Instant folk hero: Lebanese woman who stole own savings says she’s not the criminal

Instant folk hero: Lebanese woman who stole own savings says she’s not the criminal
Sali Hafiz, in green shoes, held up a Beirut branch of BLOM Bank last week, taking by force some $13,000 in savings in her sister’s account frozen by capital controls. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2022

Instant folk hero: Lebanese woman who stole own savings says she’s not the criminal

Instant folk hero: Lebanese woman who stole own savings says she’s not the criminal
  • Sali Hafiz, who held up Beirut bank, decries ‘country of mafias’
  • She was the first of at least seven savers who held up banks last week

BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon: On the run from authorities after forcing a bank to release her family savings at gunpoint to treat her cancer-stricken sister, 28-year-old Lebanese interior designer Sali Hafiz insists she is not the criminal.
“We are in the country of mafias. If you are not a wolf, the wolves will eat you,” she said, standing on a dirt track somewhere in Lebanon’s rugged eastern Bekaa valley where she has since been in hiding.
Hafiz held up a Beirut branch of BLOM Bank last week, taking by force some $13,000 in savings in her sister’s account frozen by capital controls that were imposed overnight by commercial banks in 2019 but never made legal via legislation.
Dramatic footage of the incident, in which she cocks what later turned out to be a toy gun and stands atop a desk bossing around employees who hand her wads of cash, turned her into an instant folk hero in a country where hundreds of thousands of people are locked out of their savings.
A growing number are taking matters into their own hands, exasperated by a three-year financial implosion that authorities have left to fester — leading the World Bank to describe it as “orchestrated by the country’s elite.”
Hafiz was the first of at least seven savers who held up banks last week, prompting banks to shut their doors citing security concerns, and call for security support from the government.
George Hajj of the bank employees syndicate said the holdups were misguiding anger that should be directed at the Lebanese state, which was most to blame for the crisis, and noted some 6,000 bank employees had lost their jobs since it began.
Authorities have condemned the holdups and say they are preparing a security plan for banks.
But depositors argue that bank owners and shareholders have enriched themselves by getting high interest payments for lending the government depositors’ money and are prioritising the banks over people rather than enacting an IMF rescue plan.
The government says it is working hard to implement IMF reforms and aims to secure a $3 billion bailout this year.
The series of raids have been met with widespread support, including from crowds that gather outside the banks when they hear a holdup is taking place to cheer them on.
“Maybe they saw me as a hero because I was the first woman who does this in a patriarchal society where a woman’s voice is not supposed to be heard,” Hafiz said, adding she had not intended to harm anyone but was tired of government inaction.
“They are all in cahoots to steal from us and leave us to go hungry and die slowly,” she said.
When her sister began losing hope she would be able to afford costly treatment to help regain mobility and speech impaired by brain cancer, and the bank declined to provide the savings, Hafiz said she decided to act.
BLOM Bank said in a statement that the branch had been cooperative with her request for funds but asked for documentation as they do for all customers requesting humanitarian exceptions to the informal controls.
Hafiz then returned two days later with a toy gun she had seen her nephews playing with, and a small amount of fuel that she mixed with water and spilled on to an employee.
Before her raid, she watched popular Egyptian black comedy Irhab w Kabab — or “Terrorist and Kabab” — in which a man frustrated with government corruption holds up a state building and demands kebabs for the hostages due to the high price of meat.
She managed to get $13,000 of a total $20,000 — enough to cover travel expenses for her sister and about a month of treatment — and made sure to sign a receipt so that she would not be accused of theft.
To aid her escape, Hafiz posted on Facebook that she was already at the airport and on her way to Istanbul. She ran home and disguised herself in a robe and headscarf and placed a bundle of clothes on her belly to make herself appear pregnant.
A police officer who knocked on her door “must have been scared I would give birth in front of him. I went downstairs in front of them all, like 60 or 70 people... they were wishing me luck with the birth. It was... like the movies,” she said, after they failed to recognize her.
Two of Hafiz’s close friends with her at the bank hold up were detained after the incident over charges of threatening bank employees and holding them against their will, and ordered released on bail on Wednesday.
Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
Hafiz said she would hand herself in once judges end a crippling strike that has slowed legal procedures and left detainees languishing in jail.
Abdallah Al-Saii, an acquaintance of Hafiz who held up a bank in January to get some $50,000 of his own savings, said more hold-ups were coming.
“Things will have to get worse so that they can get better,” Saii said, taking drags from a cigarette at his convenience store in the Bekaa.
“When the state can’t do anything for you and can’t even provide a tiny bit of hope over what lies in store, then we’re living by the law of the jungle.”


