Thursday, September 24, 2015

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Prince Salman convoy triggered Hajj stampede: Report

The presence of the convoy of the son of the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in central Mina prompted the stampede that killed hundreds of pilgrims on the outskirts of the holy city of Mecca, a report says.
The Arabic-language daily al-Diyar said in a report on Thursday that the convoy of Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud played a central role in the deadly crush on the third day of the annual Hajj pilgrimage earlier in the day.
The report said that Salman, who had sought to attend the huge gathering of pilgrims in Mina, a large valley about five kilometers (three miles) from Mecca, arrived at the site early on Thursday accompanied by a huge entourage.
The report said 200 army forces and 150 police officers escorted the prince.
The report said the presence of the prince in the middle of the population prompted a change in the direction of the movement of the pilgrims and a stampede.
The Lebanese daily further said that Salman and his entourage swiftly abandoned the scene, adding that the Saudi authorities seek to hush up the entire story and impose a media blackout on Salman’s presence in the area.
However, officials in Saudi Arabia have denied the report, calling it "incorrect." The Saudi health minister has blamed the pilgrims for the tragedy. "If the pilgrims had followed instructions, this type of accident could have been avoided," Khaled al-Falih said.  
According to Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization more than 1,300 people, including 125 Iranians, were killed in the crush. This as Saudi officials put the death toll at 717 and the number of injured at 863.
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has declared three days of national mourning following the incident while urging the Saudi government to “shoulder its heavy responsibility” in the stampede and “meet its obligations in compliance with the rule of righteousness and fairness.”
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Thursday that Saudi Arabia should be held accountable over the death of the pilgrims. He said that the fatal crush started after Saudi security forces blocked two streets while the pilgrims were walking towards the final ritual of the Hajj.
"We can by no means remain indifferent towards Saudi Arabia's irresponsible behavior," said Amir-Abdollahian, adding, “The tactlessness on the part of relevant Saudi authorities to provide security for the pilgrims cannot be overlooked.”

Putin: Syria crisis can be resolved only by strengthening government structures

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said there is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than to strengthen the effective government structures and provide them with assistance in fighting terrorism.
Putin said this in an interview with American journalist Charlie Rose ahead of meeting face-to-face with US President Barack Obama on Monday in New York. The fragment of the interview has been published on the CBS TV channel’s website.
"It's my deep belief that any actions to the contrary in order to destroy the legitimate government will create a situation which you can witness now in the other countries of the region or in other regions, for instance in Libya, where all the state institutions are disintegrated. We see a similar situation in Iraq," Putin said through translator when asked about Russia's intentions in Syria.
"And there is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism," the Russian president said.
Putin said there is a need to urge them to "engage in positive dialogue with the rational opposition and conduct reform." He also stressed that "it's only the Syrian people who are entitled to decide who should govern their country and how."
The interview will go on air in full at the end of this or beginning of next week.

The four things that will improve China-US relations

Chinese President Xi Jinping puts forward a four- point proposal on the development of anew model of major-country relations between China and the U.Sin a speech at awelcome banquet jointly hosted by Washington State government and friendlycommunities in Seattleon Sept. 22, 2015.
No. 1 China and the United States should read each other's strategicintentions correctly.
With deepening reform and opening-upChina has seen significant development in itseconomy and society and has become the worlds second largest economyThe U.S.,howeverhas been concerned about Chinas rapid developmentIt is necessary for bothparties to boost mutual trust.
No. 2 Both sides should further advance areas of win-win cooperation.
There is huge potential for bilateral cooperationChina and the U.Sshould speed upnegotiations to reach bilateral investment treaty so as to expand market accessThe twocountries have begun to conduct more cooperation in energyenvironmental cooperationand infrastructure constructionThey should take news steps to promote cooperation inpeacekeeping based on joint military exercises.
No.3 They should manage their differences properly and effectively in orderto find more common ground.
There is no need for either to fear the differences between the two countriesIt is the righttime for them to develop their bilateral relationsThey should manage the differences andfollow the right way to build a new model of major-country relationship between Chinaand the U.S.
No. 4 They should boost people-to-people exchanges.
The cooperation between China and the U.Sis beneficial to the entire Asia-Pacific regionand even the worldand the fruits of the cooperation should be shared by the people ofboth countriesThe long-term cooperation between the two countries is based on publicsupportThereforeboosting public support for bilateral relations is necessary for buildinga new model of major-country relationship between themIt is believed that Xis visit canboost people-to-people exchanges and consolidate bilateral relations
This article was edited and translated from 《中美关系:站上新起点 做好四件事》,sourcePeople's Daily Overseas EditionThe author is Shen Dinglia professor andassociate dean at the Institute of International Studies of Shanghai-based FudanUniversity.

