Archive | March 11th, 2014

Russia has made ‘big miscalculation’ over Ukraine warns Hague

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The Foreign Secretary conceded that none of the sanctions being threatened by the West could remove Moscow’s military forces from the Ukrainian peninsula

Russia has made a “big miscalculation” in occupying Crimea, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned.

Delivering the stark caution, Mr Hague said that there would be “very significant” long-term consequences for Russia’s future on the global stage if it refused to enter into diplomatic talks with Kiev over the stand-off.

But he admitted that none of the sanctions being threatened by the West could remove Moscow’s military forces from the Ukrainian peninsula.

The population of the key strategic region is due to vote in a referendum on becoming part of Russia in a week’s time after pro-Russian forces seized control of key military and other facilities.

Mr Hague dismissed Vladimir Putin’s claims that the insignia-less troops are local fighters rather than Russian personnel, but he declined to say directly that the Russian president was lying.

The Kremlin “clearly had a well-rehearsed plan to move militarily” into the region, which it was forced to hurriedly implement on the ousting of pro-Russian Ukrainian president Victor Yanokovich, Mr Hague said.

But despite criticism of the failure of the EU to impose sufficiently stringent sanctions on Moscow, Mr Hague insisted there was no “tacit acceptance” of the takeover in the Crimea.

“It would be wrong to conclude that Russia has won in some sense. I think this will turn out over time to be quite a big miscalculation,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

“The long-term consequences will be very significant for Russia.

“European nations will, if no solution to this can be found, recast their approach to energy and economic links to Russia over time.

“The long-term effect will be to unite Ukraine more against Russian domination of their affairs and to recast European policies in a way that will reduce Russian leverage over Europe.”

He went on: “None of the measures we can propose remove Russian forces from the Crimea. Nobody is proposing a military conflict between the West and Russia.

“But some of the diplomatic and other costs to Russia of this are serious and need to be taken seriously in Moscow.”

Mr Hague said he would later today have more talks with US secretary of state John Kerry on the latest developments as Western allies seek to secure direct talks between Moscow and Kiev.

The Kremlin refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the interim Ukrainian government and the Russian parliament has backed the Crimean legislature’s decision to rejoin Russia subject to the backing of its majority-Russian population in the proposed March 16 vote.

The European Union has suspended talks with Moscow on visa liberalisation and threatened asset bans and travel freezes on Russian officials if there is no rapid progress to a diplomatic solution.

Labour says the position is too weak and called on the EU to be “more explicit about the real costs and consequences for Russia if it fails to de-escalate this crisis”.

Fears over the economic consequences for Europe’s fragile economies and the dependence on Russian gas have thwarted agreement on a tougher response.

Mr Hague said that there was “clearly an increased case for American gas exports to Europe” and other measures to reduce reliance on Russian energy supplies.

Discussions were under way with Washington about that issue, he said.

Asked if Mr Putin was lying about the presence of Russian troops, he said: “There clearly are Russian troops in Crimea.

“All the evidence is that they are. There is no plausible explanation of where else they have come from.

“They have taken possession of the Crimea. But I would argue that it would be in Russia’s interest, faced with these short-term and long-term consequences of this action, to enter into a diplomatic process with Ukraine, supported by other nations.”

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said Europe needed to be “more explicit about the real costs and consequences for Russia if it fails to de-escalate this crisis”.

He said the EU’s failure to translate condemnation into concrete action risked emboldening the Kremlin and increasing the risk of escalations elsewhere in the world.

Writing in the Independent on Sunday, he said there should be a “graduated hierarchy of diplomatic and economic measures that could help effectively pressure Russia into changing course”.

Negotiations on Russia’s application to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) should be suspended, he suggested.

A “clear deadline for progress” should be set after which threatened asset freezes on Russian officials suspected of involvement were implemented.

The freezing of bank accounts belonging to 18 Ukrainians suspected of misappropriating state funds – including that of ousted president Victor Yanukovich – should be extended to Russian officials.

And he said the G7 countries “should seek agreement to suspend Russia from the group until it changes course” if there was no rapid progress.

They have already suspended preparations for the next G8 summit due to be hosted by Russia – which appears unlikely to go ahead.

“As well as the immediate security threats to the Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions have also reaffirmed the existence of a geopolitical fault line that the West ignores at its peril,” Mr Alexander said.

