Sunday, June 7, 2015

Turkish Music Video - İrem Derici - Değmezsin Ağlamaya

Video - #TurkeyElection - Kurds celebrate HDP's success

Video Report - Kurds could play pivotal role in Turkey election Sunday

The end of Erdoğan’s rise in Turkey


Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) lost its parliamentary majority in the June 7 election - despite holding onto its number one position. 

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğşlu looks set to harvest around 260 seats for the AK Parti in the 550-seat Turkish parliament, failing to fulfil the 276 seats needed to form a single-party government and needing support from other parties to secure a vote of confidence.

There are two other main outcomes of the AK Parti’s vote share dropping from 50 percent in the 2011 election to 41 percent yesterday:

1- Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan can bid farewell to his target of a new constitution based on a strong presidential model with weaker checks and balances. Despite his ambitious campaign parallel to Davutoğlu’s during the election, putting his credibility on the line, Turkish voters have clearly rejected that plan. The drop in the AK Parti’s votes is a defeat for Erdoğan’s desire to shift the regime from a parliamentary to a presidential one. It is possible to conclude that Turkish voters opted for the continuation of the parliamentary system.

2- The Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) surpassed the unfair 10 percent threshold by 2 percent and got into parliament with a strong presence. The HDP managed to do this by transforming itself from an exclusively pro-Kurdish party into a party in favor of rights and freedoms for all in Turkey and gaining support from Turkish leftists and liberals by promising that if it gets into parliament it would not bargain with the AK Parti over Erdoğan’s presidency. The result will give the HDP a stronger hand in the Kurdish peace process talks, if those talks continue.

It is still not clear what will happen next, but a three-party coalition between the opposition parties - the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the HDP - is not very likely, as all three have previously denied the possibility.

A coalition of the AK Parti with any of the other parties could be possible, on the condition that Erdoğan’s presidential system is excluded. Also, a minority AK Parti government could be on the cards, with opposition deputies giving a vote of confidence to such a government in order to weaken it further.

It is also possible to speculate whether Erdoğan and the AK Parti have been victims of their own ambition when keeping the 10 percent threshold, a remnant of the military regime after 1980, in the name of “political stability.” If they had reduced it to 5 or even 7 percent, yes they would again lose the chance for Erdoğan’s presidential system, but they could have kept their parliamentary majority. Because of the complicated calculation system that the 10 percent threshold brings with it, the AK Parti has lost its parliamentary majority. Because it insisted on an unfair system in pursuit of grander ambitions, the AK Parti lost its majority despite winning 42 percent of the votes. In contrast, back in 2002 it was able to win a big majority with only 34 percent of the votes.

Some may come to see this result as the curse of the 10 percent threshold, but whatever is the case June 7 clearly marked the end of Erdoğan’s rise in Turkish politics.

Turkey’s Ruling Party Loses Parliamentary Majority

Turkish voters delivered a rebuke on Sunday to PresidentRecep Tayyip Erdogan as his party lost its majority in Parliament in a historic election that dealt a blow to his ambition to rewrite Turkey’s Constitution and increase his power.
The election results represented a significant setback to Mr. Erdogan, an Islamist who has steadily increased his power as president, a partly but not solely ceremonial post. After more than a decade as prime minister, Mr. Erdogan has pushed for more control of the judiciary and cracked down on any form of criticism, including prosecutions of those who insult him on social media, but his efforts appeared to have run aground on Sunday.
The election was also a significant victory to the cadre of Kurds, liberals and secular Turks who found their voice of opposition to Mr. Erdogan during sweeping antigovernment protests two years ago.
Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., still won by far the most seats in Parliament, but not a majority, according to preliminary results released Sunday night. The outcome suggested contentious days of jockeying ahead as the party moves to form a coalition government. Already, analysts were raising the possibility Sunday of new elections if a government cannot be formed swiftly. Many Turks were happy to see Mr. Erdogan’s powers curtailed, even though the prospect of a coalition government evokes dark memories of political instability and economic malaise during the 1990s.
With 99 percent of the votes counted, the A.K.P. had won 41 percent of the vote, according to TRT, a state-run broadcaster, down from nearly 50 percent during the last national election in 2011. The percentage gave it an estimated 258 seats in Turkey’s Parliament, compared with the 327 seats it has now.
“The outcome is an end to Erdogan’s presidential ambitions,” said Soner Cagaptay, an expert on Turkey and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Almost immediately, the results raised questions about the political future of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who moved to that position from that of foreign minister last year and was seen as a loyal subordinate of Mr. Erdogan. Speaking Sunday night from a balcony at the party headquarters in Ankara, Mr. Davutoglu struck tones of triumph and optimism, touting his party as the winner because it won the most seats, without mentioning the loss of its majority.
“The elections once again showed that the A.K. Party is the backbone of Turkey,” he said.
Mr. Erdogan, who as president was not on the ballot Sunday, will probably remain Turkey’s dominant political figure even if his powers have been rolled back, given his outsized personality and his still-deep well of support among Turkey’s religious conservatives, who form the backbone of his constituency. But even among those supporters, including ones in Kasimpasa, the Istanbul neighborhood where Mr. Erdogan spent part of his youth, there are signs that his popularity is flagging.
“A lot of people in Kasimpasa have become disheartened by Erdogan’s aggressive approach in recent weeks,” said Aydin, 77, who gave only his first name because some of his family members are close to Mr. Erdogan. “I voted for the A.K.P. because it has become habit, but I think Erdogan lost votes this week.”
Turnout was 86 percent for the election, which was seen as a referendum on Mr. Erdogan’s tenure, especially his plan for a presidential system that would have given him more power. Polling had consistently shown that the majority of Turks are opposed to the change.

