Russia jails former US diplomat for smuggling drugs

Russia jails former US diplomat for smuggling drugs
The detained US citizen Marc Fogel insisted the marijuana was for medical purposes, prescribed in the US after a spinal operation. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2022

Russia jails former US diplomat for smuggling drugs

Russia jails former US diplomat for smuggling drugs
  • Russia and US regularly clash over detention of each other’s citizens
  • Sentence comes amid tensions between Moscow and the West following war in Ukraine

MOSCOW: A Moscow court has sentenced a former US diplomat to 14 years in prison for “large-scale” cannabis smuggling, the latest American to be caught up in Russia’s legal system.
Russia and the United States regularly clash over the detention of each other’s citizens and sometimes exchange them in scenes reminiscent of the Cold War.
The sentence comes as relations between Moscow and the West, particularly Washington, are tense after Moscow began its military operation in pro-Western Ukraine.
“The American citizen (Marc) Fogel has been found guilty,” the Khimki court said in a statement late Thursday.
It said Fogel committed “large-scale drugs smuggling” by crossing the Russian border, as well as “large-scale illegal storage of drugs without a commercial purpose.”
Russian authorities in January said Fogel had been arrested by customs officers after arriving from New York with his wife at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.
“During customs checks, the marijuana and hash oil were found in his luggage,” officials said, adding that the drugs were hidden in contact lens cases and e-cigarette cartridges.
The incident took place in August 2021.
Fogel, who worked as a teacher in the Anglo-American School of Moscow, insisted the marijuana was for medical purposes and that it was prescribed in the United States after a spinal operation.
Russia has not made the use of cannabis legal for medicinal purposes.
Russian officials say Fogel was employed in the US embassy in Moscow and benefitted from diplomatic immunity until May 2021.
Several Americans are currently detained in Russian prisons, and vice versa.
In April, the United States exchanged former American marine Trevor Reed, sentenced by a Russian court to nine years in prison for violence, for a Russian pilot who had been in a US jail since 2010.
And US basketball star Brittney Griner is currently in pre-trial detention in a Russian jail for drugs smuggling.
Griner’s detention came days before Russia defied US warnings and sent troops into Ukraine in late February.

US backs special tribunal on Russia ‘aggression’ against Ukraine

US backs special tribunal on Russia ‘aggression’ against Ukraine
Updated 8 sec ago

US backs special tribunal on Russia ‘aggression’ against Ukraine

US backs special tribunal on Russia ‘aggression’ against Ukraine
WASHINGTON: The United States has thrown its support behind calls for a special tribunal to prosecute Russia for the “crime of aggression” against Ukraine, an idea promoted by the European Union.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin over war crimes and considers aggression a crime but it has no jurisdiction over Russia, which is not party to the Hague tribunal.
A State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that the United States supported a special tribunal on the crime of aggression over Russia’s February 2022 invasion of its neighbor.
“We envision such a court having significant international support — particularly from our partners in Europe — and ideally located in another country in Europe.”
Beth Van Schaack, the US ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, said that the United States wanted the court to have international personnel and resources.
“We believe an internationalized court that is rooted in Ukraine’s judicial system, but that also includes international elements, will provide the clearest path to establishing a new tribunal and maximizing our chances of achieving meaningful accountability,” she said in a speech Monday at the Catholic University of America.
“We are committed to working with Ukraine, and peace-loving countries around the world, to stand up, staff and resource such a tribunal in a way that will achieve comprehensive accountability for the international crimes being committed in Ukraine,” she said.
It was the first time that the United States — which has fraught relations with the International Criminal Court — has explicitly supported a special tribunal on Ukraine.
The European Union in November floated the idea of a tribunal, which was backed in January by a vote of the European Parliament.

In Pakistan, no iftar meal is complete without pakoras

In Pakistan, no iftar meal is complete without pakoras
Updated 28 March 2023

In Pakistan, no iftar meal is complete without pakoras

In Pakistan, no iftar meal is complete without pakoras
  • Fritters are made from vegetables deep-fried in spicy chickpea batter
  • Traditional sellers expand businesses to meet demand in Ramadan

ISLAMABAD: Can an iftar meal in Pakistan be complete without pakoras?

Crispy and well-seasoned, pakoras are fritters that can be made from almost any vegetable deep-fried in spicy chickpea batter and enjoyed with sweet or sour chutney, mint yogurt or dipping sauces.

The snack has deep historical roots in the Indian subcontinent but becomes especially popular during the holy month of Ramadan when traditional sellers expand their businesses and new seasonal vendors open makeshift stalls to meet rising demand.

There are many reasons for the deep-fried treats’ popularity in Ramadan, not least that they provide the quick energy boost that believers abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours need to break their fast at dusk. The fried snacks are also a common iftar choice due to their low price.

Taimur Adil, a customer standing in line to buy pakoras at the Blue Area commercial area in Islamabad, explained the popularity of pakoras during Ramadan.

