Wednesday, February 18, 2015

With kidnapping, Bahrain follows ISIL playbook log


Citing “brotherly ties of kinship,” the Khalifa dictatorship of Bahrain has pledged the aid of the Bahraini Defense Forces to Jordan in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The regime’s kidnapping on Monday of Bahraini human rights defender Hussain Jawad, however, suggests the ruling family might also have a lot in common with the jihadist threat it claims to be fighting.
The chairman of the European-Bahraini Organization for Human Rights (EBOHR), Jawad was at risk of being tortured, according to a report from Amnesty International. After being snatched from his home by masked police officers, he was taken to the Criminal Investigations Directorate — an affiliate of the Ministry of Interior notorious for the torture of detainees who are in the process of being charged with a crime.
Chairman of @HussainMJawad arrested tonight already due in court Feb 25 in separate case charged with insulting the king.
Reports surfaced on Wednesday that Jawad was going to be released, according to his lawyer Reem Khalaf. But at the time of publication, Jawad has yet to be returned home to his family.
This wouldn’t be the first time the island kingdom abducted and tortured a political dissident. Loved by the West for, among other things, hosting the U.S. Fifth Fleet and its hostility toward Iran, Bahrain has been violently repressing peaceful protests and political opposition while implementing only piecemeal reforms recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, according to a report in Al-Monitor. Feb. 14 marked the fourth anniversary of Bahrain’s failed uprising and was predictably marked by violent clashes between security forces and protesters who have become disillusioned by the limits of peaceful political expression.
Jawad’s wife, Asma Darwish, is the head of information and media relations for the EBOHR and immediately took to Twitter on Monday to report the kidnapping of her husband, and numerous human rights activists followed suit. The Irish human rights organization Front Line Defenders said “masked men in civilian clothes” kidnapped Jawad and held him incommunicado for 10 hours before he was finally allowed to speak by phone to his wife.
According to Darwish’s tweets about her conversation with her husband, he may have been tortured already.
His voice was so weak,he barely talked those 4 words. I am confident he was subjected to torture and ill-treatment @HussainMJawad
The terror that incidents like these inspire for loved ones is reminiscent of the pain felt by the family members of ISIL’s victims.
“To have masked men raid your house at dawn is scary, specifically when holding your 2-year-old son between your arms,” Darwish told me over Skype. “I am worried a lot. When Hussain called, that one only call ... I heard noises and strange sounds. He hardly spoke. He left me there, broken beyond repair — yet feeling more empowered to fight back to bring my husband home.”
When armed masked men of ISIL kidnap and torture their prisoners, the U.S. and U.K. lead the charge in denouncing these actions in the strongest terms. But when their favorite Arab dictatorships, with which they have all kinds of cozy arrangements and mutual geopolitical interests, employ similar violent and brutal tactics to suppress political freedoms, the West looks the other way while entrenching its vested military and political objectives.
In a recent column at Middle East Eye, author Hussain Abdulla writes that “Western countries appear to be employing the ‘stability over democracy’ approach in the Gulf,” as combating ISIL is seen as a bigger priority.
The U.S. valued parking its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain long before the rise of ISIL. But as Abdulla points out, by shoring up support for Bahrain and other allied Arab dictatorships in the name of combating ISIL, the U.S. is all but guaranteeing the rise of future violent extremist groups in Bahrain by allowing the regime to continue committing its brazen human rights abuses.
After serving a two-year sentence for tweets that he wrote during the uprising, Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison shortly after his release for tweeting that “many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.”
As if eager to vindicate his claims, the regime determined that the best course of action would be to follow ISIL’s lead: lock him up in a cage for the high crime of blaspheming the state.
Jawad was previously detained multiple times by the authorities and is already facing charges of insulting the king, according to a report in Middle East Eye. It remains to be seen if new charges will be brought in connection with his latest detention. His case, however upsetting, is unfortunately just one in a long line of victims who had the temerity to challenge and question the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Bahrain. Meanwhile, Bahrainis can rest assured that wherever there are masked gunmen throwing innocents into the back of a vehicle, the U.S. will not stand idly by, so long as it’s the right kind of villain behind the mask.
Public Prosecution ordered to release Chairman @hussainmjawad nearly 8 hours ago. CID didn't call family to receive him yet.
Joseph Sabroski is a freelance journalist who writes about U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East.