By law, Mr. Erdogan can call for a new election after 45 days if a coalition is not formed.
The election turned on the historic performance at the ballot box of Turkey’s Kurdish minority, which aligned with liberals and secular Turks opposed to Mr. Erdogan’s leadership to win almost 13 percent of the vote, passing a 10 percent legal threshold and earning representation in Parliament.
Selahattin Demirtas, 42, a former human rights lawyer who leads the largely Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, told reporters Sunday night: “As of this hour, the debate about the presidency, the debate about dictatorship, is over. Turkey narrowly averted a disaster.”
The People’s Democratic Party, known as H.D.P., was able to broaden its base by fielding a slate of candidates that included women, gays and other minorities and appealed to voters whose goal was to curtail Mr. Erdogan’s powers.
“I voted for H.D.P. because it’s the only party that can break up Erdogan’s bid for absolute power,” said Selen Olcay, 47, a fitness instructor who voted in Istanbul’s Sariyer district. “In this election a lot of Turks abandoned their ideological preferences and voted strategically to derail Erdogan’s one-man rule.”
The Kurdish party opted to run as a unified slate, rather than field independent candidates as it had in the past. But it was a big risk: either it would reach the 10 percent threshold and enter Parliament, or it would be shut out, and its seats would have gone to the A.K.P.
In the city of Diyarbakir, in the Kurdish heartland in the southeast, celebrations broke out as people flooded the streets, dancing and setting off fireworks.
In Istanbul, Kurds saw the election as the culmination of decades of struggle, some of it waged violently by the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., which has waged an insurgency from a base in northern Iraq for more political rights. In recent years Mr. Erdogan’s government had entered peace talks with the Kurds and violence ebbed, and Sunday’s vote raised hopes for a final deal.
“This is the victory of peace against war,” said Sirri Sureyya Onder, an H.D.P. official, speaking to a group of reporters after preliminary results were published.
The Republican People’s Party, the main secular opposition party, came in second with 25 percent of the vote, but it was the Kurds whose surge positioned them as kingmakers in the next Parliament. It also highlighted the evolution of the Kurdish movement, from the battlefields of the southeast, where a bloody insurgency raged for nearly 30 years, to the halls of power in Ankara, the capital.
Even as contentious days of political bargaining lie ahead, the election capped a two-year period of seismic shifts in Turkish politics. Widespread antigovernment protests in 2013, set off by plans to raze an Istanbul park and replace it with a mall, laid bare the growing resentments among liberal and secular Turks toward the governing party. Then, a corruption scandal threatened to engulf Mr. Erdogan and his government. Mr. Erdogan survived by targeting the followers of his erstwhile ally, the Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, who over the years had taken positions in the judiciary and the police and were accused of orchestrating a graft inquiry.
Turkey has felt strains in other arenas. It has taken in nearly two million Syrians, who have been a burden on services and exacerbated tensions in border regions, especially as the economy has slowed. In the wake of the Arab Spring, Turkey pursued an Islamist agenda in the region, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose president was deposed by the military. Its policy in Syria of pushing for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad has been unpopular in Turkey, and Mr. Assad, four years later, is still in power.
The diminished power of Mr. Erdogan’s party is likely to rein in Turkey’s ambitions to shape events in the Middle East, an activist policy that has been controversial among political opponents and the public.
“Turkey’s foreign policy will be less driven by the A.K.P.’s ambitions, which is basically driven by a foreign policy vision to make Turkey a regional player at any cost,” Mr. Cagaptay said, suggesting it had supported various Syrian factions opposing the Assad government and sometimes turned a blind eye to fighters crossing into Syria to join the Islamic State.
He added: “The outcome of the election will take Turkey’s anti-Assad policy down a notch. The government will not be able to drive its agenda singlehandedly anymore.”
Turkey, a member of NATO, has seen its relations with its Western allies deteriorate, mainly over Syria and the fight against the Islamic State, the militant group that controls vast areas of Iraq and Syria. An American-led coalition has been carrying out an air campaign against the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, for nearly a year, but Western officials complain that Turkey has not done enough, such as allowing its air bases to be used for bombing runs. Critics also partly blame Turkey for the rise of the Islamic State for its early support of Islamist groups in Syria.
The election was defined by bitter partisanship, with opponents criticizing Mr. Erdogan for his accumulation of powers, his bashing of the media and his lavish new palace, which Mr. Erdogan justified by saying his previous residence was infested with cockroaches. The campaign was also marred by violence, including a bombing last week at a Kurdish political rally that left two people dead.
“Erdogan’s salvos over the past week show how nervous he is about the outcome of this election,” said Ugur Kaplan, 24, a student who voted in Istanbul. “The A.K.P. has lost votes, and it’s because of him. People are tired of having their lives dictated by one nutty man. It’s time for change.”

