Iran arrests Baha’i members; advocates demand their release

Iran arrests Baha’i members; advocates demand their release
Iran's Intelligence Ministry said in a statement that the suspects were linked to the Baha'i center in Israel and had collected and transferred information there. (File/Shutterstock)
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Updated 02 August 2022

Iran arrests Baha’i members; advocates demand their release

Iran arrests Baha’i members; advocates demand their release
  • The Baha’i demanded their release and called their arrests part of a long pattern of persecution by Iran’s Shiite theocracy
  • Iran offered no evidence to support the allegations of the Baha’i doing anything illegal

DUBAI: Iran arrested several members of the Baha’i faith on spying charges, authorities said Monday, the latest sign of a tightening crackdown across the Islamic Republic as it faces international pressure over its tattered nuclear deal.
The Baha’i demanded their release and called their arrests part of a long pattern of persecution by Iran’s Shiite theocracy.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said in a statement that the suspects were linked to the Baha’i center in Israel and had collected and transferred information there.
The Baha’i’s international governing body, the Universal House of Justice, long has been based in Haifa, Israel. The Baha’i have had a presence there since before the founding of the state of Israel, which the Islamic Republic views as its chief enemy in the region.
Iran offered no evidence to support the allegations of the Baha’i doing anything illegal. State TV footage showed one of the suspects saying he was being monitored by agents of the ministry, though he did not acknowledge in the footage doing anything wrong.
The Baha’i through an international advocacy group identified several of those arrested as leaders in their religion who previously served 10-year prison sentences.
They are “domestic symbols of resilience and internationally renowned former prisoners of conscience,” the Baha’i said. “Arresting them reveals the Iranian government’s escalating persecution of Iran’s Baha’i community.”
Iran already bans the Baha’i, a religion founded in the 1860s by a Persian nobleman considered a prophet by his followers. Muslims consider the Prophet Muhammad the highest prophet.
The Baha’i say they’ve been persecuted by Shiite clerics in Iran since their religion’s founding — something that’s grown more intense since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In 2013, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, urged Iranians to avoid all dealings with the Baha’i. Khamenei’s fatwa, or religious order, supported similar fatwas in the past by other clerics.
The detention of the Baha’i follow a wave of recent arrests as tensions escalate between Iran’s hard-line government and the West. Security forces have detained film directors, several foreigners and a prominent reformist politician as talks to revive Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers hit a deadlock and fears grow over the country’s economic crisis.


Teachers’ strike and soaring fees: Lebanon’s public school pupils miss class

Teachers’ strike and soaring fees: Lebanon’s public school pupils miss class
Updated 9 sec ago

Teachers’ strike and soaring fees: Lebanon’s public school pupils miss class

Teachers’ strike and soaring fees: Lebanon’s public school pupils miss class
  • Lebanon’s three-year financial meltdown has left public schools shuttered so far this academic year
  • Teachers wage an open-ended strike over their severely devalued salaries
DEIR QUBEL: School teacher Claude Koteich, her teenager daughter and 10-year-old son should have all been back in class weeks ago – but a crisis in Lebanon’s education sector has left them lounging at home on a Monday afternoon.
Lebanon’s three-year financial meltdown has severely devalued the country’s pound and drained state coffers, pushing 80 percent of the population into poverty and gutting public services including water and electricity.
It has also left public schools shuttered so far this academic year, with teachers waging an open-ended strike over their severely devalued salaries and administrations worried they won’t be able to secure fuel to keep the lights and heating on during the winter.
Koteich, 44, has taught French literature at Lebanese public schools for exactly half her lifetime.
“We used to get a salary high enough that I could afford to put my kids in private school,” she told Reuters in her living room in the mountain town of Deir Qubel, overlooking the Lebanese capital.
But since 2019, Lebanon’s pound has lost more than 95 percent of its value as other costs skyrocket following the government’s lifting of fuel subsidies and global price jumps.
From a monthly salary that was once about $3,000, Koteich now earns the equivalent of $100 – forcing her to make a tough choice last summer over whether to put her children back in costly private schools or transfer them to a public education system paralyzed by the pay dispute.
“I was stuck between yes and no – waiting for our salaries to change, or if the education minister wanted to fulfill our demands,” Koteich said.
By September, there had been little progress on securing higher salaries given Lebanon’s depleted state coffers. At the same time, her children’s private school was asking for tuition to be paid mostly in cash dollars to guarantee they could afford to pay for expensive fuel and other imported needs.
That would amount to a yearly fee of $500 per student, plus 15 million Lebanese pounds, or about $400.
“I found the number was very high and out of this world for me,” she said.
So as their former classmates don their private school uniforms, Koteich and her two children still have no clear idea when they will return to class.
Lebanon’s education system has long been heavily reliant on private schools, which hosted almost 60 percent of the country’s 1.25 million students, according to the Ministry of Higher Education.
However, the strain on households from Lebanon’s financial collapse has forced a shift: around 55,000 students transitioned from private to public schools in the 2020-2021 school year alone, the World Bank has said.
But public education has been historically underfunded, with the government earmarking less than 2 percent of GDP to education in 2020, according to the World Bank — one of the lowest rates in the Middle East and North Africa.
And the combined stresses of recent years – from an influx of Syrian refugees starting in 2011 to the COVID-19 pandemic and the port blast which damaged Beirut – has beleaguered schools.
“My students’ worries are beyond educational – they started to think about how they can make a living. This age is supposed to be thinking of their homework,” Koteich said.
The head of the United Nations’ children agency UNICEF in Lebanon told Reuters that about one third of children in Lebanon – including Syrian children – are not attending school.
“We have worrying numbers of an increase in children being employed in Lebanon, and girls getting into early child marriage,” said Edouard Beigbeder.
A UNICEF study this year found that 38 percent of households had reduced their education expenses compared with just 26 percent in April 2021. This trend makes a return to class ever more important.
Some hope schools will re-open in October, although there has been no such indication from the government.
“There’s a kind of race against the clock to ensure the first week of October, we will have the right kind of opening,” Beigbeder said.

