On Friday, chaotic clashes broke out in Georgia as an angry mob -- comprised mainly of young men but also including robed priests and some women -- descended on a gay rights rally commemorating International Day Against Homophobia. A day earlier, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church had demanded that authorities stop the rally, calling it a "violation of the majority's right."
According to EurasiaNet, the mob, which numbered in the thousands, shouted violent slogans while chasing activists away from downtown Tbilisi. Clamors of "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!" and "Where are they? Don't leave them alive!" rang out as police herded activists into municipal buses and away from the area. As the activists left, protesters pelted the buses with stones and overpowered policemen trying to contain the scene. Seventeen people have reportedly been injured in the violence.
The video footage is quite dramatic:
Members of the Georgian government have spoken out against the attacks. UNM parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli dismissed today's events as "anarchy" and added that "this is not the state we were building," while Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani affirmed that "both groups have the right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable." While many have condemned the violence, comments later came from several ruling Georgia Dream party members that criticized the LGBT activists for raising tensions.
On May 15, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili declared that sexual minorities "have the same rights as any other social groups" in Georgia and that society will "gradually get used to it." Judging from today's episode, Georgian society still has a ways to go.
(H/T: Arianne Swieca)
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
Yemen's transitional government is signaling that it may release Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist who was arrested in August 2010 and who U.S. intelligence officials believe supported al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Shaye was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2011 in a trial that drew condemnation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and human rights and journalist advocacy organizations have since campaigned for his release.
In a meeting with U.N. officials on Monday, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi told reporters that he has made plans to release Shaye, Yemen's al-Masdar reports. Al Jazeera bureau chief Saeed Thabit Saeed, who attended the meeting, wrote on Facebook, "We received a serious promise from [Hadi] that our colleague Abdulelah Shaye will be released," and Times of London correspondent Iona Craig confirmed with Hadi's office that there "is an order from the president to release Shaye soon."
This is not the first time that Shaye's release has been considered. In fact, soon after his 2011 trial, Shaye's release seemed imminent. "We were waiting for the release of the pardon -- it was printed out and prepared in a file for the president to sign and announce the next day," Shaye's lawyer, Abdulrahman Barman, told Jeremy Scahill in his new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. But that plan fell through after a Feb. 2 phone call between then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh and President Barack Obama, in which Obama "expressed concern over the release of [Shaye], who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP," according to a readout of the call released by the White House.
The White House's position hasn't changed in the ensuing two years. "We remain concerned about al-Shai's potential early release due to his association with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told FP by email on Wednesday.
Nor, for that matter, is Shaye's release certain. Mohammed al-Basha, a spokesperson for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, walked back reports of the journalist's imminent release, telling FP that President Hadi had only agreed to consider ending Shaye's detention.
Shaye's investigative work drew international attention in 2009 when he reported that the United States had conducted an airstrike that killed 41 civilians in the Yemeni village of al-Majalla, and managed to interview New Mexico-born AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on multiple occasions.
In July 2010, the Yemeni government arrested and beat Shaye, and interrogators told him, "We will destroy your life if you keep on talking," according to Scahill's account. Shaye was arrested a month later, beaten again, held in solitary confinement for 34 days without access to a lawyer, and then rushed through a trial on charges that included recruiting and propagandizing for AQAP and encouraging the assassination of President Saleh and his son. By the time Obama intervened in Shaye's pardon in 2011, protesters had begun filling city streets calling for the end of Saleh's three-decade presidency; Saleh resigned in November 2011, and since then his vice president, Hadi, has governed as part of what is slated to be a two-year period of reform and transition.
The U.S. government's case against Shaye is unclear. U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Craig in February 2012 that "Shaye is in jail because he was facilitating al Qaeda and its planning for attacks on Americans," but did not elaborate. Before Shaye's arrest, an U.S. intelligence official, who told Scahill that he "was persuaded that [Shaye] was an agent," discouraged journalists from working with Shaye on account of "'classified evidence' indicat[ing] that Shaye was 'cooperating' with al Qaeda."
Since his imprisonment, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Yemen-based Freedom Foundation have campaigned for Shaye's release, and last November Yemeni Justice Minister Murshid al-Arashani publicly demanded that Hadi issue a pardon. Though it appears the Yemeni president may be preparing to meet that request, Shaye's family remains doubtful. "It's like the same as previous promises," Shaye's brother Khaled told Craig. "So far this is the fourth time Hadi has made this promise."
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix is scheduled for this Sunday, April 21. But if the country's protest movement has its way, the race won't take place at all. For months, opponents of Bahrain's monarchy have pressed for the race to be canceled or moved elsewhere to prevent the government from profiting off the event. And in recent weeks, they've stepped up their activity. While for some groups that has meant writing letters to F1 participants and promoters, others have taken a decidedly more aggressive approach.
The February 14 Youth Movement, for instance, has posted YouTube videos threatening to inflict "remorse and heartbreak" if the event proceeds. In this video, posted March 30, activists block traffic lanes with a car, douse it with gasoline, and light it on fire:
The BBC reports that February 14 may have detonated a car bomb in Manama's Financial Harbor district last Sunday. And another recently posted video shows several dozen activists armed with tires and at least 24 Molotov cocktails and several jugs of fuel shutting down a busy Bahraini intersection:
The February 14 movement is named after the date on which the uprising in Bahrain began, and its logo features the statue that used to stand in Manama's Pearl Roundabout. From Feb. 14 to March 16, 2011, activists camped in Pearl Roundabout until Bahraini riot police and military troops, backed by tanks and Saudi soldiers, broke up the sit-in, killing eight protesters. In the ensuing crackdown, the authorities have arrested thousands of activists as well as others who did not participate in the protests, including doctors held on charges of treating wounded activists.
Bahrain hosts the Grand Prix annually, and the race returned in 2012 after being canceled in 2011 -- an action that many diplomats and human rights groups have labeled insensitive at best and a boon to a repressive regime at worst. Bernie Ecclestone, president and CEO of Formula One, has been remarkably tone deaf in responding to critics. Earlier this month he told reporters, "Somebody who actually lives [in Bahrain] came to see me yesterday and said everything's very normal." His succinct reply to a campaign by human rights groups was that "it is now too late to make any changes to the calendar." He claimed human rights concerns had not been brought to his attention when the schedule was finalized late last year, despite the uproar over the 2012 race. And he seemed only marginally better informed at the inaugural race of the 2013 season last weekend, telling reporters:
I don't think the people who are arguing about their position are bad, and I don't think they're trying to hurt people to make their point. We have had all sorts of protesters -- look at those complaining about Mrs. Thatcher. This happens all the time. People use these things when there is an opportunity.
As of today, the race is expected to go ahead as planned.
