Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi

Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi
Protesters attend a rally calling for the prosecution of the Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi during the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2022

Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi

Iranian dissidents, former hostages of regime launch lawsuit against Raisi
  • Activists call for justice in a US federal civil case against President Ebrahim Raisi, who is in New York this week for the UN General Assembly
  • ‘I have lived in constant trauma,’ said one victim of unjust detention and torture who saw fellow prisoners taken to be hanged and feared he would be next

NEW YORK CITY: As Iran is rocked by furious nationwide protests following the death on Friday of Mahsa Amini — a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died after police beat her for “improperly” wearing the hijab — President Ebrahim Raisi might have hoped to escape the anger swelling in his country while he attends the UN General Assembly in New York this week.
But he faces the threat of being served with a lawsuit in the city by Iranian dissidents and Westerners who were held hostage by the regime in Tehran and accuse him of personal involvement in the torture and mistreatment they endured.
The lawsuit, which is supported by the National Union for Democracy in Iran, is being filed in the Southern District of New York by human rights attorney Shahin Milani on behalf of victims of Raisi’s alleged crimes.
The plaintiffs claim they endured acts of torture that were either directly ordered or substantially assisted by Raisi, which means the Iranian president is liable to face a civil lawsuit under the US Torture Victim Protection Act.
Cameron Khansarinia, NUFDI’s policy director, introduced the plaintiffs during a press conference at a private club in midtown Manhattan.
“We are here today to announce and outline in detail an historic, federal, civil lawsuit against Ebrahim Raisi,” he said.
“The plaintiffs in this case — Iranian dissidents, former Iranian hostages, former Western hostages — are coming together in unprecedented fashion to take a step forward for justice.”
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Khansarinia told Arab News: “Raisi is in New York and it’s important that while the media is covering him, they’re also covering his victims.
“We want to have it recorded in the US judiciary that Ebrahim Raisi’s victims are standing up to him, that he is a criminal, that he is being accused, and in our view is guilty, of torture. This is important for setting a new legal precedent for such cases.
“Secondly, we are giving a voice to the Iranian people and to his victims, and allowing them for the first time to speak up because for so long they have been silenced by the regime and, unfortunately, often even by those in the West, so it’s an important opportunity for them to speak their truth today.”
During the press briefing, which was also supported by the NUFDI, four of those victims shared the details of their experiences at the hands of the Iranian regime: Mehdi Hajati, a city councilor and dissident; Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic and former hostage of the regime; Hamid Babaei, a Belgian-Iranian academic and former hostage; and Ahmad Batebi, a former political prisoner.
They were joined by Navid Mohebbi, who was once the youngest journalist in the world in detention when he was imprisoned by the regime in Tehran. Milani, the lead attorney in the lawsuit, stressed that the civil case directly targets Raisi personally and not the Islamic Republic of Iran as a whole.
Moore-Gilbert described years of “gross mistreatment” and “psychological and physical torture” while in detention. Raisi was head of Iran’s judiciary when she was convicted, sentenced, denied an appeal, and transferred to prison. She said she holds him “ultimately responsible for the mistreatment and injustice” she endured.
She said that the judge at her trial was “clearly a puppet” of the government and not “capable of making independent decisions.” She was not even aware she had a lawyer until a couple of weeks before her hearings, she added.
Moore-Gilbert, speaking via video link, said she was “unable to present evidence during the trial” and could not understand the proceedings because they were conducted entirely in Farsi. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison on “ludicrous charges” of espionage. She was immediately placed in solitary confinement for seven months, one of the many examples of cruel and unjust punishment she said she endured, which also included exposure to infectious diseases and denial of medical care.
“He is ultimately responsible for my mistreatment,” Moore-Gilbert said of Raisi, adding: “I am taking part in this lawsuit under the TVPA in order to hold Raisi accountable for one injustice: My own.”
Babaei, another academic unjustly imprisoned in Iran, described the repulsive conditions he endured during his time in detention, revealing that inmates were not even provided with cups for drinking water.
“I lived in a constant trauma,” he said as he told how he saw fellow prisoners being taken away to be hanged, which he said kept him in a continuous state of fear that he would be next.
Mohebbi said that Iranians have been “exposed to continuous trauma over the last 43 years.”
Describing his experiences in prison, he said the entire judiciary system, in which “the punishment of a defender is already sealed,” had conspired against him.
He said: “With this lawsuit, the survivors and victims of the regime send a very clear message to the butchers of Tehran that you will never break our soul, our resilience, and our fight for our human dignity is not one that we will lose.”
The lawsuit brings three cases to the court, he added, but they “represent thousands of Iranians whose rights to express justice, their rights to express themselves, and their rights to express their suffering has been taken away.”
Marjam Keypour Greenblatt, a human rights activist and non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, told Arab News: “I am here to support the rights of Iranian people who are having their rights violated by the regime on a regular basis. I am here to echo their voices and to make sure there is justice where justice is rarely seen.”
Justice is the ultimate goal of the civil case against Raisi but success in achieving this justice, which thousands of others have been denied, could be a difficult prospect.
Gissou Nia, director of the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Litigation Project, told Arab News that the TVPA is “the right act to use here because you can seek remedies for crimes that were committed elsewhere.”
She added: “The legal team wants to serve process but provided that he is served then there would be determinations around immunity. With this particular matter, if the defendant was a head of government from France or Germany (for example), then the court would most likely take judicial notice and say that Raisi is protected by head-of-state immunity.
“But because it’s Iran, and under US law there are some different exceptions to state immunity as it applies to Iran, the court may opt to ask the State Department for their view. This could take a while but there is a chance that the suit moves forward.”
Raisi is not obliged to respond to a civil lawsuit, however, and if he chooses not to engage with the legal proceedings the court could issue a default ruling against him and in favor of the plaintiffs.
The president is not a member of Iran’s permanent mission to the UN and therefore does not qualify for diplomatic immunity. However he is afforded protection from being served with legal papers while he is in the UN headquarters and the surrounding district, and while traveling between there and his accommodation. However, the legal papers could be served against him if his accommodation in New York, or any non-official activities he takes part in, are outside the borders of the UN district.
Nizar Zakka, a former prisoner of the Iranian regime, told Arab News: “The most important part of this lawsuit is that the Iranian regime needs to know that they will be hunted wherever they go (and) they will be sued until they stop these activities, like hostage-taking, that they have been doing since 1979.”
For those dissident Iranians and Western hostages who continue to endure physical and psychological trauma after years of unjust confinement, that hunt continues this week in New York City.