Saudi court upholds death verdicts for 2 protesters

A court in Saudi Arabia has upheld death sentences for two protesters over taking part in anti-government demonstrations.
European-Saudi Organization for Human Rights broke the news on Wednesday, identifying the two as Ali Saeed Al Rebh and Mohammad Feisal al-Sheyoukh.
The Specialized Criminal Court of Appeal, which deals with terrorism cases, did not allow the two defendants to have their lawyers present at the court session. 
The two protesters were sentenced to death over taking part at anti-government demonstrations in the town of Awamiyah in Eastern Province, where Shia Muslims remain dissident over the violation of their rights by the Saudi monarchy.
The court also upheld a 15-year jail term handed to Saudi lawyer and human rights activist, Waleed Abulkhair.
Since 2011, protesters have held numerous demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, mainly in Qatif and Awamiyah in the Eastern Province.
The Al Saud government has come under fire from international human rights organizations for failing to address the rights situation in the monarchy.
Rights groups say Riyadh has persistently implemented repressive policies that stifle freedom of expression, association, and assembly.

#RaifBadawi - Shaming Saudi Arabia

The voices of the free may save the life of a brutalized blogger
The example set by the early Americans who met in Philadelphia to write a Constitution for free men continues to be a beacon to “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” in the words of the poet Emma Lazarus. We, the most fortunate of men and women, sometimes forget the debt everyone owes to the men who understood that all men are equal in the eyes of the Creator, and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by their governments. The yearning for freedom to speak their minds, write what they want and circulate their opinions, burns in the hearts of men and women everywhere.
Those not privileged to have been born here or to make it to a new home here, are often much less fortunate. Raif Badawi is a Saudi Arabian blogger who founded and edits the website called Free Saudi Liberals, established to give his fellow citizens a place to express their opinions about how they are ruled, and even to discuss state-mandated Islam. Few Americans have heard of Mr. Badawi, but for this urge to speak he was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for believing that he is entitled to express his opinions. But first he must be flogged with 600 lashes of the whip.
His conviction was overturned on appeal, but that was only part of the travesty of decency. The government doubled down, tried him again and imposed an even harsher sentence: 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, to be administered 50 at a time over a period of 20 weeks. Then he must pay a fine of a quarter of a million dollars.
Mr. Badawi received the first 50 lashes, beaten to a pulp and within an inch of his life. The government suspended further beating, not as an act of Islamic mercy, but lest he die before he could be properly punished. The civilized world was outraged, and a Princeton professor decided to try to do something about it. Robert George has been working to shine a light to shame the barbarity of the Saudi government.
Professor George is a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and has persuaded six of his nine fellow commissioners to sign a letter to the Saudi government, offering to take Mr. Badawi’s place and receive the remaining lashes. Katrina Lantos-Swett, chairman of the commission and president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, is circulating a petition signed by another 500 persons volunteering, like Mr. George and his colleagues, to stand in for Mr. Badawi.
Shame is an unlikely persuader in the Middle East, but Mr. Badawi has not been further flogged since Ms. Lantos-Swett and Mr. George first shamed the Saudi kingdom. The Saudis have delayed the flogging and the U.S. State Department, not usually counted on to show such concern for human rights, has filed a letter of complaint on behalf of the people of the United States.
If Mr. Badawi is ultimately saved from further punishment that is nothing short of pornographic, it will be the work of more voices united in the cause. Saudi Arabia is an important ally in some ways, but the new king must drag the kingdom a few centuries forward into the present day. The new king has an opportunity to set things right, to establish his kingdom as something more refined than the Islamic State. The king should commute this sordid sentence if he wants the respect and deference of decent men everywhere.

