Archive | July 18th, 2011

Obama’s drone attacks in Pakistan

NOVANEWS

“For the past three years, Noor Behram has hurried to the site of drone strikes in his native Waziristan. His purpose: to photograph and document the impact of missiles controlled by a joystick thousands of miles away, on US air force bases in Nevada and elsewhere. The drones are America’s only weapon for hunting al-Qaida and the Taliban in what is supposed to be the most dangerous place in the world.

Sometimes arriving on the scene just minutes after the explosion, he first has to put his camera aside and start digging through the debris to see if there are any survivors. It’s dangerous, unpleasant work. The drones frequently hit the same place again, a few minutes after the first strike, so looking for the injured is risky. There are other dangers too: militants and locals are suspicious of anyone with a camera. After all, it is a local network of spies working for the CIA that are directing the drone strikes.

But Noor Behram says his painstaking work has uncovered an important – and unreported – truth about the US drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal region: that far more civilians are being injured or dying than the Americans and Pakistanis admit. The world’s media quickly reports on how many militants were killed in each strike. But reporters don’t go to the spot, relying on unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials. Noor Behram believes you have to go to the spot to figure out whether those killed were really extremists or ordinary people living in Waziristan. And he’s in no doubt.”

US drone strikes in Pakistan claiming many civilian victims, says campaigner

One man in Waziristan is documenting casualties – and says destruction has been radicalising local.

Pakistani protesters burn a representation of an American flag

US drone strikes in Pakistan are condemned by protesters at a rally in Waziristan along the Afghanistan border. Photograph: Khalid Tanveer/AP

For the past three years, Noor Behram has hurried to the site of drone strikes in his native Waziristan. His purpose: to photograph and document the impact of missiles controlled by a joystick thousands of miles away, on US air force bases in Nevada and elsewhere. The drones are America’s only weapon for hunting al-Qaida and the Taliban in what is supposed to be the most dangerous place in the world.

Sometimes arriving on the scene just minutes after the explosion, he first has to put his camera aside and start digging through the debris to see if there are any survivors. It’s dangerous, unpleasant work. The drones frequently hit the same place again, a few minutes after the first strike, so looking for the injured is risky. There are other dangers too: militants and locals are suspicious of anyone with a camera. After all, it is a local network of spies working for the CIA that are directing the drone strikes.

But Noor Behram says his painstaking work has uncovered an important – and unreported – truth about the US drone campaign in Pakistan‘s tribal region: that far more civilians are being injured or dying than the Americans and Pakistanis admit. The world’s media quickly reports on how many militants were killed in each strike. But reporters don’t go to the spot, relying on unnamed Pakistani intelligence officials. Noor Behram believes you have to go to the spot to figure out whether those killed were really extremists or ordinary people living in Waziristan. And he’s in no doubt.

“For every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant,” he said. “I don’t go to count how many Taliban are killed. I go to count how many children, women, innocent people, are killed.”

The drone strikes are a secret programme run by the CIA to assassinate al-Qaida and Taliban extremists using remote, wild Waziristan as a refuge. The CIA does not comment on drones, but privately claims civilian casualties are rare.

The Guardian was unable to independently verify the photographs. Noor Behram’s account of taking the pictures appeared detailed and consistent however. Other anecdotal evidence from Waziristan is conflicting: some insist the drones are accurate, while others strongly disagree.

According to Noor Behram, the strikes not only kill the innocent but injure untold numbers and radicalise the population. “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.

“The youth in the area surrounding a strike gets crazed. Hatred builds up inside those who have seen a drone attack. The Americans think it is working, but the damage they’re doing is far greater.”

Even when the drones hit the right compound, the force of the blast is such that neighbours’ houses, often made of baked mud, are also demolished, crushing those inside, said Noor Behram. One of the photographs shows a tangle of debris he said were the remains of five houses blitzed together.

The photographs make for difficult viewing and leave no doubt about the destructive power of the Hellfire missiles unleashed: a boy with the top of his head missing, a severed hand, flattened houses, the parents of children killed in a strike. The chassis is all that remains of a car in one photo, another shows the funeral of a seven-year-old child. There are pictures, too, of the cheap rubber flip-flops worn by children and adults, which often survive: signs that life once existed there. A 10-year-old boy’s body, prepared for burial, shows lipstick on him and flowers in his hair – a mother’s last loving touch.

There are photos of burned and battered Qur’ans – but no pictures of women: the conservative culture in Waziristan will not allow Noor Behram to photograph the women, even dead and dismembered. So he makes do with documenting shredded pieces of women’s clothing.

The jagged terrain, the often isolated location of strikes, curfews and the presence of Taliban, all mean that it is a major challenge to get to the site of a drone strike. Noor Behram has managed to reach 60, in both North and South Waziristan, in which he estimates more than 600 people were killed. An exhibition of his work, at London’s Beaconsfield galleryopening on Tuesday, features pictures from 27 different drone strikes. Clive Stafford Smith, head of Reprieve, the campaigning group, has launched a lawsuit along with a Pakistani lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, seeking to bring to justice those responsible for civilian deaths from drones. “I think these pictures are deeply important evidence,” said Stafford Smith. “They put a human face [on the drone strike campaign] that is in marked contrast to what the US is suggesting its operators in Nevada and elsewhere are doing. “They show the reality of ordinary people being killed and losing their homes, not senior al-Qaida members.”