“So now, over a week after Russian troops took effective control of the Crimea, the West must raise the costs to Mr Putin for his reckless actions,” he wrote.

“On the one hand, we must be clear that we want to see an inclusive government in Kiev, with protection for the rights of the Russian minorities within the Ukraine and guarantees that the EU Association Agreement does not preclude continuing trade relations between Ukraine and Russia.

“On the other, Europe must be more explicit about the real costs and consequences for Russia if it fails to de-escalate this crisis.”

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Egypt’s shameful rejection of Mairead Maguire and other peace advocates

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The Syria Solidarity Movement views with sadness and dismay the Egyptian government’s denial of entry to Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire for the purpose of transiting to Gaza to attend the International Women’s Day commemorations.  Ms. Maguire is a good friend of the Syria Solidarity Movement and has played a central role in the promotion of peace, justice and human rights in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, and many other places throughout the world. 

The Egyptian government knows that Ms. Maguire is an advocate and practitioner of nonviolence and that she is completely harmless to all human life.  Furthermore, the regime knows that the Egyptian people are among the most steadfast supporters of justice for Palestine. The only possible explanation for the refusal to admit Ms. Maguire, therefore, is to prevent the expression of her message of hope and solidarity to Palestinians in Gaza and to demonstrate that the Egyptian authorities will repress such thought and speech regardless of its source.  Such repression serves only the cause of the Israeli oppressor.

Egypt’s treatment of Ms. Maguire is hardly unique.  Egyptian officers used brutal force on her colleague, Medea Benjamin, who helped organize the delegation, causing her grievous bodily harm and even refusing access to medical attention.  Such violence against a peaceful visitor is unfortunately indicative of a brutal regime which has killed thousands of its own citizens expressing their opposition to the overthrow of the elected government.

Egypt is of course hardly the only perpetrator of tyranny.  One of the main sponsors of the current Egyptian government is the U.S., which provides billions of dollars in aid, even in defiance of its own laws against support for regimes that seize power in a coup d’état.  Additionally, despite the ostensible protection of free speech in the U.S., the Obama regime has prohibited Syria’s Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari from traveling more than 25 miles from UN headquarters in New York in response to requests for him to speak or for any other reason.  Apparently, the expression of an alternative point of view is too much for the U.S. to bear, whether at home, in Egypt, or anywhere else it wishes to project its power.

The Syria Solidarity Movement declares its support for Mairead Maguire and other exponents of compassion, free speech, human rights and respect for diversity.  We therefore ask all people and institutions of conscience to advocate on behalf of Ms. Maguire and other spokespersons for values and principles that raise human dignity for us all.

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Clashes in Ukraine as Rallies Take a Turn

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Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of the Crimean legislature, attended a pro-Russian rally in Simferopol on Sunday. CreditVasily Fedosenko/Reuters.

KIEV, Ukraine — Rival rallies turned violent in Crimea on Sunday, as Ukraine celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of its greatest poet and the White House announced that President Obama would host the Ukrainian prime minister just days before a controversial referendum on Crimean secession next week.

In Kiev, the capital, tens of thousands rallied in Independence Square to celebrate the birth of Taras Shevchenko, a poet who is a symbol of Ukrainian nationhood. The gathering was both a riposte to Russia and a memorial service for the more than 80 people who died there.

“Our fathers and grandfathers have spilled their blood for this land,” said the interim prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, who will visit the White House on Wednesday. “We won’t budge a single centimeter from Ukrainian land. Let Russia and its president know this.”

In Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, men waved the Russian national flag at a statue of Vladimir Lenin as pro-Russian activists took over the city’s main thoroughfare. CreditUriel Sinai for The New York Times

In Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, thousands of pro-Russian activists took over the city’s main thoroughfare to call for greater autonomy from Kiev and a referendum on secession. Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion and opposition politician who is now a presidential candidate, visited Donetsk to appeal for calm after days of violence between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters.

“The current conflict and aggression must be resolved,” Mr. Klitschko told reporters at a news conference, urging residents to support national unity and stating that he was worried that the events in Crimea may repeat themselves here, in the country’s east. “It must not be solved through bloodshed.”

