Over 100 Sudanese detainees, including high-profile politicians, start hunger strike

Over 100 Sudanese detainees, including high-profile politicians, start hunger strike
The coup prompted mass protests during which 81 people have been killed, most recently two on Monday, and more than 2,000 injured, according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors. (AFP)
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Updated 16 February 2022

Over 100 Sudanese detainees, including high-profile politicians, start hunger strike

Over 100 Sudanese detainees, including high-profile politicians, start hunger strike
  • Two killed in crackdown on Monday’s anti-coup protests as thousands rallied in Khartoum, Omdurman, Port Sudan and Darfur

KHARTOUM: More than 100 Sudanese detainees, including high-profile politicians, began a hunger strike on Tuesday, allied lawyers and doctors said.

The detainees are part of the protest movement against an Oct. 25 army coup that ended a civilian-military power-sharing arrangement that followed the overthrow of long-ruling autocrat President Omar Bashir in 2019.

The coup prompted mass protests during which 81 people have been killed, most recently two on Monday, and more than 2,000 injured, according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors.

“More than 100 unlawful detainees in Soba prison entered today in an open hunger strike due to their unjustified and illegal detention,” the Defense Committee for the Unlawfully Detained and Martyrs of Arbitrary Killings said in a statement.

The group said separately that one suspect in the killing of a police brigadier general had been tortured while another was in solitary confinement.

Civilian politicians Khalid Omer Yousif and Wagdi Salih were taking part in the hunger strike, said Abdelqayom Awad, a member of Yousif’s Sudanese Congress Party.

Along with former Sovereign Council member Mohamed Al-Faki Suleiman who was arrested on Sunday, the men face corruption charges apparently stemming from their work on a taskforce dismantling the network of Bashir.

The Sovereign Council was a body of civilian politicians and military men set up after Bashir’s overthrow to lead a transition to democracy.

It was dissolved after the October coup, setting back those plans.

Military leaders say the coup was necessary due to political infighting and for the country’s security, but they say they are still committed to elections in mid-2023.

Military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan said in an interview on Saturday he was not involved in the arrests of Yousif and Salih — who were also detained temporarily in the coup — but that their work on the committee had diverged from its aims.

On Monday, thousands rallied in the capital Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman, while protests also took place in the eastern city of Port Sudan and in the western Darfur region, according to witnesses.

In Khartoum, protests had begun with crowds waving national flags and carrying red balloons, as the rallies coincided with Valentine’s Day.

“Today is the nation’s love day,” one banner read.

Some shouted slogans demanding the authorities release activists who had been arrested, while others carried pictures of protesters killed.

“We are demanding the release of resistance committee members and politicians who were unjustly arrested, and some of whom are facing fabricated charges,” protester Khaled Mohamed said.

But as crowds tried to approach the presidential palace, security forces fired volleys of tear gas canisters.

One protester was killed after he was shot in “the neck and chest by live rounds by coup forces” in Khartoum, the independent Central Committee of Sudan Doctors said.

Another protester was later killed in Omdurman after being struck by “live bullets to the left shoulder which penetrated the chest,” the committee said.

Sudanese police said in a statement that at least 102 police were “severely wounded” while one suffered “a gunshot to the foot.”

It also noted that protesters have “smashed the front” of the parliament building, set a fire near an adjacent gas station, and damaged several vehicles and a mosque in Omdurman.

Damage was also reported to several parts of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in the city, and items belonging to security guards were looted, it said, adding that police only “exercised the reasonable legitimate force” in response.

The authorities have also arrested scores of activists accused of belonging to the “resistance committees” that have been instrumental in organizing protests.

“The number of people detained arbitrarily and without criminal charges has exceeded 100,” the Sudanese Professionals Association said Monday.

On Sunday, authorities arrested Mohamed Al-Fekki, a civilian former member of the ruling Sovereign Council, which led the country under the now stalled 2019 power-sharing agreement.

Last week, authorities arrested ex-minister Khaled Omar Youssef and Wagdi Saleh, the spokesman of Sudan’s main civilian bloc, the Forces for Freedom and Change.

