HRW: New sentence for rights campaigner spotlights Tehran’s assault on civil society

HRW: New sentence for rights campaigner spotlights Tehran’s assault on civil society
Narges Mohammadi was jailed for 6 years and sentenced to 74 lashes after a 5-minute court hearing. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 January 2022

HRW: New sentence for rights campaigner spotlights Tehran’s assault on civil society

HRW: New sentence for rights campaigner spotlights Tehran’s assault on civil society
  • Narges Mohammadi was sentenced to 6 years behind bars and 74 lashes after a 5-minute court hearing
  • Rights organization says ‘unaccountable and deeply repressive state’ responsible for struggles of Iranian residents

LONDON: Human Rights Watch has slammed Tehran for leveling a new charge against a human rights defender just a year after she was released from jail, arguing that it “demonstrates Iranian authorities’ commitment to crush any grassroots human rights efforts.”

Narges Mohammadi, a rights defender, was sentenced to six years behind bars earlier this month for “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” and to two years in prison and 74 lashes for “acting against national security and disrupting public order,” her husband told HRW.

The trial, he said, was held behind closed doors — and lasted no more than five minutes.

Tara Sepehri Far, senior Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Iranian authorities’ cruel detention and prosecution of Narges Mohammadi only one year after she was released from an earlier prison term and then piling on more unfair prison sentences are clearly intended to crush her into silence at all costs.”

She continued: “People like Narges Mohammadi are the ones who work to bring Iranian civil society together. Governments that are engaging diplomatically with Iran should make sure to press the government to stop its relentless crackdown against human rights defenders.”

Iran has long been criticized for its treatment of Iranians who are perceived to have voiced discontent with the regime or who advocate for any change, big or small.

In early January, Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abdin died of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while serving a six-year sentence in Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

At the time, Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders placed the blame for his death squarely at the feet of the Iranian government.

He “had been unjustly sentenced to six years in prison and was in detention in hospital, ill with COVID-19 and deprived of the necessary care,” said the group, adding: “RSF blames the regime’s authorities for his death.” 

HRW said sentences for people like Mohammadi and the death of those like Abdin are part of a pattern of repression that penetrates to the core of the Iranian model of governance.

The group said: “At the center of Iranian residents’ struggles is an unaccountable and deeply repressive state. Iranian authorities ignore or punish peaceful dissent and have launched a sustained crackdown on civil society, from labor activists, lawyers and human rights defenders to journalists and even former senior political leaders.”


Houthi mines have killed 372 people since mid-2019: Report

A member of Yemen's pro-government forces searches for land mines near al-Jawba frontline in the village of Hays, Hodeida. (AFP)
A member of Yemen's pro-government forces searches for land mines near al-Jawba frontline in the village of Hays, Hodeida. (AFP)
Updated 19 sec ago

Houthi mines have killed 372 people since mid-2019: Report

A member of Yemen's pro-government forces searches for land mines near al-Jawba frontline in the village of Hays, Hodeida. (AFP)
  • Yemenis say that the Houthis have laid mines on roads and around hospitals, schools and farms, and have planted more naval mines in the Red Sea

AL-MUKALLA: Tens of thousands of land mines planted by the Iran-backed Houthis across Yemen have killed 372 people and wounded 754 more since mid-2019, the Yemeni Landmine Monitor said.

The latest victim of unexploded ordnance was a policeman, Mohammed Aklan, who was fatally wounded this week after stepping on a mine outside his home on the outskirts of the western city of Hodeidah, the organization said.

Also this week, a civilian was killed in a mine blast as he was collecting plastic bottles in the eastern section of Hodeidah.

Yemen’s Hodeidah province is plagued with undetected land mines. The Houthis planted thousands of mines in the province in 2017 and 2018 to obstruct a military offensive by government troops.

The new statistics on land mine victims in Yemen comes as activists, diplomats, ministers and members of the public in Yemen launched an online campaign to draw attention to the use of land mines by the Houthis, demanding that the militia hand over maps that show the locations of the devices.

Yemenis say that the Houthis have laid mines on roads and around hospitals, schools and farms, and have planted more naval mines in the Red Sea, calling upon the world, mainly international mediators, to order the militia to hand over maps during the UN-brokered truce.

“The colossal number of land mines planted by Houthis in Yemen has been unconscionable and will take years to discover and dismantle. To help deter more innocent people and wildlife from being murdered or maimed, Houthis should immediately #HandInTheMaps so they can be detected,” the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, D.C. tweeted.

Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s information minister, said that the extensive use of land mines by the militia has turned Yemen into the most mine-saturated area in the world since the Second World War, noting that displaced people cannot return to their homes and farms in liberated areas due to the presence of mines.

