Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saudis demonstrate in Riyadh in support of Abha protests


Saudi protesters have taken to the streets of the capital, Riyadh, in a show of solidarity with the anti-regime demonstrations staged in the southwestern city of Abha.

Saudi women: Pampered or oppressed?

Samar Badawi, a 30-year-old mother of one, has served seven months in jail. Her crime? Disobeying her father.

Badawi, 30, fell foul of Saudi Arabia's guardianship laws, which require women to gain permission from their father, husband or even adult son for many daily activities.

In a case that was highlighted by Human Rights Watch, Badawi was physically abused by her father from the age of 14 after her mother died of cancer.

At the age of 25, she decided to "stand up for herself" and ran away to a women's shelter.She was jailed for seven months after her father brought a "disobedience" case against her and she refused to return to his home.

Badawi was released last year after an online campaign, and eventually got a ruling to transfer her guardianship to her uncle.

She also successfully filed a suit against her father's refusal to allow her to marry.

"I went in a broken woman," she said. "I was very hurt when I went to prison. But I came out victorious and was very proud of myself that I was able to handle those seven months. It wasn't easy."

Badawi added: "When I was alone, I would remember the injustice, from my father, from the judge who was horrible to me.

"I would remember my son. I would remember how even society didn't spare me -- I was insulted a lot and despite the insults, I stayed quiet, I didn't respond. In these moments I would cry."Despite her own trauma, Badawi does not call for a change in the law, but rather for better awareness.

"Our laws are fair, very fair," she said. "If not for the law, I would not have been able to escape the difficult situation I was in.

"The problem is that there is no legal culture here. Women here, from various backgrounds, aren't aware of their rights, there is no awareness.

"That's why I wish that law would be taught in schools from an early age."

Badawi was presented with an International Women of Courage award by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton on March 8. Presented annually, the award recognizes women who have show exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women's rights.

Women's rights is a hot issue in Saudi Arabia, and there is a surprising range of views, from both women and men.

Aside from the guardianship laws, women are not allowed to drive, an issue that grabbed headlines around the world last year when many women challenged the law by getting behind the wheel.

One of those was Najla Hariri, who drove her son to school one day after her driver failed to show up for work.

She continued to do so several times after that, but can no longer drive after she and her husband were both forced to sign legal pledges that she would not drive again.

"What is more upsetting to me than having to sign the pledge is that my 'guardian' was summoned," she said. "I reject the whole idea of his being my 'guardian' because I'm a 47-year-old woman, I should be my own guardian."For Hariri, there is far more to campaign for than driving.

"Saudi women are facing many problems -- divorced women, women in judicial limbo, women who have been abused, issues with inheritance distribution -- we have many problems.

"So we started calling for the establishment of a 'personal status law' to protect these rights," she added.

Hariri said the rights she wants are those already given to women in the Quran and the Sunna, the teachings of Prophet Mohammed.

Also on Inside the Middle East: Saudi's new breed of artists push the limits

But not everyone agrees. Rawda Al Youssef runs a campaign called "My Guardian Knows What's Best For Me" in favor of the controversial system.

She argues that Saudi women are lucky to be looked after and that guardianship reinforces the family as a foundation of society.

"The relationship between men and women inside the family is a complementary relationship and not an equal relationship," said Al Youssef. "The man serves the woman and supervises her affairs inside the home and outside the home."

For Al Youssef, women who campaign for more rights are a pampered minority with no real problems.

"Saudi women -- specifically those who are talking about women's rights -- these come from a social class that is well-off and pampered.

"Bring me a poor woman who talks about these things and I'll say ok, maybe she needs this, but those who talk about women's rights ... these are women who have everything they need and all they're missing is to be able to take their passport and travel as they want, or to drive a car.

"They didn't think about the needs of the poorer class."

While Al Youssef believes there is no appetite from either King Abdullah or society at large for greater women's rights, Samar Fatany is convinced of the opposite.

Fatany, a radio journalist and writer on women's issues who was one of the first women employed in government 30 years ago, believes change will be inevitable, though gradual.

"I think Saudi women really have a great opportunity and a window for change and progress that we really need to take advantage of," she said.

"I think King Abdullah has been a great supporter of women, he has been the champion of women and as a result the whole nation has changed and given great support to women."

Fatany added: "It takes an educated person to know a different way of life, that it doesn't have to be that way.