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Hillary Clinton to fast food workers: 'I want to be your champion'


Hillary Clinton told a conference of fast food workers Sunday that she supported their push for a $15 minimum wage, saying “I want to be your champion.”
Appearing by phone at a meeting of 1,300 workers, Clinton voiced her most emphatic support yet for the nationwide Fight for $15 movement, which is also seeking to unionize fast food giants like McDonald’s.
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Clinton also expressed broader, support for organized labor union and the right to bargain collectively.
“We need you out there fighting against those who would strip away Americans’ right to organize, to collectively bargain, to fair play,” Clinton told the crowd. “No man or woman who works hard to feed American families should have to be on food stamps to feed their own family.”
“All of you should not have to march in the streets to get a living wage, “ she added. “But thank you for marching….We need you out there.”
Pointing to recent $15 an hour legislation and wage proposals in cities like Los Angeles, St. Louis and New York City, Clinton said, “Every worker in every state and every city deserves a fair wage and a real voice on the job.” The Obama administration, after initially supporting a minimum increase to $9 and then $10.10, more recently upped that to $12.
“I hope that every one of you will continue to raise your voice until we get all working Americans a better deal,” she said. “I want to be your champion. I want to fight with you every day.”
Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry told the crowd that Clinton’s call shows “how powerful people around the world are listening to this movement to change our world.”
The appearance marks the Clinton campaign’s latest attempt to shore up her left flank and de-emphasize the centrist pragmatism that marked her husband’s presidency and her own record as senator and secretary of state.
Sunday’s appearance is also a powerful overture toward labor groups like the SEIU, which backs the Fight for $15 with millions of dollars. SEIU’s Henry said “now is the time” to raise living standards for the American workforce — and also nodded to 2016. “In this presidential election, this is the time for us to put forward an agenda to raise wages and restore prosperity for all,” Henry said.
Clinton has been making efforts recently to shore up union support. Last week she met with the American Federation of Teachers, where she said she believed that “unions are part of the solution” to the country’s education problems.
She has also taken more liberal stances on issue like immigration, saying should would support more legal protections and work permits for undocumented workers.
Clinton previously voiced support for the Fight for $15 movement during the group’s last day of major strikes and rallies on April 15, when she tweeted, “Every American deserves a fair shot at success. Fast food & child care workers shouldn’t have to march in streets for living wages.”

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EU leaders at G7 in Bavaria in call to uphold Russia sanctions

The two-day G7 summit has kicked off in Bavaria as its leaders gathered to discuss hot-button issues such as Ukrainian crisis, with some voicing support for tougher Russia sanctions despite the economic difficulties they bring to the EU.
“All of us would prefer to have Russia around the G7 table,” European Council President Donald Tusk said at a luxury Bavarian hotel in Schloss Elmau. “But our group is not only a group [that shares] political or economic interests, but first of all this is a community of values. And that is why Russia is not among us here today.”
He also backed tougher sanctions against Russia, hoping that it would be put in place at the end of this month at a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.

"If anyone wants to start a discussion about changing the sanctions regime, it could only be about strengthening it," Tusk said.
Tusk was joined by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who urged EU leaders to stay united on upholding Russia sanctions despite the pain they cause to the bloc.

