Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Daughter of jailed Bahraini goes on hunger strike

A daughter of a prominent Bahraini human rights activist went on hunger strike on Tuesday to protest the arrest of several family members — including her father and her husband — for their connection to anti-government protests.
Zainab al-Khawaja

told The Associated Press that she will refuse food until her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is released, along with her husband, brother-in-law and uncle.
The 27-year-old mother of a baby girl first announced her hunger strike in a letter addressed to President Barack Obama that she posted on her blog on Monday.
The uncle was arrested in a different police sweep while the other three men were taken into custody in a raid on Zainab's house in a Shiite village outside the capital Manama on Saturday. Zainab said her father was beaten unconscious before he was taken away by armed masked men
"My father's only crime is that he has documented human rights abuses in Bahrain," Zainab al-Khawaja told the AP in a phone interview. "I demand he and all men of my family are released."
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. was aware of the case and was calling on Bahraini authorities to "allow these individuals to freely express themselves and uphold their universal rights."
Authorities in Bahrain have cracked down heavily on dissent since martial law was declared last month to quell protests by the country's Shiite majority against the Sunni royal family that has ruled the tiny Gulf island nation for more than 200 years.
The Shiites are agitating for greater political freedoms and equal rights.
Bahrain holds particular importance to Washington as the host of U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, the main American counterweight to Iran's efforts to expand its military influence into the Gulf.
The United States has urged the monarchy to respect human rights but says little about allegations of repression against Bahrain's Shiites.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 50, is a former Middle East and North Africa director of Frontline Defenders rights organization. He also documented human rights abuses in Bahrain for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
At least 29 people have been killed since the protests began on Feb. 14, including three opposition supporters who died in custody. Hundreds of Shiite activists, anti-government protesters and opposition leaders have been detained in the crackdown.
None of those in custody have been publicly charged with a crime or brought to trial.
On Monday, authorities said three former top editors of Bahrain's main opposition newspaper will face trial for "unethical" coverage of the political unrest in the Gulf kingdom.
Bahrain's official news agency said the top editors of Al Wasat newspaper have been charged with "publishing fabricated news," "harming public safety" and "damaging national interests."
No date has been set for the beginning of the trial.
Bahrain's Interior Ministry said in a statement late Monday that 86 prisoners were released. The statement did not say if anti-government protesters and opposition supporters were among them.

Pakistan-based militant group expanding: U.S. general

A top U.S. general expressed concern to Congress on Tuesday about the expanding reach of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, warning it was no longer solely focused on India or even South Asia.
LeT, one of the largest and best-funded Islamic militant organizations in the region, is blamed for the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which killed 166 people in India's commercial capital.
The group was nurtured by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency to fight India in Kashmir, and analysts say it is still unofficially tolerated even though Islamabad banned the group nearly a decade ago.
Admiral Robert Willard, head of the U.S. military's Pacific Command, told a Senate hearing the United States was actively working with South Asian governments including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India to contain LeT.
But he cautioned that the group was active elsewhere.
"Unquestionably they have spread their influence internationally and are no longer solely focused in South Asia and on India," Willard told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The United States has evidence of LeT's presence in Europe and the broader Asia-Pacific region, he said.
In the past, LeT has fielded militants in Canada and in the United States.
India continues to be LeT's main target. But Willard noted that the group has declared holy war against the United States and renewed longstanding concerns in Washington about attacks by LeT militants against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
"The discussion regarding the government of Pakistan's relationship to LeT is a very sensitive one," Willard said.
The comments come at a sensitive time in U.S.-Pakistan relations. Pakistan is demanding the United States scale back CIA activities and reduce the number U.S. Special Forces trainers in the latest example of strained security ties.
Although the U.S. focus in Pakistan remains on al Qaeda and militant groups more deeply involved in Afghanistan, there has been increasing attention in Washington on LeT, particularly since the arrest of Pakistani-American David Headley in 2009.
Headley had joined LeT hoping to fight in Kashmir but ended up scouting out targets for the Mumbai attackers and helping al Qaeda plan a strike in Denmark.
"It's important that this particular discussion continue to take place and that we continue to work with the government of Pakistan to root out terrorism that exists within their borders," Willard said.
The White House last week warned that despite unprecedented efforts by Pakistan to go after militants within its borders, it lacked a clear path to defeat them.

