UN alarmed by reports of Iranian authorities holding bodies of protesters hostage

UN alarmed by reports of Iranian authorities holding bodies of protesters hostage
Iranian protesters march through the streets of the city of Some-Sara, in the northern Gilan province. (AFP)
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Updated 23 November 2022

UN alarmed by reports of Iranian authorities holding bodies of protesters hostage

UN alarmed by reports of Iranian authorities holding bodies of protesters hostage
  • Security forces reportedly refuse to release the remains of people killed during protests to their families unless relatives go along with a false narrative on the cause of death
  • UN human rights chiefs urged Iranian authorities to address the demands of the protesters for equality, dignity and other rights rather than use unnecessary force to suppress them

LONDON: The UN Human Rights Office said it is alarmed at reports that Iranian authorities are refusing to release the bodies of dead protesters to their families.

The rising number of deaths during the ongoing anti-regime protests in Iran, in the face of an intensifying crackdown by security forces, underscores the critical situation in the country, spokesman Jeremy Laurence said.

He expressed concern about the reports that the bodies of protesters were being held hostage by security forces unless the families agree to remain silent about the death of their loved ones or go along with false narratives about the cause.

Relatives who visited morgues to retrieve the remains of a loved one reportedly have been pressured into supporting state media accounts suggesting the deceased was a bystander or member of a militia who was killed by rioters, sources told the BBC.

Last week, officials took the body of 14-year-old Sepehr Maghsoudi from a morgue hours after he was shot dead during a protest in the southwestern city of Izeh, a source close to the family told BBC Persian. Security officers told relatives they would not release the body because they were grieving and “people may do something,” the source said.

Many families have publicly accused security forces of killing their relatives during the protests, only to later change their stories and agree with official accounts of the causes of death. This has prompted speculation on social media and elsewhere that statements were being coerced.

The mother of nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak, who was shot dead last Wednesday in Izeh, was heard at his funeral saying he was killed by security forces. Officials insisted he died in a “terrorist” attack. Later that same day, his mother appeared on state television to retract her comments and warn that they should not be “misused.”

Footage from the northwestern city of Javanrud on Monday reportedly showed the body of a protester being transported in a pickup truck, the BBC reported. His family was said to have refused to allow the body to be taken to a mortuary where it could be stolen by officials.

More than 300 people have been killed during the protests over the past nine weeks, including more than 40 children, according to the UN Human Rights Office. In addition, at least six people connected with the protests have reportedly been sentenced to death on charges of “waging war against God” or “corruption on earth.”

“We urge the authorities to address people’s demands for equality, dignity and rights — instead of using unnecessary or disproportionate force to suppress the protests,” said, Laurence the UN human rights spokesman.

“The lack of accountability for gross human rights violations in Iran remains persistent and is contributing to the growing grievances.”

The office has called on Iranian authorities to release all those detained simply for exercising their right to protest and drop all charges against them.


Rising demand promotes excellent winter tourist season in Luxor

Rising demand promotes excellent winter tourist season in Luxor
Updated 05 February 2023

Rising demand promotes excellent winter tourist season in Luxor

Rising demand promotes excellent winter tourist season in Luxor

CAIRO: Special one-day trips have helped to boost tourism in the Luxor governorate in southern Egypt during the current winter season.
The increase in numbers has helped traffic toward the Karnak and Luxor temples.
The winter season continues until April and the weather conditions have been ideal for touring between the ancient temples and tombs in east and west Luxor.
A one-day trip from Hurghada to Luxor to sample the archaeological attractions has played a major part in helping to boost tourism traffic to places such as the historical city of Thebes.
The Luxor trip from Hurghada takes place on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays every week.
Tourists travel to Luxor to visit the temples of Karnak and Luxor in the east, and then cross the Nile to visit the ancient monuments of the west, including the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Temple of Ramesseum, the Colossi of Memnon, the city of Habu, and the Valley of the Kings.

