Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape
Women activists shout slogans against the release of convicted gang rapists, by the government in New Delhi, on Thursday. (AP)
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Updated 18 August 2022

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape

Indian women protest release of men jailed for gang rape
  • Victim appeals to Gujarat government to rescind decision to free her attackers
  • Convicts walked out of prison as India celebrated 75 years of independence

NEW DELHI: Indian women took to the streets of New Delhi on Thursday to protest the release of 11 Hindu men convicted of raping a Muslim mother and killing seven members of her family during religious riots in 2002.

The anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat are widely viewed as some of the worst instances of religious unrest in the predominantly Hindu country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the state’s chief minister when the violence that killed more than 1,000 people — most of them Muslims — broke out.

The decision to free the 11 convicts after they served 14 years in jail was announced by the Gujarat government on Monday, despite the men being sentenced to life terms. Videos that went viral on social media showed the men welcomed with sweets and garlands when they walked out of prison as India celebrated 75 years of independence.

Bilkis Bano was 19 and pregnant with her second child when she was brutally gang raped. The seven family members killed by the assailants included her three-year-old-daughter.

In a statement released by her legal representative on Wednesday night, Bano said that the decision to free the men left her numb and has shaken her faith in justice, as she appealed to the Gujarat government to “undo this harm” and give her back the “right to live without fear and in peace.

“How can justice for any woman end like this? I trusted the highest courts in our land,” she said. “My sorrow and my wavering faith is not for myself alone but for every woman who is struggling for justice in courts.”

The convicts’ release has raised questions over the government’s stance on women in a country with a notorious gender-based violence record. “We are telling the government that this is not what the women’s movement is going to accept and we are demanding from the Home Ministry of India that this remission by the Gujarat government be revoked, and the convicts be sent back to jail,” Maimoona Molla from All India Democratic Women Association told Arab News from a protest site in the Indian capital.

“If the Home Ministry does not act, then the Supreme Court must take suo moto action and restore women’s dignity, and ensure safety and security for women in India.”

Kawalpreet Kaur, an activist from the All India Students Union, who was also protesting in Delhi, said that the “selective discretion by the Gujarat government to release the rape and murder convicts” has sparked outrage and disillusionment.

“The prime minister in his Independence Day message said that women should come out and women’s dignity and equality should be guaranteed,” Kaur said. “Immediately after that we see that those convicted of such a heinous crime are being released.”

Annie Raja, secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, said that the release of the 11 convicts was also a “blatant demonstration of majoritarianism” and a warning to India’s Muslim community.

“This is a warning for all those who stand for human rights, justice, democracy and secularism,” she told Arab News.

The Gujarat government’s decision has also created uproar among Indian politicians.

“The prime minister spoke big things about women’s safety, women’s power, women’s respect,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera told reporters. “A few hours later the Gujarat government released those behind the rape. We also saw that the convicts in the rape who were released are being honored.”

K. T. Rama Rao, industry minister of the southern state of Telangana, said that the order to release the rapists was “nauseating,” as he took to Twitter to appeal to the Indian prime minister to intervene and rescind the Gujarat government’s remission order, and “make necessary amendments to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure suitably so that no rapist can get a bail through judiciary.”

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Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery
Updated 18 sec ago

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

Afghans demand justice for war victims after mass grave discovery

KABUL: A mass grave found in southern Afghanistan has sparked calls for justice, as locals recalled atrocities committed against civilians over decades of conflict.

The remains of 12 people were recently found by residents of Spin Boldak, a town bordering Pakistan in the southern province of Kandahar, which had been the site of intense fighting between forces of the Western-backed government and Taliban fighters for the last two decades until the group took over Afghanistan last year.

Video clips, shared on social media by locals and Taliban officials, showed villagers gathered around piles of bones.

Bilal Karimi, the Taliban’s deputy spokesman, said the grave was from around eight or nine years ago, “when the area was under the control of the former administration.” He added that investigations were ongoing.

Taliban officials said the killings took place when Gen. Abdul Raziq was Kandahar police chief under the previous government.

Raziq was allegedly involved in torture and kidnapping, and was known for his fierce stance against the Taliban. He was killed in 2018.

A number of mass graves have been found in Afghanistan, many containing the remains of civilians killed in the decades of war before the US-led invasion in 2001.

More than 47,000 civilians and around 66,000 of Afghanistan’s soldiers and police officers died in the post-2001 conflict, according to a Costs of War report by Brown University.

Afghans called for justice for the victims in the latest discovery. “A lot of kidnapping, disappearing and killing was happening in Kandahar,” Abdul Kabir Mukhlis told Arab News on Tuesday.

Mukhlis, who now lives in Zabul province but studied for several years in Kandahar, recalled years of living under the threat of violence and brutality.

“I swear to God I haven’t had a single day in peace because of the ruthless Raziq and his allies,” the 28-year-old said.

“I couldn’t go anywhere in the city. I’ve seen many such incidents. My friends disappeared, they were killed.”