"If you are a person who is isolated and this is a lifestyle that you know, it doesn't occur to you that there's another way, that you don't have to accept that. This doesn't have to do with religion.

"It is not un-Islamic to drive, it's is not un-Islamic to work, it is not un-Islamic to demand for your rights."

Also on Inside the Middle East: 'Victims of injustice' in post-revolution Egypt speak out

Cleric Sheikh Adnan Bahareth, who insisted on being interviewed over the phone because he did not want to appear on camera with a woman, argued that Saudi women were lucky not to have to drive.

"Men are slaves for women today," he said.

Sheikh Bahareth said if women could drive: "It will add more tasks on a woman's shoulder. She will have to go to the souk on her own, she will have to get the food, she will have to drive the kids to and from school.

"We want to lessen these burdens on the women."

Bahrain hunger striker weak after 36 days

Al Jazeera

Five weeks into his hunger strike, family members say Abdulhadi al-Khawaja,

one of the best-known human rights activists in Bahrain, is now so weak that he can barely stand.

He started the hunger strike on February 8 to protest his own detention and that of several other activists arrested last April. Al-Khawaja and six others were given life sentences by a military court in what Bahraini and international human rights groups have called an unfair trial.

Al-Khawaja, who suffers from diabetes, has lost more than 14kg since he began his fast. He has started to refuse medical examinations - his last one was almost a week ago - and is now threatening to refuse water as well.

"On Sunday his situation was very bad. My mother said she could barely hear him on the phone," said Maryam al-Khawaja, one of his daughters. "He reached a situation where he could not stand up, even to perform his prayers."
'Very, very serious concerns'

Al-Khawaja is one of 14 activists and political leaders arrested last April. He was taken from his home at night, according to members of his family, who say he was beaten and not allowed to bring his medication with him.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), the government-sponsored panel which studied the unrest, corroborated some of those claims in its November report, which said the activists arrested in April were seized by masked men late at night.

"In many cases, the arresting units forcefully entered the homes of these individuals, destroyed personal property, including cars, [and] failed either to identify themselves or to inform the arrested individual of the reasons for arrest or to show arrest warrants," the report said in a section which mentioned al-Khawaja by name.

His family says the abuse continued after his arrest. Al-Khawaja was admitted to a military hospital last year with a cracked jaw and skull, among other injuries, and reportedly underwent several surgeries.

The activists were tried by a military court in May, charged with "organising and managing a terrorist group", among other offences. Seven of them, including al-Khawaja, received life sentences, while the rest received shorter jail terms. Those sentences were upheld following an appeal in September.

Amnesty International has described some of the detainees as "prisoners of conscience" convicted simply for attending protests.

"We have very, very serious concerns about his case, and the cases of the other people," said Said Boumedouha, a researcher at Amnesty who has worked extensively on Bahrain.

"The trial before a military court, the allegations of torture that were never investigated ... and there was a lack of any evidence used to prove that these people used violence, or advocated violence."
'His health is not good'

Al-Khawaja is not the first prisoner to go on hunger strike in Bahrain since widespread unrest began in February 2011. Mahdi Abu Deeb, the head of Bahrain's teachers society, went on a three-week hunger strike to protest his detention. But activists say al-Khawaja's is the first open-ended hunger strike in Bahrain.

There is little public information about his condition; the government has kept quiet about his case and has not allowed independent human rights monitors to visit him. An official with the ministry of human rights declined to comment.

Brian Dooley, an activist with Human Rights First who met recently with ministry officials in Manama, said they told him al-Khawaja was not truly on a hunger strike because he was accepting glucose and "other liquids". The ministry also released a statement last week that said al-Khawaja was in stable condition and receiving regular visits from doctors.

He has been receiving doctor's visits, but al-Khawaja's family dismissed the claims about his health - as did his lawyer, Mohammed al-Jishi, who visited his client in jail on Tuesday night.

"His health is not good. He can't walk, and even talking is hard," al-Jishi said. "He's tired. He's not able to stand up; he needs somebody to help him."

Al-Khawaja is also a citizen of Denmark, where he lived in exile for decades, returning to Bahrain after the government announced a general amnesty in 2001. Danish diplomats have visited him in prison several times, and confirmed his deteriorating health.

The Danish foreign minister has demanded his immediate release, and raised the issue earlier this month in a meeting with Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid al-Khalifa, according to Danish media reports.