Indonesia has a witchcraft problem. Belief in the supernatural is widespread in the Southeast Asian archipelago -- and not just among the underclasses. But like many post-colonial societies, its inherited legal system leaves victims of sorcery unable to seek judicial relief. That may be about the change, however, if the country's parliament OKs a number of amendments to its Dutch colonial-era criminal code. The Financial Times has more:
Indonesia would make it illegal for anyone to "declare the possession of mysterious powers" or "encourage others to believe that by their actions they can cause mental or physical suffering of another person." The crime would be punishable by a jail sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to Rp300m ($30,700).
The amendments, which have been in the works since 2008, would put an end to the perceived bias of the state in favor of witches and sorcerers (the difference: witches possess innate mystical powers, whereas sorcerers have come to acquire them). Critics have denounced this kind of bias not only in Indonesia, but also in numerous other post-colonial societies that have since moved to outlaw black magic. As Michael Rowlands and Jean-Pierre Warnier explained in a 1988 article about witchcraft in Cameroon:
Cases of sorcery were to be brought to court. But the courts dismissed them for lack of evidence against the accused. Once acquitted, the latter often sued the defendants for libel and won their case. The sorcerers were thought to go unchecked and the victim felt betrayed by the colonial authorities who appeared to side with the sorcerers.
Unchecked sorcery has become a major issue in Indonesia, where hundreds of people have been killed by anti-witchcraft vigilantes who have taken the law into their own hands. Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono claimed in 2009 that ''[m]any are practising black magic. Indeed, I and my family can feel it.''
But not everyone is in favor of outlawing the dark arts. Indeed, one of the country's best known warlocks has proposed harnessing the power of black magic to solve other, more pressing problems. "This is the heritage from our ancestors and we need to preserve it," he told the Financial Times. "Rather than banning it, we should use black magic to punish those who are corrupt."
There's the FitBit for fitness fanatics, the Pebble Watch for people who think their cell phones are too big, and Google Glasses for fancy sportsmen or irritating entrepreneurs. And now, there are high-tech life-trackers for human rights activists too -- devices that might save their lives.
Designed by Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), these high-tech bracelets -- dubbed the "The Natalia Project" after activist Natalia Estemirova who, in 2009, was abducted from her home in Chechnya and murdered for her activism -- are designed to serve as the first assault alarm system for human rights defenders at risk of being kidnapped or killed, according to a press release published by the organization on Friday.
When triggered -- either by the wearer or by the device being forcibly removed -- the durable bracelet/personal alarm uses GPS and smartphone technology to send a message with the time and the bracelet's location to the phones of colleagues in close proximity and to CRD headquarters in Stockholm. In an interesting social media twist, CRD will also notify anyone around the world who has signed up to receive distress signal alerts via SMS, Facebook, and Twitter. The organization hopes that those who have signed up to monitor the activists' safety will in turn spread the word via social media, raising awareness and putting pressure on those responsible for the attack or kidnapping.
It's a life-tracking device that could very well live up to its name.
It occurred to me that I perhaps pick on Saudi Arabia unfairly on this blog, having previously harped on its nasty habit of beheading and crucifying convicts (now apparently imperiled by a dearth of qualified swordsmen) as well as its record of flogging and executing blasphemers. But then I ran across this story about Ali Al-Khawahir, a Saudi Arabian 20-something who has been sentenced to surgical paralysis for his role in a stabbing 10 years ago, and I realized it's the Saudi government that bring this upon itself.
Amnesty International has more:
Recent reports in Saudi Arabian media have brought to light the case of 24-year-old Ali al-Khawahir, who was reportedly sentenced to qisas (retribution) in the town of Al-Ahsa and could be paralysed from the waist down unless he pays one million Saudi riyals --US$ 270,000 -- in compensation to the victim.
Ali al-Khawahir had allegedly stabbed his friend in the back, rendering him paralysed from the waist down in or around 2003. Ali al-Khawahir was 14 years' old at the time.
Other "eye-for-an-eye" punishments reportedly carried out by Saudi Arabia include tooth extraction, eye-gouging, and, of course, death, according to Amnesty International. But paralysis breaks new ground for insensitivity, even in the gruesome world of Saudi Arabian criminal justice.
Last week, the Saudi daily Al-Youm reported that Saudi Arabia is considering transitioning away from the state's institutionalized method of executing convicts: beheading by sword. Beheading -- the approach to carrying out death sentences in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century -- has long been practiced in the kingdom in observance of its strict interpretation of Islamic law, which seeks to mimic practices at the time of Mohammed. But a committee of Saudi government officials recently ruled that execution by firing squad would also be permissible under the national brand of sharia.
"This solution seems practical, especially in light of shortages of official swordsmen," the committee explained in a statement quoted by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. The committee also complained that official swordsmen have been known to show up late to executions.
Does this mean those few remaining swordsmen will be out of a job soon? It turns out the Saudi newspaper Okaz asked one of them: Mecca-based executioner Mohammad Saad al-Biishi. He says he's not concerned, citing the fact that he's already received firearms training. In the meantime, he'll keep on with the beheadings.
"I just returned from Ranyah governorate, where one of the judgments was implemented with a blow from a sword," he told the paper.
Even if the transition to firing squad occurs, al-Biishi is optimistic about the future of his profession, and has been apprenticing his son in beheadings. He acknowledges, though, that the government's concerns about a shortage of qualified swordsmen are justified. "This profession is not desired by many," he told Okaz, "despite the salary and personal reward we gain from it."
The execution business in Saudi Arabia is booming. Human rights groups estimate that approximately 70 people were beheaded in the kingdom last year, and 14 so far this year. The January execution of a Sri Lankan national, who was accused of the murder of a 4-year-old in her care as a maid while still a 17-year-old minor, prompted Sri Lanka to recall their ambassador from Riyadh last month.
Marya Hannun contributed to this post.
HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images
With the papal conclave expected to convene early next week, the Vatican has torn a page out of the Chinese playbook for stifling dissent, blocking access to a prominent website, bishopaccountability.org, that documents cases of clergy abuse.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, access to the site, which has become an invaluable resource for journalists covering the sex abuse scandal, is restricted on the Vatican's Internet servers. And when one tries to access the site through the Holy See's network, a message notes that it is blocked because of "hate/racism." That's certainly one way to describe an effort that has posted more than 8,500 pages of documents describing clergy abuse.
As we've written earlier, much of the pre-conclave jockeying plays out in the media, where candidates can be floated and reputations attacked in order to best position one cardinal or another for the papacy. By blocking access to one of the chief sources of information about this dark chapter in the church's history, the Holy See may be seeking to reassert a degree of control over the mud-slinging process in the media.
The NCR says it has filed a request to have the site unblocked. (Hey, it could happen!) We'll keep you updated.