China - Xinjiang official slams burqa use, white paper cites economic progress

Burqa is the "garment of extremism," not ethnic minority costume nor Muslim clothes, a senior government official in Xinjiang said at a press conference of the State Council Information Office on Thursday.

"We Uyghur people don't like to see women wear such kinds of clothes either, and by covering the eyes, the burqa represents some kind of backwardness," Shewket Imin, an official of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee of the Communist Party of China, said at the press conference on Thursday, where a white paper on Xinjiang's decades of development was also released. 

Shewket said there are problems involving people using burqas to hide their identity, citing men who wear female burqas to abduct children.

"Wearing burqas is not required to fulfill religious freedom, nor a tradition for Uyghurs or Muslims," Xu Jianying, a research fellow from the Research Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. 

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the policy on religious freedom has been implemented together with the policy on ethnic regional autonomy. The democratic reform of the religious system and law-based management of religious affairs have helped the harmonious coexistence among different religions in Xinjiang, read the white paper.

Xinjiang currently has 24,800 venues for religious activities, including mosques, churches, Buddhist temples and Taoist temples with 29,300 clerical practitioners, said the white paper.

Xinjiang officials have been very supportive with numerous commemorative activities during Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, added Shewket.

During Ramadan, Xinjiang authorities offered around 1,000 tons of fresh mutton through nearly 200 sales outlets in 39 counties administered by 11 prefectures and cities, reported the Xinhua News Agency. In the regional capital Urumqi, over 40,000 Muslim residents had meals at the mosque every night.  

While pursuing the policy of religious freedom and protecting normal religious activity, authorities have worked hard against extremism to ensure peace and security, and effectively prevented the spread of religious extremism, the white paper said.

"Religious extremists have taken advantage of religious freedom to twist and politicize some religious doctrines," said Xu. 

The battle against religious extremists and terrorism is global, which has safeguarded the interests of believers, he added.

Li Wei, a security expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that 95 percent of terrorist activities in Xinjiang have been aborted, a significant improvement in anti-terrorism efforts. 

Li said civilians should not be fooled by propaganda from religious extremists.   

The central government has invested nearly 1.7 trillion yuan ($266.6 billion) in the region over the past 60 years, and Xinjiang's GDP in 2014 was 115 times higher than in 1955, according to the white paper. Over the past five years, education expenditure has exceeded 250 billion yuan. By 2014, 96.5 percent of the local population had access to radios and 96.9 percent to televisions.

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10 Reasons to Oppose the Saudi Monarchy

During the discussion on the Iran nuclear deal, it has been strange to hear US politicians fiercely condemn Iranian human rights abuses while remaining silent about worse abuses by US ally Saudi Arabia. Not only is the Saudi regime repressive at home and abroad, but US weapons and US support for the regime make Americans complicit. So let's look at the regime the US government counts as its close friend.

1. Saudi Arabia is governed as an absolutist monarchy by a huge clan, the Saud family, and the throne passes from one king to another.The Cabinet is appointed by the king, and its policies have to be ratified by royal decree. Political parties are forbidden and there are no national elections.

2. Criticizing the monarchy, or defending human rights, can bring down severe and cruel punishments in addition to imprisonment. Ali al-Nimr was targeted and arrested at the age of 17 for protesting government corruption, and his since been sentenced to beheading and public crucifixion. Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for writing a blog the government considered critical of its rule. Waleed Abulkhair is serving a 15-year sentence for his work as a human right attorney. New legislation effectively equates criticism of the government and other peaceful activities with terrorism. The government tightly controls the domestic press, banning journalists and editors who publish articles deemed offensive to the religious establishment or the ruling authorities. Over 400,000 websites that are considered immoral or politically sensitive are blocked. A January 2011 law requires all blogs and websites, or anyone posting news or commentary online, to have a license from the Ministry of Information or face fines and/or the closure of the website..

3. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest execution rates in the world, killing scores of people each year for a range of offenses including adultery, apostasy, drug use and sorcery. The government has conducted over 100 beheadings this year alone, often in public squares.

4. Saudi women are second-class citizens. The religious police enforce a policy of gender segregation and often harass women, using physical punishment to enforce a strict dress code. Women need the approval of a male guardian to marry, travel, enroll in a university, or obtain a passport and they're prohibited from driving. According to interpretations of Sharia law, daughters generally receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the testimony of one man is equal to that of two women.

5. There is no freedom of religious. Islam is the official religion, and all Saudis are required by law to be Muslims. The government prohibits the public practice of any religion other than Islam and restricts the religious practices of the Shiite and Sufi Muslim minority sects. Although the government recognizes the right of non-Muslims to worship in private, it does not always respect this right in practice. The building of Shiite mosques is banned.