“The first is because it’s a very calorie-rich snack and you get very hungry during the fast, so, inevitably by the time iftar comes you want to eat something like a pakora ... you can’t resist it, it’s exactly what your body is craving for,” Adil told Arab News.

“The second reason is cultural ... we have been eating this for so many generations that we have come to believe that iftar is not complete without it.”

The ease of making pakoras and the few ingredients required are also attractive features of the snack for those who prefer to make them at home.

“This is an easy recipe that can be prepared at home with just two or three ingredients,” Mrs. Tariq Hassan, who was shopping for iftar groceries at Islamabad’s upscale Rana Market, said.

“This is why whether someone belongs to any social class, it is something so easy that it is made in every household.”

Indeed, all it takes to make pakoras is to first chop up thinly some vegetables, usually potatoes, onions, aubergine, spinach and cauliflower. The batter is prepared with chickpea flour, salt and spices and moistened with water. The vegetables are then dipped in the batter and deep-fried until golden brown.

During Ramadan, the demand for the easy-to-make snack skyrockets.

Asghar Ali, a vendor at Siddique Sweets and Bakers, said food items like pakoras, samosas, and other savory fried snacks sell very well in the holy month.

“We are doing this business since 1942 and the demand for our samosas and pakoras increases during Ramadan,” he said, adding that sales increased threefold, and he had to hire extra employees to keep up with the demand.

“Our regular staff size of 25 people increases to 80 during Ramadan as approximately 120 kilograms of pakoras and 3,000 to 4,000 samosas are sold daily,” Ali said.

Another seller at Fresco Sweets, Osman Farooqi, said he only introduces pakoras to his menu in Ramadan.

“On regular days, we don’t make fritters, only during Ramadan we prepare it, as demand for these items increases by almost 75 percent,” Farooqi told Arab News, saying his employees had to start preparing the batter and vegetables in the morning so that huge quantities of pakoras could be ready by sunset.

“I make pakoras only in Ramadan as it is in high demand,” Amjad Ali, another vendor said. “We sell around 300 kilograms daily at our four branches in Islamabad.”

And many people also only eat pakoras in Ramadan.

Zulfiqar Hussain, shopping for pakoras at an Islamabad neighborhood market, said his children only wanted to break their fast with the vegetable fritters.

“On regular days, we use very little pakoras,” he said, “but in Ramadan their demand increases (because) we need saltish things in iftar.”

Fears rise that UK plans to move Afghans from hotels could leave many homeless

Fears rise that UK plans to move Afghans from hotels could leave many homeless
Updated 28 March 2023

Fears rise that UK plans to move Afghans from hotels could leave many homeless

Fears rise that UK plans to move Afghans from hotels could leave many homeless
  • Govt to offer over 9,000 people new accommodation, move all Afghan refugees from hotels by end of year
  • Move comes as PM Rishi Sunak steps up efforts to pass into law new illegal immigration bill

LONDON: Fears are rising that Afghan refugees in the UK could become homeless over new plans to move them from hotel accommodation.

The government is set to offer the refugees new housing, giving those temporarily in hotels a minimum of three months to move out, in a bid to move all Afghan refugees from hotels by the end of the year.

There are currently around 9,000 Afghans living in hotels in the UK at a cost to the taxpayer of £1.2 million ($1.47 million) per day.

Government sources sought to assuage fears that thousands could be made homeless and forced to turn to local authorities for support, adding that “all individuals and families” would be helped into permanent homes “regardless of whether they choose their offer of accommodation.”

There has been frustration in some quarters of Whitehall that Afghan families have turned down permanent accommodation in some parts of the UK because they preferred to live somewhere else, holding out for “better” options to become available.

One source told The Times: “Eighteen months after we invited these people to Britain, many still find their lives on hold living in hotel rooms.

“We will be announcing a new support package to help them move into homes so they can build a proper future.”

Enver Solomon, the chief executive of the Refugee Council support organization, told The Guardian: “We are deeply concerned about many elements of these plans, in particular the risk that they could lead to people who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan being left homeless and destitute on the streets of Britain.

“This is not how those who were promised a warm welcome in the UK should be treated. Hotels are not the right place for refugees to live, but the fact that thousands of Afghans have been left in them for months on end is a consequence of government mismanagement and a failure to work successfully in partnership with local councils and other agencies to find suitable housing.”

Peymana Assad, a Labour councilor of Afghan origin from London, told The Guardian that the government had “failed on promises” made to Afghan refugees.

“With no proper plan in place to house Afghans, they have wasted taxpayers’ money on hotels, held Afghan refugee lives in limbo, caused untold damage to the mental well-being of individuals who stood side by side with British troops in Afghanistan, to then, in the end, throw these Afghan families out into the wilderness of homelessness, in the country they were brought to, not out of choice but necessity,” she said.

A further 50,000 asylum-seekers from other countries are also currently in hotels across the country, with different plans being drawn up for their future accommodation.

Two Royal Air Force bases, at Scampton in Lincolnshire and Wethersfield in Essex, have been identified as potential future housing sites for them.

