Rights group relaunches app that helps Iranian women avoid ‘morality police’

Rights group relaunches app that helps Iranian women avoid ‘morality police’
Last week, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman reportedly suffered a serious head injury and was declared brain dead following her arrest by the morality police in Tehran. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 September 2022

Rights group relaunches app that helps Iranian women avoid ‘morality police’

Rights group relaunches app that helps Iranian women avoid ‘morality police’
  • United For Iran and its partners released the Gershad app anonymously in 2016 but have now decided to reveal their role in its development and release
  • Their public promotion of the app, downloaded more than 100,000 times, comes days after the death in police custody of 22-year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini

WASHINGTON: An Iranian human rights group has relaunched a smartphone app designed to help Iranian citizens, especially women, avoid harassment, arrest and punishment by the strict “morality police” who enforce religious observance and public morality, including standards of dress, in the country.
United For Iran, an organization based in San Francisco that promotes civil liberties and individual human rights for Iranians, is promoting the Gershad app as a tool that can help citizens, journalists, activists and civil society groups to monitor the whereabouts of officials from the religious police so that they can steer clear of locations where officers are known to be active, avoiding the risk of confrontation.
It could help users avoid potential problems if they fail to follow rules or restrictions imposed by the religious police based on a strict interpretation of Shariah, in particular women who do not want to wear a hijab to cover their head in accordance with rigid government rules.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been ruled by its religious establishment since the 1979 revolution that the toppled the pro-western Shah. Women in the country are required to conform to government restrictions on Western-style clothing and wear the hijab in public.
Last week, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman reportedly suffered a serious head injury and was declared brain dead following her arrest by the morality police in Tehran, who accused her of failing to properly follow hijab rules. She died on Friday.
Amini was allegedly beaten inside a police van on the way to a detention center, according to eyewitnesses quoted in reports by Radio Farda, the Iranian branch of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcast service.
A US government official condemned her death and demanded that the Iranian government holds accountable those responsible.
“Mahsa Amini’s death after injuries sustained while in police custody for wearing an ‘improper’ hijab is an appalling and egregious affront to human rights,” the official said.
“Women in Iran should have the right to wear what they want, free from violence or harassment. Iran must end its use of violence against women for exercising their fundamental freedoms.”
Muslim women are expected to cover their hair and dress modestly in accordance with Islamic teachings in many Islamic countries but, with the exception of Iran, their governments do not force them to wear a hijab and is not legally mandated.
The Gershad app was launched anonymously in February 2016, according to rights advocacy group United For Iran, which said that for reasons of safety and privacy it and partner organization Article 19 did not initially publicize their involvement in its development and release, but have chosen to do so now. It has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.
Firuzeh Mahmoudi, executive director of United For Iran, told Arab News that the group’s main objective is to enable and empower Iranians, especially women, to make their own choices about civil liberties and human rights free of government control.
“Our work is to support the people of Iran to have full self-agency of their own lives,” she said
The app is increasingly popular among young Iranian men and woman who want to live a normal life, just like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, according to Mahmoudi.
“Since Gershad’s launch, we have received powerful feedback about the role the app has played in helping to protect basic human rights and liberties, allowing Iranians to unite in an unprecedented way, preventing arrests and providing a platform for people to express how humiliating it is to deal with the morality police,” she said.
The Iranian people are modern-thinking and want to be free of government restrictions on the way they live or dress, she added.


Yemen seeks to implement developmental projects in Taiz

Yemen seeks to implement developmental projects in Taiz
Updated 13 sec ago

Yemen seeks to implement developmental projects in Taiz

Yemen seeks to implement developmental projects in Taiz
  • Work plans and challenges were reviewed ahead of finalizing projects under the Saudi Program for Yemen’s Development and Reconstruction

ADEN: Yemeni officials reviewed plans with charity organizations to implement developmental projects in Taiz as part of ongoing reconstruction efforts in the province.

