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 Requests for legal permits to hold Gay Rights Parades have been revoked or denied and illegal protesters arrested in what Human Rights Watch has labeled a systematic breach of international law.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.
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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.
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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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For the first time, the United Nation's Human Rights Council condemned violence and discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgender people today in Geneva. The move-- which was initially put forward by South Africa-- was applauded by gay rights supporters.
The resolution "expresses grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity" and calls for a study by the end of the year to examine discrimination against the gay community.
The U.S. ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, called it a "historic moment" for the United Nations, according to the Associated Press.
Nevertheless, the vote was close-- with the strongest opposition coming from African and Islamic countries. 23 nations voted in favor, 19 against, and 3 abstained.
Here's a rundown of which countries voted which way:
A Bahraini security court sentenced 20-year-old student Ayat al-Qurmezi to one year in prison yesterday. The young woman, infamous for her February recitation of an anti-government poem in Pearl Square, has been found guilty of speaking out against the king and inciting hatred. Her poem has become an international symbol of the Bahraini opposition:
We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery
We are the people who will destroy the foundation of injustice
Don't you hear their cries, don't you hear their screams
Down with Hamad
Al-Qurmezi has been in captivity since March. She was rumored to have been raped and tortured after an alleged phone call was made from doctors at an army hospital in April. Yesterday, a relative confirmed that her face had been shocked with an electrical cable, she was forced to clean the prison bathroom with her hands, and held in a near-freezing cell for days at a time. Ayat al-Ghermezi has incited a rally cry for free speech in Bahrain, where female students, doctors and professors have become targets of government crackdown on civil rights.
She is not the only poet to face such harsh punishments recently in the Middle East. Waleed Mohammad al Rumaishi had his tongue cut out after reciting poetry in support of embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2009, civil servant and poet Moneer Said Hanna wrote a five-lined satirical poem about former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and is now serving a three year sentence, as well as paying a fine of over $16,000. Syrian poet, Faraj Bayrakdar, now fuels the revolution from Sweden after enduring over 13 years of torture in prison where he would carve pens from wood splinters and make ink from tea leaves in order to write poetry.
Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation, but for Ayat al-Qurmezi and her fellow dissident poets, the message is quite clear.
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In 2008, Yu Keping, the head of China's Central Compilation and Translation Bureau and a professor at Peking University, published an attention-grabbing collection of essays called Democracy is a Good Thing. Coming from a Chinese Communist Party official said to be close to President Hu Jintao, Yu's bold assertion that "democracy is the best political system for humankind" was striking. But so was the fine print: Yu argued in the book that while "it is the inevitable trend for all nations of the world to move towards democracy ... the timing and speed of the development of democracy and the choice of the form and system of democracy are conditional." Among other things, he has resisted the idea that a multi-party political system would be appropriate for China. All of which is to say that Yu is something of a sphinx: As a New York Times profile observed last year, "Even China experts have a hard time determining whether Mr. Yu is a brave voice for change or simply a well-placed shill."
Which makes Yu -- who is in Washington this week -- a particularly interesting person to ask about the current moment in Chinese politics, in which the Communist Party is managing the transition from Hu to his presumed presidential successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, while watching the sudden explosion of anti-government, pro-democratic sentiment in the Arab world with palpable unease. The Chinese government began cracking down on human rights activists, artists, and writers in March, and barred another prominent writer from leaving the country this week.
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On June 29, 1996, the Libyan regime of Moammar al-Qaddafi put down a prison revolt with deadly force, killing as many as 1,200 detainees in cold blood with grenades and machine guns. Their bodies have never been found, and the Libyan government has never fully admitted the massacre at Abu Salim Prison, despite the best efforts of witnesses and human rights organizations to document it in grim detail.