The programme of drone strikes was ramped up under the Obama administration. Last year saw the greatest number of attacks, 118, while there have been 45 so far in 2011, according to a tally kept by the New America Foundation, a thinktank based in Washington.Gaming in Waziristan, an exhibition including images of the aftermath of drone strikes in North Waziristan, opens at Beaconsfield, 22 Newport Street, London SE11 6AY info@beaconsfield.ltd.uk

One victim’s story

Sadaullah, a 15-year-old, lost one eye and both legs in a drone strike on 7 September 2009, during the month of Ramadan, near Mir Ali town in North Waziristan. Three family members died, including an uncle who used a wheelchair. It was reported at the time that three Taliban commanders – rather than his three relatives – were killed in the strike.

“It struck after Iftar,” says the shy Sadaullah, referring to the breaking of the fast in the evening during Ramadan.

It had been a happy day for Sadaullah, who was looking forward to the evening when a feast was going to be served at his house, as his grandfather and uncles were visiting to break their fast.

After saying his prayer, Sadaullah, was entering the room where the other guests had already taken their place for the evening feast when the missile hit. Something heavy fell on his legs, requiring them both to be later amputated.

He also lost his uncle Mautullah Jan, who was in a wheelchair for the past decade, and two his cousins, Kadaanullah Jan and Sabir-ud-Din.

Now Sadaullah does not go to school and gets only a religious education in a madrasa – Islamic seminary – in his village. Sadaullah sees no hope for the future but says that the madrasa “is good for me, as it keeps me busy”.

Sadaullah is one of the victims on whose behalf British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith is to launch a lawsuit against the CIA’s former legal chief, John Rizzo, who approved dozens of drone strikes on Pakistan’s tribal region.

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The commander of the Faithful’s gifts to Zionism

NOVANEWS

No one can estimate the true value of the KKKnesset treasures. The diamond pendant necklace, for example, was given to Opposition Leader MK Nazi Tzipi Livni (Kadima) by the wife of the Zionist king of Morocco during a secret visit to the capital, Rabat, when she was Foreign Minister.”

The KKKnesset Unveils Its Hidden Treasures

by David ben Yacov

A vast collection of treasures, gift and souvenirs given to Israel has been unveiled by the Knesset, the Hebrew-language daily Maariv reported Thursday.

As the staff of the Knesset storeroom opened the vault on Tuesday, they first removed a black satin jewelry box. Inside, was a gold necklace with a 30-diamond pendant, that shone across the room. Just one of the many dust collecting gifts bestowed upon the Knesset and MKs over the years.

The Knesset has recently begun cataloging its plethora of gifts, some of great value or historic significance, others with sentimental meaning.

“We are taking inventory, and have called in government appraisers, so we can insure the gifts,” Said Dan Amar, Director of the Knesset Logistics Division.

No one can estimate the true value of the Knesset treasures. The diamond pendant necklace, for example,  was given to Opposition Leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima) by the wife of the king of Morocco during a secret visit to the capital, Rabat, when she was Foreign Minister.

Livni quickly deposited the gift in the Knesset storage vault, as per the law regarding gifts to Knesset members. Livni also received a diamond-and-gemstonegold necklace with a set ofgold rings, courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Morocco.

Knesset storeroom workers produced a rolled-up Persian carpet with gold embroidery. It was donated to the Knesset in 1977, “A humble gift from Yaakov Sahim-Halevi, Teheran, Iran” was the inscription it bore. It was originally estimated at 140 thousand shekels, and awaits official appraisal.

In another corner were two ivory tusks donated in the 70s by Morris el-Khadif. Originally estimated at 90 thousand shekels, they may now be of different value, since ivory trade is prohibited at present. They were once on display in the Knesset, but were placed in storage after the trade ban.

The “Representative of the Municipal councils of Stalingrad, Russia” gave the Knesset a leather whip a decade ago. The government of Taiwan gave a small white gramophone-clone radio, and the delegation of the Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security received an original geisha dress, decorated with lilac and jasmine flowers on a visit to the far east.

There were dozens of eastern vases, china sets, porcelain dishes, statuettes, goblets, gold and silver coins, ties, pens, gold-plated cufflinks, portraits, books, albums, and even a 200-year-old bottle of whiskey, all gifts for the Knesset and its members.

Interestingly, the article was picked up by the Chinese language Xinhua and copied in the China’s People’s Daily Online.

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Pro-Zionist Bahrain royal beatings

NOVANEWS

“A female member of the al-Khalifa royal family in Bahrain has been accused of repeatedly beating the 20-year-old student poet Ayat al-Gormezi when she was in prison accused of reciting a poem at a pro-democracy protest rally criticising the monarchy.”