On Monday, Taiz Governor Nabil Shamsan discussed work plans and challenges ahead of finalizing projects under the Saudi Program for Yemen’s Development and Reconstruction.
Yemen is working closely with Saudi Arabia to establish a college of medicine in Taiz University, construct a center to treat cancer and rehabilitate a road linking Taiz with Makha.
Shamsan said these sustainable projects aim to serve the people of Taiz, which remains under Houthi siege, and mitigate the effects that the war has left on vulnerable communities.
Meanwhile, Major General Abdul Karim Al-Sabri, the Undersecretary of Taiz Governorate for Defense and Security Affairs, discussed de-mining efforts with the HALO Trust, a Scottish charity organization specialized in clearing mines in war zones.
He vowed collaboration with the organization in surveying targeted areas, detecting the type of mines implanted and raising awareness among citizens on dealing with mines that might be encountered.
He said local authorities would facilitate the work with the organization to de-mine high-priority targeted areas and save lives.


Iran arrests prominent rights activists

Iran arrests prominent rights activists
Updated 46 min 9 sec ago

Iran arrests prominent rights activists

Iran arrests prominent rights activists
  • Iranian government has been referring to the protests as ‘riots’ and ‘sedition’ to suppress them

DUBAI: Iran’s crackdown against prominent individuals linked to ongoing protests in the country continues with the arrest of prominent human rights activists in Tehran.

Bahareh Hedayat, a university student, was detained early on October 3, Radio Farda reported, as the unrest hit a crescendo in Tehran and has hit far-flung provinces in open demonstration of grievances against rigid social restrictions, political repression and a failing economy.

Hedayat is a former political prisoner who has been arrested and imprisoned several times, the report noted, quoting the BBC.

Hossein Masumi, another political activist, was arrested on October 2 with his whereabouts unknown according to his family.

The protest actions, spurred by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while under detention by Iran’s morality police for alleged violations of the Islamic dress code, are on their third week despite government efforts to quell them.

The Iranian government has been referring to the protests as ‘riots’ and ‘sedition’ to suppress them, and being used as basis for the detention of key personalities.


UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault
Updated 04 October 2022

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault

UNRWA director visits Jenin refugee camp days after Israeli assault
  • Adam Bouloukos said: ‘I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation. I saw fear and concern in school children’s eyes’
  • He added that the current level of violence in the camp, and across the West Bank, is at the highest level the agency has seen in years

JERUSALEM: Adam Bouloukos, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’s director in the West Bank, has visited Jenin refugee camp, the Palestine News and Info Agency reported on Monday.

His visit came just days after a large-scale Israeli military assault on the camp last Wednesday that left four people dead and 44 injured.

During his visit to the camp, Bouloukos was shown an UNRWA clinic that was hit by bullets during the attack, which took place while patients and medical staff were inside. It provides healthcare services to about 35,000 people. He also visited a UNRWA school, where he met students and teachers.

“I witnessed the extent of the damage caused by the recent Israeli military operation,” Bouloukos said. “I saw fear and concern in schoolchildren’s eyes.

“The level of violence in Jenin camp, and across the West Bank, is the highest we have seen in years. Many Palestinians, including refugees, were killed or injured. Violence only brings loss of life, grief for families and instability.

“All parties to the conflict should protect civilians, including Palestine refugees. UN staff and facilities and civilian infrastructure must be kept out of harm’s way. I specifically call on the Israeli security forces to limit the use of excessive force and spare the loss of civilian life in Jenin and across the West Bank.”


Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power
Updated 04 October 2022

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

Tired of power cuts, blockaded Gaza turns to solar power

GAZA CITY: Palestinians living in the Israeli-blockaded enclave of Gaza have long endured an unstable and costly electricity supply, so Yasser Al-Hajj found a different way: Solar power.

Looking at the rows of photovoltaic panels at his beachfront fish farm and seafood restaurant, The Sailor, he said the investment he made six years ago had more than paid off.

“Electricity is the backbone of the project,” Hajj said, standing under a blazing Mediterranean sun. “We rely on it to provide oxygen for the fish, as well as to draw and pump water from the sea.”

The dozens of solar panels that shade the fish ponds below have brought savings that are now paying to refurbish the business, he said, as laborers loaded sand onto a horse-drawn cart.

Hajj said he used to pay 150,000 shekels ($42,000) per month for electricity, “a huge burden,” before solar power slashed his monthly bill to 50,000 shekels.