Fifteen years later, relatives of the victims are still demanding justice. On Feb. 15, 2 days ahead of a planned nationwide day of protests, the Libyan regime arrested Fatih Tarbel, an advocate for the Abu Salim families -- sparking outraged demonstrations in the coastal city of Benghazi. The BBC says the crowd was about 2,000 people, and activists on Twitter claim that at least 2 people have died.
It's not easy to report in Libya, and details of the protests remain sketchy and hard to confirm. It hasn't helped that some news organizations, such as the Associated Press, have confused what are doubtless orchestrated pro-Qaddafi protests with the genuine outpouring of anger against one of the world's most odious regimes (at one point, Qaddafi himself even said he might demonstrate against the prime minister).
While it's not clear how far the unrest might spread, the mere fact that people are lifting up their heads in a brutal police state like Libya is an incredible testament to human courage. And the swift fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in next-door Tunisia is a reminder that even the toughest regimes can prove surprisingly brittle once that mantle of fear is lifted.
The most interesting moment in an otherwise subdued -- dare I say dull -- press conference by U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao came when a Bloomberg reporter insisted that Hu answer a fellow journalist's question about human rights.
Hu, blaming the translation, claimed he hadn't heard the question (to audible titters among the assembled press corps). He went on to give China's standard answer on human rights, which is basically, "Blah blah we've always respected human rights (yet we're also improving), China faces unique circumstances as a developing country, we favor dialogue, etc."
He also said that "China recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights," which caught the ear of New York Times reporter Michael Wines, who sees the remark as "a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate."
"Until Wednesday," Wines continues, "recognizing credos like democracy and human rights as 'universal values' had been all but taboo in Chinese political discourse, although China has signed theconvention that enshrines the principle of universal human rights."
"China respects the principle of the universality of human rights," the document states. But it adds: "Given differences in political systems, levels of development and historical and cultural backgrounds, it is natural for countries to have different views on the question of human rights."
That's almost exactly what Hu said. I suppose it's different when the president himself says so with all the eyes of the world upon him, but let's not kid ourselves about whether China has made some profound new commitment to human rights and democracy. For all its very real successes in promoting development, the Chinese Communist Party has no intention of relinquishing its stranglehold on political power anytime soon, if ever. Wake me up when they stop throwing political prisoners in jail, beating people in the streets, censoring the press, and generally evincing little regard for the Chinese people's ability to chart their own future.
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A report released today by the group Physicians for Human Rights details the horrific mistreatment of African refugees who are captured as they try to cross through Egypt and into Israel. The Africans -- mainly from Somalia and Eritrea -- are systematically raped, beaten, burned and then extorted by Bedouin human traffickers before they are sent across the border into Israel. Download the full report here if you want to read in appalling detail about the experiences of a few of these African migrants.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian government turns a blind eye to these abuses. That's probably because they feel that it helps discourage migration from Sudan, Somali and Eritrea though Egyptian territory. How else does Egypt discourage migrants from trying to use the country as a transit point? A shoot to kill policy. Egyptian security forces have shot and killed more than 85 migrants in Sinai since 2007 by Human Rights Watch's count. Scores more are deported back to their countries of origin, where they are often in danger because of war or threats from the government.
Some of these migrants are asylum seekers, while others are just looking to move to a new country where they can find work and make money. But Israel doesn't want these people as residents any more than Egypt wants them as travelers. Israel repatriated around 150 Sudanese asylum seekers on Monday, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor. Israel fears that immigration from Africa will take jobs from Israeli Jews and pose a threat to the Jewish demographic majority.
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The Guardian has the (non-WikiLeaked) scoop on an upcoming bombshell of a report by human rights investigators from the Council of Europe, which accuses Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of involvement in a criminal network involved with drug, weapons smuggling and even organ harvesting:
The report of the two-year inquiry, which cites FBI and other intelligence sources, has been obtained by the Guardian. It names Thaçi as having over the last decade exerted "violent control" over the heroin trade.