Those arrests came just a day after they joined an FFC delegation for talks with UN special representative Volker Perthes, as part of efforts to resolve Sudan’s deepening crisis.

The October military power grab, the latest coup in Sudan since its independence, has sparked widespread international condemnation and punitive measures — but authorities have shown little inclination to compromise.


Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone
Updated 13 sec ago

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone

Satellite photos: Damage at Iran military site hit by drone
  • Video taken of the attack showed an explosion at the site after anti-aircraft fire targeted the drones, likely from one of the drones reaching the building’s roof. Iran’s military has claimed shooting down two other drones before they reached the site

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press on Friday showed damage done to what Iran describes as a military workshop targeted by Israeli drones, the latest such assault amid a shadow war between the two countries.
While Iran has offered no explanation yet of what the workshop manufactured, the drone attack threatened to again raise tensions in the region. Already, worries have grown over Tehran enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, with a top UN nuclear official warning the regime had enough fuel to build “several” atomic bombs if it chooses.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose earlier tenure as premier saw escalating attacks targeting Iran, has returned to office and reiterated that he views Tehran as his country’s top security threat. With State Department spokesperson Ned Price now declaring Iran has “killed” the opportunity to return to its nuclear deal with world powers, it remains unclear what diplomacy immediately could ease tensions between Tehran and the West.
Cloudy weather had prevented satellite pictures of the site of the workshop since it came under attack by what Iran described as bomb-carrying quadcopters on the night of Jan. 28. Quadcopters, which get their name from having four rotors, typically operate from short ranges by remote control.
Video taken of the attack showed an explosion at the site after anti-aircraft fire targeted the drones, likely from one of the drones reaching the building’s roof. Iran’s military has claimed shooting down two other drones before they reached the site.
Images taken on Thursday by Planet Labs PBC showed the workshop in Isfahan, a central Iranian city some 350 km south of Tehran.
An AP analysis of the image, compared to earlier images of the workshop, showed damage to the structure’s roof. That damage corresponded to footage aired by Iranian state television immediately after the attack that showed at least two holes in the building’s roof.
The Iranian state TV footage, as well as satellite photos, suggest the building’s roof also may have been built with so-called “slat armor.”
The structure resembles a cage built around roofs or armored vehicles to stop direct detonation from rockets, missiles or bomb-carrying drones against a target.
Installation of such protection at the workshop suggests Iran believed it could be a drone target.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in July claimed to have broken up a plot to target sensitive sites around Isfahan.
A segment aired on Iranian state TV in October included purported confessions by alleged members of Komala, a Kurdish opposition party that is exiled from Iran and now lives in Iraq, that they planned to target a military aerospace facility in Isfahan after being trained by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.
It remains unclear whether the military workshop targeted in the drone attack was that aerospace facility.
Iran’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the satellite images and other questions about the workshop.
The attack comes Iran’s theocratic government faces challenges both at home and abroad.
Nationwide protests have shaken the country since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman detained by the country’s morality police.
Its rial currency has plummeted to new lows against the US dollar.
Israel is suspected of launching a series of attacks on Iran, including an April 2021 assault on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges.
In 2020, Iran blamed Israel for a sophisticated attack that killed its top military nuclear scientist.
Israel has not commented on this drone attack.
However, Israeli officials rarely acknowledge operations carried out by the country’s secret military units or the Mossad.
A letter published Thursday by Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Amir Saeid Iravani, said that “early investigations suggest that the Israeli regime was responsible for this attempted act of aggression.”
The letter, however, did not elaborate on what evidence supported Iran’s suspicion.

 


Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah
Updated 6 min 46 sec ago

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah

Head of Lebanese Kataeb Party hits out at Hezbollah
  • Party chief threatens to disrupt election over militant menace
  • MP Rifi: ‘Hezbollah has turned Lebanon into terror camp, Captagon lab, murder scene’

The head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, Sami Gemayel, has threatened to disrupt presidential elections if the other parties try to elect a president who would provide cover for Hezbollah’s weapons.

Speaking at the party’s general conference on Friday, Gemayel — a fierce opponent of Hezbollah — said that what was happening was an attempt to change the face of Lebanon.