FASTFACT

Mohamed Othman, head of the Cultural Tourism Marketing Committee in Luxor, said that the visits witnessed during the current season will eventually exceed the numbers recorded in 2019.

Mohamed Othman, head of the Cultural Tourism Marketing Committee in Luxor, said that the visits witnessed during the current season will eventually exceed the numbers recorded in 2019.
The number of worldwide visitors to Egypt is expected to reach more than 14 million this year, he added.
He said an initiative called “Follow the Sun” had been launched by the Ministry of Tourism to attract Europeans to live in Luxor, and some 175 families had already been encouraged to do so.
He added that the future will see more cultural events and conferences in Luxor, with five presentations already made to hold fashion shows in its temples.
Othman said the city was witnessing an unprecedented boom as occupancy increased during the winter season, in both fixed and floating hotels.
The increase in occupancy had been a result of Luxor attracting new visitors from markets such as Southeast Asia and China.
There has also been a 30 percent increase in visitors from the Spanish market.

 


How political obstruction violates Beirut blast survivors’ right to truth, justice and reparations

How political obstruction violates Beirut blast survivors’ right to truth, justice and reparations
Updated 17 min 52 sec ago

How political obstruction violates Beirut blast survivors’ right to truth, justice and reparations

How political obstruction violates Beirut blast survivors’ right to truth, justice and reparations
  • udiciary and politicians have accused Tarek Bitar of insubordination for resuming his inquiry after a 13-month hiatus 
  • For survivors and the families of those killed in the explosion, Judge Bitar’s fresh effort offers a glimmer of hope

DUBAI: When a massive explosion tore through the port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, killing more than 215 people, Lebanese officials promised a swift investigation that would bring the culprits to justice within days.

Since then, the inquiry has repeatedly stalled, with its lead investigator Tarek Bitar accused of insubordination for resuming his probe into the blast and charging several top officials.

The blast, which devastated the port and surrounding districts, injuring more than 6,500 and displacing some 300,000, occurred when a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, improperly stored in a warehouse since 2014, somehow caught fire.

Survivors, relatives of the victims and rights groups have blamed the disaster on a political class widely viewed as corrupt and inept. To date, no official has been held accountable.

Relatives of Brirut Port blast victims clash with police outside the Palace of Justice in Beirut. (AFP)

“The stuttering investigation into the 2020 Beirut port explosion had already demonstrated that the judiciary was a plaything in the hands of powerful figures, who could gleefully toss spanners into the legal works to hamstring procedures indefinitely,” broadcaster and political commentator Baria Alamuddin said in a recent op-ed for Arab News.

Bitar’s investigation was initially halted in December 2021 due to a ruling from the Court of Cassation. Three former cabinet ministers had filed court orders against him, while groups opposed to the inquiry, including the Iran-backed Hezbollah, accused him of bias.

Bitar was already the second judge to head the investigation following Judge Fadi Sawan’s removal. In December 2020, Sawan had charged former prime minister Hassan Diab — who had resigned in the explosion’s aftermath — and three former ministers with negligence.

 

However, Sawan was removed from the case after mounting political pressure, and the probe was suspended.

His successor, Bitar, also summoned Diab for questioning and asked parliament, without success, to lift the immunity of lawmakers who had served as ministers. The interior ministry also refused to execute arrest warrants, further undermining Bitar’s quest for accountability.

In October 2021, protests calling for Bitar’s removal were organized by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, a Shiite political party headed by Nabih Berri, in the civil war-scarred Beirut neighborhood of Tayouneh.

A supporter of Hezbollah and the Amal movements carries a portrait of Judge Tarek Bitar during a rally in Beirut on October 14, 2021, to demand his dismissal. (AFP)

The protests quickly turned deadly when unidentified snipers opened fire on the crowd, killing seven civilians and injuring dozens in echoes of the 1975-90 civil war period. The gunmen were suspected members of the Lebanese Forces, a right-wing Christian party.

