Monday, August 10, 2015
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Human Rights Watch on Monday urged the Saudi Arabian authorities to free a writer and commentator arrested after he called on television for political reforms in the absolute Gulf monarchy.
Zuhair Kutbi, 62, was detained on July 15 after an interview in June in which he called for reforms including "transforming the country into a constitutional monarchy and combatting religious and political repression", the New York-based HRW said.
"Authorities apparently questioned him about his television appearance, which had attracted considerable attention on social media," said the watchdog, adding that his writings had previously earned him six similar arrests.
"If there is no evidence of criminal behaviour, the Saudi authorities should immediately release Kutbi and compensate him for the ordeal they have put him through," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW.
Another Saudi writer, blogger Raef Badawi, is serving a 10-year sentence for "insulting Islam" and was ordered to be flogged 1,000 times, a sentence that sparked worldwide outrage.
His lawyer and rights activist Waleed Abulkhair was also sentenced to 10 years in jail with five years suspended after being convicted of charges including "inciting public opinion".
"Saudi authorities apparently have little better to do than to harass and jail people for nothing other than peacefully expressing their opinions," said Stork.
"It's time for King Salman to put an end to this escalating repression and release all peaceful activists and writers."
Saudi authorities have been holding Kutbi, 62, a Mecca-based writer and commentator, apparently without charge, and have not brought him before a judge. Authorities should charge Kutbi with a recognizable crime or release him immediately, Human Rights Watch said.
“Saudi authorities apparently have little better to do than to harass and jail people for nothing other than peacefully expressing their opinions,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “It’s time for King Salman to put an end to this escalating repression and release all peaceful activists and writers.”
Kutbi formerly worked as a consultant with the local Mecca municipality. His writings over the years resulted in at least six previous arrests, Saudi activists told Human Rights Watch.
A member of Kutbi’s family told Human Rights Watch that his latest arrest followed an hour-long appearance on the television program Fi al-Sameem (In-Depth), which aired on June 22 on the pan-Arab satellite TV channel Rotana Khaleejia. During the interview, Kutbi spoke about what he regarded as necessary reforms in Saudi Arabia, including transforming the country into a constitutional monarchy and combatting religious and political repression.
The authorities had temporarily suspended the program earlier in June after another guest, Mohsen al-`Awajy, an Islamist activist, indirectly criticized the late King Abdullah.
The family member said that on the morning of July 15, six black SUVs carrying at least nine security officers wearing masks arrived at Kutbi’s home in Mecca. As the officers took Kutbi away, the family member said, they hit him on his back with their rifles. They took him first to an unknown detention center in Mecca for interrogation, and then moved him to Thahban prison in Jeddah for a day. On the third day, they transported him to al-Mansour Police Station for further interrogation, and over the next eight days moved him between three detention centers in Mecca.
The family member said that Kutbi suffers from various illnesses including hypertension and diabetes, and that he is still recovering from an operation for prostate cancer earlier this year. He has been able to receive his limited medication in prison, but has not received independent medical attention despite the family’s requests.
The family member said that Kutbi told other family members who visited him in jail that investigators suggested that they may charge him with inciting public opinion, insulting the judiciary, or offending symbols of the state.
On the day of Kutbi’s arrest, an article appeared on the Sabq news website stating that authorities had banned Kutbi from media appearances and would put him on trial for statements he had allegedly made about the late King Sa`ud. Kutbi’s family member denied that he had ever made such comments. Kutbi mentioned in the same TV interview that King Sa`ud was the first Saudi monarch to propose a constitutional monarchy but was later forced out of power.
Kutbi is the latest in a string of activists and political commentators who have been jailed for peacefully expressing their political, social, and religious views.
Authorities generally bring catch-all charges designed to criminalize peaceful dissent, such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and vague provisions of a 2007 cybercrime law. The activists include Waleed Abu al-Khair and Fadhil al-Manasif, both serving 15-year prison terms for their peaceful human rights work, and Fowzan al-Harbi, whose sentence in an appeals court was increased from 7 to 10 years in November 2014.
Extended detention without charge or trial or without an appearance before a judge is arbitrary, and violates international human rights standards.
