NEW YORK: The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on the Iran-based foundation that issued a multi-million-dollar bounty on the life of acclaimed “Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie, who was brutally attacked in August.
The sanctions are aimed at the “15 Khordad Foundation,” which the US Treasury Department says is affiliated with deceased Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who originally issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
A statement from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States is designating the group “for providing financial support for an act of terrorism.”
The foundation “maintains a multi-million dollar bounty on Rushdie,” the Treasury Department said, adding that as recently as 2012 the organization increased the bounty to $3.3 million.
In August Rushdie, 75, was stabbed several times in the neck and abdomen before he was due to give a talk in the state of New York.
He was air-lifted to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery, and though his condition improved in subsequent weeks, his agent has said the writer lost sight in one eye.
The British-American author had lived in hiding for years after Iran’s first supreme leader ordered Rushdie’s killing for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of “The Satanic Verses.”
The main suspect, Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey with roots in Lebanon, was arrested immediately after the attack on Rushdie. He pleaded not guilty during a hearing in New York state in mid-August.
The attack sparked outrage in the West but was praised by extremists in Muslim countries like Iran and Pakistan.
“The infamous fatwa was intended to incite terrorism and violence, bring about the death of Rushdie and his associates, and intimidate others,” Blinken’s statement on Friday read. “The United States condemns such incitement and the attack on Rushdie in the strongest terms as a blatant assault on freedom of speech and an act of terrorism.”
Voter turnout ticks up in Cuba legislative elections
Latest provisional figures show voter turnout stood at 70.33 percent
Modest increase from the 68.5 percent who voted in last November’s municipal elections
Updated 9 sec ago
HAVANA: Cuba’s government managed to mobilize voters on Sunday for National Assembly elections, the results of which were a foregone conclusion, as it pushed back against a recent abstentionist trend in the communist-ruled nation. As many as eight million eligible voters selected from the 470 candidates on the ballot — 263 women and 207 men — are vying for the 470 seats in the congress. But what was really in play was the number of Cubans refusing to vote. The opposition had called on citizens to abstain, with one opposition Twitter account branding the vote a farce. Voting is not obligatory and abstention has risen steadily in recent years. On Sunday the nation’s 23,648 polling stations closed at 7:00 p.m. (2300 GMT), an hour later than initially announced by authorities. According to the latest provisional figures released by the National Election Council, as of 5:00 p.m. turnout stood at 70.33 percent. That marked a modest increase from the 68.5 percent who voted in last November’s municipal elections, the lowest turnout since the island’s current electoral system was set up in 1976. Last September about 74 percent of eligible Cubans voted in a referendum on a new family code, down from the 90 percent turnout in the 2019 referendum on a new constitution. Cuba’s communist government does not allow opposition, so most parliamentary candidates are members of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Candidates still must receive 50 percent of votes to be elected. Voters had two choices: they could tick the names of any number of individual candidates, or they could select the “vote for all” option. “I voted for the unified vote because, despite the needs, the difficulties that this country can have, I could not imagine” abstaining, Carlos Diego Herrera, a 54-year-old blacksmith in Havana, said. He said abstaining would be like voting “for those that want to crush us, the Yankees.” Washington has imposed sanctions on the island nation since 1962, three years after the communist revolution that saw Fidel Castro take power after overthrowing US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Student Rachel Vega, 19, also said she voted for all candidates, considering it “a step forward right now” that would “improve the situation in the country.” President Miguel Diaz-Canel is among the candidates, as is his predecessor, 91-year-old Raul Castro. “With the united vote we defend the unity of the country, the unity of the revolution, our future, our socialist constitution,” said Diaz-Canel, 62, after voting in Santa Clara, 175 miles (280 kilometers) southeast of Havana. The opposition scoffed at the turnout figures, with dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua of the Council for the Democratic Transition in Cuba warning about “the government’s electoral mathematics.” “At 9am it reports that 18.2 percent of the electorate has voted. At 11am it says 41.66 percent — that is, in less than two hours the turnout increased by 23.46” points, he said on Twitter. “Impossible!!! The polling stations are empty.” Final figures will be released Monday.
Afghan girls struggle with poor Internet as they turn to online classes
Taliban officials have closed girls’ high schools, barred their access to universities
But Taliban administration has allowed girls to study individually at home
Updated 7 min 33 sec ago
KABUL: Sofia logs in to class on a laptop in Kabul for an online English course run by one of a growing number of educational institutes trying to reach Afghanistan’s girls and women digitally in their homes.