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
The Olympics have left in their wake a glut of sports metaphors and even a few diplomatic spats, but the games themselves are over. The athletes are heading home - in fact, many left before the closing ceremonies last Sunday night. Some will receive heroes' welcomes, others, less so. Where are the best and worst places to go home to as an international athlete?
The Best Countries:
North Korea: The DPRK loves a success story, especially when they're so few and far between. North Korea walked away from the Olympics with six medals, including three golds in weightlifting -- perfect for a country that prizes industriousness and sings the praises of "excellent horse-like ladies." The North Korean propaganda machine is ecstatic, boasting about the surging popularity of weightlifting and thumbing its nose at the West. After receiving a barrage of flowers upon their return, the medalists can look forward to other rewards, including cars and refrigerators.
United States: The U.S. Olympic Committee offers bonuses for medals earned, up to $25,000 for a gold medal, and some sports federations offer rewards as well, though these pale in comparison to other countries (Singapore has promised to shell out $1 million for a gold, and will be paying out $250,000 to each of its two bronze medalists this year. China, Russia and Italy each pay more than $100,000 for athletes who strike gold.) These earnings may even come tax-free, if an effort by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers succeeds. The real money comes in endorsements, though, which are often measured in millions of dollars and can add up quickly. And then there are the reality TV show offers.
Trinidad and Tobago: The tiny island nation is happy just to be recognized as a competitor. The team may not have won a single game at the 2006 World Cup, but they were welcomed back with parties, national honors and financial rewards, and that was just for making it through the prelims. That bodes well for the 2012 T &T team, which became the most decorated in the country's history with four medals this year. So far, they've had a holiday in their honor, and gold medalist Keshorn Walcott has had a lighthouse, a plane, and a housing development named after him.
Any country that's never medaled before: A country's first Olympic medal is sure to evoke national pride. Cyprus' first-ever medalist, Pavlos Kontides, was decked with a laurel wreath and greeted at the airport by saluting fire trucks and throngs of fans. Guatemala's Erick Barrondo, who took home silver in race walking, was made a Knight of the Order of the Sovereign Congress. And the whole island of Grenada got a half-day holiday in honor of Kirani James' gold medal in the 400 meters.
The Worst Countries:
Not all athletes have a reason to look forward to going home. In Canada, athletes have faced unemployment challenges, and in Australia, Tanzania, and elsewhere, athletes are already dealing with a disappointed press. A Dutch show jumping horse named London, which leapt to two silver medals with rider Gerco Schroder, might not even leave England after being seized as part of an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding. It could be worse, though.
Kenya and Nigeria: Kenya had its worst outing in decades, and though its athletes brought home 11 medals, it placed behind African rivals Ethiopia and South Africa in the final tally. Nigeria came up completely empty handed. The governments of both countries have ordered public inquiries into what went wrong, and Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan announced a comprehensive overhaul of the country's sports system. As bad as the looming firings may be for Kenyan and Nigerian Olympic officials, the acerbic press reaction might be worse. Choice headlines include "Kenya's Olympic Fiasco," "Dark secrets of Team Kenya emerge," and from Nigeria's Vanguard, "Olympic Flops Return Home."
North Korea: We might not know what happens to North Korea's non-medalists, but we hope the country's one win-two loss record women's soccer team (a 9th place finish) doesn't share the fate of the 2010 DPRK World Cup team. After dropping out in three straight losses, the World Cup team was publicly humiliated in a six-hour-long staged berating, in which players were told they had personally disappointed Kim Jong-Un (then still heir apparent to Kim Jong-Il). Players then had to individually criticize the team's manager, who may have then been sent to a labor camp. Other athletes who have disappointed the Dear Leader are rumored to be sent directly to camps upon their return without the public fanfare.
Iraq: It's hard to think of a worse welcome home than a meeting with Uday Hussein, but that's what faced athletes returning to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Saddam appointed his sadistic son to the position of Iraqi National Olympic Committee President, and from that office Uday had carte blanche to torture athletes that did not measure up to his expectations. The Olympic Committee building in Baghdad was as much a medieval prison as anything else, with dungeons replete with iron maidens and other torture devices. It's no wonder why the Iraqi flagbearer in the 1996 Atlanta games fled the athletes' village and defected to the United States.
Colombia: Sometimes, it's not the government, but the fans that are the greatest hazard. After accidentally scoring on his own goal in a preliminary round of the 1994 World Cup, Colombian soccer phenom Andrés Escobar was gunned down by Humberto Munoz, who was involved in the Colombian drug trade and a significant betting loss on the game.
AFP reports that Belarus has formally expelled all Swedish diplomats, giving Stockholm until August 30th to remove all diplomatic officials from Minsk. Swedish Ambassador to Belarus Stefan Eriksson was forced to leave Minsk first after "a decision was made not to renew his credentials."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt attributed the eviction to his country's active stance on human rights, warning that Belarusian President Aleskandr Lukashenko's "fear of human rights is reaching new heights." Blidt doubled down an hour later, tweeting "We remain strongly committed to the freedom of Belarus and all its citizens. They deserve the freedoms and the rights of the rest of Europe."
The sudden timing has many speculating that it was the recent"Teddy Bear Drop" by Swedish activists that incited the expulsion. In an original act of protest, Swedish advertising agency Studio Total flew a small private plane over Belarusian airspace, dropping stuffed toy bears with messages of free speech. In an interview with FP's Elias Groll, pilots Hannah Frey and Thomas Mazetti elaborated upon their "campaign of laughter" to highlight the regime's political and security weaknesses.
Though Belarusian officials initially denied that the teddy bear drop had even happened, two high ranking generals were fired shortly afterward for "failing to ensure national security." Belarusian blogger Anton Surapin and entrepreneur Syarhey Basharymau were later arrested on charges of involvement in the "illegal intrusion" of airspace.
Packing should be easy for the Swedish embassy. The current round of evictions comes just months after Sweden withdrew officials from its embassy in February in protest against Lukashenka's authoritarian administration. All 27 EU member states removed diplomatic envoys after new economic sanctions were imposed, with Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia not returning until late April. An emergency meeting of European Union ambassadors has been called for Friday to discuss the situation.
TATYANA ZENKOVICH/AFP/Getty Images
On Thursday, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed that a small aircraft piloted by democracy activists had violated Belarusian airspace in July when it crossed over from Lithuania. The aircraft was carrying a cargo of teddy bears, which parachuted into the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on July 4.
Lukashenko was peeved at his military commanders and air traffic control had failed to stop the plane's raid into Belarus. Government officials have been trying to sort out how the activists planned the attack and why national security operatives failed to stop the small planes raid into controlled air space.
According to Al Jazeera's news report:
"[Press Secretary ]Andrei Savinykh told Al Jazeera that the aircraft was detected, "but the air defence did nothing. They didn't consider the aircraft as a military threat because it was a small aircraft and usually the air defence system is focusing on high-speed heavy crafts." However, Savinykh said their failure to act was a "violation of instructions" and that the responsible personnel will be punished."