Saudi Arabia Must Help End Islamist Terrorism

In recent days, the dark ideology of Islamic terrorism has been implemented, among other places, by massacres in a kosher deli in Paris, in Belgium towns, outside a synagogue in Copenhagen, and in Libya where dozens of Christian Copts have been murdered.  It must be countered.
Destiny makes Saudi Arabia crucial in the war against terrorism. Despite the fact that is responsible for funding and supporting the development of jihad and Islamist terrorism, it must now change its strategy and transform itself into the key leader in the war against what has become the Islamist menace to all civilization, including its own.
Saudi Arabia is a Janus-head personified, politically and religiously, by an agreement made in 1744 when the leader of the Saud family made a pact with the founder of Wahhabism, the extreme form of Sunni Islam. In exchange for their support of the Saud family, that family would protect followers of Wahhabism and adhere to its doctrine. The country still rests on that pact, an alliance between the royal family and the ulema, the religious elite of scholars. The wheels of change grind slowly in Saudi Arabia, a country led by a ruling family, the aging sons of the King Abdulaziz, the founder of the regime in 1932.
Power is divided between the two sets of authority: the ulema control mosques, culture, and education; the monarchy controls foreign and military policy. But the religious authorities have considerable influence over government decisions, in the judicial and educational systems, and in religious and social behavior. The Council of Senior Ulama, advises the king on religious matters. The religious police force, Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, enforces dress codes and other personal behavior.
The House of Saud is an autocratic and virtually absolute monarchy, now headed by King Salman aged 79, who had been governor of Riyadh for 48 years. The country developed its economy and lives on its oil wealth, possessing the largest oil reserves and being the biggest oil exporter in the world.
The sins of Saudi Arabia are familiar. Everyone is aware of the lack of freedom in the kingdom, and especially its inequity regarding women who are treated as the property of male relatives. A number of reforms, introduced by the late King Abdullah, allow women to play a more visible role in public life. However, women are still restricted in many ways. They are still controlled by male guardians who must give them permission to travel, work, or get medical treatment. They are not legally permitted to drive a car.
At the core of this disregard for human rights is the religious influence. The problem for Saudi Arabia is the reliance of the royal family on the extremist Wahhabi version of Islam. Article 1 of the 1992 Saudi Basic Law of Governance states, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic State… Its constitution is the Holy Koran, and the Sunni Traditions of the Prophet.” Illustrating the connection, King Fahd in 1986 changed his title from “His Majesty” to “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” Mecca and Medina. Sharia law is the basis of the legal system.
Wahhabism sustains the country. It declares that it perpetuates the religious purity of the Prophet Muhammad, and commands obedience to the state. It propagates an ideology of hatred of Shias, as well as Christians and Jews. It believes in strict punishment for offenders. Little dissent is allowed, journalists are arrested and flogged, and criticism of its doctrine is severely punished. Human rights are violated by arbitrary arrest and secret trials. Estimates suggest that more than 5,000 people are political prisoners. Paradoxically, in spite of its lack of human rights Saudi Arabia was elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council for 2014-2016.
Because of its alliance with Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia has been the world’s largest funder and promoter of jihadism. It has contributed to the explosion of Islamist terrorism around the world.  More than $100 billion has been spent on exporting the Wahhabi jihadist interpretation of Islam. Saudi Arabia has funded more than 1500 mosques and madrassas (Islamic schools), has provided training for countless fundamentalist imans, financed media and publishing companies to issue textbooks advocating jihad, created fellowship programs to promote an extremist point of view in academic programs and cultural centers. Wahhabism is the ideological basis of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and terrorist groups throughout the world.
If Saudi Arabia is going to find solutions to the complex, interrelated problems with which it is confronted, it has to loosen its ties to and its reliance on Wahhabism. There are four basic problems. One problem is its decisions on the production and price of oil, and the impact of those decisions on the economies of outside countries: the U.S. shale industry, Russia, and especially on Iran. Another is the concern about President Barack Obama’s actions regarding a nuclear agreement with Iran. A third is the challenge to the Saudis and the ambition of Iran to become the dominant power in the Middle East. But the fourth underlies the first three: it is the dominant threat to Saudi Arabia itself as well as the rest of the world of the continuing and expanding Islamist terrorism.

