PARIS: An Iranian court has handed jail sentences of over 10 years each to a young couple who danced in front of one of Tehran’s main landmarks in a video seen as a symbol of defiance against the regime, activists said on Tuesday.
Astiyazh Haghighi and her fiance Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, both in their early 20s, had been arrested in early November after a video went viral of them dancing romantically in front of the Azadi Tower in Tehran.
Haghighi did not wear a headscarf in defiance of the Islamic republic’s strict rules for women, while women are also not allowed to dance in public in Iran, let alone with a man.
A revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced them each to 10 years and six months in prison, as well as bans on using the Internet and leaving Iran, the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said.
The couple, who already had a following in Tehran as popular Instagram bloggers, were convicted of “encouraging corruption and public prostitution” as well as “gathering with the intention of disrupting national security,” it added.
HRANA cited sources close to their families as saying they had been deprived of lawyers during the court proceedings while attempts to secure their release on bail have been rejected.
It said Haghighi is now in the notorious Qarchak prison for women outside Tehran, whose conditions are regularly condemned by activists.
Iranian authorities have clamped down severely on all forms of dissent since the death in September of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the headscarf rules, sparked protests that have turned into a movement against the regime.
At least 14,000 people have been arrested, according to the United Nations, ranging from prominent celebrities, journalists and lawyers to ordinary people who took to the streets.
The couple’s video had been hailed as a symbol of the freedoms demanded by the protest movement, with Ahmadi at one moment lifting his partner in the air as her long hair flowed behind.
One of the main icons of the Iranian capital, the gigantic and futuristic Azadi (Freedom) Tower is a place of huge sensitivity.
It opened under the rule of the last shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the early 1970s when it was known as the Shahyad (In Memory of the Shah) Tower.
It was renamed after the shah was ousted in 1979 with the creation of the Islamic republic. Its architect, a member of the Bahai faith which is not recognized in today’s Iran, now lives in exile.
Iran’s president to visit three Latin American countries next week
The state news agency said Raisi will leave Tehran on June 11
Updated 08 June 2023
MEXICO CITY: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will visit Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela next week, Iran’s state news agency IRNA announced on Wednesday, adding that the upcoming tour stemmed from invites from the presidents of each of the Latin American nations.
IRNA said documents to expand bilateral cooperation will be signed between Iran and the three countries during Raisi’s visit, mentioning economic, political and scientific issues, but without going into further detail.
The state news agency said Raisi will leave Tehran on June 11.
The three-country tour will give Raisi face time with three regional allies, each of whom lead leftists governments that have been accused by critics of human rights violations.
Iran and Venezuela are both members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Israeli army mounts rare raid into Palestinian city of Ramallah, clashes ensue
Israel has said the policy of demolishing homes of perpetrators is both punitive and a deterrence to potential attackers
Updated 08 June 2023
RAMALLAH: Clashes erupted after Israeli forces mounted a rare raid into the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank early on Thursday, in what the military said was an operation to demolish the house of an assailant.
A Reuters witness said a large military convoy arrived in downtown Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, leading hundreds of Palestinians to gather in the area.
Some Palestinian youth hurled stones at the Israeli forces, who fired live bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at the crowd, the witness said. Trash bins that were set on fire blocked roads as ambulance sirens wailed.
The Palestinian health ministry said at least six people were transferred to hospital for treatment, including three who sustained gunshot wounds.
The Israeli military said its forces were operating in Ramallah “to demolish the residence of the terrorist who carried out the bombing attack in Jerusalem last November.”
The twin blasts killed two people, including an Israeli-Canadian teenager, and wounded at least 14 others in what police said were explosions of improvised bombs that were planted at bus stops near the city exit and in a junction leading to a settlement.
“The demolition of the homes of fighters is a collective punishment that falls under the war crimes committed by the occupation against our people,” said Abdel Fattah Dola of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.
Israel has said the policy of demolishing homes of perpetrators is both punitive and a deterrence to potential attackers.