The plane was piloted by the cofounder of a Swedish ad agency on behalf of Charter 97, a Belarussian democracy advocacy group. The group has since organized other teddy bear assaults, including staging of teddy bears in front of the Belarusian Embassy in London-which caused embassy officials to call the police-- to protest Lukashenko's repression. Protestors have adopted the teddy bears as a symbol of resistance against Lukashenko.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
In a press release issued this morning, Human Rights Watch slammed Yale University, criticizing the administration for "betraying the spirit of the university as a center of open debate and protest by giving away the rights of its students." The statement indicts Yale's agreement to enforce Singapore's restrictive laws regarding freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly on its new joint-venture with the National University of Singapore -- the first new college to bear the New Haven university's name in three centuries.
The Yale-NUS college's new president, Pericles Lewis, has repeatedly defended the decision, arguing that students "are going to be totally free to express their views" before admitting the campus "won't have partisan politics or be forming political parties on campus." Unsurprisingly, Yale students and faculty (whose 22 registered student political organizations will be barred from founding sister organizations on the NUS-Yale campus), were less than reassured. Already riled by accusations last spring that special confidentiality arrangements for General Stanley MacCrystal's class were a violation of intellectual freedom, student newspapers have openly mocked the administration's decision while professors have organized protests warning the restrictions limit academic freedom and negatively influence faculty hiring and research programs.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, agreed, calling Singapore's laws restricting political groups and demonstrations "draconian" before warning "Yale may find that many of the freedoms taken for granted over its 300 year history are against the law in Singapore. If it truly values those freedoms, and expects its students to, it will need to fight for them."
Something for U.S. universities to keep in mind as more and more expand into international campuses.
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After six years of being stranded in Bahrain, roughly 100 laborers will be allowed to return home to India, the BBC reports. The workers, who were employed at the Nass Corporation until they quit in 2006, had been legally barred from leaving Bahrain because they terminated their contracts before the agreed upon date.
The company had accused the workers of "absconding from work" in 2006 after many of them left the company complaining of low wages.
The workers' visas were sponsored by the company, a requirement under Bahrain law for anyone leaving the country.
Nearly 400,000 Indians live and work in Bahrain and campaigners say many live in extreme poverty - they are often not paid the wages they are promised and their passports are taken away from them.
In 2009 Bahrain's own labour minister criticised the visa sponsor system, saying it was akin to slavery.
One of the laborers recently committed suicide by hanging himself from a palm tree in a public garden. He was the 26th Indian laborer who has committed suicide in Bahrain this year.
The Nass Corporation has reportedly agreed not to press charges against runaway workers in the future in exchange for being removed from an Indian government blacklist.
The headline in Bahrain's state-run Gulf Daily News was "Goodwill gesture by firm."
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Fifty years after Kenya's independence, the British high court opened the second part of a case brought by three Kenyan nationals against the British government today. The trial sheds light on Kenya's gulags, a largely forgotten dark corner of England's colonial legacy.
The plaintiffs -- Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara -- were formerly rebels during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule. They allege that they were the victims of torture and brutality at the hands of the British administration during the "Kenya Emergency" that lasted from 1952-1960.
According to the BBC, the "claimants' lawyers allege that Nzili was castrated, Nyingi severely beaten and Mara subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the rebellion."
The fourth claimant in the original case, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, died in the interim between when the test case was ruled arguable in July 2011 and the opening of the trial.
The lawyers for the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) have argued that the case should be struck down because the lapse in time between the end of the insurgency and the current proceedings is too great. However, a new cache of secret British documents unveiled in April 2012 has shed new light on crimescommitted in Kenya, as well as other former colonies -- and the decades-long effort to cover them up.
The files - which had been purposely withheld from the National Archives and illegally hidden at Hanslope Park, an intelligence station -- were uncovered by historians working on the Kenyans' case. Subsequently, the Foreign Office released all of the records.
The documents include accounts of British officials "roasting detainees alive" in Kenya. The colony's attorney general in 1953, Eric Griffith-Jones, described the internment camps as "distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia" -- yet nevertheless endorsed British policy, claiming that "if we are going to sin, we must sin quietly."
The Kenyans first requested the release of these documents in 1967, according to an internal FCO review from February 2011 that was made public in May. The review, which explains how the Kenyan request served as a blueprint for refusing such information to all former colonies, details that the files were consciously concealed by the government. They reasoned that releasing any information would set "a dangerous precedent" which would make it "difficult to withhold un-reviewed and potentially sensitive papers from other former colonies."
The Guardian confirmed that the most incriminating of the documents were systematically destroyed. Nevertheless, the remaining incriminating files -- known within the FCO as the 'migrated archives' because they were whisked out of colonial territories before the post-independence administration could take power - total 8,800 files. The Kenyan documents alone total 294 boxes.
As the trial progresses, government fears of "a dangerous precedent" may prove well-founded: this case might very well open up avenues for other colonies to bring legal cases against the former empire.
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Government-funded outlet Russia Today reports that religious activists in a southern Russian city have called for national ban on Facebook after the popular social media website introduced a new icon system that represented gay couples through the use of gender-appropriate stick figures. Warning that website was "flirting with sodomites," organizers in Saratov delivered a statement to Facebook's Russian headquarters demanding the website remove all content related to "gay propaganda."
Facebook, unsurprisingly, ignored the ultimatum, spurring organizers to escalate their efforts. "We demand only one thing: Facebook should be blocked in the entire country because it openly popularizes homosexuality among minors," campaign organizer Vladimir Roslyakovsky told reporters. "The U.S. goal is that Russians stop having children. [They want] the great nation to turn into likeness of Sodom and Gomorrah."
Laws restricting gay rights have been on the rise in Russia. The European Human Rights Court's 2010 ruling against the Russian government's ban on gay pride events has been largely ignored and in March, St. Petersburg criminalized "the propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia among minors," imposing a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles for any found guilty of vaguely-defined "public action." Siberia's regional legislature quickly followed suit in April and the regions of Novosibirsk and Arkhangelsk have imposed similar restrictions. Requests for legal permits to hold Gay Rights Parades have been revoked or denied and illegal protesters arrested in what Human Rights Watch has labeled a systematic breach of international law.
With the Duma reportedly contemplating national action, it's not surprising that anti-gay activists are feeling optimistic. "I am confident that Russian laws and reasonable citizens will be able to protect their children from a fierce attack of sodomites," Roslyakovsky concluded.
