Ammaar W. Al-Jallad
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July 22, 2011
By Sunil K. Vaidya
According to witnesses, the march started with a handful of protesters but later in the afternoon the numbers kept increasing.
Muscat: Security forces fired tear gas shells on demonstrators in Sohar on Friday and arrested a large number of young protesters as they marched from Shaikh Khalifa Mosque after afternoon prayers, according to an activist from the Industrial Port town about 230km north to Muscat.
According to witnesses, the march started with a handful of protesters but later in the afternoon the numbers kept increasing. After a while the security forces, present in big numbers, intervened.
The protesters, chased from the main road, spread into the nearby streets and gradually their number increased. The police had to fire tear-gas shells to disperse protesters. “Many shells were fired. Some shells fell very close to some of the houses,” an activist told Gulf News from Sohar on the condition of anonymity. Protesters handed over a letter listing their demands to a senior police official.
The protesters were demanding the release of those convicted last month for protesting in Sohar last February and March. They were also demanding reforms, better wages and jobs for young Omanis. The protests in Oman started with a peaceful Green March in January earlier this year but later turned violent in Sohar, the last week of February. Since then three people have died during confrontations with the police.
Last Friday no demonstrations were held after only about 50 turned up for demonstration on July 8.
According to witnesses, the number was much larger on Friday and several were also arrested. There are unconfirmed reports of injuries to some of the demonstrations following baton charge by security agencies to break them up. The demonstrators in Sohar ended their protest at around 5.30pm.
“To avoid confrontation with security forces that could have bad consequences, the young protesters decided to end their demonstration and returned home,” an activist said. A posting on a social media site claimed that an Omani journalist working for a local English daily was held in Sohar.
Source: Gulf News.
14 July 2011
A Spanish judge has summoned three Iraqi officers over a raid by Iraqi security forces on a camp housing an Iranian exile group.
The UN says 34 people were killed in the raid at Camp Ashraf, in Diyala province, in April 2011.
Judge Fernando Andreu has summoned Gen Ali Ghaidan Majid, the head of army, and two other officers to appear.
He is investigating allegations that crimes against humanity were committed during the raid on the camp.
The investigation is an enlargement of an existing probe on a separate raid which took place at the camp in July 2009, in which 11 people were killed.
Under Spain’s universal justice doctrine, grave crimes committed in other countries can be prosecuted.
Judge Andreu said that the Geneva Convention applied to the case, as it addresses the protection of civilians in wartime and all those killed and injured in the attack were considered “protected persons” under the terms of the Convention.
According to documents released by Madrid’s investigative court, a total of 377 “protected persons” were injured in the 8 April 2011 raid, 154 with bullet wounds.
More than 3,000 members of the banned opposition group, the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), have been confined by the US military at the camp since the invasion in 2003.
The group, considered a terrorist group by the US and Iran, were given permission to shelter in Iraq by former President Saddam Hussein during the 1980-88 war between the two countries and they have lived at the camp ever since.
In January, the judge had said he would close the dossier into the July 2009 attack if the Iraqi authorities opened their own investigation.
Iraq responded by saying it had carried out its own legal inquiry but this was not judged sufficient by Spanish authorities.
The three Iraqi officers have been summoned to appear before the Madrid court on 3 October 2011.
Source: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Thursday 21 July 2011
Ian Black: While most Arab states sit on the fence, Qatar is standing up to Damascus over an attack on its embassy.
Qatar lived up to its reputation as a maverick in Middle Eastern politics this week by suspending the operations of its embassy in Damascus. The emir of the small but fabulously wealthy Gulf state has already gone far beyond the Arab consensus by supporting the Libyan rebels, sending cash and weapons to help them in their fight against Muammar Gaddafi. The United Arab Emirates is doing the same, but in a lower profile way.
Qatari investments in Syria have also reportedly been frozen, but the emirate was not reacting directly to Syrian repression. The measures were taken in response to attacks on its diplomatic mission in the leafy Damascus suburb of Ein Rummaneh, which was pelted with stones, eggs and tomatoes in protest at coverage of the unrest by al-Jazeera TV. The satellite channel is owned by Qatar, based in Doha and watched by millions of Arabs.
Qatar’s moves, in the words of analyst Karim Sader, were “more like a shrewdly calculated divorce from the Syrian regime than a fleeting spat”.
Other, more discreet action, is afoot. Arab media circles are rife with rumors of financial support from Qatar, the UAE and the Saudis for Syrian opposition groups— paying for conferences, communications and perhaps more.
Crucially though, there is no sign that Arab leaders are ready to publicly abandon Bashar al-Assad, five months into one of the bloodiest and most unpredictable episodes of the Arab uprising.