Given these tensions and hurdles, it took many by surprise when Bitar resumed his investigation on Jan. 23 after a 13-month hiatus, charging eight new suspects, including high-level security officials and Lebanon’s top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat.

Bitar also charged former prime minister Diab, parliamentarian Ghazi Zaiter, former interior minister Nouhad Machnouk, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, former army commander Jean Kahwaji, and Major General Tony Saliba.

Oweidat responded by issuing a travel ban against Bitar, accusing him of “sedition” and of “acting without a mandate,” charging him with “rebelling against the judiciary.” He also issued an order releasing 17 suspects held in pretrial detention.

Lebanese protest in Beirut on January 28, 2023 to demand the removal and prosecution of top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat. (AFP)

“Lebanon’s judiciary has become an object of ridicule, as judges leveled retaliatory charges against each other and arbitrarily ordered the releases of detainees,” said columnist Alamuddin.

“By filing charges against senior officials, Bitar is not an out-of-control judge. Rather he is signaling that the entire complicit, corrupt leadership deserves to be brought to account.”

The executive-judiciary squabble is a further test of Lebanon’s crumbling institutions. Wracked by financial crisis and political paralysis, its currency in free fall and thousands of professionals and young people fleeing the country, expectations are low.

Michael Young, editor of Diwan, a blog of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Program, and author of “Ghosts of Martyrs Square,” is convinced that Bitar will not be permitted to do his work properly.

“We have to understand that there are two steps in this process,” he told Arab News. “If Bitar invites someone, it’s going to be very difficult if not impossible for him to force the people he wants to investigate to sit for their interviews.

“The police will not do anything about it because the interior ministry in its turn will not implement anything. The judicial police is controlled by the public prosecutor Oueidat, and he’s made it clear that he will not order the implementation of any decisions.

“The ability of Bitar to do his job properly is going to be, in my opinion, impossible. His investigation is technically blocked.”

Why Bitar chose to resume his inquiry now remains unclear. But for survivors and the families of those killed in the blast, his return offers a glimmer of hope.

“It was time for Judge Bitar to resume his work. The truth has to come out at some point and I think what Judge Ghassan Oueidat did by defying Judge Bitar is strengthening his will to uncover the truth,” Tatiana Hasrouty, who lost her father Ghassan Hasrouty in the blast, told Arab News.

Lebanese protesters demand during a rally in Beirut on Jan. 28. 2023 that top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat be discharged and held accountable for the 2020 port blast. (AFP)

“I believe in Judge Bitar, not as a person, but rather as the judge who is in charge of investigating this crime and is working on uncovering the truth and upholding the rule of law. He is challenging the culture of impunity we, the Lebanese, have inherited by summoning politicians and high officials.” 

Bitar, who was first appointed as lead investigator in February 2021, was seen by many Lebanese as an impartial and honest judge.

The 49-year-old Christian, who hails from the country’s north, rarely appears in public or speaks to the press, and is known to have a clean reputation and no political affiliations, a rarity in such a deeply sectarian country.

“Bitar is disconcerting for the corrupt ruling classes because he doesn’t follow their rules,” Alamuddin said in her Arab News op-ed. “He declines invitations to social occasions to avoid perceptions of influence, and doesn’t accept calls from those seeking favors.”

In a recent sermon, influential Maronite Patriarch Beshara Al-Rahi voiced his support for Bitar, urging him to “continue his work,” despite the “unacceptable” judicial and political pushback.

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi. (AFP)

“The meetings of the judicial bodies are witnessing a lack of quorum with judges and public prosecutors defying the Higher Judicial Council and its head and refraining from attending the meetings,” he said.

“We will not allow the port crime to go without punishment, no matter how much time passes and how many rulers change.”

Al-Rahi, who is patriarch of the largest Christian community in the country, also called on Bitar to seek the help and assistance of any international authority that might aid him in uncovering the truth.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on the UN Human Rights Council to “urgently pass a resolution to create an impartial fact-finding mission” into the port explosion.