But when the teacher calls on Sofia to read a passage her computer screen freezes.
“Can you hear me?” she asks repeatedly, checking her connection.
After a while, her computer stutters back to life.
“As usual,” a fellow student equally frustrated with the poor communications sighs as the class gets going again.
Sofia, 22, is one of a growing stream of Afghan girls and women going online as a last resort to get around the Taliban administration’s restrictions on studying and working.
Taliban officials, citing what they call problems including issues related to Islamic dress, have closed girls’ highschools, barred their access to universities and stopped most women from working at non-governmental organizations.
One of the most striking changes since the Taliban were first in power from 1996 to 2001, is the explosion of the Internet.
Virtually no one had access to the Internet when the Taliban were forced from power in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
After nearly two decades of Western-led intervention and engagement with the world, 18 percent of the population had Internet access, according to the World Bank.
The Taliban administration has allowed girls to study individually at home and has not moved to ban the Internet, which its officials use to make announcements via social media.
But girls and women face a host of problems from power cuts, to cripplingly slow Internet speeds, let alone the cost of computers and wifi in a country where 97 percent of people live in poverty.
“For girls in Afghanistan, we have a bad, awful Internet problem,” Sofia said.
Her online school, Rumi Academy, saw its enrolment of mostly females rise from about 50 students to more than 500 after the Taliban took over in 2021.
It has had hundreds more applications but cannot enrol them for now because of a lack of funds for teachers and to pay for equipment and Internet packages, a representative of the academy said.
Sakina Nazari tried a virtual language class at her home in the west of Kabul for a week after she was forced to leave her university in December. But she abandoned it in frustration after battling the problems.
“I couldn’t continue,” she said. “It’s too hard to access Internet in Afghanistan and sometimes we have half an hour of power in 24 hours.”
Seattle-based Ookla, which compiles global Internet speeds, put Afghanistan’s mobile Internet as the slowest of 137 countries and its fixed Internet as the second slowest of 180 countries.
Some Afghans have started calling on SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk to introduce its satellite Internet service Starlink to Afghanistan, as it has done in Ukraine and Iran, posting requests for help on Twitter, which he owns.
“We also call on Elon Musk to help us,” Sofia said.
“If they would be able to (introduce) that in Afghanistan, it would be very, very impactful for women.”
SpaceX spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.
Online schools are trying their best to accommodate Afghanistan’s pupils.
Daniel Kalmanson, spokesperson for online University of the People, which has had more than 15,000 applications from Afghan girls and women since the Taliban took over, said students could attend lectures at any time that conditions allowed them to, and professors granted extensions for assignments and exams when students faced connection problems.
The non-profit group Learn Afghanistan, which runs several community-based schools in which some teachers run classes remotely, makes its curriculum available for free in Afghanistan’s main languages.
Executive director Pashtana Durrani said the group also ensured that lessons were available via radio, which is widely used in rural areas. She was working with international companies to find solutions to poor Internet access but said she could not elaborate.
“Afghanistan needs to be a country where the Internet is accessible, digital devices need to be pumped in,” Durrani said.
Sofia said Afghan women had grown used to problems over years of war and they would persevere no matter what.
“We still have dreams and we will not give up, ever.”
North Korea test-fires 2 more missiles as tensions rise
The allies last week completed an 11-day exercise that included their biggest field training in years
Updated 27 March 2023
SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missile toward waters off its eastern coast Monday, adding to a recent flurry in weapons tests as the United States prepared to deploy an aircraft carrier strike group to neighboring waters to step up military exercises with the South.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles flew cross-country after being fired from a western inland area south of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang but didn’t immediately release specific flight details. Japan’s coast guard said it believed both weapons landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The launches were the North’s seventh missile event this month and underscore heightening military tensions in the region as the pace of both North Korean weapons tests and the US-South Korea joint military exercises has accelerated in recent months in a cycle of tit-for-tat responses.
The allies last week completed an 11-day exercise that included their biggest field training in years. But North Korea is expected to further step up its testing activity as the United States moves an aircraft carrier group to the peninsula this week for another round of joint drills.
North Korea has fired more than 20 ballistic and cruise missiles across 11 launch events this year as it tries to force the United States to accept its nuclear status and negotiate a removal of sanctions from a position of strength.
North Korea’s launches this month included a flight-test of an intercontinental ballistic missile and a series of short-range weapons intended to overwhelm South Korean missile defenses as it tries to demonstrate an ability to conduct nuclear strikes on both South Korea and the US mainland.