The International Criminal Court handed down its first sentence on Tuesday to Congolese war criminal Thomas Lubanga for the use of child soldiers. After over three years at trial, and following his conviction in March of this year, the court issued a 14-year sentence, with one judge dissenting on the grounds that the nature of the crimes warranted a longer sentence. The court has not yet decided where Lubanga will serve out his term.
This is the court's first conviction and sentencing after nearly a decade in existence. But others are in the works, including the first head of state to be tried, Cote D'Ivoire's former president, Laurent Gbagbo, who was transferred to the ICC for trial in November 2011. (Sudan's current president Omar al-Bashir has also been indicted but has yet to be arrested). Gbagbo is charged with crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, for acts committed after the 2010 election when electoral disputes erupted into violence as Gbagbo refused to relinquish the presidency. The next step in his trial, the confirmation of charges, is expected in August 2012.
Under the tenure of Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo -- who was replaced earlier this month by new Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda -- the court has issued open (public) indictments against 28 individuals from seven countries -- all in Africa. The list is a who's who of notorious political leaders, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Saif al-Qaddafi, and military officials. The Court relies on national law enforcement, Interpol and the UN to arrest those charged, and only five of those indicted are currently in custody. 15 cases are currently before the Court, though trials are only scheduled for those in the Court's custody (some pre-trial proceedings are underway in absentia).
The Court's summer schedule shows proceedings will continue against the Central African Republic's Jean Pierre Bemba accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes; Sudan's Abdallah Banda and Saleh Jerbo for war crimes, including attacks on peacekeepers, and Gbagbo. Nearly a decade elapsed between Lubanga's crimes and his sentencing by the court, so don't expect speedy proceedings for any of them.
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
Bahrain's government may have avoided the fate of Egypt, Libya, or even Syria, but it can't be feeling all that secure if it's jailing people for tweeting and detaining small children.
Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to jail for three months on Monday for posting a tweet that criticized Bahrain's Prime Minister Khalifah ibn Sulman al-Khalifah. Rajab, who is president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was arrested in June on charges of "insulting in public" after tweeting:
"Khalifa, leave the residents of Al Mahraq, its Sheikhs and its elderly. Everyone knows that you are not popular here, and if there wasn't a need for money, they wouldn't have gone out to receive you. When will you step down?"
The country's chief prosecutor stated in the official media that residents from Al Mahraq, a city on northeastern Bahrain's Muharraq Island, had complained that Rajab's tweet "tarnished their reputation" and "cast doubts" on their patriotism. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Rajab's organization, suggested that these complaints were filed by individuals close to the regime's security forces.
This wasn't the first time that Rajab has felt the wrath of Bahraini authorities after speaking out against the regime's human rights abuses and subordination tactics throughout the Bahraini uprising. Rajab led several of the anti-government protests that began in 2011, and was detained the same year after publicly criticizing the Bahraini security forces for attacking demonstrators.
Rajab's most recent prison sentence is not even the most extreme example of the growing paranoia of Bahrain's Sunni-controlled regime. In May, authorities arrested an 11-year-old boy, Ali Hasan, for alleged participation in a protest -- the youngest person ever detained for activism.
Hasan told al Jazeera that he had been playing with other children on a street that authorities had blocked off the day before, and had been chased by police officers and detained. The Bahrain Information Affairs Authority stated that to assume Hasan was only playing was "incorrect," and that he was accused of burning tires and participating in an illegal gathering.
Hasan was held in custody for one month before the court allowed him return home. Hasan's charges were not dropped, though, and the court ordered a social worker to monitor the boy for another year.
On the eve of his country's first anniversary of independence, prominent South Sudanese human rights activist Deng Athuai was found brutally beaten and tied in a bag by the side of the road in Juba, the capital. According to local sources:
A military intelligence source told [the] Sudan Tribune that Athuai was found "crying inside [a] sack along the road side" between Kabur-tit and Gumba forest by the South Sudan security services.
Athuai had been reported missing on July 4, after he disappeared from his hotel in Juba. He is now in a coma at Juba Teaching Hospital, according to the Sudan Tribune.
Athuai is the chairsperson of South Sudan's Civil Society Alliance - the country's first non-profit umbrella network and a partner of the U.S.-based think tank Freedom House. He recently participated in a protest march demanding that South Sudan's parliament release the names of 75 government officials known to have embezzled $4 billion in public funds since 2005.
Athuai's colleagues refuse to speculate as to the identity of his assailants.
That year marks the juncture when South Sudan gained autonomy (a precursor to independence in 2011) from the north after decades of war, and began receiving $2 billion a year in oil revenues. For a country in which 71 percent of GDP comes from oil exports, and oil production accounts for 98 percent of all government revenues, this is a serious chunk of cash. The auditor-general's office reported that $1.5 billion went missing in the 2005-2006 fiscal year alone.
When the scandal was revealed in June, President Salva Kiir sent a letter to officials asking that the funds be returned:
"Many people in South Sudan are suffering and yet some government officials simply care about themselves.
We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people."
The letter was sent to approximately 75 officials -- the same ones whose names Athuai demanded should be made public. However, in the letter Kiir had promised amnesty and confidentiality to those who returned the funds.
Despite this event, as well as the country's dire economic situation since it shut off oil production in January, celebrations for the anniversary of independence began at midnight and will continue throughout the day.
"We have fought for our right to be counted among the community of the free nations and we have earned it," President Kiir told the gathered crowds. "To the extent that we still depend on others, our liberty today is incomplete. We must be more than liberated, we have to be independent economically."
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan apparently turned down an invitation to attend the celebrations.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
The first plane carrying South Sudanese "returnees" out of Israel arrived in Juba, South Sudan, on June 19.
Amidst escalating tensions over African migration to Israel, Israeli interior minister Eli Yishai described the eventual "return to their homes and countries" of [migrants] as "inevitable." Of Israel's 60,000 African migrants, the majority come from Eritrea and the two Sudans.
Greeting the plane in Juba, Joseph Lual Achuil, South Sudan's minister of humanitarian affairs, claimed that the process of return was voluntary: "People are not being deported. We have agreed with the Israeli government for our people to be peacefully and voluntarily repatriated," he said. While ‘returnees' are being offered a stipend of $1300 per adult and $500 per child by the Israeli government, the degree to which repatriation is truly a matter of choice is debatable.
While those who left Israel on the first plane volunteered to do so, the crackdown, known under the code name "Operation Going Home," has rounded up and arrested hundreds of migrants so far. The usually bustling neighborhood of ‘Little Africa' in South Tel Aviv is reportedly deserted. New laws allowing migrants to be jailed for up to three years without trial or deportation came into effect on June 3. In addition, any Israeli citizen harboring or helping migrants can now face jail time of up to 15 years.
The current government campaign to stem the flow of African migrants has begun with newly independent South Sudan -- the only one of the top three source countries which maintains diplomatic relations with Israel.
