, Fayez Dweiri, a retired major general and military analyst, said Hezbollah had resorted to the narcotics trade to secure funding after the US sanctions on Iran.

“There is an established illicit drugs industry for Hezbollah in Beirut’s Dahieh Al-Janubiya and in the Shiite stronghold of Baalbek,” he said.

Hezbollah “has relocated some of its drug factories to Aleppo and other Syrian regime-controlled regions,” Dweiri said.

“The US sanctions on Iran have hit Hezbollah hard, obliging Tehran’s most funded proxy to look for other sources of revenues,” he said.

According to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hezbollah has significantly expanded and institutionalized its drug trafficking enterprises, which now generate more money than its other funding streams.

The think tank said that Hezbollah’s global narcotics industry began in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in the 1970s, using well-established smuggling routes across the Israel-Lebanon border.

 


Chief of Yemen’s Presidential Council backs extending UN-brokered truce

Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

Chief of Yemen’s Presidential Council backs extending UN-brokered truce

Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
  • Protesters block road out of Taiz to highlight relentless Houthi siege

AL-MUKALLA: The president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, vowed on Saturday to support current efforts by international mediators to extend the UN-brokered truce, fight corruption and unify military and security units.  

In a televised speech on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of Unification Day, Al-Alimi said the council supports the UN and US Yemen envoy’s continuing activities to renew the truce, which is set to expire on June 2. He called upon the world to pressure the Houthis to stop breaking the truce and implement its provisions, including lifting their siege of Taiz city.

Yemenis fill their jerrycans with water from a well at a makeshift camp for displaced people in the province of Hodeidah. (AFP)

“In the name of members of the Leadership Council, we affirm our continuing support to the tireless efforts of the UN and US envoys to extend the humanitarian truce,” Al-Alimi said, noting that the truce would pave the way for peace, save lives and rescue the country from starvation.

He stressed that the 2021 Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen would be the cornerstone of plans to achieve peace in Yemen.

“We also renew our adherence to the initiative of the brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, considering it a just basis for a comprehensive peace process.”

Al-Alimi came to power in April when Yemen’s former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ceded authority to the eight-man Presidential Leadership Council that would run the country and start peace talks with the Houthis.

On Saturday, the new president pledged to address economic problems in Aden and the other provinces, fight corruption, boost revenues and bring together different armed groups under the council’s command based on the Riyadh Agreement.

“We will firmly move forward to unify the military and security establishment.”

The truce that came into effect on April 2 has largely reduced violence and deaths across the country, despite hundreds of violations by the Houthis and allowed commercial flights to leave Sanaa airport as at least a dozen fuel ships entered Hodeidah port.

The Yemen president’s pledge to support the renewal of the truce came as the Yemeni government and the Houthis are preparing to participate in discussions on opening roads in Taiz and the other provinces.

Houthi media said on Sunday that their delegation left Sanaa for the Jordanian capital on a UN plane.

A government official told Arab News on Saturday that their negotiators were told to get ready to travel to Amman for the meeting.  

In the besieged city of Taiz, dozens of people on Sunday arranged a rare protest near a blocked road that links with Hodeidah province, west of the city, to draw attention to the Houthi siege.

The posters stood in a line on the road, carrying posters that called for ending the Houthi assault.

“Taiz has paid a heavy humanitarian bill due to the siege of the Houthi militia,” read one of the posters.

The Houthis have been besieging the city of Taiz since 2015 to force government troops that defend the city to surrender.


Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict
Updated 22 May 2022

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict
  • Only 20 percent of damaged housing repaired since end of fighting in 2021

GAZA CITY: Delayed rebuilding efforts in Gaza have frustrated locals, with many still living in temporary accomodation a year after the end of fierce fighting.

Ayman Dahman has lived with his family for more than a year in a rented house after his home was destroyed during the Palestinian-Israel conflict in May last year.

Dahman does not know when his old apartment — which he is still paying installments on — will be reconstructed.

The Gaza Strip has witnessed four conflicts, the last of which was in May 2021. The fighting that year lasted for 11 days, during which about 1,700 housing units were completely destroyed.

“I bought my apartment some years before the war, and I still pay the installments from my monthly salary. Now I live with my wife and two daughters and two sons in an apartment I rented after the war; we don’t know when we will return to our home again,” Dahman said.