"The thing that concerns me the most is refusing to do medical checkups," Maryam al-Khawaja, his daughter, said. "If he enters the critical phase where he needs to go to the hospital, we won't even know."

But the Bahraini government so far has shown little interest in revisiting al-Khawaja's case. His lawyer filed an appeal with the Court of Cassation, Bahrain's highest court, but judges have yet to even set a trial date.

The BICI recommended that a civilian court review all of the convictions handed down after unfair military trials. But most are being reviewed by a committee appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, a body chaired by the king.

"Abdulhadi thinks there is no legal reason to keep him in jail," al-Jishi said. "He won't stop until they release him, or he will die inside."

Can President Obama end 150-year streak?

BY:Christopher Moloney

Tuesday Rick Santorum won the primaries in Mississippi and Alabama which means there is still no clear frontrunner in the GOP race.

But it might not matter.

Because the date of the election may have already guaranteed a Republican candidate will win.

An intriguing pattern has emerged over the last 150 years: When the U.S. Presidential election is held on November 6th the Republican candidate always wins.

In 1860, the first year the presidential election fell on November 6th, Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was elected to office.

The next time the election was held on the 6th of November, Benjamin Harrison, also Republican, won.

On November 6th, 1900, Republican William McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan.

In 1928, Herbert Hoover, a Republican, won on the 6th.

In 1956, on November 6th, Dwight D. Eisenhower defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson to be re-elected.

And Republican incumbent Ronald Reagan defeated Democrat Walter Mondale on November 6, 1984.

The trend doesn't look good for Democrat Barack Obama heading into this year's election.

But all might not be lost for this country's Democrats.Or maybe, despite all of these strange coincidences, it might come down to the voters.

What do you think of these theories? Who are you voting for in this year's election? No, really, do OutFront staffers really have this much free time?

SP Kalam Khan dies in Peshawar suicide attack

As a new wave of violence continues in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on Thursday morning, Superintendent of Police Kalam Khan was killed and five others injured in a suicide attack in Pishtakhara Square, close to Bara, Khyber Agency officials said.

The suicide bomber targeted the vehicle in which Khan was traveling while he was on a routine check, Deputy Superintendent of Police Rahim Shah told The Express Tribune. “I rushed to the site as soon as I heard the blast. The bomber had struck the side of the car where Khan was seated,” he said.

Initial investigations revealed that the bomber was on foot and was hidden behind a tree. Senior Superintendent of Police Investigation, Omar Riaz told The Express Tribune that it seemed the attackers had planned their strategy and knew exactly about Khan’s routine.

He added that possibly there was speed breaker where the police vehicle had to slow down.

District Coordination Officer (DCO) Sairaj Khan who spoke to the media confirmed that it was suicide attack and said that there were about six kg of explosives used to carry out the attack.

An official of the Bomb Disposal Squad told The Express Tribune that the body parts of the suicide bomber had been recovered from the explosion site and that further investigations were underway.

Sources from the hospital said that three of the injured who were shifted to Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) were identified as Basher, Liaquat and Hidayat, while two injured Zeeshan and Johar were brought to the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH).

Two of the injured traveling with Khan had sustained serious injuries.

Khan was serving as the SP for the rural areas of Peshawar and had been a part of many operations against militants, particularly at a time when the areas of Peshawar close to the tribal belt had once again became a breeding ground of the militants. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Khan’s funeral will be offered at the Police Line in Peshawar today.

Pakistan: ‘Hindu girls being forcibly kept in Sindh madrassas’

Hindu girls are being forcibly kept in various madrassas in Sindh and are later forced to marry Muslims, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MNA Dr Azra Fazl told the National Assembly on Thursday. She was speaking on issue of Faryal Shah (Rinkle Kumari) who was allegedly abducted and forced to marry and convert to Islam earlier this month in Sindh.

While speaking on the point of order, Fazl said that Hindus are facing a lot of challenges in Sindh. She stressed the need for legislation to protect minority rights and to end forced conversions.

Fazl, who is also the sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, highlighted the issue in the parliament at a time when her brother received a sharply-worded letter from California Congressman Brad Sherman urging him to take action to ensure the return of Faryal to her family, pursuant to reports that she had been abducted with the help of a PPP lawmaker.

Nafeesa Shah, another MNA from Sindh also endorsed her colleague’s idea and said that the parliament should introduce legislation on “forced conversions”. Various non-Muslims were being forced to accept Islam as being reported by the media, she observed.