"[Sanctions have] an impact on all countries in terms of putting sanctions on another country. [But] Britain hasn't let our preeminence in financial services get in the way of taking a robust response to Russian-backed aggression and I don't think other countries should either," Cameron said.
Investigative journalist Tony Gosling told RT that it seems Western politicians are being driven by the US into rhetoric about uniting against Russia.
“This is our old Cold War talk, that is really driven by the Americans, and it certainly does not represent the views of European people or business, which is a bit worrying,” he said.
The recent escalation of violence in Ukraine has prompted fears that the fragile ceasefire agreed in Minsk in February could break down. The residential areas in eastern Ukraine have been shelled in recent weeks resulting in civilian casualties. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitors have reported violation of the Minsk ceasefire agreements by both sides of the conflict.
Moscow has called on Western states to urge Kiev to make all efforts to stick to the Minsk agreements. At the UN Security Council meeting on Saturday, Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin noted that there has been frustration with Kiev’s “flagrant violation and blunt ignorance of the Minsk agreements” among Western states.

Among other issues dominating the G7 talks in Bavaria is the Greek debt crisis. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said that a Greek exit from the euro currency is not an option, but cautioned Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras against distorting proposals by international creditors for a cash-for-reform deal to save Athens from default. The two-day summit is also expected to focus on tackling terrorism and global warming.
The summit has been met with mass demonstrations by anti-capitalist and anti-globalization protests in several Bavarian cities. The protests started ahead of the summit’s launch on Saturday, while thousands of riot police have been deployed to the rally locations. Police have used tear gas against anti-G7 protesters in the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

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President Obama, with beer and wurst, works to mend US-German ties


Feasting on Bavarian beer and sausages, President Barack Obama on Sunday celebrated decades of U.S. friendship with Germany despite recent challenges and said the country "is proof that conflicts can end and great progress is possible."
Obama kicked off an overnight visit to attend the Group of Seven summit of world leaders by focusing on mending relations with host Germany, visiting the picturesque Alpine village of Kruen with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"This morning as we celebrate one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known my message to the German people is simple: We are grateful for your friendship, for your leadership. We stand together as inseparable allies in Europe and around the world," Obama said as he addressed the timeless Bavarian scene, complete with the sounds of alphorns.
Obama is closer to Merkel than most heads of state, although their relationship has been tested in the past couple of years, particularly after it emerged that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel's cellphone. The revelation was particularly chilling in Germany, with its oppressive history of secret government surveillance, but Merkel seemed eager to move on as she addressed Obama as "dear Barack."
"Although it is true we sometimes have differences of opinion today from time to time, but still the United States of America is our friend, our partner and indeed an essential partner with whom we cooperate very closely," Merkel said through a translator. "We cooperate closely because this is in our mutual interest. We cooperate because we need it. We cooperate because we want it."
Obama and Merkel met privately afterward at the nearby Schloss Elmau resort to coordinate their summit agenda before joining the leaders of Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Japan. Russian President Vladimir Putin was ousted from the group last year over his annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, although the crisis remains as fighting with pro-Moscow separatists spiked in the past week despite a ceasefire agreement negotiated four months ago in Belarus.
Obama press secretary Josh Earnest said Merkel and Obama spent most of their meeting talking about the importance of showing unity in speaking out against Russia as Moscow "has essentially thumbed their nose at the commitments they made in the context of the Minsk negotiations." Earnest said Obama is pushing Europe to preserve sanctions against Russia until Moscow lives up to that agreement, but he couldn't say the president is confident they will elect to do so later this summer.
"Ultimately it will be up to the Europeans to do so, keeping in mind our shared view that keeping up this unity is very important," he said.
During the visit to Kruen, about 800 Germans filled the village square wearing traditional dress: wool hats decorated with feathers and goat hair plumes, women in dirndls and men in lederhosen. Well before noon they gathered at long tables covered in blue gingham tablecloths, drinking beer in what looked more like a biergarten than the setting for a presidential address.
"Gruess Gott!" Obama began, which literally translates as "greetings from god" but is the typical Bavarian greeting instead of "good day."
"I have to admit that I forgot to bring my lederhosen but I'm going to see if I can buy some while I'm here," Obama joked. He said when he first heard the G-7 would meet in Bavaria, he hoped it would be during Octoberfest.
"But then again, there's never a bad day for a beer and a weisswurst," Obama said. "And I can't think of a better place to come to celebrate the enduring friendship between the German and the American people."
After his remarks, Obama and Merkel joined one of the tables, sampling pretzels and the weisswurst sausage and toasting tall beer glasses. The label on the glass indicated they were drinking a wheat beer from the local Karg brewery in nearby Murnau, although it wasn't clear if Obama's was a non-alcoholic or regular version. "It was a very fine beer. I wish I was staying," Obama said as he prepared to depart to plunge into two days of heavy discussions.
Next week, Germans will be looking to future U.S. relations beyond Obama's presidency. Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush plans to kick off a six-day European trip with a speech Tuesday in Berlin to the economic council of the Christian Democratic Union, the conservative party led by Merkel.