The North last week conducted what it described as a three-day exercise that simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean targets as leader Kim Jong Un condemned the US-South Korean joint military drills as invasion rehearsals. The allies say the exercises are defensive in nature.
The North’s tests also included a purported nuclear-capable underwater drone that the North claimed is capable of setting off a huge “radioactive tsunami” that would destroy naval vessels and ports. Analysts were skeptical about the North Korean claims about the drone or whether the device presents a major new threat, but the tests underlined the North’s commitment to expand its nuclear threats.
Following the North’s announcement of the drone test on Friday, South Korea’s air force released details of a five-day joint aerial drill with the United States last week that included live-fire demonstrations of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. The air force said the exercise was aimed at verifying precision strike capabilities and reaffirming the credibility of Seoul’s “three-axis” strategy against North Korean nuclear threats — preemptively striking sources of attacks, intercepting incoming missiles and neutralizing the North’s leadership and key military facilities.
North Korea already is coming off a record year in weapons testing, launching more than 70 missiles in 2022, when it also set into law an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorizes pre-emptive nuclear strikes in a broad range of scenarios where it may perceive its leadership as under threat.
Australia’s Latitude says 7.9 million driver license numbers stolen in data theft
Australian fintech firm also identified about 53,000 passport numbers were stolen and less than 100 customers had a monthly financial statement stolen
Updated 26 min 32 sec ago
Digital payments and lending firm Latitude Holdings said on Monday it has determined that 7.9 million Australian and New Zealand driver license numbers were stolen in a large-scale information theft on March 16.
Apart from the 7.9 million driver license numbers stolen, the Australian fintech firm also identified about 53,000 passport numbers were stolen and less than 100 customers had a monthly financial statement stolen.
A further 6.1 million records dating back to at least 2005 were also stolen.
“We are rectifying platforms impacted in the attack and have implemented additional security monitoring as we return to operations in the coming days,” Chief Executive officer Ahmed Fahour said in a statement.
Latitude shares fell 1.7 percent to A$1.19 in early trade.
The firm, which provides consumer finance services to major Australian retailers Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi , alerted last week that it had unearthed further evidence of information theft.
Earlier this month, the Melbourne-based company took its platform offline and said the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Cyber Security Center were looking into the attack.
Several Australian firms have reported cyberattacks over the past few months, and experts say this is due to an understaffed cybersecurity industry in the country.
Last year, some of Australia’s largest companies reported data breaches, prompting authorities to step up efforts to bolster cybersecurity and implement stricter data-sharing rules to prevent breaches in the future.
Customers who choose to replace their stolen ID document will be reimbursed, the company said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia’s ‘vision and generosity are very well-suited’ to WHO’s work on global health issues, says WHO Foundation CEO
Anil Soni says Middle East’s humanitarian and health crises need both ‘immediate assistance and long-term solutions’
Praises aid agency KSrelief’s ‘incredible model’ and Saudi Vision 2030’s focus on nonprofit efforts and philanthropy
Updated 27 March 2023
LONDON: The WHO Foundation was set up in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to marshal new resources from philanthropists, foundations, businesses, and individuals to support the World Health Organization’s mission.
Both WHO, which is a specialized agency of the UN, and the WHO Foundation are based in Geneva but the latter is a non-profit, grant-making body that is legally independent from WHO.
Anil Soni joined as CEO with a 20-year track record of improving healthcare in poorer countries and a goal to raise $1 billion a year by 2023. He told Arab News, in a written interview, how his foundation supports and complements WHO’s efforts while respecting its intergovernmental nature.
Arab News: Can you describe how the WHO Foundation arranges support from donors and how the money is spent by WHO?
Anil Soni: The WHO Foundation’s purpose is to be a bridge between the lifesaving and vital work of WHO and the various communities that can help power that work through their engagement, partnership and of course, generosity.
We are raising resources from multiple partners from the private sector and beyond to help WHO deliver lifesaving medicines and supplies to people in need.
World challenges such as the Turkiye-Syria earthquakes, the food crisis in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and the conflict in Ukraine are great examples of where we are facing crises that affect all of us and have to come together.
Such adversities cannot be tackled by any single sector alone. WHO is part of several international organizations of the United Nations, but the UN and the governments are not enough. We have to make sure we are collaborating with individuals and businesses too.
All contributions matter, even small ones, as these add up to enabling life-changing initiatives. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a campaign called “Go Give One.” Five dollars bought a vaccine, the same amount of money that could go into buying a cup of coffee. Businesses and philanthropists were donating millions of dollars, and that’s important, but every single contribution counts.