6. The Saudis export an extremist interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, around the globe. Over the past three decades, Saudi Arabia spent $4 billion per year on mosques, madrassas, preachers, students, and textbooks to spread Wahhabism and anti-Western sentiment. Let's not forget that 15 of the 19 fanatical hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks were Saudis, as well as Osama bin Laden himself.

7. The country is built and runs thanks to foreigner laborers, but the more than six million foreign workers have virtually no legal protections. Coming from poor countries, many are lured to the kingdom under false pretenses and forced to endure dangerous working and living conditions. Female migrants employed in Saudi homes as domestic workers report regular physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

8. The Saudis are funding terrorism worldwide. A Wikileaks-revealed 2009 cable quotes then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide....More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar e-Tayyiba and other terrorist groups." In Syria the Saudis are supporting the most extreme sectarian forces and the thousands of volunteers who rally to their call. And while the Saudi government condemns ISIS, many experts, including 9/11 Commission Report lead author Bob Graham, believe that ISIL is a product of Saudi ideals, Saudi money and Saudi organizational support.

9. The Saudis have used their massive military apparatus to invade neighboring countries and quash democratic uprisings. In 2011, the Saudi military (using US tanks) rolled into neighboring Bahrain and brutally crushed that nation's budding pro-democracy movement. In 2015, the Saudis intervened in an internal conflict in Yemen, with a horrific bombing campaign (using American-made cluster munitions and F-15 fighter jets) that has killed and injured thousands of civilians. The conflict has created a severe humanitarian crisis affecting 80 percent of the Yemeni people.

10. The Saudis backed a coup in Egypt that killed over 1,000 people and saw over 40,000 political dissidents thrown into squalid prisons. While human rights activists the world over where condemning the brutal regime of Al Sisi, the Saudi government offered $5 billion to prop up the Egyptian coup leader.

The cozy US relationship with the Saudis has to do with oil, weapons sales and joint opposition to Iran. But with extremism spreading through the globe, a reduced US need for Saudi oil, and a thawing of US relations with Iran, now is the time to start calling for the US government to sever its ties with the Saudi monarchs.

Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda Unite in Yemen

By  and  

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has established itself as a de facto partner of the U.S.-backed Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.
In viewing Yemen as an important battleground in the grander struggle against Iran’s expanding regional influence, Saudi Arabia has united with a variety of Yemeni Sunni factions in an effort to crush the Houthi insurgency. This has entailed the kingdom cooperating with Sunni Islamist groups that Saudi Arabia—along with other Arab and Western governments—have designated as “terrorist” organizations. However, as the U.S. continues to wage its War on Terror in Yemen, Riyadh’s strategy is complicating the kingdom’s already chilly relationship with Washington.
Saudi Arabia’s alignment with “terrorist” groups in Yemen was highlighted in June when the Saudi-backed exiled Yemeni government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi sent Abdel-Wahab Humayqani to Geneva as one of its delegates in the failed UN-sponsored roundtable talks. In December 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Humayqani a “Specifically Designated Global Terrorist,” having allegedly served as a recruiter and financier for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and having orchestrated a car bombing in March 2012 that targeted a Yemeni Republican Guard base, killing seven.
Despite the international community’s condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s bombing of civilian areas in Yemen, recent victories on the part of Riyadh-sponsored forces in Aden and elsewhere seem to have inspired greater confidence in the kingdom that the Sunni Arab coalition can crush the Houthi insurgency through a prolonged military campaign. Yet, Saudi Arabia’s embrace of such extremists raises questions about whether the kingdom will attempt to achieve victory over the Houthis—viewed in Riyadh as a proxy of Iran—at any price, and serves to reemphasize concerns that many in the West have had about the company Riyadh chooses to keep.