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One family pays a heavy price for demanding democracy in Bahrain

By Kevin Sullivan

The al-Khawaja family bugs the Bahraini monarchy.
This week, a judge in Bahrain increased the prison sentence of Zainab al-Khawaja, 30, a human rights activist and mother of two, to more than five years, partly on a charge of ripping up a photo of Bahrain’s king.
Bahraini authorities have imprisoned her human rights activist father for life and sentenced her sister to a year in prison and forced her into exile in Europe. Her mother was fired from her job, and another sister has been unable to get a government permit to work as a nurse, despite finishing at the top of her nursing school class.
“The al-Khawaja family is a symbol, and an example of how all of our families are suffering,” said Said Yousif al-Muhafdah, another pro-democracy human rights activist who was jailed by the Bahraini monarchy but now lives in Germany, where the government granted him political asylum because of his fear of one of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East.
The situation of the al-Khawaja family underscores the delicate and awkward relationship between the United States and an island nation that hosts theU.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, has sent fighter jets to help the U.S-led bombardment of the Islamic State and sits little more than 100 miles across the Persian Gulf from an increasingly assertive Iran.
Bahrain’s Shiite community, which makes up a majority of country’s Muslim population, has long felt discriminated against and persecuted by the country’s Sunni monarchy. Shiites led a huge protest in early 2011 at the dawn of the Arab Spring at downtown Manama’s Pearl Roundabout.
Bahraini authorities, with the help of the Saudi military, brutally crushed that demonstration, and dozens of people died. Protests have continued almost nightly in villages throughout the island, and police regularly respond with tear gas, bird shot and batons — resulting in deaths and maimings. Several police officers have also been killed.
Bahrain is engaged in what Amnesty International recently called “a chilling crackdown on dissent” that still includes “torture, arbitrary detentions and excessive use for force against peaceful activists and government critics.”
In a written statement, the Bahraini Embassy in Washington rejected the Amnesty report as “unverified” and “unsubstantiated.” It said Bahrain had made “monumental strides” on its human rights record and reconciling with political opponents.
The statement said Bahrain had established an independent ombudsman to investigate abuses by security personnel; prosecuted more than 50 police and security officers last year for criminal acts; paid more than $26 million to people “affected by the unrest;” and provided human rights training to more than 5,000 police and more than half the judiciary.
“This illustrates the unwavering commitment by the Government to improve transparency and accountability,” the statement said.
Washington increasingly pushes Bahrain on its human rights record, and while it continues to provide Bahrain with military equipment, it withholds “the export of some articles, including crowd-control items, and those that could be used for internal security,” according to a written statement from the State Department.
But U.S. officials always seem extremely careful not to cross any lines that might seriously damage relations with a key ally, especially at a time of rising instability in the region.
The delicate dance between the Bahrainis and Washington reached its most awkward moment last summer, when Tom Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor was declared “persona non grata” and ordered to leave Bahrain after he met with representatives of a Shiite opposition party. He was finally allowed to return to Bahrain in December, but only after Secretary of State John F. Kerry called to complain about the highly unusual breach of diplomatic protocol.
Bahraini officials later arrested one of the opposition figures Malinowski met with, Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the Shiite Al-Wefaq party. A State Department statement said the United States was “deeply concerned.”
U.S. officials have called for the immediate release of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights activist who is facing up to 10 years in prison for making allegations on Twitter that the Bahraini government tortures prisoners. He was sentenced to six months last year for a tweet alleging that Bahraini men who joined the Islamic State terrorist organization had previously worked for Bahraini security forces, which he called an “incubator” of radical ideology.
Bahrain’s mainly Shiite protesters say they are sick of what they consider a Sunni dictatorship that is discriminates against them in housing, employment and even religious worship. They want democracy.
But Bahrain’s Sunni government is convinced that the protests are little more than a plot backed by Shiite Iran to destabilize their nation. The officials are undeterred by the fact that the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, formed after the 2011 debacle, found no evidence of any foreign influence in Bahrain’s affairs.
“Iran has not shied away from meddling into the Bahrain domestic affairs,” the embassy statement said. Bahrain, it said, “has seen a surge in violence in the past few years where rioters are deploying increasingly skilled and professional targeted attacks against security personnel and civilians. Several individuals have been found to receive funding, training, arms and guidance from Iran to carry out attacks in the country.”
The protesters and human rights activists said the Bahrain uprisings are homegrown and have nothing to do with Iran. But Bahrain’s fear of Iranian influence has only grown as the Syrian conflict, the rise of the Islamic State and the Iran-backed chaos in Yemen have underscored the rising influence of Iran in the region.
Amid it all, the al-Khawaja family has become a potent emblem of Bahrain’s upheaval.
Zainab al-Khawaja’s father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, 54, is serving his life sentence on charges including “terrorism” and “attempting to overthrow the government.”
The charges stem from role as a leader of the largely peaceful pro-democracy uprising in February and March 2011, which was crushed when King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa called on his Sunni allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to send in soldiers.