“Protection of the minorities should be ensured as enshrined in the Constitution,” Shah added.

Majority of lawmakers including Lal Chand and Mehish Kumar representing minorities in the parliament expressed concerns over the kidnapping and forced conversions of Hindu girls. They said it was the right of every person to accept any religion but nobody can be forced in this regard.

MNA Justice (retd) Fakhar-un-Nisa stressed on the implementation of laws when it comes to solve the issue of minorities. “Minorities’ rights should be protected at all cost.”

Giving a policy statement on floor of the House, Minister of State for Interfaith Harmony and Minorities Affairs Akram Masih Gill said that the present government has taken unprecedented steps for the uplift and empowerment of minorities. He said these include fixation of five percent quota in government jobs and declaration of August 11 as the Minorities Day.

“Parliament should enact a law to avoid forced conversions,” he remarked.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Shehnaz Wazir Ali said that under the 18th Amendment, four seats have been reserved for minorities in the Upper House.

“During the last few years several laws have been enacted including Human Rights Commission for the protection of the rights of women and minorities.”

Forced Islamiat lessons for minorities

Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Dr Araish Kumar added to the conversation by saying that the minorities were being forced to read Islamic studies in Pakistan.

“Our students are being forced to read subject Islamiat in the government schools,” Kumar said adding, “If they refuse to study Islamic studies, they are struck off by the school administration.”

Pakistan: The worst place to be a minority woman

Despite tall claims of every successive government for promoting religious tolerance and termination of discrimination in Pakistan, the minorities of the country are still passing through different kinds of ordeals including sexual harassment, forced conversion, religious discriminated, lack of education, higher rates of infant mortality ratio and fewer job opportunities, a study on the minority women in Pakistan reveals.
The study was conducted by the National Commission for Justice and Peace with the help of a baseline survey conducted in 26 district of Punjab and Sindh, the two provinces where 95 percent of minorities reside. The survey team conducted interviews of 1000 women hailing from Christian and Hindu religions.
RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION: A high proportion of the women interviewed (42.5 percent) stopped short of replying to specific questions on faith-based discrimination, for fear of undesirable consequences if the issue was discussed. Nevertheless, 43.2% of the respondents said that they or a member of their family had been discriminated against while 14.3% said they never faced such discrimination. Twenty-seven per cent of the women said they had faced difficult and derogatory questions and 19 percent said that Muslim majority members had disallowed them from eating with them. A half of the women questioned said they had not come across any discrimination regarding their religious rituals, rites or wearing a symbol of their faith.
MINORITY WOMEN AND LAWS: The report criticises the Pakistani constitution for giving rights to minority members only “on paper”, saying that “religious discrimination” is part of the constitution. It states that if a person converts to another religion from Islam, he or she is considered an apostate and a blasphemer, which makes discrimination “de-facto” in the country. The report notes that while minority laws have not been reviewed since 1947, Islamic legislation such as the Hudood Laws applies to religious minorities, contradicting their personal laws and at times infringing on their freedom as well. It cites the Christian Divorce Act 1869, according to which a Christian woman is not treated equally, as still being in place.
EDUCATION: Circumstances aren’t any easier in educational institutions. When asked about instances of religious discrimination by teachers, 71 percent of the respondents chose not to reply. The 29 percent who did reply betrayed fear. They said they were often asked to convert to Islam, an experience that is common to both male and female students from minority communities.
When asked if teachers actively tried to discourage discriminatory attitudes 46 percent of the respondents said that teachers encouraged the intermingling of students from different faiths. At the time of admission, merit appears to take some precedence of religion as 47 percent of the respondents said they had faced no hurdles due to their faith at the time of seeking admissions.
WORKPLACE ATTITUDES AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION: Forty-seven per cent of the interviewees said that they had been discriminated against in the workplace in the form of a refusal of a holiday, being made to work on a holiday, paid lower wages, denied increments and sudden terminations and transfers. Although the study found that the respondents were not sensitised for political participation or to rally for social change and rights, 74 percent of them were registered to vote and 65 percent had exercised that right.