US will not leave Afghanistan, says Munter

Surghar Daily

The United States on Monday called for a policy of ‘renewal’ with Pakistan, in the aftermath of ‘acute problems,’ saying that now it was time to look into “opportunities in the future, not problems of the past”.

US Ambassador Cameron Munter, who just returned after a two-week visit to the US, delivered his first major policy speech after January 27, when CIA contractor Raymond Davis shot dead two Pakistanis, plummeting civil and military relations with the US to an all time low.

Munter spoke at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI), after introductory remarks by ISSI DG, Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.Munter’s remarks appearing as a ‘band-aid’, come immediately after a scathing State Department annual survey on human rights and a White House report to the Congress, criticising Pakistan’s will to fight the militants.

“The Pak-US relations are not in the intensive care unit. They are very healthy, and I am more optimistic about our relations today than when I came to Pakistan,” Munter responded to a question. He rejected the notion that the US was dictating with money. “We do things in partnership. We have been too slow. There is a lot of red tape,” he said.

After a rather bland speech, which revealed nothing new, and predictable questions, Munter was game for criticism and appreciated the ‘blunt’ and ‘frank’ questions thrown at him from the audience. He spoke at a time when DG ISI Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha was on his way to Washington, and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir prepared to follow later this month. Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh will be another visitor to Washington this month.

“We’ve had some difficult days in the recent past. But I’m here today to speak of opportunities in the future, not of problems of the past. Those problems have been acute in recent months, symbolised by the case of Raymond Davis. We must not let this very regrettable incident stop us as we work together. Instead, let us look for renewal,” Munter remarked.

When reminded about some very revealing remarks made by Richard Armitage while in New Delhi, Munter replied, “I do not agree with Richard Armitage’s assessment that relations with Pakistan are based on our needs while India is a natural ally. We are natural friends and are doing our best and not afraid to choose.”

The US ambassador spoke on the presence his country’s presence inside Afghanistan, saying that 2014 was not the year of the US withdrawal, rather the state of commitment may change, and the focus would be more on the civil side rather than military.

“We will not leave Afghanistan. Pakistan must be stable for the region’s success,” he added while promising to take a message from a participant about the US drones to Washington. “It is on the agenda,” he reassured the audience.

Munter spoke on a day when President Asif Ali Zardari, in an interview to Guardian, pointed out that the war in Afghanistan is destabilising Pakistan and seriously undermining efforts to restore its democratic institutions while expressing concern about the slow pace of efforts to end the Afghan conflict and said some US politicians showed limited understanding of the impact of American policies.

“The US appreciates the Pakistan military, specially its operation in the northeast and in Mohmand Agency. These are tough battles. Admiral Mike Mullen, General David Petaerus and General James Mattis are all very, very impressed by these significant efforts. We admire the military,” he pointed out when asked about the tough line coming from Washington that Pakistan was not doing enough.

He agreed that the term “war on terror” should not be used as “coverall”. “We need to be more careful. A number of issues are used under this. A more fruitful way would be to call them intolerant, paid by foreign agents”, he advised.

The ambassador was unaware that no student in the last 10 years from the American Studies Department at the QAU has ever got a visa for the US. He blamed it on red tape and lack of rapport with Pakistanis because of security concerns.

When asked about the lack of justice to Attaur Rehman, who was crushed to death by a US Consulate vehicle with the driver escaping, Munter replied, “Our regret about the Lahore incident is sincere. We will do our best to redress this. We share the concern.” This after nearly three months of Rehman’s death.