Hours earlier the US envoy to Palestinians, Hady Amr, met with senior Palestinian official Hussein Al-Sheikh.
Violence in the West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has risen during the past year. Israel has intensified its military raids amid a spate of street attacks carried out by Palestinians in its cities.
The Palestinian health ministry said at least 158 Palestinians have been killed by Israel since January. Israel’s foreign ministry said 20 Israelis and two foreign nationals have been killed in Palestinian attacks in the same period.
Conflict and chaos in Sudan taking a devastating toll on women and girls
Sudanese women’s rights activists accuse armed combatants of using rape as a weapon of war
RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, implicated in similar crimes during the 2003-20 Darfur conflict
Updated 08 June 2023
Rebecca Anne Proctor
CAIRO: When the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces transformed the streets of Sudan’s capital Khartoum into a war zone, 48-year-old math teacher Muna Ageeb Yagoub Nishan and her children were forced to flee.
Before embarking on their long and perilous journey to Egypt, Nishan, her 21-year-old daughter Marita, 22-year-old son George, and 16-year-old son Christian hid in their home in Khartoum’s Manshi district, as battles raged in the street outside.
Free of consequences and accountability amid the lawlessness since the conflict began on April 15, the armed men roaming their neighborhood pose a threat to the civilian population, particularly women and girls.
“They want to traumatize us,” Nishan told Arab News from the safety of an apartment in Egypt. “Now the RSF are raping women. People think I am still in Sudan and are sending me digital pamphlets on what to do if I get raped so that I won’t get pregnant.”
According to Hala Al-Karib, a Sudanese women’s rights activist and regional director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, gender-based violence, including rape as a weapon of war, is being perpetrated by members of the paramilitary RSF.
“That doesn’t mean that Sudan’s armed forces don’t have a track record of sexual violence, but present victims of violence and rape are all stating that RSF soldiers have committed such crimes,” Al-Karib told Arab News.
Before they fled, Nishan and her children were like many Sudanese — trapped inside their homes, fearing for their lives. As the fighting raged, they quickly ran out of food and were forced to survive on rationed water until they found their opportunity to escape Khartoum.
When the RSF came knocking, Nishan’s 26-year-old son, Nadir Elia Sabag, answered the door while the family escaped through the back. Sabag was supposed to reunite with the family, but, according to Nishan, he is still in Khartoum, his exact whereabouts unknown.
When the family caught the bus that would take them to Egypt, Nishan says it was attacked by prisoners recently released by the RSF from Al-Huda prison in West Khartoum’s Omdurman, with one passenger robbed at knifepoint.
Eventually, the bus was allowed to continue, and, after several days, Nishan and her children arrived in Cairo. “I have lost everything,” said Nishan. “l sold my house to pay for my husband’s cancer treatment in Egypt.”
Sudanese women’s rights activists accuse armed combatants of using rape as a weapon of war.
RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, implicated in similar crimes during the 2003-20 Darfur conflict.
Nishan had returned to Sudan only two years ago following the death of her husband. Now, all that she had rebuilt since then has been lost. “I have lost my car, my gold, my documents,” she said. “I lost everything with this war.”
Nishan and her children arrived in Cairo 10 days after Sudan’s descent into chaos. Today, they live in an apartment with other Sudanese families in the city’s El-Khalifa El-Mamoun district, awaiting an appointment with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR — scheduled for October.
“We don’t know what we will do next month, where we will go and what we will do for work,” Nishan said. “We hope we can make it to Europe.”
Her story is not unique. It is shared by thousands of other refugees who have arrived in Egypt in recent weeks, now the primary destination for people fleeing the conflict in Sudan.
According to UNHCR, there have been 42,300 documented arrivals in Egypt to date, although the true figure is likely far higher. The UN agency estimates around 300,000 people could arrive over the coming months.
The ongoing conflict in Sudan has had a devastating impact on women and girls, who are among the most vulnerable demographics in times of violent upheaval everywhere in the world.