The opening session of the general conference was attended by anti-Hezbollah political figures, who also expressed opposition to the party’s recent actions.

Gemayel’s parliamentary bloc is the third largest Christian bloc following the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces Party.

They are trying to kill our country by killing freedom, cooperation, democracy, a strong and free economy, and Lebanon’s openness to the world.

Sami Gemayel

“They are trying to kill our country by killing freedom, cooperation, democracy, a strong and free economy, and Lebanon’s openness to the world,” he said.

Gemayel added that the battle today was not against a certain category of Lebanese people, but rather over Christian and Muslim coexistence.

“However, there is a huge group of Christian and Muslim Lebanese, and of all denominations, who believe that Lebanon is a message of civilization and development.

“They also believe in freedom and were born clinging to this freedom.

“Whoever is trying to eliminate the Lebanese spirit is not a group of Lebanese, but rather an armed party that is taking its sect hostage and trying to turn the conflict in Lebanon into a sectarian one,” he said.

Gemayel talked about suspicious land purchases, demographic change, institutional crippling and a systematic attack on free media.

He said: “We could not force the Syrian army to withdraw until we stood hand-in-hand in Martyrs’ Square. Today, we will not be able to preserve Lebanon unless we all unite again.”

Gemayel said that the ruling class handed over the country to Hezbollah under the pretext of defending Christians.

“We had warned against handing over the country to Hezbollah,” he added.

“We warned against economic collapse and international isolation. Some are clearly trying to kick us out of the economic, diplomatic, and political equations, but the true will of the Lebanese people was expressed in the Cedar Revolution and the Oct. 17 Revolution.”

Gemayel added: “Today, there are two states in Lebanon, the Lebanese Republic, and another state, which is the Islamic Republic of Hezbollah, and each state has its own funding, army, and foreign policy.

“The Islamic Republic is trying to put its hand on the pluralistic Lebanese Republic, and we need to fight such attempts. We cannot continue to deal with the dictatorial practices in a traditional manner; compromising with the Islamic Republic has dragged us into this catastrophic situation. We kept making one concession after the other, one settlement after the other.

“From this moment on, we refuse to submit to Hezbollah’s will."

Gemayel continued: “We call on all the Lebanese to assume their responsibilities, and we want Hezbollah to know that we will no longer accept this status quo.

“If a divorce between the two states is inevitable, then so be it. Hezbollah ought to announce it, but we will not accept living like second-class citizens. We will not submit; we will resist.

“The Kataeb Party is not a fan of war. We support the state and the army, but if anyone dares approach our homes, we will defend ourselves,” he added.

On the second anniversary of the assassination of researcher Lokman Slim, who was known for his outspoken opposition to Hezbollah, Gemayel noted: “We know that no trial will ever be held to shed light on Slim’s assassination.”

He added: “We thus know the extent of intimidation to which the Lebanese who oppose Hezbollah are subjected.”

Slim’s family and friends commemorated the second anniversary of his assassination on Friday in the absence of an indictment from the Lebanese judiciary.

Slim had told the public that he was receiving death threats from Hezbollah prior to his assassination in southern Lebanon.

MP Ashraf Rifi said: “They are trying once again to impose a president and government by taking advantage of the vacuum and making threats.

“Lebanon was an icon in the East, but the axis of evil turned it into a terror camp, a Captagon lab, and a murder scene. They are now seeking to elect a puppet to continue controlling the country.”

 

 


Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
Updated 19 min 44 sec ago

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites

Egyptians hope to bag bargains at book fair as crisis bites
  • To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services

CAIRO: Thousands of Egyptian bibliophiles weave through a labyrinthine display of books, reviving an annual tradition at the Arab world’s largest book fair, but this year it comes at a steep cost.
The 54th Cairo International Book Fair was overshadowed by a punishing economic crisis that has seen Egypt’s currency, the pound, halve in value and prices skyrocket in the past year.
Organzers say the fair lured more than half a million visitors on its opening weekend alone — but with publishing houses already struggling to cover the rising cost of printing, many fear this will not translate to sales.
“We expected a much smaller turnout this year than we had,” said Wael Al-Mulla, one of more than 800 publishers at the fair.
Budgets are tight in Egypt, where inflation hit 21.9 percent in December, forcing many to dip into their savings to cover ever-rising daily costs.