For most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, living under Hamas rule and a 15-year-old Israeli blockade, power cuts are a daily fact of life that impact everything from homes to hospital wards.

While some Gazans pay for a generator to kick in when the mains are cut — for around half of each day, according to UN data — ever more people are turning to renewables.

From the rooftops of Gaza City, solar panels now stretch out into the horizon.

Green energy advocates say it is a vision for a global future as the world faces the perils of climate change and rising energy costs.

Gaza bakery owner Bishara Shehadeh began the switch to solar this summer, by placing hundreds of gleaming panels on his rooftop.

“We have surplus electricity in the day,” he said. “We sell it to the electricity company in exchange for providing us with current during the night.” 

Solar energy lights up the bright bulbs illuminating the bustling bakery, but the ovens still run on diesel.

“We are working on importing ovens, depending on electrical power, from Israel, to save the cost of diesel,” said Shehadeh.

Both the bakery and the fish farm have relied partially on foreign donors to kick-start their switch to solar, although their owners are also investing their own cash.

But in a poverty-stricken territory where nearly 80 percent of residents rely on humanitarian assistance, according to the UN, not everyone can afford to install renewable energy.

Around a fifth of Gazans have installed solar power in their homes, according to an estimate published in April by the Energy, Sustainability and Society journal.

Financing options are available for Gazans with some capital, like Shehadeh, who got a four-year loan to fund his bakery project.

At a store selling solar power kits, MegaPower, engineer Shehab Hussein said prices start at around $1,000 and can be paid in instalments. Clients included a sewing factory and a drinks producer, which see the mostly Chinese-made technology as “a worthwhile investment,” he said.

Raya Al-Dadah, who heads the University of Birmingham’s Sustainable Energy Technology Laboratory, said her family in Gaza has been using simple solar panels that heat water for more than 15 years.

“The pipe is super rusty, the glass is broken ... and I just had a shower and the water is super hot,” she said during a visit to the territory.

But Dadah encountered obstacles when she tried to import a more sophisticated solar system for a community project in Gaza, where imports are tightly restricted by Israel and Egypt.

“Bringing them to the Gaza Strip has proved to be impossible,” she said.

The advanced set-up includes more efficient panels and equipment that tracks the sun’s path.

Such technology is being used by Israeli firms such as SolarGik, whose smart control systems factor in weather conditions and can harness up to 20 percent more energy than standard panels, chief executive Gil Kroyzer told AFP.

Across the frontier in Gaza, in the absence of such high-tech equipment, Dadah relies on the standard panels to power a women’s center and surrounding homes in the strip’s northern Jabalia area.


EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause
Updated 04 October 2022

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

EU holds ‘frank’ talks with Israel after decade’s pause

BRUSSELS: The EU vowed to press Israel on Monday about the treatment of Palestinians, settlement expansions and stalled peace efforts at the first meeting in a decade of a frozen joint council.

“We will discuss frankly and openly about some specific issues which are of our mutual concern,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the start of the meeting in Brussels. “I am talking about the situation in the Palestinian territories and the Middle East peace process, which is stalled.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid dialed in remotely for the EU-Israel Association Council talks and the country’s traveling delegation was headed by intelligence minister Elazar Stern.

Meetings of the council have been suspended for a decade since Israel ditched them over the EU’s opposition to expanding settlements in the West Bank.

The EU has been looking for a fresh start with Israel since right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from office in 2021 after 12 years in charge.

“All in all, today is a good occasion to show our determination to have a positive and fruitful relationship with Israel, pushing for peace,” Borrell said. 

Support expressed by Lapid in a speech at the UN for a two-state solution with the Palestinians was “very important,” he added.

“We want the resumption of a political process that can lead to a two-state solution and a comprehensive regional peace,” Borrell said.

But he said a UN report on the situation in the occupied territories was “worrisome,” as the number of Palestinians reported killed this year reached the highest level since 2007.

Another bone of contention between the two sides is Israel’s firm opposition to EU-mediated efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

“Well, this is one of the issues in which certainly we disagree,” Borrell said. “For the time being in any case, those (nuclear deal) negotiations are stalled.”