Over 200 killed in Iran protests: top security body

Updated 9 sec ago

Over 200 killed in Iran protests: top security body

Over 200 killed in Iran protests: top security body
TEHRAN: More than 200 people have been killed in Iran since nationwide protests erupted over the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, the country’s top security body said Saturday.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died on September 16 after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Quoted by the official IRNA news agency, the country’s Supreme National Security Council said the number of people killed during unrest sparked by her death “exceeds 200.”
It said the figure included security officers, civilians and “separatists” as well as “rioters” — a term used by Iranian officials to describe protesters.
A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said more than 300 people had lost their lives in the unrest.
The security council said that in addition to the human toll, the violence had caused millions of dollars in damage.
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk said last week that 14,000 people, including children, had been arrested in the protest crackdown.

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general
Updated 03 December 2022

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general
  • Protesters have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans
  • "Both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)", of whether the law needs any changes, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said

TEHRAN: Iran’s parliament and the judiciary are reviewing a law which requires women to cover their heads, and which triggered more than two months of deadly protests, the attorney general said.
The demonstrations began after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died in custody on September 16 after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for an alleged breach of the dress code.
Protesters have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans. Since Amini’s death a growing number of women are not observing hijab, particularly in Tehran’s fashionable north.
The hijab headscarf became obligatory for all women in Iran in April 1983, four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy.
“Both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue),” of whether the law needs any changes, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said in the holy city of Qom.
Quoted on Friday by the ISNA news agency, he did not specify what could be modified in the law.
The review team met on Wednesday with parliament’s cultural commission “and will see the results in a week or two,” the attorney general said.
President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday said Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched.
“But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible,” he said in televised comments.
After the hijab law became mandatory, with changing clothing norms it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans and loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year Raisi, an ultra-conservative, called for mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Many women continued to bend the rules, however.
Iran accuses its sworn enemy the United States and its allies, including Britain, Israel, and Kurdish groups based outside the country, of fomenting the street violence which the government calls “riots.”
A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said more than 300 people have lost their lives in the unrest since Amini’s death.
Iran’s top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, on Saturday said the number of people killed during the protests “exceeds 200.”
Cited by state news agency IRNA, it said the figure included security officers, civilians, armed separatists and “rioters.”
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk said last week that 14,000 people, including children, had been arrested in the protest crackdown.


Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant
Updated 03 December 2022

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant
  • The announcement comes as Iran has been rocked by nationwide anti-government protests
  • The new 300-megawatt plant, known as Karoon, will take eight years to build and cost around $2 billion

CAIRO: Iran on Saturday began construction on a new nuclear power plant in the country’s southwest, Iranian state TV announced, amid tensions with the US over sweeping sanctions imposed after Washington pulled out of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear deal with world powers.
The announcement also comes as Iran has been rocked by nationwide anti-government protests that began after the death of a young woman in police custody and have challenged the country’s theocratic government.
The new 300-megawatt plant, known as Karoon, will take eight years to build and cost around $2 billion, the country’s state television and radio agency reported. The plant will be located in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, near its western border with Iraq, it said.
The construction site’s inauguration ceremony was attended by Mohammed Eslami, head of Iran’s civilian Atomic Energy Organization, who first unveiled construction plans for Karoon in April.
Iran has one nuclear power plant at its southern port of Bushehr that went online in 2011 with help from Russia, but also several underground nuclear facilities.
The announcement of Karoon’s construction came less than two weeks after Iran announced it had begun producing enriched uranium at 60 percent purity at the country’s underground Fordo nuclear facility. The move is seen as a significant addition to the country’s nuclear program.
Enrichment to 60 percent purity is one short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Non-proliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60 percent-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
The move was condemned by Germany, France and Britain, the three Western European nations that remain in the Iran nuclear deal. Recent attempts to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, have stalled.
Since September, Iran has been roiled by nationwide protests that have come to mark one of the greatest challenges to its theocracy since the chaotic years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution. The protests were sparked when Mahsa Amini, 22, died in custody on Sept. 16, three days after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women. Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained
In a statement issued by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency on Saturday, the country’s national security council announced that some 200 people have been killed during the protests, the body’s first official word on the casualties. Last week, Iranian Gen. Amir Ali Hajjizadeh tallied the death toll at more than 300.
The contradictory tolls are lower than the toll reported by Human Rights Activists in Iran, a US-based organization that has been closely monitoring the protest since the outbreak. In its most recent update, the group says that 469 people have been killed and 18,210 others detained in the protests and the violent security force crackdown that followed.
The United States unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — in 2018, under then-President Donald Trump. It reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start backing away from the deal’s terms. Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons, insisting its nuclear program is peaceful.


Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report
Updated 03 December 2022

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report
  • Mahmut Tat, who was sentenced to six years and 10 months in jail for PKK membership in Turkiye, fled to Sweden in 2015

ISTANBUL : Sweden has extradited a convicted member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to Turkiye as Ankara presses Stockholm for further steps in return for its membership in NATO, state media reported on Saturday.
Mahmut Tat, who was sentenced to six years and 10 months in jail for PKK membership in Turkiye, fled to Sweden in 2015 but his asylum request was rejected.
Tat arrived in Istanbul on Friday night having been detained by Swedish police, the Anadolu news agency reported.
He was taken by Turkish police soon after arriving at Istanbul airport and referred to court on Saturday, the private NTV broadcaster reported.
Turkiye has accused Finland and Sweden in particular of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish groups it deems “terrorists,” and held back on ratifying their NATO bids despite an agreement in Madrid in June.
Finland and Sweden dropped decades of military non-alignment and sought to join NATO in May, after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The decision requires a consensus within the US-led defense alliance, but only Turkiye and Hungary are yet to ratify their membership.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held trilateral talks with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts on the margins of a NATO meeting in Bucharest this week.
“The statements (coming out of Sweden) are good, the determination is good but we need to see concrete steps,” Cavusoglu said.
Ankara has said it expects Stockholm to take action on issues including the extradition of criminals and freezing of terror assets.


Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
Updated 03 December 2022

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
  • Canada slaps more sanctions on regime

JEDDAH: Black-clad women in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province on Friday joined nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death.

Online videos showed dozens of women on the streets of the provincial capital Zahedan holding banners that declared “Woman, life, freedom” — one of the main slogans of the protest movement that erupted in mid-September.

“Whether with hijab, whether without it, onwards to revolution,” women dressed in body-covering chador garments chanted in videos posted on Twitter.

Women-led protests have swept Iran since Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died following her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.

Security forces have killed at least 448 protesters, with the largest toll in Sistan-Baluchistan on Iran’s southeastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based non-governmental organization.

“It is indeed rare,” IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said of the protests by women in Zahedan, which has seen men take to the streets after Friday prayers for more than two months.

“The ongoing protests in Iran are the beginning of a revolution of dignity,” he said.

“Women and minorities, who have for more than four decades been treated as second-class citizens, are empowered through these protests to come out to the streets and demand their fundamental human rights.”

Baluchi women were among the “most oppressed” in Iran and their protests were the most organized by them so far since demonstrations broke out across the country, Amiry-Moghaddam added.

Scores of men also took to the streets again on Friday, chanting “we don’t want a child-killing government,” footage posted online by activists showed. Security forces were seen opening fire with bird shots and tear gas on male protesters in Taftan, a locality in Sistan-Baluchistan, in a video published by IHR.

A prominent Sunni cleric said it was wrong to charge protesters with capital offenses. Molavi Abdolhamid, a powerful dissenting Sunni voice in the Shiite-ruled country, said it was wrong for the hardline judiciary to charge protesters with “moharebeh” — a term meaning warring against God — which carries the death penalty.

Meanwhile,  Canada has issued additional sanctions against Iran over its denial of rights for women and girls and for cracking down on peaceful protests, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said.

The latest sanctions target four individuals and five entities that Ottawa said were tied to Tehran’s “systematic human rights violations” and actions that “threaten international peace and security.” She added that Canada “will not stand idly by while the regime’s human rights violations increase in scope and intensity against the Iranian people.”