He laid a wreath at a statue of Shevchenko, but canceled a scheduled appearance at a rally at the request of the police.

Pro-Russian activists beat a pro-Ukrainian activist in clashes in Sevastopol, Crimea, on Sunday.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

In nearby Luhansk, the regional capital of a coal-mining region bordering Russia, several thousand protesters occupied a regional administration building, where the region’s governor, a Kiev appointee, is based, and raised the Russian flag.

As Ukrainians rallied on Sunday, leaders of several nations continued to pursue diplomacy. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany both spoke with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Cameron’s office relayed that Mr. Putin “said that Russia did want to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis” and “agreed that it is in all our interests to have a stable Ukraine.”

By the British account, Mr. Putin said he would discuss proposals for a contact group, which the West envisages involving direct talks between Moscow and Kiev.

People attended a pro-Russian rally in Feodosia in Crimea on Sunday.CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

The German government said Ms. Merkel made it clear that any Crimean referendum was illegal and that it would not be recognized internationally. On Thursday, the chancellor said that if a contact group was not formed soon and no progress was made in negotiations with Russia, the European Union could impose sanctions on Russia, including travel restrictions and the freezing of assets.

According to the Kremlin’s account of the call, however, Mr. Putin “underlined in particular that the steps taken by Crimea’s legitimate authorities are based on international law and aimed at guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the peninsula’s population” and that Kiev was not acting “to limit the rampant behavior of ultranationalists and radical forces in the capital and in many regions.”

The Kremlin statement continued: “Despite the differences in the assessments of what is happening,” the three leaders “expressed a common interest in de-escalation of the tensions and normalization of the situation as soon as possible.”

Competing Rallies Before a Referendum

As a referendum on the future of Crimea approaches, demonstrators in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe gathered. Some waved Russian flags while others compared Vladimir V. Putin to Hitler.

The new Ukrainian government and its supporters, the United States and the European Union, reject the legitimacy of the Crimea referendum, scheduled for March 16, and deny that any ethnic Russians or Russian speakers have been threatened or harmed in Ukraine.

Vladimir Konstantinov, the speaker of the Crimean parliament, had said on Friday that Ukrainian troops remaining there should “quietly and peacefully” leave the territory unless they were willing to renounce their loyalty to Kiev and serve the region’s new administration.

Late Sunday, Mr. Konstantinov told reporters that the Ukrainian military installations “in large part have come under control — they are blocked, and their weapons are under joint control.” That was only partially true, since Russian forces were still demanding that Ukrainian forces disarm and surrender.

Pro-Russian protesters scuffled over the Ukrainian flag after removing it from a regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Sunday.CreditUriel Sinai for The New York Times

He said the Ukrainian forces’ final status will be determined after the referendum. “If they want to serve the people of Crimea, they need to inform us of that,” he said. “Those who do not want to, we will secure their safe exit from the territory of Crimea, and they can leave the peninsula.”

Pavel Dorokhin, deputy chair of the State Duma’s committee on industry, said while on a visit to Simferopol that Russia has set aside 40 billion rubles, or about $1.1 billion, to rebuild Crimea’s industrial infrastructure. He said that after the referendum, Crimea may take on one of three statuses within Russia — that of a region, a territory or an autonomous republic.

In the United States, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Antony J. Blinken, rejected the notion that Crimea was now effectively Russian. “It’s not a done deal,” he said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “I think the door is clearly open to resolving this diplomatically.”

Ukraine Crisis in Maps

A visual survey of the ongoing dispute, including satellite images of Russian naval positions and maps showing political, cultural and economic factors in the crisis.

He noted that Mr. Obama and European leaders continued to engage with Mr. Putin.

“Russia’s paying a price for this,” he said. “The question now is whether they will take the off ramp that the president and our partners around Europe have proposed. There is a way out of this that can take into account Russia’s interests and concerns, but restores Ukraine’s sovereignty. That’s what we’re working on.”

Robert M. Gates, a former defense secretary, was less optimistic, telling “Fox News Sunday”: “I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hands.” He said of Mr. Putin: “I don’t think that he will stop in Ukraine until there is a government in Ukraine, in Kiev, that is essentially pro-Russian.”

Although President Obama has made it clear that the United States does not want to escalate the Crimean crisis, the Pentagon has increased training operations in Poland and sent fighter jets to patrol the skies over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, three former Soviet republics with sizable populations of ethnic Russians.