Poet jailed in protests claims she was beaten by Bahraini royal

Ayat al-Gormezi says she was tortured while in jail for reciting a poem at a pro-democracy protest. Patrick Cockburn reports

18 July 2011


Ayat al-GormeziMAZEN MAHDI/EPA

Ayat al-Gormezi arriving at her home last week after her sudden release from prison. She was sentenced to a year in prison last month by a military court after reciting a poem critical of Bahrain’s rulers

A female member of the al-Khalifa royal family in Bahrain has been accused of repeatedly beating the 20-year-old student poet Ayat al-Gormezi when she was in prison accused of reciting a poem at a pro-democracy protest rally criticising the monarchy.

 

In an interview with The Independent, Ms Gormezi, who became a symbol of resistance to oppression in Bahrain, said that although her interrogators had tried to blindfold her, “I was able to see a woman of about 40 in civilian clothes who was beating me on the head with a baton”. Ms Gormezi later described her interrogator to prison guards, who, she said, promptly named the woman as being one of the al-Khalifas with a senior position in the Bahraini security service.

“I was taken many times to her office for fresh beatings,” Ms Gormezi said. “She would say, ‘You should be proud of the al-Khalifas. They are not going to leave this country. It is their country.’ ”

The guards explained that it wasnot her regular job, but she had volunteered to take part in questioning political detainees.

Ms Gormezi was detained on 30 March at her parents’ house after spending two weeks in hiding when the government, backed by a Saudi-led force, started a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests in mid-March. She had been targeted by the authorities after she read out a poem at a rally in February which contained the lines: “We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery. We are the people who will destroy injustice.”

Addressing King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa directly, she said of the Bahraini people: “Don’t you hear their cries? Don’t you hear their screams?” As she finished speaking the crowd roared: “Down with Hamad!”

Subjected to nine days of torture after her detention, Ms Gormezi described how she was beaten across the face with electric cables, kept in a tiny, freezing cell and forced to clean lavatories with her bare hands. All the while, she was beaten on the head and the body until she lost consciousness. “Many of the guards were Yemenis and Jordanians,” she said. The recruitment of members of the Bahraini security forces from foreign Sunni states is one of the grievances of Bahrain’s Shia majority, which says it is excluded from such jobs.

In a phone interview after her release, Ms Gormezi said she does not regret reading her poem in Pearl Square, the centre of Bahrain’s democratic protests in February and March. “What I said was not a personal attack on the King or the Prime Minister but I was just expressing what the people want. I have written poetry since I was a child, but not about politics. I did not think it was dangerous at the time. I was just expressing my opinion.”

After the crackdown on protesters in Bahrain started in mid-March, the tall monument in Pearl Square was demolished and even the Bahraini coin showing it was withdrawn. Anybody supporting the protests was in danger of detention and torture. Ms Gormezi’s family sent her to stay with relatives, which she “did not want to do. But after two weeks the security forces threatened my family and I had to give myself up. As I was taken away in a car, my family were told to pick me up at a police station the following day, so they thought it was not serious”.

Her mistreatment started immediately. She said: “There were four men and one woman in the car, all wearing balaclavas. They beat me and shouted ‘you are going to be sexually assaulted! This is the last day of your life!'” They also made anti-Shia remarks. “I was terrified of being sexually assaulted or raped, but not of being beaten.”

The vehicle she was in, escorted by the army and police, did not immediately go to the interrogation centre but drove around Bahrain. Another woman, whom Ms Gormezi said was a member of the teachers’ organisation, was arrested and put in the boot of the car. Eventually, it reached the interrogation centre, which evidently doubled as a prison. Ms Gormezi said the beatings never stopped: “Once they told me to open my mouth and spat in it.” The first night she was put in a tiny cell. “It smelled awful and I could not sleep because of the screams of a man being tortured in the next cell.”

The second night she was placed in another cell with the two vents for air conditioning producing freezing air. She was taken out for regular beatings. “I was very frightened,” she said. “But I did not think they would kill me because every time I lost consciousness from the beatings, they called a doctor.”

Surprisingly, for the first four or five days, the interrogators did not ask Ms Gormezi about reading out her poem in Pearl Square. They abused the Shia in general, saying they were “bastards” and not properly married (the accusation stems from the Shia institution of temporary marriage and is often used as an insult by Sunnis).

“When they did ask me about the poem, they kept saying: ‘Who asked you to write it? Who paid you to write it?'” Ms Gormezi said. They insisted she must have been ordered to do so by Shia leaders in Bahrain or was a member of a political group, which she denies.

The interrogators also kept saying she must owe allegiance to Iran. An obsessive belief that Shia demands for equal rights in Bahrain must be orchestrated by Tehran has long been a central feature of Sunni conspiracy theorists. “They kept asking me: ‘Why are you loyal to Iran? Why are you not loyal to your own country?'” Ms Gormezi said. “I said it was nothing to do with Iran. I am a Bahraini and I was only trying to express what the people want.”