Egypt’s El-Sisi, top Iraqi cleric discuss political developments in Iraq

Egypt’s El-Sisi, top Iraqi cleric discuss political developments in Iraq
Updated 29 May 2023

Egypt’s El-Sisi, top Iraqi cleric discuss political developments in Iraq

Egypt’s El-Sisi, top Iraqi cleric discuss political developments in Iraq
  • Ammar Al-Hakim commends Egyptian leadership, expresses hopes for continued cooperation between two countries

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with Ammar Al-Hakim, head of the Iraqi Wisdom Movement, in Cairo on Sunday. The two leaders discussed the latest political developments in Iraq and prominent regional issues of mutual interest.

During the meeting, El-Sisi affirmed his pride in the fraternal relations between Cairo and Baghdad and his government’s support of Iraq’s efforts to achieve progress.

El-Sisi also acknowledged Al-Hakim’s constructive role in maintaining stability in Iraq.

Al-Hakim likewise commended El-Sisi’s leadership and expressed Iraq’s aspiration to continue strengthening relations with Egypt, as well as his country’s appreciation for Egyptian efforts to support Iraq and its keenness to benefit from Egyptian experiences in all fields.

Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry also met with Al-Hakim.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said the two discussed a number of regional issues of common concern and affirmed their interest in continued cooperation to improve security in the region.

Shoukry expressed Egypt’s full support of Iraq in its war against terrorism and highlighted the importance that Egypt attributes to the tripartite cooperation mechanism between Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan, a reflection of the countries’ common political will.

Separately, during a discussion with experts of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Al-Hakim said there are many areas in which Egypt and Iraq can coordinate, citing the importance of regional cooperation as a reason why “Iraq hosted five rounds of talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, in addition to discussions between other countries.”

Iraq was able to overcome, to a large extent, the challenges facing it, especially those posed by terrorist groups, which are now only present in some small enclaves in the desert, he added.