Figures from Thaçi's inner circle are accused of secretly taking captives across the border into Albania after the war, where a few Serbs are said to have been murdered for their kidneys, which were sold on the black market.[..]
Dick Marty, the human rights investigator behind the inquiry, will present his report to European diplomats from all 47 member states at a meeting in Paris on Thursday.
His report suggests Thaçi's links with organised crime date back more than a decade, when those loyal to his Drenica Group became the dominant faction within the KLA.
It says the group's supremacy over splinter groups in the guerrilla movement enabled them, from 1998, to seize control of "most of the illicit criminal enterprises" in which Kosovans were involved south of the border, in Albania.[...]
Thaçi and four other members of the Drenica Group are named in the report as having carried out "assassinations, detentions, beatings and interrogations". This same hardline KLA faction has held considerable power in Kosovo's government over the last decade, with the support of western powers keen to ensure stability in the fledgling state.
The organ harvesting charge was previously made by Hague Special Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who says she was prevented by political pressure from investigating KLA atrocities during the war. There's also a currently ongoing trial of Kosovan doctors accused of running an organ smuggling ring. The links are still a little murky, but the new report is sure to reignite the charge:
It finds the KLA did hold mostly Serb captives in a secret network of six detention facilities in northern Albania.
Thaçi's Drenica Group "bear the greatest responsibility" for the ad-hoc prisons and the fate of those held in them. They include a "handful" of prisoners said to have been transferred to a makeshift prison just north of Tirana, where they were killed for their kidneys.
The report states: "As and when the transplant surgeons were confirmed to be in position and ready to operate, the captives were brought out of the 'safe house' individually, summarily executed by a KLA gunman, and their corpses transported swiftly to the operating clinic.''
Thaci's party came out ahead in Kosovo's first post-independence parliamentary elections last weekend, but he's still working to form a coalition and I'm guessing the macabre charges might complicate the situation somewhat.
Whether or not the most explosive accusations are substantiated -- the inquiry report carries no legal weight on its own -- reports of the Kosovo government's links to organized crime are not new, even if they've never been so explicitly stated by a high-profile body. The full release of Swiss prosecutor Dick Marty's report on Thursday should be eagerly anticipated in Belgrade and Moscow.
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The attempt by a group of patriotic Chinese scholars to create a Chinese alternative to the Nobel Prize appears to have backfired disastrously today, with the recipient a no-show and the Chinese government distancing itself from their efforts.
The first ever Confucius Peace Prize was awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan, who worked for closer ties between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. But Tien wasn't in attendance, largely because no one from the committee had bothered to inform him about it. Instead, the award was given to a young girl described as an "angel of peace."
Who exactly is behind the prize remains a bit of a mystery. The existence of the prize was first announced three weeks ago, though bizarrely, the organizers also claimed they had been preparing for it since 1988 and had been seeking "Confucian wisdom." The organizers at first claimed to have worked closely with the Chinese culture ministry, but the government claims to have nothing to do with the prize and it has received little coverage in state media.
Other nominees for the prize reportedly included Bill Gates, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Panchen Lama. (The Beijing-approved one, of course.)
The jurors refused to acknowledge that the prize had anything to do with imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo, who will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia tomorrow, or even mention his name. But the official prize announcement did take some gratuitous shots at puny little Norway:
China is a symbol of peace, meanwhile it owns the absolute power to uphold peace. With over 1 billion people, it should have a greater voice on the issue of world peace. In essence, Norway is only a small country with scarce land area and population, but it must be in the minority in terms of other relatively large numbers concerning the conception of freedom and democracy. Hence, the selection of the "Nobel Peace Prize" should open [sic] to the people in the world instead of engaging in "minority" type of the [sic] so-called presumption. Because it is unable to stand on the highest point of the whole human being, but also difficult to represent the viewpoint of most people, which could be inevitably biased and fallacious.
As usual, the good folks at Next Media Animation had the last laugh.
