Wednesday, May 15, 2013

People with depression show disrupted brain 'clock'

Gene activity in the brains of depressed people fail to follow healthy 24-hour cycles, according to a new study published in Monday’s journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Through comparing post-mortem brain samples from mentally healthy donors and those of people who had major depression at the time of their death, researchers found that people with clinical depression show disrupted circadian rhythms across brain regions. In healthy people, of the 16 genes that showed the clearest patterns of cycling, 11 genes cycled around the clock in four or more brain regions. By contrast, in people with major depression, only two of these genes showed clear cycling pattern in more than one region, and none cycled in more than three regions. "They seem to have the sleep cycle both shifted and disrupted," said study researcher Jun Li, a professor of human genetics at the University of Michigan. "They seem to be sleeping at the wrong time of the day, and the quality of their sleep is also different from healthy sleep." The researchers found that the sleep-cycle shift which was held in patients who had a diagnosis of major depression but who had not taken antidepressants before death suggests that it's the disease itself and not the treatment that caused the circadian rhythm problems. Already, symptoms of insomnia and excessive sleep in depressed people have inspired treatments such as light therapy to try to reset the body clock, Li said. The research is confirmation that such light therapy approaches could work and drug might be developed to fix the brain clock, he said.

Obama schedules June 3 mental health conference at the White House to address gun violence
President Barack Obama is planning a mental health conference next month in response to gun violence. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said Obama and Vice President Joe Biden plan to host the conference June 3 at the White House. Carney said attendees will include mental health advocates, health care providers, faith leaders, government officials, educators and people who have experienced mental health problems.Carney said they will discuss how to reduce the stigma for those struggling with mental health problems so they will reach out for help. Carney noted that the vast majority of those with mental health conditions are not violent and are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crimes.

Video: Syrian rebel( zombies) cuts out soldier's heart, eats it

UK company's spyware 'used against Bahrain activist

Spy technology from a UK-based company was used to target a British citizen who became a leading light in Bahrain's Arab spring, according to documents filed in the high court. The witness statement of Dr Ala'a Shehabi is seen by human rights groups as crucial in their attempt to force the government to examine the export of surveillance equipment. They want to secure a judicial review of the government's alleged failure to provide them with information on what action it is taking to establish whether the sale of the technology to repressive regimes is in breach of export-licence controls. Shehabi, who studed at Imperial College London, and has both Bahraini and British citizenship, is one of the founding members of Bahrain Watch, set up following the country's security crackdown in February 2011. Her father is the leader of the Bahrain Freedom Movement. Following the crackdown her husband was arrested and jailed having, she claims, been beaten. He was freed last year. Shehabi herself was arrested in April 2012, during the Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain. She was later released. According to her witness statement, a few weeks after her arrest Shehabi received a series of emails, the first purportedly from Kahil Marzou who was the deputy head of Bahrain's main opposition party, including one containing a virus. Other emails that claimed to be from an Al Jazeera journalist were also infected. Research found that the emails contained a product called FinSpy, distributed by a British company, Gamma International. The witness statement claims that when a person's computer is infected with FinSpy, "it allows access to emails, social media messaging, and Skype calls, as well as copying the files saved on the hard disk. These products also enable whoever is doing the targeting to commandeer and remotely operate microphones and cameras on computers and mobile phones." Shehabi, who has been forced to relocate to Britain, states: "I have real concerns about the Bahrainian regime having effective unfettered access to my computer, reading my emails and monitoring my calls. Not only is this a gross invasion of my privacy, I am concerned that it could put in danger from the Bahraini authorities myself, my family members and other activists." Last November, the campaign group Privacy International provided a dossier of evidence against Gamma International to HM Revenue and Customs, urging it to investigate whether there had been any breach of the export control regime. According to Privacy International, Gamma's technology has been deployed by secret police in 25 countries, many with a history of human rights abuses. The campaign group warns: "This is part of a growing global trend, where human rights defenders, political dissidents and other vulnerable groups around the world are being targeted by increasingly sophisticated state surveillance." Gamma's managing director in Germany, Martin J Muench, did not respond to requests for comment. However, in the past, he has said that Gamma co-operates with UK, US and German export controls, adding: "It appears that during a demonstration one of our products was stolen and has been used elsewhere." Shehabi's witness statement provides vivid testimony of the effects she claims the secret surveillance of her computer system has had on her mental health. "I found it very disturbing that an attempt was being made to spy on me through this medium," she explains. "It upset me a lot, scared me and made me feel quite paranoid. I am very concerned that it appears that a product of a British company is being exported in breach of export controls to be used to attempt to spy on pro-democracy activists such as myself." Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, said the government needed to come clean on whether it was permitting surveillance technology to be exported. "It is critical we understand what if anything it is doing to hold Gamma to account," King said.