There are signs that the Saudis have begun to understand the Islamist threat they have done so much to unleash. They have gone so far as to censure President Obama for his weak, inadequate response to Islamic terrorism. In 2011, Saudi Arabia criticized the Obama administration for its withdrawal of support for Egyptian President Mubarak, and for giving some approval to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  In contrast to the U.S., Saudi Arabia supported and assisted the military coup that overthrew Egyptian President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt. Above all the Saudis criticized Obama for his unseemly haste to court and negotiate with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani on nuclear issues.
In a political surprise, Saudi Arabia, after being elected to a non-permanent rotating seat on the UN Security Council on October 17, 2013, turned it down, accusing the body of “double standards” that prevent it from carrying out its duties and responsibilities in keeping world peace and security. In effect it was a reprimand of U.S. policy. The Saudis had given advance approval to the anticipated U.S. strike on Syria after President Assad had used chemical weapons to kill his own people. But Obama did not launch a punitive strike against Syria which had crossed the “red line,” he had drawn as an ultimatum, and the international community also failed to act. 
The Saudis fear that Obama will make a deal with Iran that will not effectively reduce its nuclear capacity. They are attempting, among other things, to check Iranian influence by providing funding for the Lebanese military, engaged in the struggle against Hizb’allah.
These actions suggest that the Saudis are now conscious both of the havoc in the world resulting from jihadism and the danger of a powerful Iran. Saudi Arabia must go further and play a major role in extinguishing the flame of the dark Islamist ideology. Its royal family must limit the influence of Wahhabism in the country and the spread of its ideas abroad. By ending all funding of groups relating to terrorist activities, controlling the use of mosques and madrassas used for terrorist purposes, limiting the training of fundamentalist imams, and declaring that jihadism is not warranted by true Muslims, it can accomplish from within what the democratic West, so far, has been unable to do from without.

Kuwaiti man critical of Saudi Arabia gets increased jail term

Blogger Saleh al-Saeed was given an extended two-year sentence by the appeal court for allegedly undermining Kuwait-Saudi relations.

Kuwait’s appeals court on Wednesday increased the four year jail sentence by two years to an activist who tweeted comments deemed offensive to Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
According to AFP, Saleh al-Saeed was sentenced to four years in jail in December by a lower court for posting comments on Twitter in which he accused Saudi Arabia of grabbing land in Kuwait and Bahrain.
The lower court charged that because of the 16 tweets he had posted online in October, he had endangered Saudi-Kuwaiti relations and undermined the kingdom.
Yet other sources elaborated on Saeed’s charges, pointing to his interview  in August with Syrian channel Sama in which he lashed out against Saudi Arabia and its policies in Syria, while defending the actions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Kuwait Times reported in December 2014 that the public prosecution charged Saeed of “carrying out acts of aggression against Saudi Arabia” and a number of Saudi princes as he defended the Syrian government against the rebels believed to be backed by Riyadh and other Gulf states. According to the Watan news website, Saeed blamed Saudi Arabia as being responsible for the massacres of the Syrians.
The appeals court raised the jail sentence to six years but did not give a reason for its decision. Courts in Kuwait usually provide details of ruling days after they are made.
Saeed, who is in his 50s, has in the past few years repeatedly criticised Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other Gulf states for their hostile position towards the Syrian government.
The sentence is not final as it can be challenged in the Supreme Court.
Human Rights Watch said in its latest World Report that the Kuwaiti government aggressively targeted free speech throughout 2014.
Kuwait has cracked down on activists for making comments seen as critical of the oil-rich state’s ruler and other Arab leaders, especially in the Gulf. For example, the Taher Group Law Firm reported that Ahmad Fadhel was sentenced to four years in prison in February after writing messages on Twitter that were deemed insulting to Kuwaiti judges.
Kuwait authorities last month detained several online activists allegedly for comments deemed offensive to Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah. No one has so far been sent to court.