Dahman and his family used to live in a five-storey building inhabited by 10 families, in the north of Gaza City.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees paid rent allowance to 154 Palestinian families whose homes were completely demolished during the war, including the Dahman family.

Naji Sarhan, undersecretary at the Ministry of Public Works in Gaza, said that no more than 20 percent of the damaged properties have been reconstructed since the end of the war last year.

“What has been accomplished and what is underway in the housing sector so far does not exceed 20 percent of the completely destroyed houses, and 70 percent of the partially damaged houses,” Sarhan said at a press conference in Gaza on Sunday.

He added: “There are no commitments for the reconstruction of the high-rise and multi-storey residential buildings that were bombed and demolished by the occupation during the aggression of last May.”

Last year, Egypt and Qatar pledged $1 billion to rebuild the post-war Gaza Strip.

“Many friendly countries began pledging to rebuild Gaza after the aggression on the city last year, led by Egypt with a grant of $500 million, and Qatar with a grant of $500 million, in addition to some sporadic grants of limited amounts provided by countries and institutions,” Sarhan said.

Egypt also began construction on Gaza’s 1.8-kilometer-long Corniche Street, three residential communities comprising 117 buildings with a total of more than 2,500 housing units, in addition to a construction plan for a bridge in the Shujaiya area, and an open tunnel in the Saraya neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Qatar has started construction of 200 housing units, in addition to the restoration of 11 residential buildings that were partially damaged. It is also repairing a number of destroyed street intersections with a pledge to continue the reconstruction process, Sarhan said.

Fears over new rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas have mounted amid tensions over preparations by Israelis to conduct a flag march on May 29 in Jerusalem. A similar move led to the outbreak of violence last year.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, said during a conference held in Gaza: “We are following the threats to storm the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 29, or organize a march of flags.

“I warn the enemy against committing such crimes and such steps.”

Palestinians in Gaza are divided over support for a new confrontation.

Supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and some supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine express a willingness to confront Israel over flag marches. Others fear that any conflict would only add to the economic woes of the Gaza Strip.


Loggerhead turtles freed in Tunisia with tracking monitor

Scientists carry sea turtles before releasing them into the sea on May 21, 2022, in the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, Tunis.
Scientists carry sea turtles before releasing them into the sea on May 21, 2022, in the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, Tunis.
Updated 22 May 2022

Loggerhead turtles freed in Tunisia with tracking monitor

Scientists carry sea turtles before releasing them into the sea on May 21, 2022, in the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, Tunis.
  • Some 35 turtles have been cared for at the center in the past year as part of the Mediterranean-wide Life Med Turtle project

SFAX, Tunisia: Three rescued loggerhead turtles were released into the Mediterranean off Tunisia on Sunday, one with a tracking beacon glued to its shell to help researchers better protect the threatened species.
The main risks to sea turtles in Tunisia are linked to fisheries, since they become entangled in nets — including the three that were released into the wild.
The migratory species, which can live to as old as 45, are listed as “vulnerable” in the Red List of threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

A scientist checks a sea turtle before releasing it into the sea on May 21, 2022, in the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, about 270km southeast of the capital Tunis. (AFP)

The turtles’ release was watched by a crowd of some 50 people, many of them children, carried out by a specialized care center in Tunisia’s eastern port of Sfax.
Some 35 turtles have been cared for at the center in the past year as part of the Mediterranean-wide Life Med Turtle project.
Environmental activists helped carry the heavy turtles down the beach, before the animals crawled the final distance toward the sea.
All of them were tagged, but one of them also had a phone-sized tracking beacon glued to its hard shell, which will track its progress as it moves across the sea.

A scientist checks an electronic tag placed on the shell of a sea turtle before releasing it into the sea on May 21, 2022, in the Tunisian coastal city of Sfax, about 270km southeast of the capital Tunis. (AFP)

“This beacon, given to us by the University of Primorska in Slovenia, will allow us to follow this turtle in its movements,” said Imed Jribi, a science professor from the University of Sfax and a coordinator of the Life Med Turtle project.
“Identifying wintering, grazing and migration routes plays an important role in protecting this endangered species,” Jribi said.
As well as loggerhead turtles, two other turtle species are found in the Mediterranean, the green and leatherback turtle.