In terms of how we mobilize the money, we do it in several ways. We are brokering catalytic, transformative ways of engaging with philanthropists and businesses looking for opportunities to contribute to change and be part of the solution.
In the case of the earthquakes that affected millions and led to more than 50,000 life losses (the biggest death toll in over a decade since the Haiti earthquake), WHO continues to procure and quickly deliver lifesaving tools in Turkiye and Syria.
One of our closest partners is Spotify. Spotify created an opportunity for its listeners to contribute to the relief efforts in Turkiye and Syria by helping direct individuals (Spotify users) to our donation webpage.
Each donation directly supports relief efforts for those affected, including mental health services, physical rehabilitation, medicines, and other tools or commodities needed to reduce the risk or respond to communicable diseases from poor access to hygiene, clean water, and health services.
Q: Aid agencies have been criticized over the perception of unfair aid distribution and assistance in earthquake-hit areas, particularly in relation to Syria and its different areas of control. How can aid in this complicated context be made more equitable?
A: Often, people at risk and in need are in environments that are the subject of intense political debate or literally in the crossfire of conflict. This is one of the reasons why WHO’s work is so important, as it operates everywhere. It is a UN agency that is itself a collaboration between member states. Hence, all the world’s governments participate in the operations and governance of WHO.
501,000 People who died from tuberculosis in Africa in 2021.
43,000 Excess deaths caused by hunger and poor health in Somalia in 2022.
57,300 Deaths in Turkiye and Syria caused by Feb. 6 earthquakes.
Furthermore, WHO’s emergency teams are in all regions of the world, so they continue to operate in Syria through years of conflict and are one of the few that have done so. It is crucial not to be biased against people’s needs because of the nature of a political situation or conflict. Quite the opposite, this is about healthcare, delivering medical services, and doctors whose job is not to deal with politics but to ensure people in need receive adequate healthcare.
I was really inspired by Dr. Tedros (Adhanom Ghebreyesus), the head of WHO, who visited Syria last month. He was the first UN principal to enter northwest Syria in over a decade because of the conflict. In the first hours after the earthquakes, WHO distributed 183 metric tons of supplies to more than 200 health facilities inside northwest Syria from partner warehouses in Azaz and Idlib.
Following this, WHO delivered 297 metric tons of emergency supplies and essential medicines to earthquake-affected areas of the country, allowing 3,705,000 treatments, including ones for trauma management, diabetes, and pneumonia.
Q. What are the main healthcare challenges facing the Middle East and North Africa region? How can mobilizing additional funding for WHO address these challenges? Can this go beyond monetary assistance to address the structural issues behind health inequality?
A: That’s the aspiration because otherwise, we will continue to face these emergencies and inequitable needs. The MENA region is striking at the moment because it is home to a number of simultaneous humanitarian and health crises that need both immediate assistance and long-term solutions.
Events such as the earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, the conflict in Syria and the cholera outbreaks in Lebanon and Syria are acute and products of climate change or long-term dynamics that require sustained response and commitment.
The region now more than ever is uniquely positioned to support with its burgeoning economic prosperity among residents and the public and private sectors. It is vital to raise the necessary resources and awareness of how every single contribution plays a huge role in tackling humanitarian crises, which is what we do at the WHO Foundation.
But equally important is the need to address the structural issues and the systemic reasons behind inequalities and fully leverage the resources of some of our partners. For example, we’re not just looking to our partners as a source of capital. We are also looking into how they can help us mobilize humanitarian efforts through their platform, talent, ability and own supplies.
I mentioned Spotify earlier. They helped us engage millions of listeners to gather resources to build up local health systems and become better prepared for emergency response.
So, part of what we’re trying to do in terms of raising those resources and brokering these partnerships is not just responding in the moment of an emergency but also ensuring that the underlying health systems are being built up, that there are community healthcare workers and adequate supplies.
We think about long-term financing and building systems strong enough to allow us to be agile in our response to an emergency or even help predict future crises (that is, potential disease outbreaks).
Q. How is the WHO Foundation helping to improve global preparedness? Does this apply merely to COVID-19 and readiness for future pandemics or does it include other emerging health threats (environmental, nutritional, etc.)? How can states like Saudi Arabia prepare?
A: WHO and the WHO Foundation work collaboratively and proactively to improve preparedness. For example, we are setting up emergency hubs in Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa to bolster health security across the African continent. This helps ensure lifesaving medical supplies and equipment are shipped within 24-48 hours of the declaration of an emergency, reducing deployment time by up to 60 days.