Video - President Obama Speaks at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

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Op-Ed: President Obama: Our fight against violent extremism

The United States has made significant gains against terrorism. We've decimated the core al Qaeda leadership, strengthened homeland security and worked to prevent another large-scale attack like 9/11.
At the same time, the threat has evolved. The al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen actively plots against us. Since 9/11, terrorists have murdered U.S. citizens overseas, including in the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Here in the United States, Americans have been killed at Ft. Hood and during the Boston Marathon.
In Syria and Iraq, the terrorist group we call ISIL has slaughtered innocent civilians and murdered hostages, including Americans, and has spread its barbarism to Libya with the murder of Egyptian Christians. In recent months, we've seen deadly attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris and Copenhagen.
Elsewhere, the Pakistan Taliban massacred more than 100 schoolchildren and their teachers. From Somalia, al-Shabaab has launched attacks across East Africa. In Nigeria and neighboring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps men, women and children.
In the face of this challenge, we must stand united internationally and here at home. We know that military force alone cannot solve this problem. Nor can we simply take out terrorists who kill innocent civilians. We also have to confront the violent extremists — the propagandists, recruiters and enablers — who may not directly engage in terrorist acts themselves, but who radicalize, recruit and incite others to do so.
This week, we'll take an important step forward as governments, civil society groups and community leaders from more than 60 nations gather in Washington for a global summit on countering violent extremism. Our focus will be on empowering local communities.
Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL promote a twisted interpretation of religion that is rejected by the overwhelming majority of the world's Muslims. The world must continue to lift up the voices of Muslim clerics and scholars who teach the true peaceful nature of Islam. We can echo the testimonies of former extremists who know how terrorists betray Islam. We can help Muslim entrepreneurs and youths work with the private sector to develop social media tools to counter extremist narratives on the Internet.
We know from experience that the best way to protect people, especially young people, from falling into the grip of violent extremists is the support of their family, friends, teachers and faith leaders. At this week's summit, community leaders from Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Boston will highlight innovative partnerships in their cities that are helping empower communities to protect their loved ones from extremist ideologies.
More broadly, groups like al Qaeda and ISIL exploit the anger that festers when people feel that injustice and corruption leave them with no chance of improving their lives. The world has to offer today's youth something better.
Governments that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity.
Finally — with al Qaeda and ISIL peddling the lie that the United States is at war with Islam — all of us have a role to play by upholding the pluralistic values that define us as Americans. This week, we'll be joined by people of many faiths, including Muslim Americans who make extraordinary contributions to our country every day. It's a reminder that America is successful because we welcome people of all faiths and backgrounds.
That pluralism has at times been threatened by hateful ideologies and individuals from various religions. We've seen tragic killings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012 and at a Jewish community center in Kansas last year.
We do not yet know why three young people, who were Muslim Americans, were brutally killed in Chapel Hill, N.C. But we know that many Muslim Americans across our country are worried and afraid. Americans of all faiths and backgrounds must continue to stand united with a community in mourning and insist that no one should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.
Our campaign to prevent people around the world from being radicalized to violence is ultimately a battle for hearts and minds. With this week's summit, we'll show once more that — unlike terrorists who only offer misery and death — it is our free societies and diverse communities that offer the true path to opportunity, justice and dignity.