In Kiev, the rally on Sunday was also addressed by an emotional Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oil oligarch who spent years in prison after he challenged Mr. Putin. Mr. Khodorkovsky was released in December.

“I want you to know that there is another Russia,” he said. “There are people who despite the arrests, despite the long years they have spent in prison, go to antiwar demonstrations in Moscow” and support “friendship between the Russian and Ukrainian people.” He said he saw no more “fascists or neo-Nazis” in Kiev than “on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

Mr. Khodorkovsky added, “I believe that Russia and Ukraine have a united, common European future.”

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India sides with Russia over Ukraine crisis

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India sides with Russia over Ukraine crisis
Days after China shows support for Russia, India chooses sides
By Staff Writer

Political representatives from India have weighed in on the crisis in Crimea, boldly taking the side of Russia, putting forward an even more explicit show of support than China offered earlier in the week.

National security adviser Shivshankar Menon said India wants the confrontation between the West and Moscow over Ukraine resolved peacefully. However, he added that they also hoped that the interests of Russia were taken into account.

“We hope that whatever internal issues there are within Ukraine are settled peacefully, and the broader issues of reconciling various interests involved, and there are legitimate Russian and other interests involved…. We hope those are discussed, negotiated and that there is a satisfactory resolution to them,” Menon said.

Menon’s reference to Russia’s “legitimate interests” provoked anger from interim representatives in Kiev.

“We are not sure how Russia can be seen having legitimate interests in the territory of another country,” Roman Pyrih, the media secretary at the Ukrainian embassy in New Delhi, said. “In our view, and in the view of much of the international community, this is a direct act of aggression and we cannot accept any justification for it.”

Earlier this week, The Russian Foreign Ministry publicized a telephone conversation between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, that took place on Monday.

“The foreign ministers have exchanged their views on the situation in Ukraine. They noted a broad overlap of the Russian and Chinese views on the current situation in and around this country (Ukraine),“ the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Menon also referenced how the west is partly to blame for the crisis through the funding of rebel groups, this is no longer a conspiracy theory, this is now confirmed conspiracy fact.

As we reported earlier today, US presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich even confirmed this fact, saying that “U.S. taxpayers’ money was used to knock off an elected government in Ukraine”.

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Ukraine crisis ‘created artificially’ – Russia’s Lavrov

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colorrevolutions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “This crisis was not created by us”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the crisis in Ukraine was “created artificially for purely geopolitical reasons”.

He confirmed Russia had contacts with Ukraine’s interim government but said Kiev was beholden to the radical right.

Russia, he said, was open to further dialogue with the West if it was “honest and partner-like”.

Meanwhile, Russia’s deputy foreign minister has held talks with Ukraine’s ambassador in Moscow.

The foreign ministry gave no details but said the talks on Saturday between deputy minister Grigory Karasin and ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko were held in an “open atmosphere”.

Earlier, Ukraine’s interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said he saw hopeful signs Russia might engage in talks.

In related developments:

  • Russian news agencies carried a statement from a defence ministry official saying that Moscow was considering halting foreign inspections of its strategic weapons arsenal – designated under international arms control treaties – as a result of US and Nato responses to the Ukraine crisis
  • Poland’s foreign minister said the country’s consulate in Sevastopol had been “reluctantly” evacuated as a result of “continuing disturbances by Russian forces there”

Attacked and beaten

Ukraine’s Crimea region remains tense ahead of a self-declared referendum to be held on 16 March on whether to join the Russian Federation.

With no guns left, road spikes are the base’s last line of defence, as Ben Brown reports

Pro-Russian soldiers apparently tried to seize another Ukrainian military base outside the biggest city, Sevastopol, overnight but no shots were fired and they pulled back.

Two journalists were attacked and beaten during the standoff while it has emerged that an Associated Press crew had their equipment seized in the Crimean capital, Simferopol, on Thursday.

The BBC’s Christian Fraser in Crimea says that every day there is intimidation of the Ukrainians, who believe pro-Russian soldiers are trying to force a reaction as a pretext to take over.

It is becoming more dangerous for the media, our correspondent adds.

Also on Saturday, a team of international military observers was again refused entry to Crimea.