HRW urges Bahrain to probe torture claims as 6 more tweeters jailed

Human Rights Watch demands Bahrain immediately probe numerous allegations of torture, saying its refusal could signal the country has become a haven for torturers. This comes as six more tweeters get jail terms for ‘abusing freedom of expression.’ HRW cites multiple reports of torture that emerged during the Formula 1 grand prix held in Bahrain in April. They include accounts of activists and women subjected to electric shocks and forced into signing confessions. In addition, the organization harks back to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report, issued in November 2011 that stated five activists had died in custody of torture since uprisings began against the Sunni ruling class. “If the latest allegations are brushed aside it will be yet more evidence suggesting that Bahrain’s justice system is a haven for torturers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Bahrain’s allies should apply serious pressure on Bahrain to investigate and hold accountable anyone responsible for brutally torturing activists.” Bahrain has blocked the entry of the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, from coming to probe police abuses of power. His visit, which was scheduled to begin on May 8, was indefinitely postponed by the Bahraini authorities. “This is the second time that my visit has been postponed, at very short notice. It is, effectively, a cancellation as no alternative dates were proposed, nor is there a future road map to discuss,” said Mendez, expressing his “disappointment” over the announcement.Protests against the Bahrain’s oppressive Sunni royal family have become commonplace. The country’s 70 per cent Shia claim they are discriminated against and call for a transfer to a democratic system of government. This comes as six tweeters were jailed on Wednesday for insulting King Hamad and ‘misusing the right to free expression.’ According to prosecutors, they posted comments on their Twitter feeds that undermined “the values and traditions of Bahrain's society towards the king." The Bahraini capital, Manama, was hit by mass protests during the grand prix. Activists branded the event “a race for blood” and claimed it was a ploy by the Bahraini authorities to “whitewash” the country’s poor human rights reputation. One of the highest-profile cases of human rights abuses to come out of Bahrain is that of activist Nabeel Rajab, who openly attacked the country’s government following an interview on RT for Julian Assange’s show The World Tomorrow. Nabeel was sentenced to three years in jail for ‘participation in an illegal assembly’ and ‘calling for a march without prior notification.’ Since the beginning of the uprisings against the Bahraini monarchy in 2011, Human Rights Watch has calculated that at least 80 people have been killed and thousands arrested.

Bahrain sentences six tweeters to one year in jail for insulting king

A court in Bahrain has sentenced six tweeters to one year in jail on charges of insulting Bahrain’s monarch, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The Bahraini public prosecutor's office said in a Wednesday statement that the six had been charged and convicted by a lower criminal court for “misusing the right of free expression.” The statement added that the tweeters were accused of posting remarks “undermining the values and traditions of Bahrain's society towards the king on Twitter.” The Bahraini uprising began in mid-February 2011, when the people, inspired by the popular revolutions that toppled the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt, started holding massive demonstrations. The Bahraini government promptly launched a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests and called in Saudi-led Arab forces from neighboring states. Activists in Bahrain employ the microblogging website, Twitter, in a move to report what they describe as regime “violations” against them. Dozens of people have been killed in the crackdown, and the security forces have arrested hundreds, including doctors and nurses accused of treating injured revolutionaries. A report published by Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November 2011 found that the Al Khalifa regime had used excessive force in the crackdown and accused Manama of torturing political activists, politicians, and protesters. Bahrainis say they will continue holding demonstrations until their demand for the establishment of a democratically elected government is met.