BACKGROUND

Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.

“Books are a luxury product,” said Mulla, who heads the Masr El-Arabia publishing house. “They’ll inevitably be less of a priority when people need to budget for the basics.”
A steep currency devaluation has compounded costs for import-dependent publishers, leading many to hike the price of books by up to double.
“You could once come with 2,000 pounds (now $66) and fill a suitcase with books,” said Mohamed El-Masry, CEO of El-Rasm Bel Kalemat Publishing.
“You can’t do that any more,” the 38-year-old lamented.
To incentivize readers, Egypt’s publishers’ association has encouraged sellers to give the option of buying books in instalments through popular buy-now-pay-later services.
State-owned publishers have also offered heavily discounted Arabic classics for under 30 pounds, or $1.
According to sellers, readers — eager for their annual haul despite the crisis — are deploying new methods to lessen the burden.
“We see most people coming with their friends as a group. They’ll decide what they want, divide the books among themselves and then pass them around,” said Abdallah Sakr, 33, a publishing manager at El-Mahrousa.
“Everyone’s surprised when they see the prices, but there’s still a desire to read. So instead of buying five books they’ll get two, or one instead of two,” he added.
To survive the crisis, publishing houses have grown more selective.
As the pound plummeted, the price of basic paper stock — all imported — quadrupled, forcing publishers to “decrease commissions and print fewer books per edition”, Mulla said.
“I have to be very careful with my choice of books, only picking the titles I’m really sure will be popular.”
Egypt’s robust publishing industry — historically a key exporter of Arabic literature, to which readers would flock for the region’s cheapest volumes — has already shown signs of trouble.
“Some publishing houses have had to downsize to the bare minimum, or halt activities until the economic landscape is a little clearer,” Mulla said, noting some had already had to shut down their presses permanently.
In a corner of the fair, vendors from the city’s well-known Azbakeya second-hand book market appeared unfazed by the economic downturn.
Nestled against the walls of the historic Azbakeya Garden, the stalls have for over a century sold used books, as well as pirated prints, for a fraction of the prices elsewhere.
As in past years, the booksellers have carted their innumerable volumes from the bustling market in central Cairo to the polished new exhibition centre on the city’s outskirts.
Like hundreds of thousands of loyal readers, 39-year-old Mohamed Shahin “made a beeline” for the Azbakeya booksellers with his family in tow, he said.
“This is the most popular place at the fair, even though the good books sell out quick because there aren’t a lot of copies,” 18-year-old engineering student and volunteer Malak Farid said.
Mohamed Attia, an imam in his 40s, travels to Cairo for the fair every year from his hometown of Dakahlia, some 150 km north of the capital.
With most volumes going for less than one dollar, the Azbakeya market has long been a treasure for Attia, and now it has become a necessity.
“Books are so much more expensive this year,” he said.
But, he added with relief, “prices in Azbakeya have remained the same” — a rare boon in today’s economic climate.

 


UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians

UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians
Updated 03 February 2023

UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians

UN urges end to ‘illogic of escalation’ between Israel, Palestinians
  • Turk criticised Israel for measures that "can only lead to further violence and bloodshed"
  • Since the start of this year, the conflict has killed 36 Palestinians