“Sectarianism in Iraq is political, not social, and there are political forces that want to entrench themselves behind sects to gain (benefits),” Al-Hakim said.

There has been a “national realization,” he added, that “there is no way to overcome challenges except through dialogue” that promotes “internal solutions” rather than ones “imposed from outside.”

He emphasized that strengthening the state is the main solution to the problems that face it.

DP World launches partnership to get African business moving

DP World launches partnership to get African business moving
Updated 29 May 2023

DP World launches partnership to get African business moving

DP World launches partnership to get African business moving
  • The partnership aims to assist closing the gap in unmet demand for working capital in Africa

DUBAI: Dubai-based DP World has teamed up with the largest bank in Africa by assets to offer new trade finance solutions, Emirates News Agency reported on Monday. 

African businesses seeking trade finance will now be able to receive working capital from Standard Bank through the DP World Trade Finance platform.

The partnership aims to assist closing the gap in unmet demand for working capital in Africa.

DP World Trade Finance connects businesses with financial institutions while also providing trade finance facilities. Customers can apply for credit on the company's digital platform, and it will offer them with the best options from international financiers that would otherwise be out of their reach.

“DP World exists to make the world’s trade flow better and this partnership with Standard Bank is testament to that goal,” DP World’s Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said. 

“Africa is a key market for us, with this partnership complementing our ongoing investment and development across the continent. 

“Our recent acquisition of Imperial Logistics allowed us to enhance our logistics capabilities in Africa. 

“With the addition of DP World Trade Finance into our offerings, we aim to support African businesses of all sizes for their working capital needs. 

“Together with Standard Bank, we will help African businesses go from strength to strength and grow their exports to new markets.”

DP World Financial Services Senior Executive Officer Sinan Ozcan added: “Standard Bank joining the DP World Trade Finance platform is great news for businesses across Africa. 

“DP World offers Standard Bank access to data on cargo movements, enabling them to lend with confidence. 

“We in turn plan to co-lend and share risk with Standard Bank on deals made via the platform, whilst Standard Bank will be able to support the many suppliers in DP World’s ecosystem across Africa with its strong financing capabilities. 

“This ecosystem has itself been strengthened by the acquisition of Imperial Logistics by DP World in 2022. 

“Standard Bank’s strong presence across countries like Nigeria, Kenya and Mozambique will see this partnership develop further in the African market.”

Since its launch in July 2021, DP World Trade Finance has partnered with 23 financial institutions and generated more than $700 million in credit limit submissions. The company began directly lending to businesses last year.

Kenny Fihla, Chief Executive Officer, Corporate and Investment Banking at Standard Bank said: “Partnering with DP World allows us to enhance how we facilitate cross-border transactions in growing key trade corridors.”

Desert wells help Iraq harvest bumper wheat crop as rivers dry

Desert wells help Iraq harvest bumper wheat crop as rivers dry
Updated 29 May 2023

Desert wells help Iraq harvest bumper wheat crop as rivers dry

Desert wells help Iraq harvest bumper wheat crop as rivers dry
  • Drilling the desert for water could provide immediate relief in a country that the UN says is among the five nations most vulnerable to climate change in the world

KARBALA: Amin Salah used to grow wheat near the banks of Iraq’s Euphrates River, but persistent droughts have led him to switch to farming unlikely new grounds deep in the harsh desert of Najaf.

Watered by sprinklers fitted to wells dug more than 100 meters under the sun-bleached earth, his land now produces double what it did compared to when he relied on ancient methods that flood fields with river water, he said.

“It’s a golden year, a golden season,” said Salah, wearing a traditional white robe and reflective sunglasses as he walked his field and noted the benefits: less money and water spent, as well as a bigger and quality harvest.

Iraq’s government says this officially supported shift has allowed the country to double areas cultivated with wheat this year to some 8.5 million dunams (850,000 hectares) compared to roughly 4 million (400,000 hectares) last year.

Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Al-Khuzai said that has translated into a harvest of around 4 million tons of wheat — the largest in years and 80 percent of the needs of a country with a 43 million population who eat bread at almost every meal. The shift in methods is driven by necessity: Iraq’s two main rivers, along which civilization emerged thousands of years ago, have lost more than half of their flow due to reduced rainfall, overuse and upstream dams.