After nine days in the interrogation centre, Ms Gormezi was taken to a second prison in Isa town in Bahrain. For a week she was in solitary confinement and was given medication so the signs of her beatings were less visible. She was then taken to a more general prison where physical mistreatment stopped and there were four other women. “After 16 days they let me talk to my family,” she said. “It was meant to be for three minutes but they let me talk for 10. Once they took me back to the first interrogation centre to record a video apologising to the King.”

International protests and ensuing bad publicity for the Bahraini monarchy led to her treatment improving, according to her family. Ms Gormezi was brought before a court on 12 June and sentenced to one year in prison, a shorter sentence than her family had feared. Last week she was called to an office in the prison and told she was to be released on the condition that she should not take part in other protests.

Activist accuses police in protester’s death

* A Bahraini rights activist says a woman has died during clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters in the Gulf kingdom.

Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said that 47-year-old Zainab Hasan Ahmed al-Jumaa suffocated after inhaling tear gas fired by riot police during a demonstration on Friday near her home in Sitra, the hub of Bahrain’s oil industry. Her death brings to 33 the number of those who have died since February when Bahrain’s Shia majority started protests for greater freedoms in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

Bahrain’s Interior Ministry denied that Ms Jumaa’s death was linked to a police operation and said in a statement posted on the ministry’s website late on Friday that the woman died of natural causes. The claims came after tens of thousands of Bahrainis shouting “one man, one vote” attended a rally for political reform held by a leading opposition party, days before the group decides whether to pull out of national reform talks.

Bahrain’s Sunni rulers have launched a national dialogue to discuss reforms and heal deep rifts in the kingdom after ending a four-month crackdown on weeks of protests led by the Shia majority early this year. Waving Bahraini flags and raising their hands, the demonstrators gathered to hear a speech by Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the largest Shia opposition group, Wefaq.

“The real victory is reaching a national consensus on serious democratic reforms that meet popular demands for justice and produce security, stability and growth,” he said to the cheers of crowds who filled alleyways and rooftops

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Jewish terror against Palestinians

NOVANEWS

A senior Zio-Nazi army commander has warned that unchecked “Jewish terror” against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank threatens to plunge the territory into another conflict.”

If an Arab used the term “Jewish terror”, he would be accused of anti-Semitism (personally, I am against linking terror and any religi

Jewish settlers are terrorising Palestinians, says IsraHelli general

By Catrina Stewart in Jerusalem

18 July 2011

General Avi Mizrahi

Born in Haifa in 1957, General Avi Mizrahi was drafted into the IDF in 1975. He has been head of Israeli Central Command since October 2009.

A senior Israeli army commander has warned that unchecked “Jewish terror” against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank threatens to plunge the territory into another conflict.

 

In unusually outspoken comments, Major General Avi Mizrahi took aim at extremist Israeli settlers, and said the yeshiva, or religious seminary, in Yitzhar, one of the most radical Jewish strongholds in the West Bank, should be closed, calling it a source of terror against Palestinians.

The general’s comments are likely to put him at odds with Israel’s pro-settler government, which has resisted US-led efforts to curb settlement expansion in a bid to revive stalled peace talks. The foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, himself lives in a West Bank settlement. All settlements are regarded as illegal under international law.

The army has anxiously watched an upsurge in violence by hardline settlers, who in recent months have set fire to a West Bank mosque, burned Palestinian olive groves, and vandalised Palestinian property. Settlers have killed three Palestinians this year.

“What’s happening in the field is terrorism,” General Mizrahi told Channel 2’s Meet the Press, and it “needs to be dealt with.” The Israel Defence Forces (IDF), he said, fears “terrorism against Palestinians is likely to ignite the territories.”

The general’s criticism points to frustration within the army’s high command at their ability to check violent settlers.

Palestinians and Israeli NGOs frequently accuse the army of siding with settlers in conflagrations with Palestinians, prompting the army to respond that it is obliged to protect its citizens and does not set policy.

The number of violent incidents has spiked in recent months, partly because of the murder earlier this year of five members, including three children, from one Jewish family in Itamar, a settlement near Nablus. Two Palestinians were charged with the crime.

Human rights groups suggest that the more radical settlers, many of whom oppose a two-state solution on the premise that the whole of Israel is bequeathed to them by God, are agitating against Palestinian moves to seek statehood recognition at the United Nations in September.

Some fear that the surge in violent attacks against Palestinians could compound rising frustrations with the stalled peace process and trigger more violent riots.

“The army is very afraid that [action by settlers] at a critical moment could set off a Third Intifada,” said Adam Keller, spokesman for Israeli human rights body Gush Shalom, referring to a mass Palestinian uprising.