An independent inquiry also found Bahraini authorities guilty of widespread torture of detained protesters, many of whom were doctors, nurses and other professionals.
In the middle of the protests, Bahraini police raided Khawaja’s home and arrested him, beating him so severely that he required surgery and metal plates to put his face back together, according to human rights activists who have monitored his case.
His family and rights groups say he has been tortured and abused regularly in prison since then. He has staged hunger strikes and become one of the most high-profile prisoners.
“These sentences are a joke,” said Zainab al-Khawaja’s sister, Maryam al-Khawaja, 27, who has been living in exile in Denmark for years and has become a well-known international advocate for democracy and human rights in Bahrain.
“We don’t have a dysfunctional justice system, we have a highly functional injustice system,” said Maryam al-Khawaja, who spent a year at Brown University on a Fulbright scholarship and has testified in the U.S. Congress about Bahrain’s rights record.
Maryam al-Khawaja said she returned to Bahrain last summer, despite fears that she might be arrested, because she was worried about the health of her father, who was on a hunger strike in prison.
She said she was arrested at the airport and charged with assaulting police officers — although she said the officers actually assaulted her. She spent the next three weeks in prison. She said she went on hunger strike, demanding to be allowed to see her father. After four days without eating, she was granted a visit.
She said her father was frail, emaciated and could barely walk or talk.
She was allowed to leave Bahrain, but convicted in absentia of assault and sentenced to a year in prison. She said if she returned she would be jailed, so the charge was simply a way to make sure she stayed away.
Zainab al-Khawaja could not be reached for comment. She is at home in Bahrain, free despite the prison sentence against her.
She has two children, a 5-year-old girl and a son who was born at the end of November. Maryam al-Khawaja said she believes that the government is worried about the bad publicity of throwing the mother of such a young baby in prison, but added, “They will go for her eventually.”
Zainab al-Khawaja has been arrested and jailed several times in recent years, all because of her involvement with anti-government protests.
“Zainab has sat down in the middle of the street, and refused to run in the face of tear gas and bird shot,” Maryam al-Khawaja said. “That drove them nuts. It’s easy to fight people who are throwing stones, but what do you do with someone who refuses to budge?”
Maryam al-Khawaja said that during a court appearance in October, her sister addressed the judge and said: “I’m a free person, born to free parents. And my son, when he is born, is going to be free.”
She then ripped up another picture of King Hamad, Maryam al-Khawaja said.
“There were no cameras there, it was not for publicity,” she said. “She just wanted to show that she had freedom of expression, and that she couldn’t be silenced.”
She was jailed for several weeks, and released a few days before her son was born in November.
In December, she was sentenced to four years and four months in prison for “insulting the king” and “destroying government property” for ripping up photos of the king, and “insulting a police officer,” for an argument she had with a prison guard during a visit to see her father.
This week, a judge added an additional nine months to her sentence — for a total of more than five years — on a charge of trespassing in a restricted area. Maryam al-Khawaja said her sister had heard that her father’s health was deteriorating, so, heavily pregnant, she went to the prison. As she approached the prison, she was arrested.
In its statement, the Bahraini Embassy said Zainab al-Khawaja’s supporters have attempted to “sensationalize” the charges against her. For example, it said, she “was not charged with tearing up a picture but with vandalism as she was destroying public property while in a police station.”
It said she had committed more “serious offenses,” including attempting to approach the restricted area around the prison.
“Ms. Al-Khawaja has a behavioral pattern of defying very standard procedural laws (in this case attempted entry into a prison outside of normal visiting hours) in efforts of capturing any international attention,” it said.
“It is unfair to expect the government, which has worked strenuously towards reform and reconciliation, to remain idle as hard-liners continue to disrupt law and order in attempts to achieve personal objectives,” the statement said.
To understand Bahrain’s ongoing uprisings, I visited the country in in October 2012 and met with Bahraini government officials, business leaders and human rights activists and attended several protests. One Friday afternoon, just before a big protest in the Old Souk at the center of Manama, I met with Zainab al-Khawaja in a coffee shop, where passersby asked to have their photo taken with her.
"We have a king who has been killing and torturing his own people," she said in perfect English. "We should have the right to protest against that."
Khawaja, who earned a bachelor's degree at Beloit College in Wisconsin, said she had been arrested six times in the previous 10 months, and that there were then 13 separate charges pending against her, mainly for participating in illegal protests.
She said police broke her leg earlier that year when they intentionally fired a tear gas canister directly into her leg at close range. She said she has been beaten by her jailers in front of her visiting toddler daughter.
She said she ripped up the king’s photo, twice, in front of police who were arresting her. “I believe that everybody should be ripping up the king’s picture,” she said. “This guy is a dictator. Ripping up his picture is a peaceful way to show that we do not accept this dictatorship.”
Khawaja was clearly fiery and passionate, but she spoke of her commitment to nonviolence and peaceful change. She said she was disappointed with the U.S. government’s approach to Bahrain.
“I believe in the basic goodness of the American people, but not the American government,” she said. “The American government cares more about their political interests than they do about freedom and democracy. By supporting the dictatorship here, they are making the people feel hopeless.”
And with that, she tightened her head scarf and walked out into the Souk’s narrow alleys, where police carrying tear gas and pepper spray were waiting for the protest to begin.