“The Lebanese authorities have repeatedly obstructed the domestic investigation into the explosion,” they said in a joint statement.

In Lebanon’s fraught political climate, the chances of obtaining justice for the port blast’s survivors and the families of those killed appear low.

“We understood from the beginning that the political class does not want the investigation to go through to the extent that they are even willing — as we saw in the Tayouneh incident over a year ago — to risk sectarian conflict to do so,” Diwan editor Young told Arab News.

“They will not implement the rule of law. It is missing anyway in Lebanon today. They do not care about the consequences of having no rule of law.”

However, Hasrouty, who has used social media to express sorrow and anger over the loss of her father, says that regardless of what Lebanese politicians and officials do, she will not give up hope.

“The truth scares the ruling elite but this is why we will pursue it till the end,” she said. “They are scared of the power that the families and public now hold.”

 


UN urges end to ‘illogical escalation’ between Israel, Palestine

UN urges end to ‘illogical escalation’ between Israel, Palestine
Updated 04 February 2023

UN urges end to ‘illogical escalation’ between Israel, Palestine

UN urges end to ‘illogical escalation’ between Israel, Palestine
  • Saturday’s violent storming of West Bank camp reflects ‘extremist mentality’ of Israeli govt, sources say

RAMALLAH: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged an end to the “illogical escalation” between Israel and Palestine.

Volker Turk warned that recent measures taken by Israel would “lead to more violence and bloodshed.”

In a statement distributed in Geneva, Turk said: “I am afraid that the recent measures taken by the government of Israel only serve to fuel more violations and abuses, especially the decision to facilitate obtaining permits to carry weapons.”

He warned that the matter “accompanied by hateful rhetoric, will only lead to more violence and bloodshed.”

Israel denounced Turk’s statement, accusing him, in a statement issued by its ambassador to the UN in Geneva, of bias and of “only condemning the state of Israel.”

The high commissioner added: “Instead of doubling down on the failed methods of violence and coercion that have single-handedly failed in the past, I urge all concerned to break out of the illogical logic of escalation that only ended with dead bodies, loss of life and sheer despair.

“Collective punishment measures, including forced evictions and house demolitions, are expressly prohibited under international humanitarian law and are incompatible with provisions of international human rights law.”

The high commissioner called for urgent measures to de-escalate tensions, including ensuring that international standards were maintained in investigating deaths and serious injuries.

Turk said: “Impunity has spread, which signals that abuses are permissible.”

His warning came as Mustafa Al-Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, criticized the bias of the US in failing to pressure the Israeli government into ending attacks on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

He made the remarks to Arab News after Palestinian medical sources said that at least 13 Palestinians were injured during clashes with the Israeli military in the West Bank on Saturday.

Israeli troops stormed the Aqbat Jabr refugee camp south of Jericho on Saturday morning.

The action led to clashes, resulting in the injury of three citizens by live rounds and other rubber-coated metal bullets.

Israeli forces had demolished part of the walls of a besieged house in the camp and used loudspeakers to request the surrender of those inside.

Palestinian medical sources said that three of the injured in the camp clashes were transferred to Ramallah hospitals in critical condition.

According to media sources and residents in the camp, three family members were arrested, including a father and son. The Israeli army also demolished a house in the camp.

Israeli sources said that troops ended the military activity in Aqabat Jabr camp and left four hours after the raid began. A search for two people who allegedly carried out an armed attack at Almog junction a week earlier did not result in arrests.

Israeli armed forces claimed that troops had raided Aqabat Jabr refugee camp and questioned several people suspected of involvement in the attack.

An army statement said that clashes took place with Palestinian gunmen during the military operation, and that there were no casualties on the Israeli side.

It added that 18 people were interrogated in the field, and six were transferred to Shin Bet for investigation.

Al-Barghouti told Arab News that the violent storming of the camp reflected the “extremist mentality” of the Israeli government, which has imposed a policy of collective punishment on Palestinians.

He described the military action — which resulted in the wounding of 13 Palestinians — as unjustified.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that the Israeli military impeded the entry of medical and health personnel into Jericho.