“The fact that the army is nervous is making the settlers more aggressive,” he said

The Israeli commander General Mizrahi blamed the courts for failing to rein in the most radical of the settlers – a small proportion of the roughly 500,000 Israeli settlers who are living beyond the Green Line in East Jerusalem and the West Bank

on)

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Zio-Nazi racist war on children

NOVANEWS

“In a report entitled “No Minor Matter,” B’Tselem found that Zio-Nazi military law encouraged minors to plead guilty to avoid lengthy pre-trial detention, and that children were routinely sentenced to prison terms as a punishment rather than as a final resort.  Of the 835 Palestinian minors, aged 17 and younger, arrested and prosecuted for stone-throwing between 2005 and 2010, just one was acquitted, the rights group said.

Palestinian children living in flashpoint areas of the West Bank and east Jerusalem are regularly arrested by Zio-Nazi Gestapo’s for throwing stones during demonstrations or clashes.  The report cited the experiences of 50 youngsters interviewed by B’Tselem, 30 of whom said they had been arrested in the middle of the night and that their parents were not allowed to accompany them.”

IsraHell violates rights of Palestinian minors: study

A Palestinian youth (front) and a Jewish settler (rear) prepare to throw stones at each other during clashes which according to witnesses, erupted after settlers cut down olive trees belonging to the West Bank village of Asira al-Qibilya near Nablus July 3, 2011. – Reuters Photo

JERUSALEM: Israel is violating the rights of young Palestinians accused of stone-throwing, failing to protect them as minors and mistreating them during arrest, an Israeli rights group said on Monday.

In a report entitled “No Minor Matter,” B’Tselem found that military law encouraged minors to plead guilty to avoid lengthy pre-trial detention, and that children were routinely sentenced to prison terms as a punishment rather than as a final resort.

Of the 835 Palestinian minors, aged 17 and younger, arrested and prosecuted for stone-throwing between 2005 and 2010, just one was acquitted, the rights group said.

Palestinian children living in flashpoint areas of the West Bank and east Jerusalem are regularly arrested by Israeli forces for throwing stones during demonstrations or clashes.

The report cited the experiences of 50 youngsters interviewed by B’Tselem, 30 of whom said they had been arrested in the middle of the night and that their parents were not allowed to accompany them.

Only three of those arrested at night said they were interrogated on the same evening, with most not being questioned until the next day, and two held for five days before being questioned.

Nineteen of the minors interviewed by B’Tselem also described being “treated violently” and “threatened during the interrogation,” while 23 said they were prevented from using the bathroom, eating or drinking for hours at a time.

Under the military justice system, judges normally order a minor to be held in custody until the end of proceedings, the report said.

“As a result, many minors prefer to enter into a plea bargain, in which they confess to the charges against them… fearing that, if a trial is held, they would be kept in jail during the long period of time that it takes to complete the trial,” it said.

And for the vast majority of Palestinian minors convicted of stone-throwing, either through a court process or a plea bargain, the punishment is jail time.

During the five-year period in question, 93 percent of those convicted received a prison sentence ranging from a few days to 20 months, B’Tselem said.

Among those imprisoned were 19 children under the age of 14, even though the incarceration of youngsters of that age is prohibited under Israeli civil law, B’Tselem said.

Once in prison, the minors are considered security prisoners, meaning they have no access to phone calls, and most told the group that their families did not visit.

B’Tselem urged Israel “to amend, without delay, the military legislation to make it correspond to the provisions of Israel’s youth law.

“Israel has the obligation to ensure the rights of Palestinian minors under its responsibility,” the report said.

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Arrested for blogging in UAE Pro-Zionist regime

NOVANEWS

“The trial of five bloggers who called for democratic reforms in the United Arab Emirates is set to resume on Monday.  Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq and Hassan Ali al-Khamis stand accused of “publicly insulting” top officials in the UAE after being arrested in April.

On Sunday, four international human rights groups – Amnesty International, the Arabic Network or Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Front Line Defenders, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) – released a statement condemning the trial of the five activists and called for their release.  “UAE authorities should drop charges against five activists arrested after they called for democratic reforms,” the statement read.”

Trial of UAE bloggers set to resume

Five bloggers arrested in April after calling for political reforms in the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE prime minister issued a decree in 2007 that no journalist would be arrested for their work [EPA]

The trial of five bloggers who called for democratic reforms in the United Arab Emirates is set to resume on Monday.

Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq and Hassan Ali al-Khamis stand accused of “publicly insulting” top officials in the UAE after being arrested in April.

On Sunday, four international human rights groups – Amnesty International, the Arabic Network or Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Front Line Defenders, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) – released a statement condemning the trial of the five activists and called for their release.

“UAE authorities should drop charges against five activists arrested after they called for democratic reforms,” the statement read.

Ahmed Mansoor, an engineer and human rights advocate, and Nasser bin Ghaith, an economist and lecturer at Sorbonne University in the UAE, are being charged with using the site, UAE Hewar (Dialogue) to “conspire against the safety and security of the state in association with foreign powers,” according to rights groups.

Mansoor also faces charges for inciting others and calling for demonstrations. In March, he supported a petition signed by more than 130 people demanding an elected parliament with legislative powers.

Gamal Eid, director of ANHRI, said it was not only the five bloggers being targeted by the arrests. “They arrested the five to send a message to other online activists that it’s not allowed to talk about democracy [in the UAE],” Eid said.