GENEVA: UN rights chief Volker Turk on Friday called for an end to the “illogic of escalation” between Israel and the Palestinians, amid a spike in deadly violence between the two.
Turk criticized Israel for measures that “can only lead to further violence and bloodshed,” following a surge in attacks and fighting that have drawn calls from the international community for calm and restraint.
Since the start of this year, the conflict has killed 36 Palestinians — including attackers, militants and civilians — as well as the six Israeli civilians, including a child, and one Ukrainian.
“Rather than doubling down on failed approaches of violence and coercion... I urge everyone involved to step out of the illogic of escalation that has only ended in dead bodies, shattered lives and utter despair,” Turk said in a statement.
“Recent measures being taken by the Government of Israel are only fueling further violations and abuses of human rights law,” he continued.
“We know from experience that the proliferation of firearms will lead to increased risks of killings and injuries of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
The UN rights chief was referring to measures to ease access to firearms announced by Israel’s government last week following a shooting by a Palestinian in east Jerusalem that killed six Israelis and one Ukrainian.
The following day, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and injured two Israelis the in Silwan neighborhood just outside the walled Old City in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem attacks followed the deadliest Israeli army raid in the West Bank in almost 20 years that on January 26 left 10 Palestinians dead in Jenin, including armed militants.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, complained that the UN rights chief’s statement “does not even have the decency to describe the attacks last week for what they were, acts of Palestinian terrorism targeting the Jewish people.”
“It does not even have the courage to condemn the death of innocent worshippers,” she added.
In his statement, Turk urged “all those holding public office or other positions of authority — indeed everyone — to stop using language that incites hatred of ‘the other’.”
He added that other measures announced by Israel in response to the Jerusalem attack, including “punitive forced evictions and house demolitions” may amount to “collective punishment.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region last week, urging deescalation following the deadly upsurge in violence.
The latest uptick follows the deadliest year in the West Bank since the United Nations started tracking fatalities in the territory in 2005.
Some 235 people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last year, with nearly 90 percent of the fatalities on the Palestinian side, according to AFP figures.


Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike

Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike
Updated 03 February 2023

Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike

Iranian director Jafar Panahi released after hunger strike
  • The director had been arrested months before the current anti-regime protests erupted
  • His wife Tahereh Saeedi posted a picture on Instagram of Panahi being driven from prison in a vehicle

PARIS: Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been released on bail after starting a hunger strike to protest against his almost seven-month detention, supporters said on Friday.
The director had been arrested months before the current anti-regime protests erupted, but his imprisonment became a symbol of the plight of artists speaking out against the authorities.
Panahi has been released from Tehran’s Evin prison “two days after starting his hunger strike for freedom,” the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said on Twitter, while Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper posted an image of Panahi jubilantly embracing a supporter.
His wife Tahereh Saeedi posted a picture on Instagram of Panahi being driven from prison in a vehicle.
The prize-winning director was arrested in July and went on a dry hunger strike on Wednesday to protest his continued detention.
“Mr Panahi was temporarily released from Evin prison with the efforts of his family, respected lawyers, and representatives of the cinema,” Iran’s House of Cinema, which groups together industry professionals, said in a statement.
The announcement that Panahi was going on a dry hunger strike sparked a wave of concern across the world about the director, who has won prizes at all of Europe’s top three film festivals.
“Today, like many people trapped in Iran, I have no choice but to protest against this inhumane behavior with my dearest possession — my life,” Panahi had said in the statement published by his wife.
“I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison,” he said.
Panahi, 62, was arrested on July 11 and had been due to serve a six-year sentence handed down in 2010 after his conviction for “propaganda against the system.”
On October 15, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial, raising hopes among his legal team that he could be released, but he remained in prison.
Panahi won a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for his film “The Circle.” In 2015, he won the Golden Bear in Berlin for “Taxi Tehran,” and in 2018, he won the best screenplay prize at Cannes for “Three Faces.”
Panahi’s latest film, “No Bears,” which like much of his recent work stars the director himself, was screened at the 2022 Venice Film Festival when the director was already behind bars. It won the Special Jury Prize.
“It is extraordinary, a relief, a total joy. We express our gratitude to all those who mobilized yesterday,” his French distributor, producer Michele Halberstadt, told AFP.
“His next fight is to have the cancelation of his sentence officially recognized. He’s outside, he’s free, and this is already great.”
Panahi’s July arrest came after he attended a court hearing for fellow film director Mohammad Rasoulof, who had been detained a few days earlier.
Rasoulof was released from prison on January 7 after being granted a two-week furlough for health reasons and is still believed to be outside of jail.
Cinema figures have been among the thousands of people arrested by Iran in its crackdown on the protests sparked by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating its strict dress code for women.
Star actor Taraneh Alidoosti, who had published images of herself without wearing the Islamic headscarf, was among those detained, although she was released in early January after being held for almost three weeks.