Munter appeared fascinated by Pakistan’s media saying, “I have never encountered a media like that of Pakistan. I spend several hours reading. There are too many ideas to keep track of. The media is divided into fashion and deep thoughts. Some follow the question of the day, others follow issues which are exciting rather than deep.”

Bahrain Hospital Is Drawn Into Strife

A handful of soldiers, their faces covered by black masks to hide their identities, guard the front gate of Salmaniya Medical Complex. Inside, clinics are virtually empty of patients, many of whom, doctors say, have been hauled away for detention after participating in protests.Doctors and nurses have been arrested, too, and the police trail ambulance drivers, health care workers said.

To the government, Salmaniya, Bahrain’s largest public hospital, and local clinics are nests of radical Shiite conspirators trying to destabilize the country. But to many doctors at Salmaniya, the hospital has been converted into an apparatus of state terrorism, and sick people have nowhere to go for care.

The scene at Salmaniya is a grim sign that health care has been drawn into Bahrain’s civil conflict, which burst into violence last month when the army and security forces cleared not only Pearl Square but also the grounds of the medical complex, which had become a hub for opposition activities.

At least a dozen doctors and nurses have been arrested and held prisoner during the last month, and more paramedics and ambulance drivers are missing. Ambulances have been blocked from aiding wounded patients, according to health care workers and human rights advocates.

Meanwhile, the security forces, manning roadblocks around the country, inspect drivers and their passengers for birdshot wounds — the most common injury to demonstrators confronted by security forces — and those with the telltale black bruises are seized and detained.

“You have an assault on the health care system and the people who practice in it,” said Dan Williams, a senior researcher for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, who is now investigating in Bahrain. “Hospitals are supposed to be used for health care and not as arbitrary detention centers.”

Bahraini doctors and international human rights workers say the purpose of the crackdown appears to be to instill terror in doctors, so they will not care for wounded demonstrators, and fear in dissidents, who might think twice about confronting the police if they know that being injured might mark them for arrest.

Government officials say that wounded demonstrators are handed to the police only after they have been taken care of, and reports of violations are being investigated.

At a news conference on Monday, the acting health minister, Fatima al-Balooshi, accused scores of doctors and health care workers at Salmaniya and elsewhere of joining “a conspiracy against Bahrain from the outside” — usually a code for Iran — to destabilize the government.

She said 30 doctors and nurses had been suspended or otherwise kept from practicing medicine in recent weeks, and 150 more were being investigated.

Ms. Balooshi said that doctors had deprived some people of medical care for sectarian reasons, had worsened peoples’ wounds to be able to get stories of repression in the news media and had received overtime pay for attending demonstrations. She also said that sophisticated weaponry had been found hidden in the hospital, and that health care workers had set up a tent in Pearl Square during demonstrations last month for propaganda purposes.

“They violated their duties, against international standards for health services,” Ms. Balooshi said of the doctors. “Now, thank God, they have been stopped.”

Most doctors in Bahrain are Shiite, as is a majority of the population, in a country that is ruled by a Sunni monarchy that now governs with the support of more than 1,000 Saudi Arabian troops. The opposition is predominately, though not entirely, Shiite.

The crackdown is centered at Salmaniya, the country’s main referral hospital, ambulance depot, center for emergency care and blood bank. But doctors at neighborhood clinics say patients are afraid to go to them as well, and they do not have enough blood, antibiotics and emergency equipment to care for patients who would otherwise go to Salmaniya for care.

The problems at Salmaniya began two months ago when demonstrators began using the parking lot in front of the emergency ward to protest, and some doctors joined in the protests while they were supposedly on duty.When the security forces cleared Pearl Square on March 16, they also blockaded Salmaniya. According to one doctor who was in the hospital, the entire staff was terrified as it watched a nurse dragged away and beaten by five officers after she apparently tried to escape. She said the police hauled away a paramedic and his driver, who are still missing.The next day, she said, the security forces went to the second floor, handcuffed about 10 patients wounded from the demonstrations, and took them to the sixth floor for questioning under torture. Others were taken upstairs later, doctors said.