Warning shots were fired as a convoy including members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) approached the border, but witnesses said the shots did not appear directed at the observers.

It is the third time in a week that the team has been turned back at Crimea’s land border with the rest of Ukraine.

Pro-Russian forces took control of key installations on the peninsula on 28 February in a largely bloodless operation which seems to have had the support of many of Crimea’s majority ethnic Russians.

‘Terror and intimidation’

On Friday, Mr Lavrov warned the US not to take “hasty and reckless steps” in response to the crisis in Crimea.

Map

Speaking to reporters in Moscow on Saturday, he said: “We are ready to continue a dialogue [with the West] on the understanding that a dialogue should be honest and partner-like, and without attempts to make us look like a party to the conflict. We didn’t create this crisis.”

The crisis in Ukraine began in late November when President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned a landmark agreement with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.

Mr Lavrov insisted the basis for any talks should be the agreement signed on 21 February between Ukraine’s opposition and Mr Yanukovych, under which a national unity government would be formed and early elections would be held by December.

The BBC’s James Reynolds reports from the government buildings in Donetsk, a focal point for tension

The following day, Mr Yanukovych fled the capital Kiev as protesters seized his office and parliament voted to remove him from power.

The Russian foreign minister said the interim government in Kiev was “not independent because it depends to a great extent on the radical nationalists who seized power by force of arms”.

Right Sector, the main radical group, was “calling the tune” in Kiev, he said, and using “terror and intimidation” as its methods.

Kiev does not recognise Crimea’s pro-Moscow leadership, which was sworn in at an emergency session as pro-Russian forces began to take over.

Western states have accused Russia of violating Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea, home to its Black Sea Fleet.

Both the US and EU have threatened Moscow with sanctions.

Key gas pipelines in Ukraine

 

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Bodies of decapitated convicts displayed in Saudi public square

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The bodies of five decapitated Yemenis hang above the main square of Jizan. Photo taken on Tuesday.
Five Yemeni nationals convicted of murder and of belonging to a criminal organisation were decapitated and hung by the shoulders from cranes on Tuesday in the city of Jizan, in southwestern Saudi Arabia. According to our Observer, this macabre scene is intended to terrorize criminals and illegal immigrants.
Three of the men were brothers. The bodies of all five were strung up for a full day on a pole tied between two cranes. Their heads were placed in bags attached to their bodies. They had been decapitated by swords and hung up in the city’s main square, right in front of Jizan University. The Yemeni nationals had been convicted of belonging to a criminal organisation, creating an armed group, and murdering a Saudi national.
 
WARNING: THESE IMAGES ARE SHOCKING

Video filmed on May 21.

According to a conservative interpretation of Sharia law, crimes punishable by death in Saudi Arabia including rape, apostasy (changing religion, for example by renouncing Islam), armed robbery, drug trafficking, and witchcraft. Amnesty International claims that at least 47 executions have taken place in Saudi Arabia this year, including 12 in May alone. The organisation indicated that these figures might be lower than in reality, given that secret executions have been reported in Saudi Arabia.
CONTRIBUTORS
“The authorities are seeking to reassure the population and scare immigrants”
Mohammad Alsaaedi is a Saudi activist. He lives in Qatif.

Murders and robberies occur all over the country, but this kind of morbid display is not something you see everyday. The last such ‘crucifixion’ [Editor’s note: a term used by the local population to refer to the hanging of corpses] took place in Riyadh in mid-2012.
Personally, I think that the authorities did this to try to send a message to illegal immigrants. That would explain why they did this in Jizan, a destination and a transit point for many Yemeni and African immigrants.
Several weeks ago, the authorities announced ago that illegal workers would be given three months to straighten out their legal status. The deadline is in a month and a half. A large majority of illegal workers are Yemeni nationals and I am convinced that the authorities are primarily targeting them with this action.
The government is also seeking to show how tough it is. Many Saudis believe that immigrants from Yemen and Africa are causing an uptick in crime in the region. The authorities are seeking to reassure the population and frighten the immigrants coming to the region in large numbers.