The plans are set to be announced as the UK government steps up efforts to pass into law a new bill on illegal immigration.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has courted controversy after pledging to stop the flow of small boats carrying migrants illegally across the English Channel, with plans such as swift deportations, including to Rwanda, and permanent bans from entering the UK for people found to have done so against the law, to be introduced.

One amendment proposed for the bill suggests putting blocks on courts’ ability to prevent deportations, while Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, has suggested the proposals risk breaking international law.

Earlier this week Sunak told MPs: “It’s also important that we abide by our international obligations. This is a country and a government that does follow the law. Of course, that’s important.”

He added, though, that the bill would be “a tough piece of legislation, the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

Zelensky visits two Ukrainian towns recaptured from Russians

Zelensky visits two Ukrainian towns recaptured from Russians
Updated 28 March 2023

Zelensky visits two Ukrainian towns recaptured from Russians

Zelensky visits two Ukrainian towns recaptured from Russians
  • Video footage posted online by Zelenskiy's office showed him visiting Okhtyrka and Trostyanets in Sumy
  • "Our people proved that this occupier will be defeated by us, by our morale, by our Ukrainian character," Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited two northern towns on Tuesday to celebrate their recapture a year ago in battles which he said showed Ukraine would defeat its Russian invaders.
Video footage posted online by Zelensky’s office showed him visiting Okhtyrka and Trostyanets in Sumy, the sixth region he has visited in the past week — some of them near the front line — as expectations of a Ukrainian counter-offensive rise.
“These days, these weeks, we are celebrating the anniversary of the liberation of our cities and communities in our northern regions,” Zelensky told a small crowd of soldiers and civilians at the railway station in Trostyanets before handing out medals.
Russian forces poured into the Sumy region, which borders Russia, at the start of the invasion in February 2022. They were driven out of the region after about a month of occupation that was met by fierce resistance.
The video footage posted online showed heavily damaged buildings in the towns Zelensky visited. Ukrainian officials say territories close to the border are still regularly bombarded by Russian artillery and air strikes.
“Our people proved that this occupier will be defeated by us, by our morale, by our Ukrainian character. Our people proved it, our warriors proved it,” Zelensky wrote on Telegram under the footage of his visit to Sumy.
The Russian invasion has been bogged down for months in fierce fighting along the eastern front, and Ukraine’s ground forces commander said last week that a Ukrainian counterattack could come “very soon.”

Taliban arrest prominent Afghan advocate of girls’ education 

Taliban arrest prominent Afghan advocate of girls’ education 
Updated 28 March 2023

Taliban arrest prominent Afghan advocate of girls’ education 

Taliban arrest prominent Afghan advocate of girls’ education 
  • Afghanistan remains the only country where girls are barred from attending school 
  • Matiullah Wesa, founder of Pen Path, has been advocating women’s access to education  

KABUL: A prominent Afghan campaigner for female education has been arrested in Kabul, his brother confirmed on Tuesday, as Afghanistan remains the only country where teenage girls are barred from school. 

Matiullah Wesa is the founder of Pen Path, which since 2009 has been distributing books in conservative rural areas of Afghanistan and advocating among tribal leaders for women’s access to education.   

His campaigning gained momentum last year when the Taliban banned girls from attending secondary school. The authorities said girls would be allowed to return to the classroom after a “comprehensive plan” in accordance with Islamic law, but in December another ban was implemented, barring female students also from universities. 

Wesa was arrested by Taliban security forces on Monday morning. 

“Matiullah Wesa was arrested and taken on Monday after the fajr prayer in Wais Qarni Masque in the fifth police district of Kabul city. So far, they didn’t share any information on which government agency has arrested him,” Wesa’s brother, Attaullah Wesa, told Arab News. 

“We’ve been working for Afghan children’s education since 2009, and we are working for the entire nation of Afghanistan. We are working to teach the next generation to have all their fundamental rights in the future.” 

Neither the Taliban police nor the spokesperson of the government has responded to repeated requests for comments regarding what charges Wesa has been detained on. 

The UN Mission to Afghanistan issued a statement on Tuesday, calling on the Taliban authorities to “clarify his whereabouts, the reasons for his arrest and to ensure his access to legal representation and contact with family." 

The arrest has dealt yet another blow to the already reeling hopes for education in the country. 

Wazir Khan, director of Today Child, a Kabul-based association providing free education to girls and boys in the rural areas of Afghanistan, said that Wesa’s activism aims to give a better chance to the youngest Afghans. 

“The arrest of Wesa will definitely have a negative impact because the youth will lose their morale,” Khan told Arab News. 

Wesa’s friend, journalist Bilal Sarwari, said the activist has been undeterred in his mission, which began during the tenure of the previous Western-backed government, when education services also did not reach the countryside. 

“Matiullah Wesa is someone who has dedicated his life to education. I’ve known him for many, many years. He traveled to every corner of Afghanistan and took many risks,” he said. 

“He is a beacon of hope, he is a hero for the Afghan girls and boys, he has been always advocating for education.”