Drilling the desert for water could provide immediate relief in a country that the UN says is among the five nations most vulnerable to climate change in the world, and where climate-induced migration has already begun. However, heavy use of the wells could bleed desert aquifers dry, agricultural experts and environmentalists warn. Some farmers have already noted a drop in the water table.

Iraq has more than 110,000 wells, but only a fraction, some 10,000, are fitted with modern systems that prevent water waste, said Karim Bilal, an agricultural engineer and former director of Najaf’s agriculture directorate.

Hadi Fathallah, director of public policy at consultancy Namea Group who has researched agriculture in Iraq said: “It’s very desperate to go to desert wells.

“You are plugging into aquifers that have been gathering water for thousands of years and will disappear in a few years if used this way,” he said.

Iraq should focus on modernizing agriculture, engage in water diplomacy with its neighbors to increase river flows and revitalize agricultural areas that have not recovered from war, Fathallah said.

Al-Khuzai said the government was focused on sustainable use, supporting the installation of drip and sprinkler systems.

Large institutions have bought into the shift to desert wells: The body that oversees the Imam Hussein Holy Shrine now farms 400 hectares of wheat in the desert — 55 km from the shrine — up from 100 hectares in 2019.

“We have turned the desert into a green oasis,” declared Qahtan Awaz, an agricultural official with the shrine, though he noted that the water table had sunk between 12 to 15 meters since last season.

Behind him, a pair of large green US-made harvesters pulled in wheat grown in large circles, then funneled processed grain into waiting trucks for delivery to government silos.

From there, much of the grain enters one of the largest government-run food programs in the world, which provides most families with monthly rations. 

Crop failures in 2021 and 2022 driven by drought, and a surge in food prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine put the scheme under pressure, which the government wants to avoid.

“The government are trying to alleviate a lot of pain,” Fathallah said. 

“But this is not adaptation to climate change. It’s a kind of morphine.” 

Egypt’s El-Sisi, Turkiye’s Erdogan agree on reinstating ambassadors

Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (File/AFP)
Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (File/AFP)
Updated 29 May 2023

Egypt’s El-Sisi, Turkiye’s Erdogan agree on reinstating ambassadors

Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (File/AFP)

CAIRO: Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed on “the immediate start of upgrading diplomatic relations, exchanging ambassadors,” Egypt’s presidency said in a statement on Monday.
El-Sisi spoke with Erdogan in a phone call to congratulate him on his presidential win.
Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry visited Turkiye in April and met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, the two parties agreed then on specific time frame to raise the level of diplomatic relations and to prepare for a summit between the two presidents.
The presidents may meet in person again after Turkiye’s May 14 election, Cavusoglu said in April.

Turkiye’s foreign policy under scrutiny as Erdogan takes power

Turkiye’s foreign policy under scrutiny as Erdogan takes power
Updated 29 May 2023

Turkiye’s foreign policy under scrutiny as Erdogan takes power

Turkiye’s foreign policy under scrutiny as Erdogan takes power
  • President has to navigate US push for Russia sanctions, NATO enlargement, say analysts
  • Energy, arms deals, immigration likely to be govt’s key focus

ANKARA: It is perhaps no secret in which direction Turkiye’s foreign policy will be moving with the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan winning another five-year term this past Sunday – which means a continuation of strategies the long-serving leader has championed in the past.

According to Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, Erdogan’s main priority would be to ensure the continued flow of much-needed cash from Russia and Gulf countries, while avoiding friction with Europe and the US so that he can attract investments from the West.

“While Turkiye’s relations with neither Europe nor the US can be expected to be put back on track, they can at least be stabilized as both Erdogan and his Western counterparts would benefit from this,” he told Arab News recently.

“The congratulatory messages from Europe and the United States suggest that this is also the tendency in the West.”

President Joe Biden congratulated Erdogan on his reelection, and tweeted: “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges.”

For Unluhisarcikli, Erdogan will also need to make tough decisions early on in his third term as president.

“The US, which has shown restraint so far due to the elections in Turkiye will press its points on Russia sanctions and NATO enlargement more strongly in the period ahead. Erdogan’s decisions on these issues and developments in the US about Turkiye’s request to purchase new F-16s could pivot the Turkiye-US relationship in any direction,” he said.