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Are we surprised to learn, via WikiLeaks, that American diplomats in Colombo blame Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his top officials for the massacre of tens of thousands (by most estimates) of Tamil civilians during the final months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war? The goods are in a Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Amb. Patricia A. Butenis on the eve of Sri Lanka's presidential elections (which Rajapaksa won handily). Butenis was assessing the country's ability to come to terms with the atrocities committed in the protracted conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group, which was defeated in May 2009 after nearly three decades of fighting.
In May, the Sri Lankan government announced plans to launch a "truth and reconciliation commission," modeled on South Africa's post-Apartheid investigation, to look into the brutal last phase of the war, in which large numbers of Tamil civilians were trapped between the government and rebel troops. Human rights groups aren't exactly holding their breath for the results of the ongoing inquiry, led as it is by the same government that was allegedly responsible for most of the carnage. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group -- which released a sweeping and damning report on the war crimes in May -- all turned down invitations to participate. Butenis, it turns out, was similarly nonplussed, writing:
There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General [Sarath] Fonseka.
This last observation gets headline treatment from the Guardian, and it is notable for Butenis's willingness to name names. But the State Department has been fairly clear, albeit more diplomatic, about what it thinks happened in the spring of 2009, in a report released in March:
The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were estimated to be only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances.
An August report from State also (cautiously) expressed concern about the integrity of the government's commission. In short, Butenis's assessment is generally consistent with what humanitarian workers on the ground in Sri Lanka at the time of the conflict thought State's position was -- one that may not have been shared by American defense and intelligence personnel, who were believed to be less squeamish about the military campaign against the Tigers.
I asked Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for ICG, about the cable. He says it contains few surprises:
It's certainly consistent with how the embassy and the State Department are looking at the situation. They knew bad things happened -- they're calling them "alleged" war crimes, but I think in a quiet moment they would say they were war crimes. They recognize that that happened. But they don't think there's the space internally for it to be addressed. So I don't think we're learning a whole lot new. What would tell us more, and what will be more interesting, and where the issues are a bit more gray, is what happened during the war -- what did the U.S. government know, and what did it do, or not do, to prevent the worst abuses and suffering?
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Of the 140 Chinese activists and dissidents invited by Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo to attend next month's cerermony in Oslo, it appears that only one is planning to attend, and he's not even in China:
Wan Yanhai, who fled to the United States in May after increasing official harassment of his AIDS advocacy group, is the only person on that list to confirm his attendance.
"I heard many people on the list were put on a blacklist and were not allowed, or their family members not even allowed, to leave China. It's a horrible situation," Yanhai told AP by phone from Philadelphia, where he lives.
"It could be like I become the only person from that list who will be there," Wan said. "That will be interesting."
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This morning the U.N.'s new umbrella agency for women's rights issues elected its board members. The election had attracted controversy because two of the candidate countries were among the world's most notorious abusers of women's rights, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
This morning, with strong lobbying from the United States, Iran's election to the board was blocked. Human rights groups had strongly opposed Iran's election, pointing in particular to the recent death sentence of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for the crime of adultery.
The 54 countries who sit on the UN’s Economic and Social Council did, however, accept the membership bid by Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden from driving and barred from many public places.
In fact, according to the U.N. Development Program's own Gender Empowerment Measure, Saudi Arabia is actually a worse country for gender equality than Iran. Neither does particularly well, but of the the 93 countries ranked, only Yemen scores lower than Saudi Arabia.
Iran's candidacy for the 41-member executive board had been part of a slate elected by the Asian region while Saudi Arabia was selected for one of the spots reserved for "donor" nations. Not a particularly auspicious start for an important new body.