Human Rights Watch wrote to Interior Minister Mohammad bin Nayef on September 23, 2014, urging him to put an end to arbitrary detention. A 2014 analysis of Saudi Arabia’s online prisoner database revealed that 293 people had apparently been held in pretrial detention for over six months without the cases being referred to the judiciary. Sixteen of them had apparently been held for over 2 years, one for over 10 years.
Article 114 of Saudi Arabia’s Law of Criminal Procedure (LCP) provides that a person may be detained without charge for a maximum of five days, renewable up to a total of six months by an order from the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution. After six months, article 114 requires that a detainee “be directly transferred to the competent court, or be released.”
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that detention is arbitrary when the detaining authority fails to observe, wholly or in part, the norms related to the right to due process, including for a prompt hearing before a judge following the initial detention. Principle 11 of the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment states that a detainee must be “given an effective opportunity to be heard promptly by a judicial or other authority,” and that a judicial or other authority should be empowered to review the decision to continue detention.
The Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 2009, also guarantees the right of anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge to be brought promptly before a judge or other officer of the law, and to have a trial within a reasonable time or be released. The charter says that “Pre-trial detention shall in no case be the general rule.”
“If there is no evidence of criminal behavior, the Saudi authorities should immediately release Kutbi and compensate him for the ordeal they have put him through,” Stork said.
By Howard Dicus
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) says he will vote for the Iran nuclear disarmament treaty.
Schatz said in a statement Monday that “after multiple readings” and consultations with experts and constituents he is satisfied that the treaty “is the best approach to deny Iran a nuclear weapon.”
Schatz asserts that “the vast majority of experts believe this is a worthy deal” and singles out Nicholas Burns, the ambassador responsible for Iran nuclear matters in the Bush administration. He also cites the former Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Lugar of Indiana, and Brent Scowcroft, who was national security advisor to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush.
“While there are legitimate concerns about the agreement,” Schatz says, “we must remember this plain fact: there is no other alternative that achieves these results. We do not have the luxury of being able to pick this deal apart.”
The Obama administration has tried to stress that it is wrong to compare the agreement to a hypothetical agreement that people like better, and Schatz sounded that theme, too.
“This agreement,” he said, “should not be compared to an imaginary deal where Iran rolled over, and eliminated all its centrifuges and all peaceful nuclear energy generation.”
Sandy Berger, who was national security advisor under President Clinton, says rejecting the agreement would shift the balance of power in Iran toward radicals, reducing rather than increasing the president’s bargaining power. “Seeking a strategic path to ‘no’ is an illusion: that somehow… this agreement will come around again… in better form,” Berger says in an article on Politico.com. “Those who vote ‘no’ need to own the likely consequences of voting no.”
Over the weekend, 29 leading U.S. scientists including experts on nuclear technology, signed a letter supporting the Iran deal. “This is an innovative agreement,” they said, “with much more stringent constraints than any previously negotiated non-proliferation framework.”
These statements in support of the agreement came after Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a member of the Senate minority leadership. In an article for Medium.com, Schumer said he, like Schatz, read and re-read the agreement on his own before making his decision not to support the agreement. “The 24-day delay before we can inspect is troubling,” Schumer said. “Even when we detect radioactivity at a site where Iran is illicitly advancing its bomb-making capacity, the 24-day delay would hinder our ability to determine precisely what was being done at the site.”
There is opposition to the deal inside Iran. An Iranian publication characterized as “ultraconservative” by the Wall Street Journal says President Hassan Rouhani has overstepped the ayatollah’s limits on concessions. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has kept quiet since the deal was reached.
The treaty was negotiated by Iran, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, and will take effect with the U.S. as a signatory unless it is expressly rejected by the Senate by a veto-proof margin.
Police in Punjab province have been accused of failing to do enough to stop multiple child abuse cases that residents say are connected to a prominent family in Husain Khan Wala.
An abandoned coal mine in eastern India poses various hazards to the 100,000 families living near the site. Residents need to be resettled as fires burning near the villages can cause the ground to cave in.
Pakistan - FLASH FLOODS: Death toll climbs to 208, 1.3 million acres of land destroyed in Sindh and Punjab
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Former president Asif Ali Zardari has called for a report from the Punjab chapter of the Pakistan People’s Party on the media reports about the children in Kasur who were sexually abused and filmed by criminal gangs for blackmailing.