“We feel it’s a step back for freedom of speech in the UAE because it’s an accusation against bloggers and activists … because of what they wrote on [an online] forum about democracy. It’s not a crime to talk about reform and democracy,” Eid told Al Jazeera.

The arrests of the five men is one of the first incidents in recent years when people have been tried for things they’ve written or said, and that has rights groups worried.

“It shows a dramatic increase of repression by the Emirati government and intolerance for any dissent,” said Samer Muscati, a researcher at HRW focusing on the UAE, speaking to Al Jazeera.

In 2007, two reporters on the UAE’s English-language Khaleej Times newspaper were sentenced to prison for “libel”. Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai emirate, issued a decree that journalists shouldn’t be jailed for their work.

However, since the wave of uprisings in the Arab world began in late 2010, some Arab leaders have sought to pre-emptively block any forms of dissent by targeting activists and dissidents.

Muscati said that the uprisings had made “these authoritarian governments realise that their grip on power isn’t as strong as they think.”

After the Jurists Association and the Teachers Association supported calls for reform in April, their elected boards were both disbanded and replaced by people appointed by the state.

Rights groups have reported threats against some of the defendants and condemned the “intimidating online and satellite television campaign” that has tried to paint the men as religious extremists and foreign agents.
A Facebook page denouncing “Ahmed Mansour and his gang” has nearly 30,000 supporters.

The government blocks a number of websites that discuss politics and government, like Hewar, Muscati said. “That’s the irony; that other sites that viciously attack the activists are allowed to continue.”

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Syria: The view from Homs

NOVANEWS

Aboud from Homs sent me this–and he answered a few questions by me (I cite with his permission):

“There was some tension last night, but I don’t understand where the figure of “30 dead” could have come from. Today Homs was calm. I went out to the Damascus Road where there was a tense standoff between the shabiha and residents of that area last night, and everything was normal. I went to the upscale Hamra district and everything was normal there as well. If anyone had died during the day, all of Homs would have been on edge. The army was in Khaldia all day long, and from the video clips it looked like a relaxed atmosphere. None of the revolution Facebook websites talked of any confrontations today.  Yesterday, three Alawites were found dead in a place called Al-Wa3r.

It doesn’t usually have any demonstrations, but last Friday there was an unusual demonstration there, and it was quite big. The rumors I’ve heard say that one of the murdered Alawites was a supermarket owner who was high up in the shabiha hierarchy. It would explain why they went on a rampage last night. They did indeed smash up the Sunni stores in al-Hadara street, and part of Damascus Road.  When the rest of Homs got word of this, every neighborhood blocked itself off. Trash containers and old cars blocked off side streets. Tires were burned in the streets. Bab Esba3 joined up with Karam al Shami. Insha’at joined up with Baba Amr. Youths patrolled the streets with sticks in hand. I don’t know what happened in the rest of Homs, but on the Damascus road, my brother and his friends guarded their street, and there was a standoff with the shabiha.

Sometime at around 2am the shabiha and security men withdrew from the area.  Today, Hadara street (which is prominently Alawi) was all closed down, while the rest of Homs carried on as normal. The conventional wisdom is that a small group of shabiha got out of control, and almost started a sectarian war in the city.   In addition, there are very strong rumors that a sizeable army contingent (about 100) deserted last night. Helicopters flew all over all night long…The shabiha are militiamen loyal to the regime. They used to be part of the Assad family’s private militia in Latakia, but now the term is applied to any civilian the regime arms. They are mostly Alawites but I believe up in Aleppo they are Sunni. They were the ones responsible for the abuses at Al-Baida near Baniyas (the infamous incident where black clad shabiha were videoed stepping all over and beating detainees, which Al-Dunya TV claimed actually happened in Iraq).  In every military crackdown, they have always taken part in military operations.

Today Homs was calm, and this evening we didn’t hear anything. I seriously don’t understand how 30 deaths could possibly have happened in the last 24 hours.  In Homs, I don’t see any class splits. My neighborhood is an upper-middle class one, and youths from it regularly join protestors from Baba Amr, Khaldia and Bab Esba3. In the end, it isn’t religion or strictly class that makes one pro or anti regime, but one’s own experiences with the authorities.  For example, my 20 year old brother is a university student at the most expensive private university in Syria, but he has risked his life every day since the protests began in Homs. He received training from the Red Crescent on first aid. What motivated him? His uncles (he is my half brother) were both imprisoned on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s, but he isn’t religious in any way. Growing up, he recounted to me the humiliations he had to endure at the hands of sons of connected Baath party members.