Turkey votes: Erdogan faces tight race to govern alone

Partial results from Turkey's parliamentary election on Sunday put the ruling AK Party on 43.6 percent of the vote, with just under two-thirds of ballots counted, a level which could leave it struggling to form a single-party government.
The results, broadcast by CNN Turk, put the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) at 10.6 percent, just above the 10 percent threshold needed for it to enter parliament.
The results could still change significantly, with counting not yet completed in the country's largest cities.

Saudi Court upholds 10 year prison sentence, 1,000 lashes for blogger

A Saudi court on Sunday upheld blogger Raif Badawi's sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam through electronic channels." The blogger ran The Liberal Saudi Network for 4 years before being arrested by Saudi authorities. Badawi was originally charged [BBC report] with insulting Islam for co-founding the religious discussion website Free Saudi Liberals. He was detained in June 2012, and his case was referred to the Public Court of Jeddah in December with a recommendation to try him for the crime of apostasy. Shariah-based Saudi law is not codified and judges do not follow a system of precedent, however apostasy is a capital offense which can be punishable by death. The blogger received his first 50 lashes in January, but floggings have been delayed since, for reasons that have not been made public. A medical report shows that he was not fit for punishment. Saudi Arabia uses a strict form of Islamic law which does not tolerate political dissent.

Saudi Arabia's justice system has drawn international criticism for perceived human rights abuses in recent years. In January 2015, a Saudi judge sentenced prominent human rights lawyer Walid Abu al-Khair to an additional five years in jail [JURIST report] after he refused to show remorse for "showing disrespect" to authorities and creating an unauthorized association. In December 2014, a Saudi court ordered [JURIST report] the criminal cases against two women's rights activists be transferred to a special tribunal for terrorism. The women were arrested for attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the UAE. In October a Saudi Arabia Court sentenced three lawyers to between five and eight years in prison for criticizing the justice system [JURIST report] on Twitter by accusing authorities of carrying out arbitrary detentions. Earlier that month Amnesty International issued a report claiming that Saudi Arabia persecutes rights activists and silences government critics [JURIST report], especially in the years since the Arab Spring in 2011. Saudi Arabia has also faced sharp criticism for its high number of executions. In September two experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Saudi Arabia to implement an immediate moratorium on the death penalty [JURIST report] following an increase in executions, with a significant number of the executions completed by beheading. In July then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, expressed deep concern over the harsh sentences and detention of peaceful human rights advocates [JURIST report] in Saudi Arabia in recent months. In February 2014 JURIST Guest Columnist Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch argued that a new Saudi Arabian terrorism law was a vague, catch-all document [JURIST op-ed] that can—and probably will—be used to prosecute or jail anyone who criticizes the Saudi government and to violate their due process rights along the way.