“The international community, UN and the UN envoy are required to pressure the Houthi militia to stop manufacturing and planting mines of all kinds, provide maps of minefields, support government demining programs, rehabilitate the injured and reintegrate them into society,” Al-Eryani tweeted.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Al-Kumaim, a Yemeni military analyst, told Arab News that it is unlikely the Houthis will respond positively to the campaign, and will continue their mine program. “When tens of land mines are removed from a location during the day, the Houthis sneak into the same place to plant them again. Those maps should be taken from the Houthis by force,” he said.


Why positive change in Middle East starts with bringing women into the work force

Why positive change in Middle East starts with bringing women into the work force
Updated 4 min 20 sec ago

Why positive change in Middle East starts with bringing women into the work force

Why positive change in Middle East starts with bringing women into the work force
  • Despite being highly educated, Arab women’s participation in the labor force is the lowest in the world
  • Fixing this deficit is will make regional companies and countries more successful and more competitive

DUBAI: Advancing the role of women in society and the economy is a key driver for change in any country or region, particularly the Middle East.

According to a 2020 study by management consulting firm McKinsey and Co., “increased female participation in professional and technical jobs can turbo-charge economic growth in a region that will be significantly impacted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution — making their participation all the more critical.”

McKinsey emphasized four indicators that correlated with women’s participation in professional and technical jobs: Education, financial inclusion, digital inclusion, and legal protection.

A panel of experts at the Arab Women Forum, held in Dubai on Tuesday, examined what the workplace of tomorrow may look like for women. (AN Photo/Zubiya Shaikh)

For the Middle East, high inequalities in these metrics persisted, most notably in legal protection and financial inclusion — with a significant number of women remaining unbanked.

The goal, the consulting firm said, was to introduce new legal frameworks as an important enabler for ending the gender-based inequalities endemic to the Middle East.

On a more positive note, McKinsey predicted that the share of women in professional and technical jobs was set to more than double by 2030. Crucial, then, was the need to capture this opportunity to bring the Middle East’s women into parity with their peers around the world.

A panel of experts at the Arab Women Forum, held in Dubai on Tuesday, examined what the workplace of tomorrow may look like for women, and asked how companies could attract and retain female talent.

Speakers included Christine Harb, vice president of marketing at Visa Inc.; Dr. Celeste Cecilia Moles Lo Turco, director for PwC Middle East in the environmental, social, and corporate governance, and sustainability fields; Khaled Al-Maeena, chairman of Al-Bilad Media and Publishing and managing partner of Quartz Communications; Dr. Maliha Hashmi, World Economic Forum Global Future Council expert and V20 delegate of the G20; and Anand Vengurlekar, a strategic innovation adviser.

Harb said there were two main challenges facing women in the workplace today. “One is female representation in C-level positions. If we look at the Middle East and North Africa region, we still have a low representation of women in board rooms and C-level positions and, even if companies today are promoting diversity and inclusion, the representation in the region is still very low across industries and the region in general,” she told Arab News ahead of the event.

More women occupy C-level roles now than at any time in the past 10 years — but to address their persistent underrepresentation at all levels, the workplace of the future must provide flexibility and versatility for women, and they must be seen in the top-level roles, Harb added.

“How can women make sure they are sponsored and supported? Companies in the region also need to promote them to (C-suite) roles,” she said.

The second challenge, Harb noted, was the alignment of what organizations say and how they act toward their female employees.

“Many companies today are saying the right things, but there is no psychological safety, as such, for women to feel they can benefit from the flexible working hours or from the conditions that are being put in place that will allow them to find their balance as women,” she added.

She pointed out that some of the challenges stemmed from cultural limitations. “Historically, in the Middle East, most of these roles have been occupied by men.”

And to undo this, a concerted effort had to be made within organizations before a role opened up.

“When we look at the evolution, in the succession planning of these organizations, women were not really prepped to take on (high-level) roles. It’s not just the promotion, but it is about making sure the woman is equipped to be able to take over,” Harb said.


Reformists surge in Lebanon polls

Reformists surge in Lebanon polls
Updated 17 May 2022

Reformists surge in Lebanon polls

Reformists surge in Lebanon polls
  • The outcome signaled a shift in a country devastated by an ongoing financial crisis and soaring poverty
  • The new house is expected to elect a new speaker amid the absence of parliamentary consensus to reelect standing speaker Nabih Berri

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and its allies lost their parliamentary majority while independents achieved surprise breakthroughs, final elections results showed Tuesday.