The administration of Donald Trump removed Turkiye from the F-35 fifth-generation jet program in 2019 over its acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system.

Experts also underline that with Erdogan winning, Turkiye will continue its recent efforts to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to zones under Turkish control in compliance with international law.

Although being met with suspicion by Washington, the normalization efforts with Syria’s President Bashar Assad are also expected to continue as Erdogan, and his new ultranationalist and anti-immigrant allies in the parliament, consider the restored ties with Syria as the only solution to send back Syrian refugees in Turkiye to their homeland.

Erdogan’s new ally, Sinan Ogan, who ran as the third presidential candidate in the first elections, then endorsed Erdogan’s candidacy in the runoff, said during his campaign that he would consider repatriating refugees by force if necessary.  

Karol Wasilewski, an analyst for 4CF The Futures Literacy Company and a founder of Krakow-based Institute for Turkiye Studies, expects continuity in Turkish diplomacy and decision-making in the short run, on the economy and foreign policy.

“Erdogan would, most likely, continue his ambiguous foreign policy in which Turkiye, on the one hand, gives its Western allies arguments that it still can be considered an ally — that’s why I won’t be surprised if Erdogan finally agrees on Sweden’s membership — while, on the other, decisively pushes for its interests, even when it harms NATO internal cohesion,” he told Arab News.

Following the support he received in Sunday’s elections, and having regained flexibility for his political and diplomatic maneuvers, Erdogan is also expected to make some U-turns without risking any major backlash from his constituency.

While Sweden’s accession bid has yet to be approved by Ankara, Stockholm’s membership — which has long been rejected by Erdogan, who accused the country of harboring terrorists — may also be used as a trump card for securing a commitment from the US for F-16 fighter jets ahead of NATO’s next summit this July when Erdogan and Biden are expected to meet.

The admission of Sweden by Turkiye would help the US administration in pushing for F-16 sales through Congress.

But Erdogan’s uneasiness with the US support for Syrian Kurdish militia — People’s Protection Units or YPG — is unlikely to change under his third term as his government considers the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkiye.

On Friday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said that after the elections, “whoever pursues a pro-American policy in Turkiye will be labeled a traitor,” hinting at a possible transactional relationship with Washington in the post-elections period.

For Wasilewski, Erdogan’s win may serve as another chance for Euro-Asianist segments in Turkiye to strengthen themselves in the security apparatus.

“In (a) five-year perspective, this may be something that would cast (an) even bigger shadow over Turkiye’s relationship with the West,” he said.

Another dimension of the post-election process would be the Western allies’ position toward Turkiye now that the election dust has settled.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the US decided to increase pressure on Turkiye on areas that seems vital to their interests, such as sanctions on Russia,” he said.

“The way that Erdogan responds to this possible pressure will be one (other) factor determining Turkiye’s relations with the West,” he added.

In terms of Turkish-Russian relations, Ankara is expected to continue its current political and economic relations with the Kremlin as well as deepen its cooperation in the energy field, with the help of the personal rapport between the two leaders.

Close ties with Russia as well as the Gulf will also help Erdogan in achieving his goal of rendering the Turkish economy more independent from Western markets. Ankara has not joined Western sanctions against Russia, but continues to provide military support to Kyiv.

Turkiye’s $20 billion first nuclear power plant, that will be owned for the first 25 years by the manufacturer, Russian energy company Rosatom, was recently inaugurated in a virtual ceremony. And being the largest nuclear construction project in the world, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said the plant deepened Turkish-Russian ties.

Russia also delayed a portion of Turkiye’s natural gas payments in early May ahead of the general elections.

Attracting high numbers of tourists from Russia are also required to help the Turkish economy keep afloat during summertime, while Erdogan will also remain in campaign mode before Turkiye’s next polls, the municipal elections scheduled for March next year.

“Putin is well aware that close ties between Russia and Turkiye are vital to his interests, especially after Russian aggression on Ukraine, and will continue to put a great effort to preserve them in a good shape,” said Wasilewski.

“Feeding Turkiye’s dreams of being the gas hub serves Erdogan’s narrative of Turkiye as a great power,” said Wasilewski.