Senseless rise of religious fundamentalism

In recent past, more people have been killed in the name of religion than for any other thing in the world. Religion has become a symbol of death, terror and agony. Subsequently, a recent Pew Research “Changing U.S. Religious Landscape” shows the decline of religious affiliation in the United States. The study finds that there are more adults who consider themselves ‘unaffiliated’ with any other form of religion than those who subscribe to a certain faith. This bludgeoning disaffection and disenchantment is partly the product of what we witness in the world around us – terror in the name of religion.
“Humanitarian crises fuelled by waves of terror, intimidation, and violence have engulfed an alarming number of countries over the past year”, maintains Commissioner Dr Katrina Lantos Swett of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
In its 2015 annual report the USCIRF catalogues the horrors of religious led terror groups and their affiliates affecting millions of lives around the world. This axis of death and destruction of sheer human lives continues to haunt innocent children, women and men of all faiths around the world.
From Rohingya Muslims in Burma who have been ditched by the South Asian governments at the mercy of sea, to the most recent killing spree in Karachi, Pakistan on the Ismaili (Shia) sect of Islam, as well as the ravages of Boko Haram in Africa and the unspeakable horrors of IS in Syria and Iraq, these are few deadly snippets of what religion has been reduced to by human beings – horror.
Fundamentalist religious and sectarian ideologies are driving us back into the Stone Age where, as La Fontaine rightly puts it, “Unreasonable logic of the wolf, trumps the reasonable logic of the Lamb” rules sovereign.
Our world events are shaped by the “unreasonable logic of the wolf” both in religious and political context. This tug of war between the strong, hurts the poor. Our girls in Nigeria have come back to the homes now with most of them pregnant, our children in Peshawar in Pakistan went to school one day, never to return back, Christians, Shias, Coptic and Ahmadis are attacked in their religious places, which otherwise, should have been the most sacred and safest places in the world. This terror equate to the “reasonable logic of the lamb”.
Ideology is deeply seated in our psyche. It influences us unconsciously before we form an opinion or an idea. It blurs our perception unknowingly. Subsequently, every opinion we form is influenced by the ideology fed into our sub-consciousness. The extremist religious ideology is one the most pernicious weapon which can taint our worldview to treat other human being as ‘other’ rather than the part of one human race. It can easily fan the flames of never ending debate of us versus them. Our religious differences should not be satiated with blood and power they should rather be discussed and debated with a room for having a different opinion. The world’s religions can never be same in their content and structure. The diversity of the world’s religions should be a moment of celebration than an occasion to kill.
Instead, the rise of religious fundamentalism in the Middle East is playing havoc with lives of citizens who lived there for centuries. The ancient city of Mosul in Iraq, once a home to multi-racial, and multi-cultural life remains in ruins since the “Islamic State” (IS) reared its head. The utter orgy of destruction of ancient shrines, sites, and museum is yet another mockery of how language of the religion can be abused to serve ulterior motives of power, money, and authority in our modern 21st century.
Since its formation in Iraq and Syria, the militants of IS hold large swathes of religion and their world views are an imminent threat to religious minorities such as Sunni, Christians, Yazidis, and Hindus. The Christian population of Mosul, once around 60.000, has now been reduced to a handful of Christians living under constant threat.
Under the rule of Al-Baghdadi, also known as Caliph Ibrahim, the group has established themselves as self-proclaimed vanguards of Islam. Ever since its inception the promulgation of strict interpretation of Islam, and its religious and cultural cleansing of non-Muslims have been at the core of the IS ideology which has caused grave concern in the international community.
The recent senseless slaughter of 300 Yazidi girls on 1st of May caught during the conflict is yet another horrific episode of persecution against the religious minorities by the militant group. The systematic persecution of these Yazidi girls demonstrate the utter disregard of human life by these barbarians who can inflict pain, or injury for the sake of religion. The United Nations report on the sex slavery of Yazidi girls is quite disturbing.
Last year, The Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State released a comprehensive pamphlet in the form of questions and answers over female captives, and sex slavery. The guide was printed by IS publishing house Al-Himma Library under the title, Su’al wa-Jawabi fi al-Sabi wa-Riqab (Questions and Answers on taking Captives and Salves). The Islamic State price list for slaves ranks the cost of a woman by age, so while a woman aged 40-50 would sell for just 50,000 dinars or $43, a girl aged 10-20 would be worth 150,000 dinars ($125) and a child under nine would sell for 200,000 dinars ($166).
IS further brands Yazidis as devil worshippers who are worse than “people of the book” (i.e. Christians or Jews). While Christians and Jews have a chance to buy security by paying the jizyia (tax), Yazidis are left completely vulnerable as they have no option to pay their way out.
“Islamic State views everyone other than the most radical Sunni as an enemy deserving slaughter” said Max Abraham, professor of political science and terrorism analyst at Northeastern university, Boston, USA.
I asked him about the role of International community against the ISIS on-going silent slaughter of innocent children, girls and men, he told me that “Governments are slower to respond to humanitarian threats than to strategic ones, against Islamic State, however, the U.S. did decide to involve itself militarily partly in response to ongoing atrocities against the Yazidis.”
He further believed that the only silver lining is that Islamic State’s behavior is so morally disturbing that the group will continue to grow the coalition against it. As this coalition grows, the Islamic State will suffer an even bigger manpower shortage.
How long will we consume in the fire of this religious hatred which apparently finds no end?
It is the high time that human beings like you and I also form a coalition against this vitriolic religious ideology spewed against non-believers which threatens to mushroom everywhere alluring young men and women to join in its deathly mission to hound the non-believers. The onus lies on us as moderate human beings who should endeavour to take small steps to promote the values of humanity and respect as the one universal rule to save the countless lives, otherwise mercilessly slaughtered of being the ‘Other’.