Nabil Elaraby, the new secretary general of the Arab League, certainly stuck to the non-interference script when he criticized Barack Obama for saying that Assad had “lost legitimacy”. That was an issue that could be decided only by Syrians, he insisted – a diplomatic disappointment for some critics – after visiting the Syrian president and sounding supportive about his belated, half-hearted attempts at reform.
It was easier for Elaraby’s predecessor, Amr Moussa, speaking just before stepping down and launching his bid for the Egyptian presidency. Moussa first criticized NATO’s bombing of Libya – despite having being instrumental in providing cover for UN-sanctioned action against Gaddafi – and then spoke of Arab “anger” about the violence in Syria, winning a rebuke from Damascus that he was “unbalanced and politically motivated”.
The turmoil in Syria has paralyzed other Arab regimes. The country that describes itself as the “beating heart of Arabism” may not be popular, but it is a powerful regional player with strategic ties to Iran and important relationships with Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories – and it craves a better relationship with the US.
Saudi Arabia, Syria’s bitter rival, especially in Lebanon, does not want to see chaos if Assad is forced from power or uses overwhelming violence and repression to hold on. Saudi officials have said nothing in public about the Syrian crisis and have no sympathy for the Arab spring. But they would doubtless like to see Assad cut down to size as a regional actor.
Post-revolution uncertainty in Egypt is a powerful reminder to the conservative Gulf states of the potential risks if “stable” dictators like Hosni Mubarak are abandoned by the US and forced from office. And their fear of fitna, which translates as sedition or sectarianism, look not entirely unjustified – as the ugly events in Homs have shown in recent days.
Syria’s neighbors Iraq and Jordan are watching anxiously, but keeping quiet. Their assumption is that the cohesion of the Damascus regime, opposition divisions and above all the near impossibility of Libyan-style foreign intervention all mean that Assad is not about to fall.
Israel is also monitoring the Syrian crisis but keeping uncharacteristically quiet. Its listening posts on the occupied Golan Heights, less than an hour from Damascus, must be picking up some unusual intelligence from Syria’s telephone and radio networks – and YouTube is a handy source for tracking defections by army officers refusing to kill their own people. As Binyamin Netanyahu acknowledged in an interview with the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV – which, like its rival al-Jazeera is covering the Syrian uprising closely – anything Israel says will be counterproductive.
But Syria’s crisis is mainly a problem for Arabs. This week the Arab Writers Union, meeting in Cairo, held heated discussions about the situation in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in the region, but its final communique managed only to condemn the crushing of peaceful protests “in more than one country” – without daring to name which ones.
As Ahmed Asfahani, commentator for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, put it: “If even Arab writers can’t protest about what’s happening in Syria, what hope is there that their governments will do anything?”
Source: The Guardian.
Mon Jul 18, 2011
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized the Bahraini regime for arresting medical professionals and injured anti-government protesters, calling for an investigation into the violations.
In a report published on Monday, HRW urged Manama to immediately end its campaign of arrests of medical personnel and injured anti-regime protesters, saying the arrests have been part of an official policy of retribution against government critics and that Bahraini authorities have so far failed to provide any convincing reason for their actions.
The 54-page report, “Targets of Retribution: Attacks against Medics, Injured Protesters, and Health Facilities,” also documents serious government abuses since the beginning of anti-government protests in Bahrain in mid-February 2011, which include attacks on healthcare providers, denial of medical access to injured protesters, the siege of hospitals and medical centers, and the detention, ill-treatment, torture, and prosecution of medics and anti-regime patients.
“The attacks on medics and wounded protesters have been part of an official policy of retribution against Bahrainis who supported pro-democracy protests,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.
“Medical personnel who criticized the severe repression were singled out and jailed, among the more than 1,600 Bahrainis facing solitary confinement and ill-treatment in detention and unfair trials before a special military court,” he added.
“The royal family in Bahrain is trying to punish all those people who were very visible and very vocal during protests, and that includes doctors and other medical staff.”
According to the report, Bahraini security forces attacked ambulances and prevented them from picking up injured anti-government protesters, some of them critically wounded. It also said that Bahraini forces prevented ambulances, patients, and medical staff from entering or leaving health facilities.
The report also documents one incident on March 27 in which security forces forcibly removed a 22-year-old injured anti-government protester from a clinic. The patient, who needed immediate surgery to remove more than 100 pellets that had penetrated his pelvic area and damaged internal organs, was taken by security forces.
HRW has been unable to obtain information about his subsequent well-being or whereabouts.
According to HRW, Bahraini authorities have arrested more than 70 medical professionals, including several dozen doctors, and suspended or terminated more than 150 medical workers from their jobs since March, when the country declared martial law as part of a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.
The medical professionals appeared before a military court for trial in June, in which they were charged with crimes that included participation in efforts to overthrow Bahrain’s monarchy, taking part in illegal rallies and refusing to help persons in need.