“No Christian was awarded a laptop, taxi or a plot in CM Shahbaz Sharif’s schemes, what more needs to be said?”
PPP leader Napoleon Qayyum

“Muslim men are no different from general Pakistani men. I have been in situations and Muslim men, knowing that I am a Christian, didn’t hesitate to help.”
Marilyn Naeem, an MPhil student from FC College

“Muslims normally abstain from sharing their utensils with us,”
Bhai Ram, a Hindu

“The bias is not religious, men think as men first. Their religion usually becomes secondary when it comes to victimising women,”
Irha Shaukat, a feminist

“Extremism, both religious and secular kind, is rampant in Pakistan. Discrimination is part of no religion, be it Islam or Christianity or any other,”
Amna Rehman, a madrassa student

Afghanistan wants early takeover of security: Karzai

Afghanistan wants to take over control of the nation's security in 2013 not 2014 and for US troops to pull out of villages, President Hamid Karzai said Thursday, just days after a US soldier massacred 16 villagers.

Karzai told visiting US defence chief Leon Panetta that "Afghanistan is ready to take overall security responsibility", a statement from his office said.

"Our demand is that this process should be executed sharply and the responsibility should be handed over to to Afghans."

Karzai said both sides should work together so that the process of handing security from international troops to Afghan forces would be completed in 2013 rather than 2014, the statement said.

The president also wants the United States to pull all its troops out of villages, where they have outposts, and relocate them in their bases.

International forces should "be withdrawn from villages and relocated in their bases", the statement said.

Panetta's visit had been billed as an opportunity to smooth over relations with Afghan leaders, which took a severe knock when a US soldier allegedly massacred 16 villagers on Sunday and copies of the Koran were burnt last month.

Panetta said after the meeting he was "confident" the United States and Afghanistan would work out a treaty allowing a US military presence in the country beyond a pullout in 2014.

Panetta said he was optimistic that both sides would reach an agreement on night raids -- a major issue blocking the treaty -- ahead of a NATO summit in Chicago in May.

Sharifs committed contempt of court

Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Raja Riaz has accused the Sharif brothers of committing contempt of court by terming the Mehran Bank scandal a conspiracy against PML(N) and urged the Supreme Court to take notice of their statement.

Speaking at a press conference along with PPP leaders Shaukat Basra and Sajida Mir, here Wednesday, Raja Riaz said General Jilani was the creator of the PML (N), which knows only “the politics of Lifafa (envelop).” He said the PML(N) was facing its political death the process of which will be completed in the next general election.

He said: “Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif pretended to be Hajjis, but the Mehran Bank scandal has unveiled their real faces. Why is Nawaz Sharif not going to the apex court to attend the Mehrangate scandal proceedings.”

He said that President Asif Ali Zardari went through 11 years’ rigorous imprisonment and faced the allegations boldly but Sharif brothers could not bear two months imprisonment rather fled from the country reaching a secret deal with the dictator. Raja Riaz asked Shahbaz Sharif to take oath on the Holy Quran in the Punjab Assembly to prove his innocence in the Mehrangate scandal, and he should quit if he failed to do so. Raja Riaz said that the N-League besides seeking apology from the nation should repay the money equating the amount with the value of gold in 1990. He said that Sharif brothers should also explain that how they purchased property of millions of dollars in London and Steel Mills in Saudi Arabia.

Pak SC warns ex generals of ominous consequences in 1990 election funding cases

The Pakistan Supreme Court has warned former generals that their confession on funding the country's politicians to rig the 1990 elections can have serious consequences.
"Bear in mind that you were sitting generals at that time and were holding esteemed designations. Your confessions can have serious repercussions. Almost all the matters are now settled and we will soon decide the case," the Express Tribune quoted the warning, as saying.
A three-member bench of the court was hearing Asghar Khan's petition alleging that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) rigged the 1990 general elections by distributing millions of rupees among several politicians.
The bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, said it could make the report and in-camera briefings on the matter public, adding that it seemed the intelligence agencies were not working within their mandate.
The court also sought Pakistan Attorney-General Maulvi Anwar ul Haq's assistance in the case, particularly regarding the role of intelligence agencies in political affairs of the country.
Former ISI chief General Assad Durrani said that he was individually responsible for his crime and added that the ISI was not involved in the issue.
"Despite the fact that you have conceded your role in the disbursement of national money during the 1990 election and there remains no ambiguity in this regard, in terms of constitutional provision, we are asking you (to engage lawyers)... so you do not complain that court did not give you chance...," Justice Chaudhary said in response.
Former Mehran Bank chief and central character in the scandal Younis Habib has submitted another affidavit in response to former army chief General (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg and Assad Durrani's affidavits.