Mukhlis called on the Taliban to bring the perpetrators to justice, especially those who remain in the country.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should bring all of them to justice. I don’t expect justice from the international community because they supported these criminals,” he said. “They knew about the atrocities but didn’t do anything.”

Hekmatullah Zaland, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul, told Arab News that the past two decades had seen powerful military figures committing “severe human rights and legal violations” to retain power.

“In the name of security, many innocent people were killed in the south in ways that are known only to those who did the atrocities. The recently explored grave in Kandahar could be just one example of the many similar incidents across the country,” Zaland said.

“On the pretext of the war on terror, both Afghans and their international allies have caused so much harm to innocent people that can’t be compensated. Justice is what could heal some of the wounds of the Afghan nation and the families of the victims.”

Esmatullah Afghan, a university lecturer from Helmand province, told Arab News that families of the victims often had to wait years to find out their fate.

“The injustice done to Afghans by their own countrymen and by foreigners is enormous,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the current government and an ethical obligation of the world to ensure justice to victims of cruelty, injustice and war in Afghanistan. 

“Afghans have been suffering mainly due to wars initiated by foreigners. The guilty must be punished.”


Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
Updated 27 September 2022

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster

Bangladeshi families, communities grieve for victims of deadly boat disaster
  • Death toll has risen to 67 as of Tuesday afternoon, local official says
  • Boat accident is the worst waterway disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year

DHAKA: Almost as soon as the boat started moving to take passengers to the other side of the Karatoya River, where many Hindu devotees were heading to celebrate the Durga Puja festival at a popular temple, the small vessel began to tremble.
The 15-minute journey to cross the river in northern Bangladesh that Sunday afternoon quickly turned into a tragedy, taking less than four minutes before the boat began to sink.
“There had been a huge rush of passengers, and people were all in a hurry to get on the boat. Not a single inch of space was empty,” Ramesh Chandra, a 40-year-old farmer from the northern Panchagarh district, told Arab News on Tuesday.
Chandra, who boarded the boat with his 35-year-old wife Shyamoli Rani Shimuli and his 11-year-old daughter Surovi Rani, said it had all happened suddenly.
“Soon after the boat started moving, it was trembling because of the overload,” he said.
When Chandra realized the boat was sinking, he took his daughter’s hands and swam toward the river bank. But his wife, who was wearing a traditional sari, did not make it.
“My wife knew swimming very well, but she unfortunately failed to manage it as she was wearing a sari, which wrapped her whole body immediately when it got wet,” Chandra said.
He is now left alone to raise his daughter and 13-year-old son Saurov, who had been at home when the incident occurred.
“I don’t know what to do now, how I will be able to raise my children alone without their mother,” Chandra said.
Shimuli’s body was recovered on Sunday evening, and she was cremated the following day. As the family mourns the tragic loss, they also have to grapple with other losses in the extended family.
Chandra said his niece and sister were also killed in the accident, and authorities were still searching for his nephew on Tuesday.
The worst waterways disaster to hit the South Asian nation this year had killed at least 67 people as of Tuesday afternoon, comprising 30 women, 20 children, and 17 men, Mohammad Jahurul Islam, Panchagarh district administrator, told Arab News.
“Our divers are working to trace the (missing) bodies. Rescue operations will continue until we can address the last complaint reported,” Islam said.
Islam said aid was given to the families of the deceased victims to cover expenses for the funeral rites.
Dipankar Roy, who heads the committee investigating the accident, told Arab News that they have conducted interviews with eyewitnesses, survivors, and other concerned parties.
“Our investigation over this tragic incident is almost over. We hope to submit the report by 10 a.m. on Wednesday at the latest,” Roy said.
Hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents across Bangladesh, as accidents commonly occur due to lax safety standards. In April 2021, at least 35 people were killed after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.
The villages along the Karatoya River were overwhelmed with grief, as many residents mourn the deaths of relatives, friends, and neighbors in the boat accident.
Tarun Kumar Barman, a 35-year-old farmer from Panchagarh, said his village alone had lost eight people to the tragedy. His nine-year-old niece and 48-year-old sister were among the victims.
“All of them were from the Hindu community and had intended to make offerings in the temple on the occasion of Mahalaya,” Barman told Arab News, referring to the beginning of Durga Puja celebrations.
“The whole village is overwhelmed with mourning now. People forgot their daily routines. We are extremely shocked,” he said. “It’s a dead village now. We cremated the bodies one after another. None of us was ready for a situation like this.”


Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft
Updated 27 September 2022

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft

Moscow says will not seek extradition of Russians fleeing draft
  • Neighbouring countries have seen Russians arriving en masse since the draft was announced last Wednesday
  • On Tuesday, Central Asian nation Kazakhstan said around 98,000 Russians entered the country since Wednesday

MOSCOW: Moscow said Tuesday it will not request the extradition of Russians traveling abroad to avoid being called-up to fight in Ukraine, after thousands of military-aged men crossed into neighboring countries.
“The Russian ministry of defense has not sent any request to the authorities of Kazakhstan, Georgia, or any other country for the alleged forced return to Russian soil of Russian citizens, and it is not planning to do so,” the ministry said in a statement.
Neighbouring countries have seen Russians arriving en masse since the draft was announced last Wednesday, with hours-long queues at border crossings.
On Tuesday, Central Asian nation Kazakhstan said around 98,000 Russians entered the country since Wednesday.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev vowed to protect the safety and welfare of Russians fleeing a “hopeless situation” on Tuesday.
Russians have also headed to the neighboring Black Sea nation of Georgia, which saw the number of Russians arriving daily nearly double since the mobilization announcement.
On Tuesday the local interior ministry in a Russian region that borders Georgia said the situation at the border was “extremely tense.”
The ministry added that a mobile mobilization office will be set up at the border in the “near future.”


Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum
Updated 27 September 2022

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum

Catalonia seeks Spain’s agreement for new independence referendum
  • The Spanish government, however, rejected the proposal
  • "They have those maximalist aspirations, which are absolutely not shared by the government," spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez told reporters

BARCELONA, Spain: Catalonia will push the Spanish government for a new agreement on holding a binding referendum on the region’s potential independence that would be recognized both by Spain and the international community, its separatist leader said on Tuesday.
The Spanish government, however, rejected the proposal.
“They have those maximalist aspirations, which are absolutely not shared by the government,” spokesperson Isabel Rodriguez told reporters.
But both governments would keep talking to “normalize” their relationship, she said.
The so-called “clarity agreement” proposal comes shortly before the fifth anniversary of Catalonia’s unauthorized independence referendum and at a critical time for its separatist movement, which is marred by divisions between moderates and radicals that have threatened to fracture the coalition government.
Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has favored dialogue with Catalonia to rebuild relations after a chaotic unilateral bid for independence in 2017 plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in years.
It remains, however, staunchly opposed to independence and has hitherto ruled out a legal referendum. The Spanish constitution blocks the country’s break up but some scholars and Catalan separatists argue there could be legal room for a vote if the Spanish government agrees.
A similar proposal by Catalonia in 2012 was firmly rejected by the then conservative government in Madrid. The wealthy northeastern region held a referendum five years later despite a ban by the courts, and issued a short-lived unilateral independence declaration.
Catalan government head Pere Aragones told the regional parliament that for another referendum, Catalonia needed Madrid’s buy-in.
“I have no doubt this is the fastest and most efficient way to hold another vote because it originates from the lessons learned from 2017 and overcomes the difficulties that did not allow us to implement the result five years ago,” he said.
He called his proposal the “most inclusive, democratic and explainable to the international community,” and said he would seek the support of all Catalonia’s political actors.
Aragones has engaged in talks with Madrid and his party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, has frequently lent its votes to the socialist-led minority government in congress.
Around 52 percent of Catalans oppose independence and 41 percent back it, according to a June poll.


Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls

Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls
Updated 27 September 2022

Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls

Afghan Taliban deputy calls for reopening schools for girls
  • The Taliban have said they are working on a plan to open secondary schools for girls but have not given a timeframe

ISLAMABAD: A senior member of the Taliban-run government in Afghanistan on Tuesday called on Afghanistan’s new rulers to reopen schools for girls beyond the sixth grade, saying there is no valid reason in Islam for the ban.
The appeal from Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban deputy foreign minister, came during a top Taliban gathering in Kabul. It was a rare moderate voice amid the harsh measures imposed by the Taliban since they overran the country and seized power in August 2021.
The measures include banning girls from middle school and high school despite initial promises to the contrary. Women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in public, with only their eyes showing.
The Taliban have said they are working on a plan to open secondary schools for girls but have not given a timeframe.
The United Nations has called the ban “shameful” and the international community has been wary of officially recognizing the Taliban, fearing a return to the same harsh rule the Taliban imposed when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
“It is very important that education must be provided to all, without any discrimination,” Stanikzai said. “Women must get education, there is no Islamic prohibition for girls’ education.”
“Let’s not provide opportunities for others to create a gap between the government and people,” he added. “If there are technical issues, that needs to be resolved, and schools for girls must be opened.”
Still, it was unclear if and how much Stanikzai could sway hard-liners, who appear to hold the reins in the Taliban administration.
Stanikzai was once head of the Taliban team in talks that led to the 2020 agreement in Qatar between the Taliban and the United States that included the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
His remarks follow the Taliban appointment of a new education minister, days after the UN called on them to reopen schools for girls. The UN estimates that more than 1 million girls have been barred from attending most of middle school and high school over the past year.
A year after the Taliban took over the country as the Western-backed government and military crumbled, the UN says it is increasingly concerned that restrictions on girls’ education, as well as other measures curtailing basic freedoms, would deepen Afghanistan’s economic crisis and lead to greater insecurity, poverty, and isolation.

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