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2 Saudis jailed for inciting violence via social media

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 Bodies of decapitated convicts displayed in Saudi public square  observers.france24.com
JEDDAH: MD SULAMI

A criminal court in Riyadh has sentenced two Saudi political activists to 10 years and eight years in prison respectively for inciting violence in the eastern city of Awamiya using social media platforms.
Fahd bin Abdullah Al-Bikran, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said the first Saudi defendant was also fined SR100,000 for committing cyber crimes.

Both Saudis will be banned from traveling abroad for a period equal to their prison terms after completing their sentences, the spokesman said.

The two were found guilty of using sites such as Twitter and YouTube to encourage the families of detainees to stage demonstrations and sit-ins.

The second defendant was released the first time he was arrested after pledging never to incite dissidence again, the court said. But he went back on his promise, saying he was convinced that he was not doing anything wrong.

He was also convicted of defaming and making fun of the king, Saudi preachers and the judiciary.
The court said that he questioned the integrity of these people and also criticized security agencies that detained propagators of subversive thought. The defendant was also said to have supported the idea of fighting in war zones abroad.

In one instance, the defendant tried to flee from the authorities, crashing his car into the vehicle of officials of a law-enforcement authority. He also tried to dispose of his mobile phone so that authorities would not be able to view the content stored inside.
Five of the eight years were handed down for violating laws under the information act, while the remaining three years were given for other crimes.

Meanwhile, the court sentenced another Saudi, known as “King of Al-Nazim,” to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes, in addition to a life ban from driving.

Riyadh police forces arrested the driver for reckless endangerment in November 2012 after he appeared in video footage that had circulated on various social media platforms showing him, along with others, driving irresponsibly and endangering the lives of others.

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UAE criticises US human rights report

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The National staff

ABU DHABI // A US State Department report on the UAE’s human rights record needs to be “recalibrated”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.The ministry expressed surprise and regret at the report last month about UAE national Hassan Al Diqqi and his 2012 initiative to launch a political party called Al Ummah.

“This is both surprising and regrettable given that a senior representative to the Ummah Organisation, and founder and current president of the Al Karama organisation, Abdul Rahman bin ‘Umayr Al Nu’aymi, was designated in December 2013 by the US Department of the Treasury as an Al Qaeda terror financier.

“Moreover, Hassan Al Diqqi’s extremist credentials are long established, as noticed by The Washington Post, with his support for jihad publicly recorded as far back as 2002, and most recently in 2013 as evidenced readily by social media,” said the ministry in a statement distributed by the state news agency Wam.

The Washington Postarticle from September described Al Diqqi as appearing in a video alongside a Saudi branch leader for the Ummah group at a military training camp it had set up in Syria.

The US report had said “there were no updates” on Al Diqqi or the Ummah organisation at the end of the year, under a section about political parties.

“The Ummah oversight would seem to suggest that a recalibration of the report findings is necessary and that it therefore provides an unbalanced picture of the human rights situation in the UAE,” the ministry said.

It said the UAE had written to the state department to suggest that it revise its report “based on readily available public source information including US media outlets and social media services as well as information recently published by the United States Department of the Treasury”.

The ministry suggested that Al Karama group’s lobbying on behalf of Al Diqqi could explain why he was featured in the State Department’s 2012 and 2013 reports as a human rights activist, but did not explain “why there is no update on the extensive violent jihadist activities and support for such activities in Syria and other territories of both Hassan Al Diqqi and the Ummah Conference”.

“Consistent with recent US steps to deny Al Karama special consultative status at the United Nations, the UAE would suggest it is prudent for the State Department to review its Middle East human rights reporting, and identify causes that originated with the Al Qaeda-linked Al Karama Foundation either directly or through its working relationships with prominent international human rights organisations,” the ministry said.

The US report cited citizens’ inability to change their government, limitations on citizens’ civil liberties and arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions and lengthy pre-trial detentions as three of the “most significant human rights problems” in the UAE, and also mentioned issues such as police brutality, privacy rights and restriction of workers’ rights.

“The facts are that the UAE is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and has demonstrated its openness to engaging in constructive dialogue on human rights issues, both in the multilateral fora and bilaterally with partners such as the European Union,” the ministry said.

It said the country underwent its second Universal Periodic Review by the UN’s Human Rights Council last year, and that the Government was following up on “more than 100 recommendations that we accepted”.