And at one time, he was beaten up severely by the police at a football game. It is personal experiences like this that cause people to go out into the streets, and not some ideology.   Myself, I turned against the regime in the middle of April. Half of Homs had come out for a sit in at the New Clock. While the “amin” were supposedly negotiating with Sheikhs to end the sit in, the security forces opened fire on the demonstrators, and chased them through the streets. By the grace of God my brother had left 10 minutes before to charge his mobile phone and was headed back. From that day, I have never believed for a moment that Bashar is a reformer.   Right now, no one in Homs is scared. Today I went out and had coffee with a relative, and the mood was upbeat. Last night all of Homs had come out and faced down the shabiha and security forces. Now we openly talk about politics in restaurants and in the streets. Graffiti on the road is everywhere one goes, and we openly laugh at the clever lines.

There is a buoyant feeling that the revolution went through its darkest times, and the regime has completely lost the initiative. They don’t seem to have a plan, they just seem to be waiting out each Friday.   Yes, Aleppo and Damascus haven’t come out in the numbers we’d like yet, but you must keep something in mind; to the regime’s supporters, this seems to have been going on forever. But to the opposition, the feeling is “we are just getting started”. No one expected this to be a short Egypt or Tunisia like revolution. We know we are in this for the long haul. We waited 40 years for this, we can wait 40 months more if needs be.   Compared to the dark days when the tanks first invaded Baba Amr and the protests dwindled to quick late night affairs, the opposition in Homs is much better organized. People call Homs the nexus of the revolution, and for good reason.

In the end, battles are won by the morale of the troops. And morale among the opposition is very high. Yes, there doesn’t seem to be a government in waiting, nor a detailed plan for post-Bashar Syria, nor a charismatic leader. But what does it say about Bashar that so many Syrians are willing to bet on such an uncertain future, than to tolerate another year under his rule…”

PS Of course, there is no way for me to verify the information here.

Posted by As’ad AbuKhalil

Posted in SyriaComments Off on Syria: The view from Homs

Breaking: Murdoch Whistleblower Found Dead

NOVANEWS

Ex-NOTW whistleblowing reporter found dead

(Editorial note:  Were there ever a target to warn off others, Hoare is it.  His firing by NOTW for “drug and alcohol,” common as oxygen in the news business, prestaged his potential “suiciding.”  Where is “Inspector Morse” when we need him?)

By Tom Morgan, Press Association

A former News of the World reporter who alleged Andy Coulson “encouraged” him to hack phones was found dead today.

Sean Hoare, who made claims in a New York Times article about the Prime Minister’s former communications chief, was discovered at his home in Watford, Hertfordshire, after concerns were raised about his whereabouts.

The death is being treated as “unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious”, Hertfordshire police said.

A Hertfordshire Police spokesman said: “At 10.40am today police were called to Langley Road, Watford, following the concerns for welfare of a man who lives at an address on the street.

“Upon police and ambulance arrival at a property, the body of a man was found.

“The man was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after.

“The death is currently being treated as unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious.

“Police investigations into this incident are ongoing.”

From the Guardian:

Sean Hoare, the former News of the World showbiz reporter who was the first named journalist to allege Andy Coulson was aware of phone hacking by his staff, has been found dead, the Guardian has learned.

Hoare, who worked on the Sun and the News of the World with Coulson before being dismissed for drink and drugs problems (???), is said to have been found dead at his Watford home.

Hertfordshire police would not confirm his identity, but the force said in a statement: “At 10.40am today [Monday 18 July] police were called to Langley Road, Watford, following the concerns for the welfare of a man who lives at an address on the street. Upon police and ambulance arrival at a property, the body of a man was found. The man was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after.

“The death is currently being treated as unexplained, but not thought to be suspicious. Police investigations into this incident are ongoing.”

Hoare first made his claims in a New York Times investigation into the phone-hacking allegations at the News of the World.

He told the newspaper that not only did Coulson know of the phone hacking, but that he actively encouraged his staff to intercept the phone calls of celebrities in the pursuit of exclusives.

In a subsequent interview with the BBC he alleged that he was personally asked by his then-editor, Coulson, to tap into phones. In an interview with the PM programme he said Coulson’s insistence that he didn’t know about the practice was “a lie, it is simply a lie”.

At the time a Downing Street spokeswoman said Coulson totally and utterly denied the allegations and said he had “never condoned the use of phone hacking and nor do I have any recollection of incidences where phone hacking took place”.

Sean Hoare, a one-time close friend of Coulson’s, told the New York Times the two men first worked together at the Sun, where, Hoare said, he played tape recordings of hacked messages for Coulson. At the News of the World, Hoare said he continued to inform Coulson of his activities. Coulson “actively encouraged me to do it”, Hoare said.

In September last year, he was interviewed under caution by police over his claims that the former Tory communications chief asked him to hack into phones when he was editor of the paper, but declined to make any comment.

Hoare returned to the spotlight last week, after he told the New York Times that reporters at the News of the World were able to use police technology to locate people using their mobile phone signals in exchange for payments to police officers.

He said journalists were able to use a technique called “pinging” which measured the distance between mobile handsets and a number of phone masts to pinpoint its location.

Hoare gave further details about the use of “pinging” to the Guardian last week. He described how reporters would ask a news desk executive to obtain the location of a target: “Within 15 to 30 minutes someone on the news desk would come back and say ‘right that’s where they are.’”