Israeli armed forces have limited the exit of Palestinians in Jericho city’s eastern side during the last seven days.

It deployed tightened checkpoints at all main road entrances into the area.

Israeli authorities closed all secondary entries with earthen mounds, searching for two gunmen who opened fire toward on a restaurant at Almog on Jan. 28. No injuries were reported from the incident. Several Palestinians were arrested and later released after questioning.

Authorities adopted a “collective punishment policy” on the city by obstructing movement, searching cars and checking identities, sources said.

Citizens waited in vehicles for several hours in front of checkpoints at all entrances to the city.

The army’s actions disrupted daily life for the city’s 30,000 residents.

Dozens of citizens and workers endured waits of up to four hours at Israeli military checkpoints, while others were prevented from leaving the city entirely.

Jericho houses a terminal that serves as the only exit point for 3 million Palestinians to travel from the West Bank to countries around the world.

The closure of the city over the past week has significantly impeded the movement of citizens traveling and returning from abroad.

A doctor in the emergency department of a major Palestinian hospital in Ramallah told Arab News that the Israeli army was “deliberately shooting at the upper limbs” of targets, increasing the chances of fatal injury and death.

An ambulance officer from Jericho told Arab News that the three people left in critical condition from the camp raid were moved to Ramallah hospitals due to a lack of medical equipment in nearby hospitals.

They were transported more than 40 km, passing through several Israeli military checkpoints.

Palestinian factions have condemned the storming of Aqabat Jabr as a crime, calling for a confrontation with Israel.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said: “The occupation’s aggression against the Palestinian camps in the occupied West Bank, in addition to the escalation of daily arrest campaigns, will not weaken the continuous resistance until the occupation is defeated and our national goals are achieved.

“The escalation of resistance operations in all forms and various means categorically confirms that a new phase is taking shape in the West Bank and will pursue settlers and turn their colonies into prisons for settlers.”

Tariq Ezz El-Din, media spokesman for the Islamic Jihad Movement, said that the “ very dangerous” Israeli escalation needed to be met by “resistance activities.”

The Palestine Center for Prisoners Studies warned that Israeli authorities had stepped up arrest campaigns against Palestinians since the beginning of the year.

The center recorded 540 arrest cases, including 92 children and 10 women, in January.

It also referred to the Israeli army’s escalation of raids on towns and cities in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The center said that Jerusalem saw the largest share of arrests, with 270.


US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid
Updated 04 February 2023

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid
  • ‘No guarantee’ of $20bn deal even if Ankara approves Swedish, Finnish request, analyst says 

ANKARA: A bipartisan group of 29 US senators has told President Joe Biden that Congress cannot “green light” the $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye until Ankara ratifies a request by Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

The move comes amid a diplomatic standoff between Turkiye and Sweden over what the former claims is Swedish support for terror groups and sympathizers.

Both Sweden and Finland announced their NATO bid last year following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, Ankara has set preconditions in exchange for Turkish ratification of the membership applications, asking both Nordic countries to toughen their stance against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), deport certain individuals, and review their regulatory framework for arms exports.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused both countries of being “guesthouses for terror organizations.” 

After a far-right Danish politician recently burned a copy of the Qur’an near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, Turkiye suspended trilateral talks with Sweden and Finland, and postponed a meeting between Turkish and Swedish defense ministers in Ankara.

Although Ankara hinted at the possibility it would approve Finnish NATO accession before Sweden’s, Helsinki rejected the offer, saying that the security of both countries is dependent on each other.

In their letter to Biden, the US senators said that the two Nordic countries were “making full and good faith efforts to meet the conditions for NATO membership that Turkiye asked.”

The senators said that they could not promise any automatic sale of F-16s if Ankara agreed to the Finnish and Swedish request, but warned  they “won’t even ponder this sale” in the absence of ratification.

“Failure to ratify the protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the alliance’s unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” the letter said.