Many South Sudanese fled to Israel to escape the ongoing violence at home, often crossing the Sinai desert from Egypt by foot to reach Israel. Last week, an Israeli court ruled that 1,500 South Sudanese are no longer at risk in their homeland and can be returned home, giving the government the legal right to deport them.
Recent months have seen protests and acts of vandalism targeting African communities in Israel, an atmosphere that many claim has been instigated by the comments of some politicians. The deportation drive is also creating immense discomfort amongst many Israeli citizens, who are acutely of aware of their own identity as an immigrant nation founded by Jews fleeing persecution in Europe after World War II.
The subtext beneath the deportation process is a racial argument that cuts to the core of competing views about what Israel's identity as a ‘Jewish state' should entail. For the current government, identity is clearly framed by ethno-religious demographics. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu argues:
"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state. This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."
Whether such a view can be justified as commensurate with Jewish values remains to be decided.
A man named Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri was beheaded in Saudi Arabia this week after being found in possession of spell books and talismans. Beheading is "God's punishment" for "sorcerers and charlatans," according to a statement that the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued in March.
Al-Asiri's execution was the latest accomplishment of Saudi Arabia's Anti-Witchcraft Unit, an elite police force specifically trained to track down and arrest practitioners of magic. The Anti-Witchcraft Unit was part of a larger campaign to exterminate sorcery from the kingdom which began in 2009 and has included a hotline for reporting witch sightings, raids on suspected houses, and lectures to inform the public about the dangers of magicians -- "key causers of religious and social instability in the country," according to the Commission's statement.
Among other things, the trouble is that magic is a broadly-defined category in Saudi law, as Uri Friedman recently explained in FP. It's not unusual for prosecutors in Saudi courts to use "witchcraft" or "sorcery" as catch-all labels for all manner of offenses -- and for defendants to use the same terms as excuses -- because the kingdom is swift to mete out punishments for this kind of deviance.
Because Saudi Arabia does not have a penal code (or a legal definition of witchcraft), it is up to a judge to decide whether someone should be condemned as a witch or a sorcerer. Sometimes all it takes is having a book with foreign writing, items that officers of the Anti-Witchcraft Unit don't recognize, or an accuser with a strong vendetta to lose your head as a convicted magician. In al-Asiri's case, his confession to two counts of adultery may have been the original reason for his arrest.
The Anti-Witchcraft Unit received almost 600 reports of witchcraft in the past few years. Whether or not these are actual cases of people purporting to practice the occult or just a pretext, the government clearly takes the problem seriously.
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng left the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday after a deal was negotiated by his American hosts, despite concern over his ultimate fate in the hands of the Chinese government and uncertainty about the circumstances of his release. However, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing seems confident enough that they can ultimately file this episode in their "wins" folder that they have released photos of Chen's stay through the embassy's official Flickr stream.
In the carefully choreographed photo above, Chen clasps hands with Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific Asian affairs, while U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke beams in the background.
Here, Campbell gives the Chinese dissident a crushing bear hug. Campbell led negotiations for Chen's release with Harold Koh, legal advisor to the Department of State, after being dispatched by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently in Beijing for high-level negotiations.
While driving to the hospital where he was to reunite with his family, Chen reportedly called Clinton to thank her for her role in facilitating the release. While one senior administration official reported that Chen told Clinton he wanted to "kiss her," others have said he was saying "see her" in broken English.
In an interview with the AP, Chen claimed that he left the embassy only after he was told by U.S. officials that Chinese authorities had threatened his wife's life. However, Campbell insists that Chen left willingly.
Whether or not Chen will now be free from house arrest remains unclear. In an interview with Britain's Channel 4 from his hospital room, Chen expressed fear. "Nobody from the [U.S.] Embassy is here. I don't understand why. They promised to be here," he said.
U.S. officials say that Chen will be allowed to study at a university of his choosing as part of the release. Hopefully, the intense media interest generated by the case may help to keep him and his family safe.
Members of Turkey's Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed a more decentralized Turkish government at a Brookings Institution panel on Tuesday.
"We don't believe that a centralized system of government that manages all of these different ethnic groups and communities is viable and productive," said BDP chairman Selahattin Demirtas. "We see this [decentralized government] as the most viable alternative."
Demirtas also emphasized that he is not calling for a completely independent Kurdish entity:
"We are not talking about the Kurdish people [living] in a region called Kurdistan."
Though he stressed that the BDP has no "organic relationship" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classifies as a terrorist organization, Demirtas noted that the PKK is not the problem, but a result of the problem:
"We believe the PKK is part of the reality of this conflic, and we believe that they should be communicated with.... We don't see the PKK as a problem, we see it as a result of the problem."
Ahmet Türk of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) agreed, and urged the audience to consider that the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denying its Kurdish citizens their civil rights might be the root of the problem.
"You don't provide Kurds an opportunity to express themselves, so the PKK emerged."
While Demirtas made sure to explain that his party does not condone violence, he did take issue with the Turkish government's definition of terrorism:
"This means of violence that is being used has to be understood correctly. The simple, traditional [definition of] terrorism cannot be used here. This is a 100-year-old conflict.... As long as you are unable to define it correctly, the wrong definition will cause misunderstanding."
BDP member and Turkish parliamentarian Gülten Kisanak argued that the PKK's numbers are evidence that the government must rethink its position toward the organization:
"According to data provided by the Turkish chief of staff, since 1978 40,000 Kurds have participated in the PKK and lost their life in fighting the struggle. I believe these numbers cannot be seen as terrorism in that sense."
The BDP may support President Abdullah Gül's call for a new "flexible and freedom-based" constitution, but its forward-thinking notions about the PKK isn't going to win it many points with Ankara.
ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Gay sex is a touchy subject in India. A 148-year-old colonial law, overturned by the Delhi high court in 2009, deemed same-sex relationships as "unnatural offenses". For over a century, Indians have been wrestling with what's considered "natural" versus "unnatural" by the government, and after a recent slip of the tongue by Senior Supreme Court Advocate PP Malhotra, the confusion is understandable.
Conservative groups have asked India's Supreme Court to overturn the Delhi court's decision and on Thursday, Malhotra, who gives legal positions on behalf of the government told the justices that gay sex should be banned as it is "highly immoral and against social order and there is high chance of spreading of diseases through such acts." India should not succumb to Western sexual practices, Malhotra's said, and those who do should be subject to imprisonment. (Under the previous legislation homosexual acts received up to a 10-year prison sentence).
Coming from a highly-ranked government official, the statements provoked an uproar. But the home ministry quickly denied that any request calling for a new homosexuality ban had been made, said that it would not challenge the 2009 decision, and issued a statement saying that the ministry "has not taken any position on homosexuality." Television reports later suggested that Mahotra was confused and was referring to an older government opinion.