But activists and human rights groups say the medical personnel were arrested and are being prosecuted for treating anti-regime protesters.
Bahraini doctors have repeatedly said that they were under professional duty to treat all and rejected claims by the authorities that helping anti-regime protesters was akin to supporting their cause.
Some of the doctors recently released say they were intimidated, abused and forced to sign confessions while in detention.
Sun Jul 17, 2011
The largest party and opposition bloc in Bahrain has quit the so-called government-sponsored national dialogue currently underway in the country.
On Sunday, the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society said it was leaving the talks pending formal confirmation from its leadership, AFP reported.
The party’s representative at the dialogue, Khalil al-Marzuk said, “We have tried but without success to make it a serious dialogue.”
Manama launched the talks on July 2 with the alleged aim of introducing reforms in the Persian Gulf sheikdom’s system of governance.
Al-Wefaq says since the negotiations started, the government has been trying to muffle the voice of the opposition.
In a popular revolution, tens of thousands of Bahraini protesters have been holding peaceful anti-regime rallies throughout the country since February, demanding an end to the rule of the family.
Al Khalifa has governed the oil-rich island for over 40 years with major backing from the United States, Britain and the neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Scores of people have been killed and many more arrested and tortured in prisons as part of the clampdown in the country — a longtime US ally and home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
July 16, 2011
China and Iran on Saturday signed several agreements on infrastructure and trade cooperation, a fact further testifying to the already strong political and economic ties between the two countries.
He Guoqiang, a senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC) who is currently on a three-day official visit to Iran, and Iranian Vice President Mohammad-Javad Mohammadizadeh witnessed the signing ceremony.
Under the agreements, Chinese companies will invest heavily in some major infrastructure projects in Iran, including a water diversion project and a dam. Chinese companies will also import large quantities of chrome ore and celestine from Iran.
China and Iran established diplomatic relations in 1971 and bilateral relations have developed steadily in recent years.
In 2010, bilateral trade reached a record 29.3 billion U.S. dollars, increasing by 38.5 percent over the previous year. China has also given financial and technological support to some major infrastructure projects in Iran.
Source: People’s Daily.
Elite units under an office of Maliki’s linked to secret jail where detainees face torture, Iraq officials say
Iraqi legislators and security officials have been joined by the Red Cross in expressing concern about the Green Zone facility, called Camp Honor, where torture to extract confessions is alleged
July 15, 2011
Reporting from Baghdad—
Elite units controlled by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s military office are ignoring members of parliament and the government’s own directive by operating a clandestine jail in Baghdad’s Green Zone where prisoners routinely face torture to extract confessions, Iraqi officials say.
Iraqi legislators and security officials have been joined by the International Committee of the Red Cross in expressing concern about the facility, called Camp Honor. In a confidential letter to the prime minister, the Red Cross requested immediate access to the jail and added that there could be three more connected to it where detainees also are being mistreated.
Iraq’s Justice Ministry ordered Camp Honor shut down in March after parliament’s human rights committee toured the center and said it had uncovered evidence of torture. The Human Rights Ministry denied Wednesday that it was still in operation. But several Iraqi officials familiar with the site said that anywhere from 60 to 120 people have been held there since it was ordered closed.
Allegations that the jail has continued to function are likely to launch a fresh debate about the breadth of powers belonging to Maliki and his closest associates. The jail falls under the prime minister’s Office of the Commander in Chief, which supervises a vast military and security apparatus.
Maliki supporters say he is committed to protecting human rights, but needs broad powers to navigate a treacherous domestic environment. The prime minister, a Shiite Muslim, is reluctant to loosen his grip on the army, police and his elite combat units, believing that any compromise would make it easier for opponents to organize a coup or political conspiracy, or would allow armed Shiite and Sunni Muslim groups to gain strength.
Maliki also has refused to permit his main political rival, the Iraqiya bloc led by Iyad Allawi, to choose the next defense minister, in defiance of an understanding on division of authority that took months to hammer out after inconclusive elections in March 2010. The position has remained vacant, with Maliki filling it for now.
The agreement also called for all security forces to be removed from the prime minister’s office and restored to the normal chain of command. But the protracted negotiations over who should hold the key defense and interior ministries, which could stretch into next year, have allowed Maliki to preserve his authority.
The dispute over who directs Iraq’s security forces is fueling a sense of drift as tens of thousands of U.S. troops prepare to leave Iraq. U.S. forces ended combat operations last year, and the remaining 46,000 troops are to leave by the end of this year. The United States has offered to keep some troops in Iraq after that deadline to help ensure stability, but that requires Iraqi consent, which is far from certain.