Family of jailed Bahraini activist Rajab 'worried'

The wife of jailed Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab has told the BBC she is "very worried" about him. Sumaya Rajab said she had been told by a relative of another prisoner that he had been moved from his cell. She said this happened after Mr Rajab called her on Tuesday telling her he had seen young prisoners being beaten. However, prison authorities have denied the claims. Mr Rajab has served nearly 12 months of a two-year term for encouraging "illegal gatherings". The 48-year-old human rights activist has been one of the leaders of pro-democracy protests that have rocked the Gulf island kingdom since February 2011. Mrs Rajab said she met with the head of the prison on Wednesday, who told her that her husband "is OK and he is in his cell." But she said when she asked to see him "even for two minutes to see he was alright" her request was refused. A government spokesperson contacted by the BBC confirmed that Mr Rajab had not been moved, and said that his wife could see him at a regularly scheduled visit next Monday.Another prominent human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, who was jailed for three months in March, was sentenced last week to an additional three months in prison on a charge related to an illegal gathering, as authorities and the courts continue a crackdown on protest. Her father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is currently serving a life sentence for plotting the overthrow of the government on evidence that is widely accepted as having been secured under torture. Both he and his daughter have been refused family visits for refusing to wear prison uniforms. In another case, a lawyer was sentenced Wednesday to a year in jail after being held responsible for "offensive" tweets attacking King Hamad and the ruling al-Khalifa family.

Battles in Pakistan tribal area displace thousands

Associated Press
A new offensive by the Pakistani military against militants in a northwestern tribal area has displaced thousands of people in the past week, an official said Wednesday. For years, Pakistan has been battling militant groups such as the Taliban in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. Civilians are often caught in the middle of the fighting, and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced over the years of conflict. About a week ago, the military launched a new push in Kurram, one of seven Pakistani tribal regions near the Afghan border, the official and displaced people said. Details of the fighting have not been revealed so far but on Wednesday, Mujahid Hussain, chief of disaster management efforts in the Kurram tribal area said an estimated 35,000 and 49,000 have left their villages in the area. The Pakistani military has launched numerous operations in the past to displace militants based in Kurram and other areas who often travel back and forth into Afghanistan. Most of those who fled are staying with relatives but Hussain says tents would be set up in a refugee camp near the city of Parachinar for those who have nowhere to go. A local resident who fled said the fighting started on May 8 in the central part of the Kurram region, forcing people to flee their homes. "We don't know from which side these mortars and shells are coming from, but we were the ultimate victims and we had no option but to leave our homes in haste," said Malik Hayat Khan, speaking at a press conference Tuesday in Parachinar. Another person who fled, Sadeen Khan, said many families had to spend all their money on hiring a vehicle to help them flee the area. "Whatever cash we had we spent on transportation to save our children," he said. Often when families are displaced from conflicts in the tribal areas, they stay with family members or rent homes. But if the conflict drags on and they're not able to return home, they run out of money and are sometimes forced to move into camps run by the government or aid groups.

PPP credits Presidency for free, fair elections

The Express Tribune
“It’s the first time in Pakistan’s parliamentary history that the Presidency didn’t become a hub of conspiracies during the elections,” the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) claimed on Tuesday crediting President Asif Ali Zardari’s democratic approach for free and fair elections. PPP Senator Dr Karim Khawaja told journalists in Islamabad that Asif Ali Zardari was the first president who remained neutral and did not issue even a single statement during the whole elections process. “In the past, presidents, barring a few, actively supported politicians of their choice in elections and formation of governments,” Khawaja said. Despite reservations, the PPP accepts the overall results for the continuation of democracy in the country, he added. “However, PPP candidates will approach election tribunals wherever they have election-related complaints.” He disclosed that PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will reorganise the party in due course of time. Some leaders, including Aitzaz Ahsan, Yousaf Raza Gilani and Manzoor Wattoo, have offered their resignations from party’s positions on moral grounds and many more might follow suit, he said. The PPP has given sacrifices for democracy in the country and would continue to play a positive role in the future too. He said it was not the first time that the PPP fared badly in the elections. The party had faced similar situation in the 1990 and 1997 elections, and even then it had effectively played its role in parliamentary politics.