Women and girls displaced by the fighting in Sudan are at risk of rape as a weapon of war or falling prey to human traffickers. Indeed, the RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed, was implicated in similar crimes during the 2003-20 conflict in the country’s western Darfur region.
Reports and testimonials from the time concluded that the Janjaweed waged a systematic campaign of rape designed to humiliate women and ostracize them from their own communities.
Many female Sudanese political activists had already experienced gender-based violence, including rape, at the hands of security forces during the pro-democracy protests of 2019. The latest conflict has made matters far worse, with armed men accused of acting with complete impunity.
“Since the start of the hostilities, UNHCR and humanitarian protection partners have been reporting a shocking array of humanitarian issues and human rights violations, including indiscriminate attacks causing civilian casualties and injuries, widespread criminality, as well as sexual violence with growing concerns over risks of gender-based violence for women and girls,” Olga Sarrada Mur, a spokesperson for UNHCR, told Arab News.
“UNHCR is working with the governments of the countries receiving refugees from Sudan as well as with humanitarian partners to ensure all the reception and transit centers have staff trained to treat these cases in a confidential manner and provide survivor-centered services, including health support but also psychosocial support, counseling as well as legal aid services if needed.
“Sexual exploitation and abuse prevention measures are being developed in the new sites hosting refugees fleeing the conflict.”
Given the pace of arrivals in Cairo and other cities, any assistance for people displaced by the Sudan conflict may be too little. With Nishan and her family’s appointment at the UN still months away, they say they have received no help whatsoever, while their apartment in Cairo is paid for by a friend.
For those unable to escape Khartoum and other violence-torn areas, the situation is dire. Activists such as Al-Karib urge women trapped by the fighting in Sudan to remain vigilant.
“The RSF have been implicated in sexual violence for over two decades,” said Al-Karib. “The overall structure is very flawed, enabling all kinds of crimes against civilians to happen. Citizens must take the issue of protection into their own hands (and) provide broad guidance for women and girls to protect themselves and (their) communities from sexual violence.”
She added: “The truth is that sexual violence has been happening in Sudan, in conflict and post-conflict areas, for the past 20 years.”
According to her, the culture of impunity in Sudan, which has allowed such crimes to go unpunished, means the scale of the problem has been misreported, both regionally and internationally, for many years.
“The Sudanese regimes, including the transitional government, which took (power) after the 2019 revolution, have never addressed the issue of sexual violence and the perpetrators of sexual violence, who were mostly military forces and law enforcement,” Al-Karib said.
“They have enjoyed impunity and protections. Sudan has a very flawed and very problematic legal framework that constantly seeks to criminalize survivors of sexual violence, accusing them of adultery, and so on.
“This has led to the fact that sexual violence is now becoming normal — normalized — as are the perpetrators of sexual violence.”
Perpetrators often assume they are “invincible” due to this culture of impunity, added Al-Karib, “which is quite prevalent, particularly among the armed groups and the military.”
Gender-based violence is not the only issue impacting women and girls that aid agencies are trying to address amid the crisis in Sudan.
UNHCR says it is providing reproductive healthcare, with medical teams prioritizing assistance for pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly in terms of nutrition.
Agencies are also monitoring the threat of human trafficking — already a concern in the east of the country prior to the latest bloodletting. “Conflict and disasters and the protection issues they generate create conditions for trafficking in persons to thrive,” said UNHCR’s Mur.
“Ongoing fighting limits the capacity to identify new victims, but mechanisms are being put in place by UNHCR and partners at border areas … to identify potential victims of trafficking.”
For Nishan and others who managed to escape to safety, all they want is peace and security. “All I wish from the world,” said Nishan, “is to see my children continue their university studies and then go on to work and live happily.”
Libya’s rival factions agree on terms for elections
Updated 07 June 2023
BOUZNIKA, Morocco: Envoys of rival Libyan factions have agreed on the legal steps to hold much delayed presidential and legislative elections in the conflict-scarred nation, both sides said early on Wednesday.