In interviews that were given on condition their names not be published, four doctors and nurses and several family members of arrested health care workers said the medical community has been terrorized.

As they tell it, a pattern has emerged in which health workers are called to the Salmaniya administration offices, and then taken to a criminal investigation center. The arrested doctors and nurses are allowed to make brief calls home to say they are fine. Family members then come to bring them clothes, but rarely if ever see them.

Many of the health care workers arrested were involved in protests, but others apparently were not. One physician, Nahad al-Shirawi, was apparently arrested after she appeared in a published photograph weeping in the hospital over a victim who died in a protest broken up by the security forces.

Yasser Ali Abdulla, a paramedic, and Mohsen Ashour, his driver, were dispatched on March 15 to the village of Sitra to care for wounded demonstrators who were attacked by police. They never came home.

Mr. Abdulla’s father spotted their ambulance several days later parked in a local police station parking lot. Though the father was not allowed to see his son, Mr. Abdulla was allowed later that day to call his wife for a few seconds to tell her he was alive, according to a family member who spoke on condition she not be identified by name or exact relationship.

He called a week later, but has not been heard from since. “They say his crime was he stole the ambulance, but he was on duty and in uniform,” the relative said.

Richard Sollom, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, said the security forces have gone so far as to steal medical records such as X-rays of people injured in demonstrations, apparently to hide human rights violations.

“They are quite sophisticated,” said Mr. Sollom, who just completed a fact-finding trip here. “Doctors are the one group of people who have evidence.”

A few days ago, three doctors at Salmaniya were slapped and taunted by security guards in the middle of the night simply because they did not have a picture of the prime minister hanging on the wall of their dormitory room.

“We were standing and shaking and we didn’t know where this would end,” recalled one of the doctors, who spoke on condition he not be identified for fear that he would be arrested. “Going to work every day is a calculated risk of being beaten, harassed or even taken away.”

Obama wants balanced approach on deficit

The White House signaled on Tuesday that President Barack Obama will discuss the role of taxes in reducing the U.S. deficit in a Wednesday speech.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked if Obama would discuss taxes in the speech, said, "The president believes there has to be a balanced approach" to cutting the deficit. Obama, a Democrat, has said he would like to get rid of tax cuts begun under Republican President George W. Bush that apply to wealthier Americans.

Balochistan, KP, GB yet to adopt harassment code

The Punjab government is taking swift measures for implementing the legislation to protect women against harassment at workplaces while Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) are yet to adopt the code of conduct.

Talking to APP, Chairperson, National Implementation Watch Committee (NIWC), Dr Fauzia Saeed said that the committee is working to reach out to women’s rights organisations in Balochistan, KP and GB and involve them in harassment act implementation process.

However, the provincial government of Punjab took lead for implementing the act in all public departments and has notified to adopt zero tolerance against sexual harassment code of conduct and form inquiry committees.

A number of attached departments of education, health and all other public sector organizations have adopted the code of conduct, she said.

The reminders are being sent to those departments and organisations that have not adopted the code of conduct or formed committees yet.

NIWC will hold meeting with the provincial chief ministers soon for appointing ombudsperson at provincial level, Fauzia said.

About harassment act implementation in Sindh, she said, “The code of conduct has been translated into Sindhi language and has been forwarded to all the provincial ministries. However, the current leadership of the province will have to be proactive for implementation of the law, ensuring a conducive work environment for women.”

Giving details about implementation of law in other sectors, Fauzia said over 26 banks, with 150 branches each, have adopted the code of conduct in response of the notification issued by State Bank of Pakistan so far.

“We are getting good response from the telecom sector as Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) notified all the attached bodies to adopt the code and form inquiry committees at their workplaces.”