Bilawal Bhutto : PPP to play active role as opposition

Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has expressed the resolve that his party would play active role as opposition in the National Assembly, Geo News reported. He was talking at a PPP meeting through video link held at the Bialwal House. President Asif Ali Zardari presided over the meeting attended by PPP’s newly elected MPs. The meeting discussed political situation emerging after the general election. Speaking on the occasion, Bilawal said that the PPP would continue politics of reconciliation and would avoid confrontation.

Election Commission of Pakistan's unsatisfactory Performance

The 2013 election is historic not only because it signifies continuity of the democratic system but also for having been presided over by a newly independent Election Commission of Pakistan as well as the enthusiastic public participation in the electoral exercise despite the threat of extremist violence. Unfortunately, however, the ECP's performance has not come up to public expectations. In fact, it was a poorly managed affair from start to finish. In several polling stations of a sprawling metropolis like Karachi voting started two or more hours behind schedule just because ballot papers or the ECP seal to secure the ballot boxes and the stamp to be affixed on the backside of the ballot papers arrived too late. The other supplies were either missing or inadequate, with the result that even when the voting started the queues moved at a snails pace. To make matter worse, many voters were to discover that they had been waiting in the wrong queue. The ECP use of 'block codes' and serial numbers created that confusion. Locating polling booths, and in many instances even polling stations proved to be quite an ordeal. The political parties were barred from distributing slips to households containing information about polling stations, but the listing system was too complicated for the polling staff and the voters to comprehend. Equally if not more disturbing was the manner in which voting was interrupted in certain Karachi constituencies. As per the pre-polls plan, aside from the provision of police protection, rapid action squads of the security forces were to rush in to stop any untoward incident. But nothing of the sort happened. Consequently, while some of the participants announced boycott of the election, PTI supporters resorted to public protests amid rising tension. Which begs the question, why did the ECP not take notice at the first hint of trouble, and call in the rapid action force to ensure peaceful resumption of voting? Also inexplicable has been the inordinate delay in handing results to candidates at certain constituencies in Karachi and Lahore, as well as for several Balochistan constituencies. Considering that the BNM chief Nawab Akhtar Mengal has been alleging that the establishment wanted to impose its chosen individuals on the Baloch people, the delay could reinforce suspicions of interference in that deeply troubled province. Things being what they are, instead of claiming credit for holding fair and free elections, the ECP needs to look into every formal complaint and come up with satisfactory answers. It must also take serious notice of irregularities, such as in Lower Dir, where women were denied their right to cast vote. Hopefully, it will strictly implement its rule under which the results of any constituency are to be cancelled if the number of women's vote cast is less than ten percent of registered female votes in that constituency.

Balochistan still in crisis

Daily Times
The bomb attack on Inspector General Police (IGP) Balochistan’s residence in Quetta raises many troubling questions. An explosives-laden van driven by a suicide bomber went off just outside the home of the IG and ravaged the vicinity with a 1,500-2,000 kgs blast. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, guilty in the past for horrendous attacks targeting the Hazara Shias in Quetta, has taken responsibility for the attack. The death toll has risen to eight people while dozens have been injured. The question is how could a province rife with insurgency, terrorism and sectarian violence afford a security breach in the high security Red Zone of Quetta? That the IGP could well be the target of the terrorists is not something that needed any deep thought. How did the explosives-laden vehicle breach such tight security in an area where even a sparrow cannot enter without clearance? Law enforcement agencies have been on the hit list of the terrorists and being able to attack such a high profile target would always be one of the desired aims of the terrorists. In the wake of elections when there were threats from both the insurgents and the terrorists, any security lapse reflects on the unprofessionalism of the security agencies and the caretaker government. One hopes for not only a smooth transition of power in Balochistan but for a government that provides solutions to the insurgency and general unrest in the province. The fractured mandate of the Balochistan Assembly could lead to jockeying for turf and space by the various power aspirants. Though the nationalist parties have emerged as a strong contender in these elections, with the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) bagging 10 provincial Assembly and three National Assembly seats, Nawaz Sharif’s stated desire to form a coalition government could well be the outcome. However, the fly in the ointment is the withholding of the results of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), which could cause serious political repercussions. Already BNP-M leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal has refused to accept the results, terming it a conspiracy to keep his party out of power. The issue is not just about the chance given to the nationalist parties to participate in the elections, it is about the space given to all the aggrieved parties kept out of mainstream politics for years that mattered in the troubled province. The decision to hold elections in an insurgency-hit province was always going to be a tough call. Now keeping the results pending of BNP-M and other parties is a blunder. The previous government with its flawed policies increased problems in the province. The new government should find a political solution to the issues afflicting Balochistan. For this to happen, it is important to accept the election results, even if considered flawed, and allow democracy another chance to perform.