Video - President Obama Meets with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

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Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan Topped 10,000 in 2014


Increased ground fighting led to the highest civilian casualty rate in Afghanistan since record-keeping began in 2009

More civilians died in Afghanistan in 2014 than in any year since the year the United Nations began keeping records in 2009, signaling a new level of violence and ground engagements between Taliban insurgents and the embattled Kabul-based government.
The U.N. said Wednesday that it documented 10,548 civilian casualties in 2014, including almost 3,700 deaths, a 25% rise in fatalities over the year before. It was the first year casualties surpassed 10,000 since record-keeping began in 2009.
The bloodshed has been caused primarily by the change in ground warfare, with fewer American-led coalition troops fighting and less air support available to keep the Taliban from massing in large groups. Afghan troops are facing the insurgents in a head-on fight, increasing casualties on the ground.
“In communities across Afghanistan, increased ground fighting among parties to the conflict and more IED attacks exacted a heavy toll on Afghan civilians,” said the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom. “Rising civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 attests to a failure to fulfill commitments to protect Afghan civilians from harm.”

Video - Bangladesh vs Afghanistan: Bangladesh thump Afghanistan by 105 runs

Afghans ordered out of Pakistan as 'diversion' in militant fight

Afghan immigrants ordered out of Pakistan in what officials say is a bid to root out militants are, some analysts say, scapegoats being used to distract attention from the authorities' failure to end violence.
Thousands of Afghans unnerved by threats of arrest and growing hostility towards them have flocked out of Pakistan back home, leaving behind boarded-up shops, houses and restaurants.
Within hours of a Dec. 16 attack on a school in the city of Peshawar in which more than 150 people were killed, officials pointed the finger at Afghanistan and vowed to crack down on illegal immigrants whom they say furnish a cover for militants.
Thousands of Afghans have since left, with long queues of cars loaded with belongings snaking through the Khyber Pass up to the border. Many more are packing their bags in Peshawar and preparing to leave.
Shahkirullah Sabawoon, an Afghan clothes merchant in Peshawar, described a grim atmosphere as he prepared to leave.
"Pakistan is our second home and we have invested billions of rupees in different businesses but police ... are asking us to shut our businesses and leave the country," he said.
He said many in the community were too afraid to visit the market and check their shops for fear of being arrested.
"We have made up our minds to leave Pakistan and move our businesses to Afghanistan but it's not an easy task," he said.
Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director at the International Crisis Group, said the authorities were using Afghan refugees as a scapegoat, even though it is possible that some Taliban might surreptitiously mingle in Afghan refugee communities.
"It is so easy to exploit them. They have no legal framework to protect them," she said. "Targeting Afghan refugees is a diversion."
There are more than three million Afghans living in Pakistan, many of whom migrated in the 1970-80s during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Later, thousands followed after the hardline Taliban came to power.
Although some have proper registration papers, many are undocumented, making them vulnerable to police intimidation.
After decades in Pakistan, many have lost contact with relatives in Afghanistan, making their return even more worrying as Taliban militants step up their campaign following the withdrawal of most U.S.-led troops in December.
The International Organisation for Migration said more than 22,000 undocumented Afghans flocked across the border at Torkham in January, more than twice the figure for the whole of 2014.
Almost 1,500 others were deported in the same month, double the number of deportees in December.
Pakistani officials say they only target those who have no proper papers or are involved in crime.
"During the crackdown, police have even recovered illegal weapons from unregistered Afghans," said Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani, a Pakistani provincial government minister. "Some of them were involved in crime and terrorism."
Ajmal Khan, 38, was seven years old when his parents moved to Pakistan to flee Soviet invaders. He is now a father of six and owns a restaurant in Peshawar which he sees as home.
He is anxious about what awaits him when he gets back to his home town in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province. Half his family have already gone.
"I love Peshawar ... It has given us shelter for these long years," he said, adding that a court had ordered his deportation even though he had valid paperwork.
"As soon as I sell the restaurant, I will leave Pakistan with the rest of my family."