The results indicate a fragmented and polarized parliament divided between pro- and anti-Hezbollah lawmakers who will likely find it difficult to work together.

The outcome signaled a shift in a country devastated by an ongoing financial crisis and soaring poverty.

New reformist faces who entered the legislative race on the values of a 2019 anti-establishment uprising made a stronger showing than many had predicted.

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Al-Bukhari tweeted that the result “proves the inevitability that the logic of the state will win against the absurd excesses of the statelet disrupting political life and stability in Lebanon.”

In the words of a political observer, “neither Hezbollah nor the Free Patriotic Movement is controlling parliament.”

On May 22, the term of the new parliament begins and Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet will become a caretaker government.

The new house is expected to elect a new speaker amid the absence of parliamentary consensus to reelect standing speaker Nabih Berri, who has held the position since 1992.

Beirut witnessed on Tuesday morning the burning of a “Revolution Fist” that was set up in the Martyrs’ Square as a symbol of popular protest against the ruling class.

Moreover, the exchange rate of the US dollar against the Lebanese pound on the black market surpassed 30,000 Lebanese pounds for the first time after the elections.

The presidential palace announced that President Michel Aoun was transferred to Hotel-Dieu de France hospital in Beirut “to undergo some medical tests and X-rays.” They reassured the public that Aoun “will leave the hospital in the next few hours when the tests are done.”

The elected parliament does not resemble any of the six previously elected parliaments since the Taif Agreement in 1989. According to political observers, “it reflects the political turmoil the country is going through.”

The loss of several veteran political figures was remarkable in the election. Minister of Information Ziad Makkari said that those forces and figures “should reconsider the work they’ve done for their people.”

He added: “We hope that the forces of change that have reached the parliament seriously contribute to the rise of the country because it can’t endure any longer.”

Remarkably, Hezbollah and its allies won a total of 59 seats out of 128. The group’s allies include the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Tachnag party and Al-Ahbash Association, along with Jihad Al-Samad, Farid Al-Khazen and Hassan Mourad.

The Amal Movement, headed by Nabih Berri, won 15 Shiite seats, most of which are occupied by current deputies, including two who were charged in the Beirut port explosion case.

Hezbollah won 13 Shiite seats, including current deputies and two new ones.

One Shiite and two Sunni deputies allied with Hezbollah also won.

The Lebanese Forces won 20 seats, including one Sunni deputy who was running on a list supported by the party.

The Free Patriotic Movement won 18 seats.

The Progressive Socialist Party, headed by Walid Jumblatt, won nine seats.

The Lebanese Phalangist Party won five seats, including an Armenian deputy.

The Independence Movement won two seats.

The Marada Movement won two seats, while Al-Ahbash won two seats — one in Beirut and one in Tripoli.

The Islamic Group won one seat.

Camille Dory Chamoun from the National Liberal Party won one seat. The party announced on Tuesday that “they will be part of the bloc that includes the Lebanese Forces and their allies.”

The elections also witnessed the victories — mostly in the north — of six former members of the Future Movement who left the party following former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s decision to suspend his political activity.

Eleven independent candidates won, including some fiercely opposed to Hezbollah, such as Achraf Rifi in Tripoli and Fouad Makhzoumi in Beirut.

Fifteen deputies from civil society and the 2019 revolution won, including doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, businessmen and academicians. Their victory breaks the monopoly of the conventional political parties and reflects voters’ revolt against their traditional leaders.

The winners include Rami Fanj, candidate for the Sunni seat in Tripoli. He ousted deputy Faisal Karami, who comes from a veteran political family.

Eight out of 155 women candidates were able to break the parliament’s overwhelming male dominance.

Three of these female winners were already deputies, including Inaya Ezzedine from the Amal Movement, Paula Yaacoubian, who resigned amid the 17 October revolution, and Sethrida Geagea of the Lebanese Forces.

The remaining women deputies are Nada Boustani, former minister of energy affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement, Ghada Ayoub from the Lebanese Forces and Cynthia Zarazir, Najat Saliba and Halima Kaakour from the civil society movement.


Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem

Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem
Updated 17 May 2022

Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem

Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem
  • Return of Israeli attack helicopters mooted as violent clashes intensify

RAMALLAH: More than 70 Palestinians were wounded as Israeli forces attacked a funeral in East Jerusalem late on Monday. 

The unrest unfolded as Palestinians were burying Walid Al-Sharif, 23, who died on Saturday of wounds suffered during clashes last month at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The violence spread to the West Bank with Israeli forces arresting 16 Palestinians and a further 35 from East Jerusalem.