After the judgment decriminalizing homosexuality was delivered by the Deli High Court in 2009, the cabinet decided that "the government may not appeal against the judgment to the Supreme Court." The Guardian reports that, "While actual criminal prosecutions are few, the law has been used frequently to harass people."
The Supreme Court's next hearing, which will take place on Feb. 28, will decide the fate of the 2009 judgment, and, inevitably, the fates of those whose lives the law has impacted. Hopefully, the Home Office can figure out its opinion on the subject by then.
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
In al-Shabab-controlled regions of Somalia, anything deemed un-Islamic is outlawed. This includes mustaches, the World Cup, wearing bras, and dancing at weddings. The militant Islamist group recently added something new to that list: Samosas.
How can a seemingly harmless pastry be un-Islamic? Apparently, it's the shape. Samosas are fried in a triangular shape, which al-Shabab finds to be strikingly similar to the Christian Holy Trinity. Samosas, known as sambusas in the region, are often enjoyed to break the fast during Ramadan. But now, those caught selling, cooking or eating sambusas could face harsh punishment -- if history is any guide. The militant group follows a strict interpretation of Islam, enforcing their moral rulings to the utmost degree. In 2009, al-Shabab gunmen went village to village, rounding up women who were found wearing bras. Traditionally moderate Muslim Somalis were horrified as the women were beaten, their bras forcibly removed, and then told to publicly shake their chests for the men. Al-Shabab's justification for the public humiliation was that the bras promoted deception, a breach of Islam.
Last year, radio stations were shut down for playing music. Men and women who are not related can no longer shake hands, or even speak to one another in public. Women who are found working in public places face execution in some cases. Women and young girls alike have been arrested and flogged for not wearing hijabs. Watching soccer in general has been outlawed, but al-Shabab took a particular disliking to the World Cup since Somali boys and men were watching soccer instead of joining the group's jihad against the government. Cinemas no longer show the matches after numerous theaters were attacked with grenades.
It seems anything remotely enjoyable (and triangular) is prohibited, and now, al-Shabab's control has struck at the core of human survival. As Somalia starves to death, the militant group bans a staple food in East African culture as it is too "Christian." Humanitarian aid from Western organizations has been mostly outlawed, with UN famine reports called "sheer propaganda". Al-Shabab's outlandish rulings may cost millions of lives.
_ubik_ via Flickr Creative Commons
While an increasingly devastating famine continues to drive Somalis from their homes, many families are citing another reason for leaving: the forced recruitment of child soldiers. A recent Amnesty International report revealed that al-Shabab has intensified its recruitment process in order to gain more control of Central and South Somalia.
Primary schools are raided for soon-to-be soldiers and children are abducted from local playgrounds. Some are bribed with money and phones. Those who run away are often shot in the back, deemed traitors.
A Somali woman who lost several young family members at the hands of the armed rebels told Amnesty International:
"Those recruited by al-Shabab do not come back."
Boys, sometimes as young as eight, are given guns and forced to fight alongside grown men. Girls are used as servants for al-Shabab members, and in some instances, even wives. One testimony of a 16-year-old boy described how young girls are charged with adultery if they refuse to comply with the marriages. Floggings are a common punishment, sometimes ending with the death of the child. Girls and women accused of being raped (yes, accused) have been beaten or stoned to death - even though refugees have told Amnesty International that al-Shabab was responsible for the rape themselves.
Interviews with youth in the region have produced evidence that the Islamist militant group may be using children as suicide bombers, although Amnesty International cannot verify this. A 15-year-old boy described al-Shabab's recruitment tactics:
"They have a methodology, they say you will fight a jihad and then go to paradise. One friend was recruited by them and then he came to the village asking us to join...He had an AK47 and he said he was given lots of money."
While al-Shabab has been criticized for using children as weapons of war, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is internationally-backed and U.S.-funded, has been listed on the UN's annual list of parties that recruit children for armed conflict for seven years in a row —although they dispute the accusation. During a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on May 4, 2011, TFG members cited a lack of birth certificates and international financial assistance as the main causes of child recruitment. Human Rights Watch, alongside Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations, have expressed grave concern over TFG training camps that hold refugee children against their will in neighboring Kenya, which has also denied allegations of using child soldiers.
An ex-child soldier who fled to Kenya told Amnesty International:
"I am not feeling safe. I am stressed. I have flashbacks. I am scared that al-Shabab will come here too. I want a better future, better security, further education. I live in fear here."
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
While gay Americans have a lot to celebrate lately -- the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and New York becoming the sixth state to legalize gay marriage, among them -- 76 countries still consider being gay a crime. Homosexuality has long been a heated issue in Ghana, and now its LGBT community may face jail time. "All efforts are being made to get rid of these people in the society," said Paul Evans Aidoo, an MP from the western region. Ghana's Bureau of National Investigations has been directed to track down and arrest anyone suspected of being gay.
Aidoo is not the first high profile person to go on the attack publicly. Reverend Stephen Wengam, a prominent religious figure in Ghana, recently wrote an op-ed for the Ghana Broadcasting Company where he stated:
"If homosexuality is tolerated, very soon the human race will be extinct."
Aidoo's efforts could lead to a witch-hunt as he has asked landlords to keep an eye out for "people they suspect of being homosexuals". The police are to be informed of any suspicious activity.
Ghana News Agency, a media outlet based in Accra, is claiming that homosexuality can lead to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. While Ghana has recently cut its AIDS rate in half, the disease remains a constant fear of the small West African nation. The homosexual community has now fallen victim to the AIDS blame game.
Apart from South Africa, where gay marriage is formally recognized, homosexuality is shunned by most African leaders. Along with Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Africa is also home to several countries where being gay is quite literally, a death sentence. In Nigeria, those convicted face death by stoning. LGBT individuals in Ghana may soon join this disturbing trend. One member of parliament, David Tetteh Assuming, recently hinted that more permanent punishments will be instituted for those found guilty of homosexuality:
"I believe that they are treading on dangerous grounds and they could face lynching in future."
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
South Sudan's independence celebrations tomorrow look set to bring leaders from the world over: 30 African heads of state, plus Ban ki-Moon and a number of other senior Western diplomats. The presence of so many global bigwigs is wonderful news for the world's youngest country, but it has already made arrangements for the event a little more complicated. The Washington Times reports:
Sudanese President Omar [al]-Bashir's decision to attend South Sudan's independence celebrations in Juba on Saturday has created potentially awkward situations for delegations from countries that have been pressing for his arrest on a war crimes indictment...
A senior Western official in Sudan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said southern officials have assured the diplomatic corps in Juba they will do everything to avoid any embarrassments.
"The government is sensitive to these concerns and is going to do everything possible to make sure there are no embarrassments of any sort, on any side, on that day," the official said. "They are conscious that this might be awkward to Bashir as well."