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The Christian Science Monitor reports that France is planning hold a meeting in Brussels to develop a common European policy on whether to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo:
China's G20 negotiator Cui Tiankai last week said states that attend the award ceremony honoring Mr. Liu must be ready to "accept the consequences." Liu is currently serving an 11-year sentence in China for "subversion" in co-authoring "Charter '08," a manifesto promoting basic human rights and political reform.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told French RTL radio this morning that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr. Hu discussed human rights on top of signing $20 billion in trade deals. Mr. Kouchner added that, "I hope France will be represented at the prize-giving ceremony in spite of Beijing's warnings," but said France would be "consulting its European friends for a common response."
A French Foreign Ministry official separately told the Monitor that an upcoming meeting in Brussels will center on two questions: whether it is appropriate to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony, and if so, "whether ambassadors should attend, or should it be at the level of charges d'affaires."
"We have weeks and weeks to decide this," the Foreign Ministry official said adding that a Brussels meeting is set to take place in coming days.
As countries who have hosted the Dalai Lama have learned, China is deadly serious about "the consequences" for these types of gestures. But to not attend the ceremony or to put on an awkward show of sending a lower-level official would be the definition of what Vaclav Havel referred to as "soiling one's pants prematurely." It would signal to the world that with Kouchner on his way out, Sarkozy's government has indeed given up on human rights entirely.
Update: Good news. Looks like they're going.
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Life in Iraq isn't easy (and hasn't been for a while), but it's still rare to find community leaders imploring Iraqis to leave their home country. But that's exactly what Archbishop Athanasios Dawood of the Syriac Orthodox Church is doing.
"I say clearly and now -- the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing," Dawood said in a prepared statement to CNN. "This is better than having them killed one by one." In other interviews, Dawood, who lives in London, evoked the word "genocide" to describe the treatment of Iraqi Christians.
Fifty-eight people were killed in an attack on an Iraqi church last Sunday.
With the exception of the massive exodus of Iraq's large Jewish minority after the creation of Israel in 1948, there was little sectarian violence in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"You know, everybody hates the Christian. Yes, during Saddam Hussein, we were living in peace -- nobody attacked us. We had human rights, we had protection from the government but now nobody protects us," the archbishop told the BBC. "Since 2003, there has been no protection for Christians. We've lost many people and they've bombed our homes, our churches, monasteries."
Eden Naby and Jamsheed K. Chosky wrote in Foreign Policy last week that there may not be a Christian population left in Iraq by the end of the century. Iran, which also has a (shrinking) Christian minority, is suffering the same fate.
But it isn't only from those countries that Middle Eastern Christians are leaving. Long-time Middle East journalist Robert Fisk pointed out last month (before the massacre in Baghdad) that Christian populations are shrinking across the region, from Palestine to Lebanon to Egypt. "This is, however, not so much a flight of fear, more a chronicle of a death foretold," Fisk writes. "Christians are being outbred by the majority Muslim populations in their countries and they are almost hopelessly divided."
In Michigan, Iraqi Christians rallied today, calling on the United States to put a stop to violence against their coreligionists.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has affected every aspect of society in that country. As many people have written, the U.S. government seems to have been wholly unprepared for what lay ahead in Iraq. It's hard to imagine that George W. Bush, with his own deep Christian faith, expected the catastrophe in store for Iraqi Christians.
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Last week we listed some items that are growing in popularity among China's increasingly wealthy middle class, along with some of the impacts of these recent obsessions, including jade. One major consequence not included in the list is the fact that China's passion for jade has been criticized by both human rights groups and the U.S. government for financing Burma's military dictatorship.
Brian Leber, a Chicago-based jeweler involved in efforts for an industry-wide boycott of jewels from Burma, wrote in to remind us that the Southeast Asian country is not only home to one of the world's most repressive regimes, it also has millions of kilograms of jadeite -- the most expensive and most sought after jade in China.
U.S. trade sanctions on Myanmar that specifically targeted the military junta's trade of jadeite have apparently done little to quell the Chinese appetite for the fine gem: According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, jadeite from Myanmar has, unlike other gems, continued to be "primarily purchased, processed, and consumed by China."
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