Election were due to be held in December 2021 but were never organized as differences persisted on key issues including who should run in the polls.
Libya has been torn by more than a decade of stop-start conflict since a 2011 revolt toppled strongman Muammar Qaddafi, with a myriad of militias forming opposing alliances backed by foreign powers.
The country remains split between a nominally interim government in Tripoli in the west, and another in the east backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
After more than two weeks of talks in Morocco, representatives from both sides struck a deal but stopped short of inking any agreement so far in a sign some differences may still need to be resolved.
No date has yet been named for when the vote may take place.
“The members ... have agreed the laws for presidential and legislative elections,” Jalal Chouehdi, who represents the east-based parliament, told reporters in the southern Moroccan city of Bouznika.
“All that is left is for parliament to ratify” the texts of the accord, added Omar Boulifa, representative for the High State Council aligned with the Tripoli-based administration.
Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said the agreements would be signed “in the coming days” by Aguila Saleh, speaker of Libya’s east-based parliament, and Khaled Al-Mechri who heads the HSC.
Presidential and legislative elections have been repeatedly delayed over issues including their legal basis and the participation of controversial candidates including Haftar.
The talks in Bouznika, the latest attempt by both sides to reach a deal, had been underway since May 22.
In mid-March, UN envoy Abdoulaye Bathily had called on rival administrations to agree terms for elections “by mid-June.”
Kuwait votes in opposition-led parliament, one woman elected
Emir urges MPs to ‘carry responsibility of representing people, realize their aspiration for better future’
Updated 07 June 2023
KUWAIT CITY: Opposition lawmakers won a majority in Kuwait’s parliament with only one woman elected, results showed on Wednesday, after the Gulf state’s seventh general election in just over a decade.
The opposition figures include conservatives and independent politicians not tied to the ruling family who are pushing for a raft of reforms.
The vote on Tuesday came after Kuwait’s constitutional court in March annulled the results of last year’s election — in which the opposition made significant gains — and reinstated the previous parliament elected in 2020.
Opposition lawmakers won 29 of the legislature’s 50 seats, according to results published by the official Kuwait News Agency. Only one woman was elected — opposition candidate Janan Bushehri.
The makeup of the new parliament is very similar to the one elected last year and later annulled, with all but 12 of its 50 members retaining their seats.
This has sparked concerns that the legislature may once again find itself locked in disputes with the Cabinet, further deepening a political crisis that has delayed reforms and hampered growth.
“The government has to contend with a more combative parliament than the already combative 2022 version,” said Bader Al-Saif, assistant history professor at Kuwait University. “Therefore, expect bumps in the road unless radical reforms unfold,” he said.
Longtime speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanim and Ahmed Al-Saadoun, who replaced him last year, both return to parliament. Saadoun is expected to run again for the post of speaker.
Parliament’s first session is scheduled to take place on June 20.
“We are celebrating today the (victory of the) reformist approach,” opposition lawmaker Adel Al-Damkhi told reporters after the results were announced.
“The election results are an indication of the awareness of the Kuwaiti people.”
Turnout reached 50 percent one hour before polls closed, according to the Kuwait Transparency Society, a nongovernment group. Last year’s election saw turnout of 63 percent.
Since Kuwait adopted a parliamentary system in 1962, the legislature has been dissolved around a dozen times.
Continual standoffs between the branches of government have prevented lawmakers from passing economic reforms, while repeated budget deficits and low foreign investment have added to an air of gloom.
Bushehri, the new parliament’s sole female member, said she expected it “to seek stability and move ahead on outstanding issues, whether political or economic.”
Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah congratulated the incoming deputies and called on them to “carry the responsibility of representing the people and ... realize their aspiration for a better future,” according to KUNA.
Kuwait, which borders Iraq, boasts 7 percent of global crude reserves. It has little debt and one of the strongest sovereign wealth funds in the world.