These regional emergency hubs work closely and cooperatively with governments for a joint emergency response, prepositioning of medical supplies and equipment, training facilities, and infectious diseases monitoring. But these emergency hubs are not limited to tending to diseases. They also help boost living quality, such as ensuring a continued supply of clean water to avoid risks of waterborne diseases like cholera.
WHO is always looking ahead, whether that’s analyzing trends in climate change or forecasting geopolitical outcomes, to anticipate better where our support will be most needed. We also work with governments and health leaders to help them navigate health crises their nation may have yet to experience.
Regarding Saudi Arabia, the vision and generosity of the Kingdom and its close collaboration with businesses and its people are very well-suited to this. As I understand it, particularly in the context of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is addressing how it can ensure that they recognize the interconnectedness between our well-being, the well-being of others, and the well-being of our neighbors. There’s a term in South Africa called “Ubuntu,” which means “I am because you are.”
It essentially recognizes interconnectedness and that the only way I will prosper is if I’m making sure that I’m being thoughtful about your needs because we depend on each other. I think this resonates with Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the region and that supporting countries and communities inside and outside the Kingdom’s borders is essential to the welfare of the people in Saudi Arabia itself.
Q. What is your opinion of Saudi Vision 2030’s Health Sector Transformation Program? Do you believe its focus on equitable and accessible health care coincides with the WHO Foundation’s own mission and values?
A: Similarly to Saudi Arabia’s Health Sector Transformation Program, the WHO Foundation believes in equitable and accessible healthcare. To speak more broadly in terms of the Vision 2030, there’s also a focus on nonprofit efforts and a culture of strategic philanthropy.
Even though there’s the government’s leadership, the rest of the nation is encouraged to contribute, including businesses and individuals, to addressing national challenges and fostering development. This idea of everyone playing a role in achieving goals is consistent with our mission at the WHO Foundation.
We’ve had to react to so much these last years, such as a pandemic that much of the world didn’t predict, the effects of climate change even though it’s been brewing over time, and natural disasters that have periodicity and history.
If we look back, earthquakes and tsunamis have caused so much damage over the decades, and the question is, are we preparing for such catastrophic events? If all we’re doing is reacting and not preparing, the effects will be greater, and the loss will be unnecessary.
I say all of that because, when a government like Saudi Arabia works backward all the way from 2030, proactively and not just reactively, it sets an important lesson for all of us and demonstrates how much progress we could make by simply being prepared.
Q. What is the WHO Foundation’s assessment of Saudi Arabia’s role in supporting nations in the wider region, including the medical interventions of KSrelief? Does the Kingdom have a greater role to play in future humanitarian and disaster responses?
A: KSrelief is an incredible model, and we’re learning a lot from the existing collaboration between KSrelief, WHO and other international humanitarian partners. The generosity of KSrelief has been tremendous, but it’s not just about the number of dollars; they’re also thoughtful about the quality of aid and the policy frameworks necessary to ensure the positive impact intended. We want to replicate and build from this type of partnership and engagement.
Q. In what ways does the WHO Foundation want to mobilize greater private capital and public-private partnerships to advance the mission of WHO in Saudi Arabia and the wider region?
A: A part of what we are trying to do at the WHO Foundation is help stakeholders in Saudi and other countries in the region understand the critical role WHO plays. Though it was prominent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO is not just about responding to the pandemic; it responds to various emergencies; it’s operating in settings other agencies are not; it’s thinking and preparing for future emergencies.
Last month, WHO released its Global Health Emergency Appeals, enhancing preparedness and response to 54 ongoing health emergencies. And, of course, there’s all the normative work of WHO, the degree to which it acts as the world’s FDA, CDC, and NIH.
We hope that by raising awareness and amplifying the understanding of WHO and its initiatives, we can engage the tremendous generosity of the region and mobilize regional stakeholders to help WHO achieve its humanitarian goals.
Philanthropy is a key tenet of Islam. What role can zakat play in the WHO Foundation’s fundraising work in the region?
A: I’ve been so blessed to have had the opportunity of getting to know different communities and faiths around the world and be inspired by different ones. Zakat is very inspiring and something I practice in my life. Even though I am a Hindu and an American, I allocate 5 percent of my income after tax to charity and to civic causes every year.
While zakat and sadaqah are particular elements of the Muslim faith, there’s great consistency between zakat and sadaqah and tithing. This culture of giving presents a tremendous opportunity to fund gaps in global humanitarian health crises and ensure help is directed to where it is most needed. I think the tradition of giving in faiths can inspire greater philanthropy, generosity, and collaboration in the future.