The ministry also referenced efforts to curb human trafficking and promotion of gender equality and workers rights, all issues mentioned in the US report. It said the UAE had ratified nine major International Labour Organisation conventions on the rights of workers and “is continuously working to strengthen the enforcement of labour protections”.

“We take pride in our achievements but we are never satisfied with the status quo. The UAE will continue to strive to improve respect for human rights regardless of the criticism because human rights are part of the values that motivate us,” the ministry said.

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Twitter posts land 2 Saudi men in prison

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By Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
File photo: Two men were found guilty in Saudi courts this week for, among other offenses, messages they posted on Twitter.
File photo: Two men were found guilty in Saudi courts this week for, among other offenses, messages they posted on Twitter.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • One man sentenced to a decade in prison for posting pro-protest messages to Twitter
  • A second man got eight years, convicted of insulting Saudi Arabia’s king via Twitter
  • Critics say it’s all part of the kingdom’s efforts to quash dissent

(CNN) — Two men were found guilty in Saudi courts this week for, among other offenses, messages they posted on Twitter.

On Monday, one Saudi man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for using Twitter to encourage protests and undermine the country’s leadership, according to Saudi Arabian state news agency SPA.

“The accused had sent invitations via Twitter to participate in protests and gatherings against the Kingdom,” read SPA’s statement, quoting Saudi Justice Ministry spokesman Fahad Al-Bakran.

Al-Bakran added how the unnamed man, already serving a three-year jail sentence, was convicted of utilizing websites that are “hostile to the government and that promote deviant ideologies.” Saudi officials often use the phrase “deviant ideologies” when describing al Qaeda or al Qaeda-linked groups.

On Sunday, another man, accused of insulting King Abdullah and inciting protests via social media sites like Twitter, was sentenced to eight years in jail.

According to SPA, he’s also barred from travel and from posting messages on social media sites for eight years after his release.

The man, also unidentified by SPA, was found guilty of “inciting relatives of Saudis arrested for security reasons to protest their imprisonment by tweeting and via posting videos on sites like YouTube.”

Al-Bakran added the man had been arrested once before for similar offenses, but was released after signing a pledge never to do so again.

Both sentences come just days after Saudi Arabia officially declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization.

On Friday, the country’s Interior Ministry announced that the Brotherhood, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al-Nusra Front and other groups had been formally designated terrorist organizations.

The statement also detailed the country’s new, comprehensive anti-terror legislation, warning any Saudi or foreigner residing in Saudi Arabia they could be sentenced to heavy jail terms for joining extremist groups or fighting alongside them.

Many, however, maintain the new laws are a barely disguised effort to quash dissent, pointing to the fact that Friday’s Interior Ministry statement also criminalized atheism, more specifically, any Saudi or resident of Saudi Arabia “propagating atheist ideologies by any means, or questioning the principles of Islamic faith.”

“It’s unfortunate that the statement comingles the (Saudi) government’s ongoing intent to severely limit freedoms of expression and religion with its efforts to counter extremism and terrorism,” said Dwight Bashir, deputy director for policy and research with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“It reinforces longstanding concerns that the Saudis will spare no expense to crush dissent,” Bashir told CNN, “and punish non-conforming views, even if the views are protected by internationally-recognized human rights.”

Bashir called the move to criminalize atheism “very troubling,” adding it was “consistent with the way the Saudis masquerade ‘insults to religious feelings’ as a way of garnering support for other laws that seek to counter religious extremism and name specific entities as terror groups.”

Saudi Arabia, which has jailed several prominent reform activists in the past two years, is consistently singled out and criticized for its human rights record.

In a statement from late February, Adam Coogle, a Saudi researcher for Human Rights Watch, wrote the new anti-terror legislation has “created a veneer of legality for ongoing human rights abuses by Saudi criminal justice authorities.”

“The terrorism law,” added Coogle, “is a vague, catch-all document that can — and probably will — be used to prosecute or jail anyone who criticizes the Saudi government and to violate their due process rights along the way.”