A special seating arrangement has been worked out to minimize the possibility of blushing faces.
The International Criminal Court's March 2009 indictment alleged that Bashir was responsible for war crimes in the ongoing conflict in Darfur. Recent violence in border states Abyei and South Kordofan hasn't endeared him to the international community either. Bashir and rebel leaders pledged in late June to pull troops out of Abyei before the referendum, but Bashir's ambassador to Kenya reaffirmed yesterday the north's claim to the region. Bashir also backtracked yesterday on the June 29 peace accord between government officials and pro-southern rebels that promised to quell the fighting in South Kordofan.
Meanwhile, Jacob Zuma will be donning his superhero cape again on his visit to confront Bashir about recent violence in Sudan.
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
Hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists from around the world are planning to fly into Tel Aviv's airport in hopes of traveling to the West Bank. Over 700 people have already scheduled flights and as many as 1,200 are expected to arrive at Ben-Gurion between Thursday and Friday. Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's Public Security Minister, responded to the planned ‘aerial flotilla', saying:
"These hooligans who try to break our laws will not be allowed into the country and will be returned immediately to their home countries."
Five activists have already been arrested upon arrival. While airport security is on high alert, activists like Nicolas Sheshni say there is no plan to riot or cause disruption:
"We have no intention of staging a political protest inside Israeli territory. We only want to tour Palestine and show solidarity with the Palestinian people."
Sheshni and 300 other French activists hope to plant olive trees in Ramallah and tour the ancient city of Bethlehem. Travelers usually conceal their intent to travel to the West Bank for fear of facing immediate deportation. But in the next several days, many activists will declare Palestine as their final destination, protesting their lack of ability to visit Palestinian friends and family. Dozens of Israeli security forces are now stationed at Ben-Gurion. Friday flights from Europe will be directed to a separate terminal and passengers will undergo thorough immigration procedures.
Netanyahu defended Israel's plan to deport the activists:
"Every country has the right to prevent the entry of provocateurs and trouble-makers into its territory. That is how all countries behave and that is how Israel will act. We must prevent the disruption of normal life for Israeli citizens."
Maritime efforts of pro-Palestinian activists have been paralyzed in Greek ports, but who knows what the skies will hold in the coming days.
llee_wu via Flickr Creative Commons
Just one week after the acquittal of fiery far-right politician Geert Wilders, the Dutch parliament struck another blow against multiculturalism in the Netherlands yesterday with the passage of a bill banning ritual animal slaughter. The bill requires that all animals be stunned before being slaughtered, a requirement that conflicts with halal and kosher stipulations that animals be fully conscious.
The bill was initially proposed by the Party of the Animals, which holds two seats in the 146-seat Dutch parliament and maintains that ritual methods of slaughter are inhumane. It gained support from centrists on similar grounds, but Wilders's Freedom Party has also been a longtime proponent. In fact, it was Wilders who first raised the issue in 2007 when he objected to halal meat being served at a public school in Amsterdam.
The ban has provoked a furious reaction from Jewish and Muslim leaders in the Netherlands and Europe. From Reuters:
"The very fact that there is a discussion about this is very painful for the Jewish community," Netherlands Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs told Reuters. "Those who survived the (second world) war remember the very first law made by the Germans in Holland was the banning of schechita or the Jewish way of slaughtering animals."
It should be noted that a last-minute amendment attached to the bill states that halal and kosher slaughterhouses will be able to apply for special permits if they can show that their methods do not cause more pain than non-ritual methods. But some are skeptical of the permit process's efficacy, and the European Jewish Congress is already considering challenging the law in court.
The bill awaits confirmation in the parliament's upper house, though it passed easily in the lower house and enjoys widespread public support. If passed, it will put the Netherlands in the company of a handful of countries that have outlawed ritual animal slaughter. Revisions to New Zealand's animal welfare code made kosher slaughter illegal as of this May, while bans in a number of Scandinavian and Baltic countries date back to anti-Semitic measures passed before World War II.
PHIL NIJHUIS/AFP/Getty Images
The Danish daily newspaper Information has obtained classified documents about propaganda strategy from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that would have been approved by top party leaders like President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. It's rare for foreign outlets to get a leak of this scale, with documents approved by figures of this importance within the party. The 60 pages of documents lay out a strategy of pretending to allow greater access to information while actually clamping down more harshly at home. From the article:
Among other things, the regime has insisted that it does not exercise any censorship. However, the official document outlines several instances of how the Chinese authorities should prevent people from getting in touch with "politically sensitive information". Such information must be either "blocked", "destroyed" or "cleansed" from the Internet, media and books, the order from the Central Committee to the lower levels of the state apparatus makes clear.…
The same line is repeated in other documents, including the one from the Party leadership in Beijing, which declares that "all illegal and harmful information on Chinese and foreign web sites should be completely blocked." And that people who disseminate such information should be "indicted and prosecuted quickly before a judge and be quickly convicted."
The contents of the leaks aren't themselves all that surprising; the crackdowns following the Jasmine Revolution made it clear that China wasn't liberalizing anytime soon. What is noteworthy is the fact that these were leaked at all, by someone who would be privy to very high-level Politburo decision-making. The takeover of the party by hard-liners hasn't been welcomed by everyone within the CCP. The People's Daily, the party's official paper, made waves in April and May with a spate of editorials with a remarkably liberal bent. Consider these passages, translated from the original editorials by University of Hong Kong's China Media Project (CMP):
Only in the midst of competition will the value of ideas be shown, and only through practice can they be tested. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." This [quote from Voltaire] expresses a kind of openness, and even more a sense of confidence. The hurling of epithets and the yanking of pigtails, this way of thinking is fundamentally is a sign of weakness and narrow-mindedness, and it does not benefit the construction of social harmony or the creation of a healthy temperament. (People's Daily, April 28)
We are ushering in a "golden age" of expression, but there are still many voices that have not been heard. On the one hand, some voices have been submerged in the vastness of the field of voices, so that it is difficult for them to find the surface. On the other hand, there are some voices that only "speak, but in vain," that make their wishes known but find their problems unresolved. These can all be thought of as null expression, and some have called them "sunken voices." (People's Daily, May 26)
One might dismiss these editorials as empty propaganda. However, the CMP points out that the People's Daily has a long history as a forum for intraparty debates and that a number of liberal Chinese journalists commenting on Twitter were taking these editorials seriously.
The leaks emerge at a critical time. Preparations for the party's 90th-anniversary celebrations, taking place on July 1, have featured a mini-revival of Mao-era traditions like party songs and revolutionary propaganda. In the background, the party elections taking place in 2012 are expected to introduce major changes in China's leadership. The next 12 months will determine much about the fate of the CCP's liberal wing over the next 10 years. No doubt they hope there's more in their future than leaks to Danish dailies.
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