Lebanese lawmakers to convene to elect country’s president

Lebanese lawmakers to convene to elect country’s president
Updated 27 September 2022

Lebanese lawmakers to convene to elect country’s president

Lebanese lawmakers to convene to elect country’s president
  • The country’s 128-member parliament votes for a president, who must be a Maronite Christian

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s parliament speaker on Tuesday summoned lawmakers for a session this week to elect the country’s next president, offering a glimmer of hope of a political step forward even as chaos roils this Mideast nation.

Parliament is to convene on Thursday, according to a memo from the speaker, Nabih Berri. Under Lebanon’s fragile sectarian power-sharing system, the country’s 128-member parliament votes for a president, who must be a Maronite Christian.

The six-year term of incumbent President Michel Aoun — a retired military general and an ally of Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group who was elected in October 2016 following a two-year stalemate — ends on Oct. 31.

Aoun’s successor is to be elected at a time when Lebanon is going through an economic meltdown and the government struggles to implement structural reforms required for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The crisis, which started in late 2019, has plunged three-quarters of the tiny Mediterranean nation into poverty and the Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value against the dollar.

However, it is unclear whether legislators in a deeply divided parliament will be able reach a quorum for the session, raising prospects of renewed political paralysis.

In recent months, no majority or consensus candidate has emerged for the post of Aoun’s successor.

Sleiman Frangieh of the Marada Party, an ally of Hezbollah who calls Syrian President Bashar Assad a “friend and brother,” has the backing of some key parties but hasn’t received the backing of a major Christian bloc.

The other announced candidates, Tracy Chamoun, the granddaughter of a former Lebanese president running on an anti-Hezbollah platform, businessman Ziad Hayek, and writer and women’s advocate May Rihani have yet to receive any formal endorsements.

Hezbollah’s opponents, backed by the United States and Gulf Arab monarchies, are hoping to use their influence to ensure that Lebanon’s next president is not an ally of Hezbollah. Separately, 13 independent reformist lawmakers are lobbying to try to push for a reformist president who would prioritize reforms and pull Lebanon out of the quagmire.


100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll
Updated 27 September 2022

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

DAMASCUS: Syrian authorities have recovered 100 bodies from a Lebanese migrant boat that sank off Syria last week, state media reported about one of the deadliest recent shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean.
The first bodies were found last Thursday and only 20 people were rescued out of as many as 150 passengers.
“The number of victims of the Lebanese boat has reached 100 people so far after another body was recovered from the sea,” Syria’s official news agency SANA on Monday quoted the head of Syrian ports Samer Kbrasli as saying.
All survivors have been discharged from hospital, SANA said.
Nearly three years of deep economic crisis have turned Lebanon into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees desperate to flee rising poverty via dangerous sea voyages.
Those aboard the ship that sailed from Lebanon’s impoverished northern city of Tripoli were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included children and elderly people, the United Nations said.
Lebanon hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s civil war and has been mired in a financial and economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi described the shipwreck as a “heart-wrenching tragedy.”
Since 2020, Lebanon has seen a spike in the number of migrants attempting the perilous crossing in jam-packed boats to reach Europe.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said that 10 children appeared to be “among those who lost their lives,” adding that “years of political instability and economic crisis in Lebanon have pushed many children and families into poverty.”


Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests
Updated 27 September 2022

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests
  • Najafi was shot six times in the city of Karaj, receiving bullets in the face and neck

DUBAI: A funeral has been held for Hadis Najafi, a young Iranian woman who was shot dead by security forces during protests near Tehran.

Najafi was shot six times in the city of Karaj, and was hit by bullets in the face and neck, according to a report by Radio Farda.

Videos of Najafi's funeral has been circulated on social media as online users paid tribute to the 20-year-old.
She had earlier gone viral in a TikTok video where she was seen tying her hair and preparing to join the anti-government protests, which were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the ‘morality police’ for breaching the strict Hijab rules.
At least 41 people have been killed as Iran continues to crack down on the nationwide demonstrations.


Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra
Updated 27 September 2022

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra
  • Algiers seeks non-permanent seat on Security Council
  • Candidacy endorsed by African, Arab and Islamic bodies

LONDON: Algeria’s development remains on track and will continue with the support of UN member states, the country’s foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra said on Monday.

During his speech at the General Assembly Debate, Lamamra also reaffirmed his country’s push for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

“My country is a member of the UN, it celebrates this year the 60th anniversary of independence,” he said. “It resolutely pursues the process of building a new Algeria under the leadership of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.”

He continued: “My country reaffirms its compliance with the values and principles (of the UN) and its determination to revive the role of multilateral action in keeping international peace and security and the achievement of comprehensive, fair, and sustainable development.”

Lamamra outlined Algeria’s commitment to the principles of the UN charter ahead of elections scheduled for next June on membership in the Security Council.

“Algeria is aware of the magnitude of unprecedented challenges that arise at the international and regional levels,” he said.

“Therefore, it has submitted its candidacy for the position of non-permanent member of the Security Council, a candidacy endorsed by the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.”

Lamamra also confirmed Algeria would host an Arab Summit on Nov. 1 and 2, and that Algiers “aspired to make this event a crucial step in the joint Arab action, for an effective contribution of the Arab world to dealing with the current challenges on the regional and international scenes.”