Pakistan's Rigged polls & Nawaz

The outcome of 11th May polls must be satisfying for Washington as it wanted a friendly government in Pakistan ahead of the NATO and American troops withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the next year. Besides, the American administration also cherished the desire of seeing an end to Chinese authorities’ involvement in Gwadar port after a contract with that country by the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party government in February this year. The presence of China at the head of Arabian Sea to provide Pakistan a trade corridor to the landlocked Central Asian Republics was something that Washington could hardly digest. The Americans may be eyeing this target to be achieved with the rise of Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N to power. The Sharifs ascendance to power may also satisfy the Tehreeik-i-Taliban Pakistan as a friend at the helm of affairs of the country they have been devastating for decades. The Taliban picked up the momentum during the Musharraf regime and took religious extremism and militancy to new heights during the PPP’s five-year tenure. There now seems a strong possibility that the Taliban may scale down their campaign in most parts of the country except tribal areas where they are pitched against the country’s security forces. Ironically, Washington and the Taliban are showing signs to be soft on the PML-N government in waiting. The twin-nexus also succeeded to effectively sideline major progressive and liberal parties - the PPP, the ANP and the MQM -- to leave no impediments in Nawaz Sharif’s way in accomplishing his agenda. All these fears came true when Mr Sharif said at a news conference at his palatial Raiwind Road home in Lahore on Monday that his government’s top priorities would be to mend fences with India to enhance trade and boost friendship with the United States. He did not at all mention what was his plan were about China’s involvement in Gwadar port project, neither he talked about the Pak-Iran gas pipelines and relationship with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries, also initiated by the PPP government. Simultaneously, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf has demanded recounting of votes in 25 constituencies in the country. Party chief Imran Khan told reporters from his hospital bed on Monday that the PTI had collected ‘concrete’ evidence of sophisticated rigging in polls and this was being sent to the Election Commission. Meanwhile, the PTI’s protest is continuing at a busy crossing of Defence area in that city seeking re-election in NA-125 where Khawaja Saad Rafiq was returned in the midst of controversies. Khawaja was shown losing from this area against a PTI candidate in more than 200 polling stations till midnight on Saturday and the morning transmissions said he had won. The PPP has already alleged that elections in Punjab, particularly its southern districts, were rigged. Meanwhile, Free and Fair Election Network which monitored polls along with some 40 more NGOs, has pointed out gross irregularities in the conduct of elections. It said there were some 49 polling stations across the country where the turnout was reported to be 100 per cent and at one of them situated in Nowshera it was recorded at 271 per cent of the actual registered votes. The NGO wanted that the ECP place statements of vote count of all polling stations on its website before certifying any final result of a constituency. When so many parties are complaining of serious irregularities in the conduct of polls, and some of them are claiming to have collected irrefutable proofs, the CEC must accept the responsibility. The Election Commission has apparently placed the whole gigantic polling exercise under a serious doubt, by failing in convincing most of the population that elections were fair, free and transparent. The people had reposed their trust in the person of Fakharuddin G Ibrahim but this was apparently shaken. No doubt, the coming days will see process of election petitions in the tribunals. But the tribunals must not linger the important litigation as had been happening in the past that some petitions remained undecided even up to the announcement of the next election. The ECP in the meantime should, at least, not include votes of the polling stations with over cent per cent turnout in calculation of results and consider re-polling at these places.