Adnan Assadi, a member of the prime minister’s political coalition who serves as deputy interior minister, said in an interview that it was vital for Maliki to maintain control of Iraq’s security because he will be blamed for any failures.
“The ministries of Defense and Interior are like the right and left hand for the commander in chief,” Assadi said.
Until the inspection in March, the Camp Honor jail had illustrated the prime minister’s supremacy on security matters. He has faced complaints since 2008 about his control of the U.S.-trained counter-terrorism service and a security force known as the Baghdad Brigade, or Brigade 56. The units possessed their own jails, investigative judges and interrogators, answering only to the prime minister’s military office.
Critics say that many of those jailed by the forces are locked up for political reasons, because of personal feuds or to cover up corruption. But because of the opaque nature of the security forces and the jails they run, it is difficult to determine whether that is true.
The prime minister’s military office promised reforms when, in April 2010, it was found to be running a separate secret jail in western Baghdad, where more than 400 inmates had been held for months. But nothing changed at Camp Honor, where family members and attorneys were barred from seeing detainees and allegations of torture were rampant.
Lawmakers, security officials and the Red Cross letter expressed deep concern that despite parliament’s success in extracting the pledge to close Camp Honor, people were still being imprisoned there.
Detainees “are still being held by the counter-terrorism center or Brigade 56 in the same location they declared was shut down,” said Salim Abdullah Jabouri, the head of parliament’s human rights committee. “These people are held 30-50 days. After they have obtained confessions, the detainee is transferred to Rusafa with his confession,” he added, referring to one of Baghdad’s main detention facilities.
The people in Maliki’s military office haven’t changed their practices, said a second member of parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity so he could comment freely. “They have more power. They have more prisoners. They are holding them in the IZ,” the Green Zone, said the lawmaker, a prominent member of the Iraqiya bloc. “This is the reality.”
Jabouri said he became aware of the detentions after he started looking for a leader of the Sunni Awakening movement who had helped U.S. troops fight Islamic extremists in northern Iraq.
Jabouri said he received a phone call about three weeks ago from the man, who said he had been transferred to a regular jail after he was tortured in the Green Zone facility and confessed to being a member of the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq and of a wing of the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
As many as 120 detainees had been through the secret jail since March, Jabouri said. Most of the cases he knew of involved prisoners from provinces with large Sunni populations, where security forces regularly carry out raids looking for Islamic militants and members of the former Baath Party.
The Red Cross said in its May 22 letter that detainees whom it interviewed after they had been transferred out of the facility reported beatings, electric shock to the genitals and other parts of the body, suffocation using plastic bags, scalding with boiling water or burning with cigarettes, being hung from ceilings with hands tied behind the back or being hung upside down from the top frame of a bunk bed, the pulling out of fingernails, being left naked for hours and rape using sticks or bottles.
Detainees also alleged that female family members were brought to Camp Honor and raped in front of them, the Red Cross said.
A security official confirmed that detainees were guarded at Camp Honor by the Baghdad Brigade, probably in a building that can hold up to 60 or 70 prisoners that had been used previously to hide detainees when inspectors came to the base.
Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh referred questions about the facility to the Human Rights Ministry, where officials insisted that it had been shut down. “Absolutely, it is closed,” said ministry official Kamal Amin.
Supporters say Maliki shouldn’t be held responsible for abuses by people within the ranks of the security forces.
“Maliki has given very tough directions to respect human rights,” said lawmaker Ali Alaq, a senior member of the prime minister’s Islamic Dawa Party. “I know the leaders in the Office [of the Commander in Chief] are accurate and professional, but you know sometimes there are forces who say they belong to this office and do really bad things. Sometimes they are even connected to terrorist groups.”
The Red Cross letter to the Iraqi government said the organization was “seriously worried regarding the possibility that the interrogations are continuing in Camp Honor.”
The letter, shown to The Times by an Iraqi source, cited what it called credible allegations that three other secret facilities existed in the Green Zone, which it said were still being used “to hide and hold detainees when committees visit the main prison.” It said one was near the counter-terrorism service’s headquarters and that the two others were known as the Flag and Five Star.
The Red Cross declined to confirm or deny the authenticity of the letter because of its policy of not discussing publicly its detainee inspections or correspondence with governments.
The letter said the Red Cross had visited Camp Honor last December but was forced to leave after less than two hours. It said its teams, which included medical personnel, gained information about the facility by interviewing detainees around the country at prisons and detention centers where they had been transferred.
The interviews, done at different times and places, “show that [the detainees] were exposed to systematic mistreatment during their detention in Camp Honor that reached the level of torture due to its severity and the goal of it to extract confessions or information.”
Detainees reported that investigative judges were present during interrogation sessions in which they were mistreated, the letter said. It also said the Red Cross was concerned that the tactics were still being used and asked for full access to the facility and all detainees held there.