For the first time, members of Congress are insisting on linking the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye with the ratification of the NATO accession bids by the two Nordic countries.

In January, CNN quoted Congressional sources saying that the Biden administration is preparing to ask lawmakers to approve the F-16s sale.

If approved, it will be one of the largest US arms sales in recent years.

Turkiye has been waiting for the sale of 40 F-16 fighters and almost 80 modernization kits for its existing fleet since October 2021.

Last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Washington and said that the Nordic NATO accession should not be tied with the F-16 sale.

Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council, sees little chance of some US senators, such as Robert Menendez, the Democrat chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Van Hollen, changing their position on the F-16s even if Ankara green lights the Swedish request while Erdogan remains in office.

“They have a winning domestic political issue with a range of constituencies that dislike Turkiye, including the Greek lobby, Armenian lobby, and Syrian Kurdish YPG-sympathetic activists. With such rewards, there is little incentive to cede ground,” he told Arab News.

New Jersey, Menendez’s home state, has a large Greek-American and Armenian-American community. 

In a message posted on Twitter in December, Menendez said he that would not “approve F-16s for Turkiye until Erdogan halts his abuses across the region,” referring to longstanding tensions between Turkiye and Greece over airspace, and the militarization of islands in the Aegean.

Arms sales to foreign countries are subject to congressional approval. But Congress alone cannot block foreign arms sales.

However, experts say that Ankara’s ratification of the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland would facilitate the sale process in Congress.

According to Outzen, “transactional politics” on defense deals can work when done privately and reciprocally, but the F-16 deal has become a public issue with conflicting demands.

“It makes near-term resolution almost impossible,” he said.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, said that the senators’ letter is not surprising since NATO enlargement is a priority for the alliance and the US.

He added that “it is not at all guaranteed” that the F-16 sale will be approved, even if Ankara ratifies the Finnish and Swedish request.

Ulgen believes the White House may have to rely on the presidential prerogative to override Congressional opposition.

“But (Biden) will be much less willing to use this political prerogative, unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, who did not have a long political experience with the Congress,” he said.

Turkiye was expelled by the US from its fifth-generation F-35 joint strike fighter program in 2019 after its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Ankara has requested the F-16 jets instead of reimbursement for the undelivered F-35 fighters, and has said that it will consider alternatives, including from Russia, if the F-16s are not delivered. 


Egypt targeting 2m rail passengers per day

Egypt targeting 2m rail passengers per day
Updated 04 February 2023

Egypt targeting 2m rail passengers per day

Egypt targeting 2m rail passengers per day
  • On Sunday, the Egyptian Railways Authority will roll out a new fleet of Spanish Talgo trains on the Upper Egypt line
  • Among other features, there are display screens for each chair in first-class carriages and central screens in second-class carriages

CAIRO: Egypt’s rail system aims to accommodate up to 2 million passengers per day under new government plans.
On Sunday, the Egyptian Railways Authority will roll out a new fleet of Spanish Talgo trains on the Upper Egypt line.
Authority head Mohamed Amer told Arab News: “The Spanish Talgo trains constitute a huge quantum leap in the history of trains because they are similar to the trains operating in European countries.”
He added that the Talgo train features advanced technology, comfort for passengers and is designed to maintain stability through its aluminum carriages.
In addition, the train’s fuel efficiency will aid in Egypt’s environmental ambitions, Amer said.
Among other features, there are display screens for each chair in first-class carriages and central screens in second-class carriages.
The Talgo trains are equipped with surveillance cameras and a monitoring room.
The authority’s efforts to develop Egypt’s railways extend beyond new deploying new trains, Amer said, with ambitious daily and annual passenger targets being set.
In 2014, the rail system transported 900,000 passengers per day.
A report by the National Railways of Egypt said a development system is working to increase daily passenger transport to 1.5 million people per day by 2024 and 2 million by 2030.
There are also plans to raise the cargo transport capacity to 13 million tons in 2030, compared to 4.5 million tons in 2014.