Showing concern over the slower adoption of code in media, Fauzia said Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has been asked to notify media organisations to comply with the law but only a few channels have taken the lead to adopt the code and constitute inquiry committees.

Some private channels including Dawn and Pakistan Television Network have implemented the law while print media organisations are lagging behind in this process, she said.

Civil War still divides Americans

It has been 150 years since the Civil War began with the first shots at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and in some respects views of the Confederacy and the role that slavery played in the events of 1861 still divide the public, according to a new national poll.
In the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners.

When asked the reason behind the Civil War, whether it was fought over slavery or states' rights, 52 percent of all Americas said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state, but a sizeable 42 percent minority said slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.
"The results of that question show that there are still racial, political and geographic divisions over the Civil War that still exists a century and a half later," CNN Polling Director Holland Keating said.
When broken down by political party, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split and most Republicans said slavery was not the main reason that Confederate states left the Union.
Republicans were also most likely to say they admired the leaders of the southern states during the Civil War, with eight in 10 Republicans expressing admiration for the leaders in the South, virtually identical to the 79 percent of Republicans who admired the northern leaders during the Civil War.
The survey polled 824 adults via telephone between April 9 and April 10. The poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Bahraini opposition leaders 'tortured'

Arrested Bahraini opposition leaders have been reportedly tortured amid crushing of the anti-government protests by Bahraini forces.

Riot police in the Persian Gulf country besieged the town of Karzakkan on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, al-Malikiyah village is under the siege of Bahraini pro-regime thugs.

On Monday, Saudi-backed Bahraini forces arrested clerics Sayyed Mohammad al-Alawi and Sheikh Abdul Adim al-Mohtadi in the capital Manama.

People in Bahrain have been protesting since February 14, demanding an end to the two-century-long rule of the Al Khalifa dynasty.

Demonstrators maintain that they will hold their ground until their demands for freedom, constitutional monarchy as well as a proportional voice in the government are met.

Scores of protesters have been killed and many others gone missing since the beginning of the revolution.

Bahraini forces have reinforced a massive armed crackdown on the uprising with the help of Saudi, the UAE and Kuwaiti troops.

Bahraini woman on hunger strike over arrests

The daughter of a prominent Bahraini activist has said she is beginning a hunger strike in protest over the arrest of her father, husband, brother-in-law and uncle.

Zainab Al-Khawaja said on Monday that she would refuse food until her father Abdulhadi, who she says was beaten unconscious before being taken away, and other relatives are released.

Three of the men were detained following a police sweep on Zainab's house over the weekend, while her uncle was arrested three weeks ago.

She announced her hunger strike in a letter addressed to Barack Obama, the US president, posted on her blog Angry Arabiya.

"I chose to write to you and not to my own government because the al-Khalifa regime has proven that they do not care about our rights or our lives," she wrote.

"I demand the immediate release of my family members. My father: Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. My husband: Wafi Almajed. My brother-in-law: Hussein Ahmed. My uncle: Salah Al-Khawaja."

It appeared to be the first time an activist has gone on hunger strike since the Bahraini government began its crackdown on protesters last month.

Martial law

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, the former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested amid a continued crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the tiny Gulf nation.

Zainab said her father had been calling for democracy and had been saying that the country's rulers were guilty of killing, torturing and detaining people, and should be put on trial.

On Monday Bahrain said it had released 86 people held under martial law while "legal measures" were being taken against other detainees.

More than 400 people have been arrested and dozens have gone missing since the crackdown began on March 16, the leading Shia opposition group Wefaq has said.

Bahrain's Sunni Muslim rulers quelled weeks of protests led by mostly Shia demonstrators by spreading security forces throughout the capital and calling in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf Arab states, including oil giant Saudi Arabia.

Separately, Bahrain has put two Iranians and a Bahraini on trial on charges of spying for Iran's revolutionary guards.

"They are accused of contacts with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to give them military and economic information from 2002 to April 2010 ... with the intention of damaging the national interest," the Bahrain News Agency said.