Posted in Human Rights, Saudi ArabiaComments Off on Twitter posts land 2 Saudi men in prison

Free Saudi Arabian human rights activists on hunger strike

NOVANEWS
Fowzan al-Harbi (left), Mohammad bin Fahad bin Muflih al-Qahtani (centre) and Abdullah al-Hamid (right), outside the Criminal Court in Riyadh on 1 September 2012Fowzan al-Harbi (left), Mohammad bin Fahad bin Muflih al-Qahtani (centre) and Abdullah al-Hamid (right), outside the Criminal Court in Riyadh on 1 September 2012

© Iman AL Qahtani @ImaQh

Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid are guilty of nothing more than daring to speak out on Saudi Arabia’s dire human rights record. The reality is that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is abysmal and anyone who risks highlighting flaws in the system is branded a criminal and tossed in a jail cell

Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa
Fri, 07/03/2014

Saudi Arabia must immediately and unconditionally release two founders of a local human rights organization who have spent nearly a year behind bars, after being convicted on the basis of their peaceful activism and criticism of the authorities, said Amnesty International.

Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid were sentenced to 10 and 11 years in jail respectively on 9 March 2013. Both are co-founders of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), one of the few organizations in the country recording human rights violations and assisting families of detainees held without charge.

“Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid are guilty of nothing more than daring to speak out on Saudi Arabia’s dire human rights record. The reality is that the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia is abysmal and anyone who risks highlighting flaws in the system is branded a criminal and tossed in a jail cell,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“By locking up two prominent human rights activists Saudi Arabia is brazenly flouting its international obligations and has displayed a flagrant disregard for people’s rights to freedom of expression and association.”

Mohammad al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid were found guilty of several “offences”, including disobeying the ruler, inciting disorder and setting up an unlicensed organization. Their sentences were upheld by the Court of Appeal in January 2014. In the same trial session the court also ordered the disbanding of ACPRA and confiscation of its property. Even after their release from prison both men will be subject to lengthy travel bans.

Earlier this week the two men began a hunger strike in protest at the deterioration of their prison conditions. Both men have suffered as a result of arbitrary decisions by the prison authorities including confiscation of their books and personal belongings and moving them to prison cells that pose serious dangers to their health. Mohammad al-Qahtani was reportedly placed in solitary confinement since he started his hunger strike.

On 5 March 2014, when their legal representatives tried to visit them in al-Ha’ir prison in Riyadh, they were told by the prison authorities that they were not allowed to visit them, raising fears over their safety.

The authorities’ tightening stranglehold on media and social communications has created a climate of intolerance and fear across Saudi Arabia.

Scores of human rights activists have been arrested in recent months with eight of ACPRA’s 13 members detained and the rest facing interrogations and harassment.

“This campaign of persecution against human rights defenders has to end. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly resorted to draconian measures and repressive tactics to crack down on dissent with an iron fist, prosecuting and jailing peaceful activists,” said Said Boumedouha.

“Until rights activists are no longer perceived as a threat to national security, prospects for advances on human rights in Saudi Arabia remain grim.”

It is feared that a new anti-terrorism law introduced last month, featuring an overly vague-definition of terrorism and granting the Ministry of Interior sweeping powers, will speed up the crackdown on peaceful dissent.

“Saudi Arabia must stop abusing the justice system to silence criticism and dissent by imprisoning human rights defenders in the name of defending national security,” said Said Boumedouha.

“The international community must ratchet up pressure on Saudi Arabia’s authorities to release all imprisoned peaceful activists.”

Background

Among other ACPRA members who have been targeted are Mohammed al-Bajadi and Dr Abdulkareem al-Khoder, both are facing re-trials after appeals against their sentences were rejected.

Fowzan al-Harbi, another ACPRA member is facing a number of charges including “inciting disobedience to the ruler by calling for demonstrations” and “describing Saudi Arabia as a police state”. He was detained without explanation after a court session ended in December 2013. His trial is ongoing.

Two other members of ACPRA, Issa al-Hamid (brother of Dr Abdullah al-Hamid) and Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, have been summoned several times for questioning about their peaceful activism. It is feared that both men will soon be tried and imprisoned.

Waleed Abu al-Khair another Saudi Arabian activist had his three month prison sentence upheld by the court of appeal in February 2014. He is expected to start serving his sentence any day.

Fadhel Maki al-Manasif, founding member of the Adala Center for Human Rights, has been detained since October 2011. He is currently on trial before the Specialized Criminal Court on charges also related to his activism.

Posted in Human Rights, Saudi ArabiaComments Off on Free Saudi Arabian human rights activists on hunger strike


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