The attack on Al-Sharif’s funeral was similar to the brutal crackdown by Israeli police on the May 14 funeral of Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot on May 11 by Israeli soldiers without any provocation.

Meanwhile, dozens of students and civilians suffered after inhaling tear gas in Al-Aroub refugee camp, north of Hebron, following clashes with the Israeli army. The violence erupted as school students conducted a march in memory of a Palestinian who was killed by the Israeli military. The injured were treated at the site.

Clashes also erupted between school students and Israeli soldiers in the south of ​​Hebron city, near the Ibrahimi Mosque. Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers who lobbed tear gas canisters at the students, leaving several injured.

Israeli sources said the Israeli army is considering using combat helicopters during its operations in the occupied West Bank. This escalation follows the killing of an Israeli officer from a special unit during an armed clash with Palestinian resistance fighters in Jenin on May 14.

The Israeli army deployed combat helicopters during the second Palestinian Intifada from 2000 to 2004. The vehicles were occasionally flown over Palestinian territories during intense clashes with militants in the West Bank.

Israeli sources stated that “the strategy proposed by the Israeli security services, and adopted by the political leadership, is to expand arrests and raids, mainly in Jenin, to produce and obtain more intelligence and arrest more wanted persons.”

Ibrahim Melhem, the spokesperson for the Palestinian government, told Arab News: “The absence of deterrent punishment and the constant feeling of impunity (enjoyed) by the Israeli occupation drives it to persist and continue this policy of escalating brutal and racist violence against the Palestinian people.

“The international resolutions calling for imposing sanctions on Israel must be activated because if sanctions are not imposed, and no measures are taken, it will be considered the green light for Israel to commit more crimes against the Palestinians.”

Benny Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, said during his speech at a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel, that the recent Palestinian attacks in Israel are interlinked and inspired by the incitement from organizations in the region. “This incitement does not receive sufficient condemnation from the world and the leaders of the region.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday that his directives are clear about targeting Palestinian militants “wherever they are, and with all kinds of weapons.”

He added: “We fully support the army and police in their efforts to target any militant, whether in Jerusalem, the West Bank, or anywhere else in the country, who raises his hand on any settler or soldier from the army.”

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassim said Bennett, by allowing his army to target Palestinians with all means, has shown that “he intends to use the systematic terrorist policy in dealing with our people.”

Qassim said these statements expose how the occupying forces intend to escalate their aggression, indicating that Hamas will respond to the occupation by escalating the act of resistance in all its forms and continuing the revolution in all areas of the struggle.

Meanwhile, Bennett welcomed a recent decision to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that the Palestinians and most of the international community view as illegal.

During a visit to the settlement of Elkana, he depicted the expansion of settlements as a response to recent Palestinian violence. 

Most of the international community, including the White House, view the settlements as an obstacle to peace because they shrink and divide territory where an independent Palestinian state would be established.


Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites

Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites
Updated 17 May 2022

Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites

Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites
  • Centrifuges are used to purify uranium for civilian projects or, at higher levels, to make bomb fuel
  • "Iran is making an effort to complete the manufacturing and installation of 1,000 additional advanced IR6 centrifuges in its nuclear facilities," Defence Minister Benny Gantz said

HERZLIYA, Israel: Iran is working on advanced uranium centrifuges at new underground sites being built near its Natanz nuclear plant, Israel’s defense minister said on Tuesday, giving figures that appeared to go beyond those published by a UN watchdog.
Centrifuges are used to purify uranium for civilian projects or, at higher levels, to make bomb fuel. Iranian progress in the field is being watched by world powers trying to resurrect a nuclear deal with Tehran, which denies having military designs.
“Iran is making an effort to complete the manufacturing and installation of 1,000 additional advanced IR6 centrifuges in its nuclear facilities, including new facilities being built at underground sites abutting Natanz,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a speech at Reichman University near Tel Aviv.
A March 3 report by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had installed or planned to install a total of three IR6 cascades, amounting to around 660 machines.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said last month that Iran had set up a new underground Natanz workshop for making centrifuge parts, an apparent precaution against attacks.
In his remarks, Gantz alluded to Israel’s long-standing threat to take military action if it deems diplomacy is at a dead end to deny its arch-enemy the means to make nuclear weapons.
“The cost of such a future war, which we hope will not happen, can be prevented or reduced” with tougher negotiations by world powers, he said.
Ram Ben-Barak, head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, confirmed Israeli media reports on Tuesday that Israel’s air force, as part of a scheduled one-month military exercise, would be simulating an attack on Iran.
“This exercise was planned long ago,” Ben-Barak told Reshet Bet Radio. “We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”