He said: “You’d just go to the news desk and they’d just come back to you. You don’t ask any questions. You’d consider it a job done. The chain of command is one of absolute discipline and that’s why I never bought into it, like with Andy saying he wasn’t aware of it and all that. That’s bollocks.”

He said he would stand by everything he had told the New York Times about “pinging”. “I don’t know how often it happened. That would be wrong of me. But if I had access as a humble reporter … ”

He admitted he had had problems with drink and drugs and had been in rehab. “But that’s irrelevant,” he said. “There’s more to come. This is not going to go away.”

Hoare named a private investigator who he said had links with the News of the World, adding: “He may want to talk now because I think what you’ll find now is a lot of people are going to want to cover their arse.”

Speaking to another Guardian journalist last week, Hoare repeatedly expressed the hope that the hacking scandal would lead to journalism in general being cleaned up and said he had decided to blow the whistle on the activities of some of his former News of the World colleagues with that aim in mind.

He also said he had been injured the previous weekend while taking down a marquee erected for a children’s party. He said he had broken his nose and badly injured his foot when a relative accidentally struck him with a heavy pole from the marquee.

Hoare also emphasised that he was not making any money from telling his story. Hoare, who has been treated for drug and alcohol problems, reminisced about partying with former pop stars and said he missed the days when he was able to go out on the town.

Posted in UKComments Off on Breaking: Murdoch Whistleblower Found Dead

Iran ready to send aid to Gaza

NOVANEWS


Head of Iran’s Red Crescent Society Abolhassan Faqih says the Islamic Republic is prepared to send further humanitarian supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip.

In a letter to the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Faqih urged the Islamic body to take necessary measures to facilitate the passage of international aid to the impoverished coastal enclave.

He condemned the nearly four-year Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has resulted in the shortage of food and medicine.

Earlier, Israel prevented an Iranian aid ship from reaching the besieged Palestinian territory.

Faqih also praised the new Egyptian government over the reopening of the Rafah border crossing after nearly four years.

Enforcing the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, the regime of the ousted, US-backed ruler, Hosni Mubarak, had refused to open the Rafah crossing since June 2007 despite its full sovereignty over the area.

The Israeli regime laid an economic siege on the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after the democratically-elected Hamas lawmakers took over the administration of the enclave.

The blockade has had a disastrous impact on the humanitarian and economic situation in the impoverished territory.

Some 1.5 million people are being denied their basic rights, including the freedom of movement and their rights to appropriate living conditions, work, health and education.

Following Israel’s assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters on May 31, 2010, that killed nine civilians, Tel Aviv slightly eased the land blockade of Gaza, allowing in more consumer goods.

However, the naval siege of the Gaza Strip remains in place, exports are banned, and imports of raw materials and construction materials are restricted.

Posted in GazaComments Off on Iran ready to send aid to Gaza

Lebanese women travel to Syria to support Assad

NOVANEWS

Some 400 women travel to Damascus to stand against ‘schemes’ being plotted against Syrian regime

Some 400 Lebanese women arrived in Syria Sunday to show solidarity with the protesters – the pro-government protesters, that is. They women did not come to to side with the activists calling for reform and democracy, but rather to support Bashar Assad’s regime.

The women, who intended to set sail from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip aboard the Miriam ship in June 2010 but were eventually barred from doing so, chose a more easily accessible destination this time – Damascus. They travelled overland to stand with Assad against “the schemes being plotted against him.”

At least 28 killed during Friday protests throughout country. Lebanese women’s group that intended to join last year’s flotilla to Gaza says it will go on visit to Damascus – in support of Assad’s regime

At 7 am, the women boarded eight buses and set out from Beirut’s Gallery Hotel towards the Beqaa Valley.

Samar Al-Hajj, a spokeswoman for the group, expressed contentment with the initiative’s progress.

“The Lebanese and Syrian security forces have facilitated the convoy’s passage at the border, and congratulated it,” she said in an interview with the Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar television station. “Upon arriving on Syrian land, they welcomed us in a moving manner. We, Miriam’s women, cry only on happy occasions, and we did shed tears of happiness.

“We came to Syria to tell the truth, because it is the land of truth and resistance,” Al-Hajj said. “We came to stop the attempts to isolate Syria, and to remove the barriers of fear inseminated by those worried about the people and the regime’s strength.”

In a press conference held in Beirut last weekend, Al-Hajj also addressed the situation south of Lebanon’s border, and the shelved idea of the Gaza-bound flotilla.

“Palestine is a high priority, but our initiative took a different direction – to stand by Syria against the difficult circumstances it is dealing with,” she said. “Syria is dealing with an attempt to breach its security, stability, sovereignty, economy and the safety of its citizens. Its internal affairs should not be meddled with.”

Al-Hajj is known for her strong ties with Hezbollah and Syria, which appear to be what prompted her to embark on the journey to support Assad in his hour of need. Syrian opposition sites that reported on the bus convoy stressed that the participating women are pro-Palestinian.

Posted in Syria2 Comments

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