Historical Context

After thousands of Yemeni nationals who had joined ranks with Osama bin Laden in the Soviet-Afghan War returned to Yemen in 1980s, the Saudi-backed Yemeni regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh sponsored such militants in the fight against South Yemen’s Marxist regime, and later in a campaign to defeat southern secessionists. During the 1990s, Yemen became a central location for militant Salafist groups such as AQAP’s predecessors, including Islamic Jihad in Yemen, Army Aden Abyan and al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQY).
By the early 2000s, AQY had weakened as a result of a declining membership, but Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on its own local al-Qaeda branch prompted many Saudi members to flee to Yemen. By 2009, the Saudi and Yemeni branches had merged into AQAP. In addition to targeting the central state of Yemen, Houthi insurgents, and Western nationals/interests in Yemen, AQAP has also made clear its intention to topple the ruling Saudi family, accusing it of maintaining an “unholy” alliance with the U.S.
In August 2009, then-Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayif (currently the kingdom’s Crown Prince) met with members of the public as part of a Ramadan celebration, including Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, a militant from AQAP who claimed to have renounced terrorism and had asked to repent before the Prince. Al-Asiri’s real intentions were made clear after he entered a room with Mohammed bin Nayif and detonated an improvised explosive device carried inside him. The explosion killed Asiri but failed to assassinate the prince, leaving him with only minor injuries. It is indeed remarkable that Saudi Arabia appears to be teaming up with the group that only six years ago carried out that failed assassination attempt on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayif.
The de facto partnership between Riyadh and AQAP is made further evident by the fact that the Saudi-led military coalition has entirely avoided bombing AQAP targets, despite its aggressive bombing of other territories under Houthi control. While doubtful that AQAP has abandoned its objective of overthrowing the Saudi monarchy, Riyadh likely perceives its tacit alliance with AQAP as a short-term venture and is focused on the immediate task at hand.
Perhaps under the pretext of countering Wilayat al-Yemen (Yemen’s Daesh—also known as the “Islamic State”—division), Riyadh perceives strategic value in working with its rival, AQAP. Although Wilayat al-Yemen and AQAP have thus far not waged any large-scale armed campaigns again each other, their competition for recruits and the mantle of Yemen’s dominant Sunni Islamist militia lead some analysts to expect their conflicting interests to eventually pit the two groups against each other. Concerned that the Houthi takeover of swathes of Yemeni territory is aiding Wilayat al-Yemen’s ability to lure greater Sunni support through its highly sectarian and ultra-violent agenda, countering the group’s ability to gain further traction likely contributes to Riyadh’s evolving relationship with AQAP.

Implications for the West

The Obama Administration has identified AQAP as the world’s most dangerous al-Qaeda branch, and the gravest terrorist threat to U.S. national security. In 2000, al-Qaeda orchestrated the attack against the USS Cole, and two years later the group waged a suicide bombing that targeted the French oil tanker M/V Limburg. Both attacks were carried out by individuals who would come to hold prominent roles in AQAP.
Throughout 2008 and 2009, AQY/AQAP attacked Western embassies, in addition to Belgian andKorean tourists in Yemen. On Christmas Day in 2009, an AQAP affiliate unsuccessfully attempted tobomb a Detroit-bound jet, and ten months later the group made another attempt to strike the U.S. homeland by bombing two Chicago-bound cargo planes (the plot was intercepted by Saudi intelligence officials). Additionally, while AQAP’s role in the January 2015 Charlie Hedbo massacre in Paris remains a source of debate in intelligence circles, the organization claimed responsibility.
In June of this year, Washington officials voiced concern about Humayqani’s role in the Geneva talks, underscoring the U.S. and Saudi Arabia’s conflicting strategies toward the Yemeni crisis. Although Washington has provided logistical and intelligence support for the Saudi-led military campaign against the Houthis, the U.S. military’s direct involvement in Yemen since Riyadh waged Operation Decisive Storm in March has been exclusively striking AQAP targets with Washington’s controversial drone program.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s official lukewarm endorsement of the Iranian nuclear deal, Riyadh is gravely concerned about the geopolitical implications of a gradual improvement in the West’s relationship with Iran. Unsettled by the idea that Tehran will more forcefully assert its influence in the Arab world by providing more support to Iranian-backed paramilitary groups with newly available funds derived from sanctions relief, Saudi Arabia is flexing its muscles in Yemen. Viewing the Houthi insurgents as an Iranian proxy committed to establishing a client state for the Islamic Republic on Saudi Arabia’s southern border, officials in Riyadh clearly perceive a graver threat from the Houthis than from Sunni Islamist militias such as AQAP.
From Washington’s perspective, the Riyadh-led campaign in Yemen is contributing to chaotic unrest in Yemen that provides fertile ground for the local al-Qaeda branch and creates a magnet for other extremist groups. Having seized control of the Riyan airport and Mukalla (an oil rich city with a major sea port and a population of 300,000) in April, AQAP has emerged as an increasingly influential actor amidst the bloody turmoil and humanitarian crises that have spiraled out of control since the Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen in March. By positioning itself as a disciplined Sunni force capable of effectively countering the Houthi insurgents, AQAP has unquestionably established itself as a de facto partner of the U.S.-backed Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, despite being the primary impetus for Washington’s ongoing drone campaign there.
Ties between elements of Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy and global jihadist terror groups are not new. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, questions regarding the costs and benefits of maintaining a strong alliance with Riyadh resulted in spirited debate in the U.S. By having deep economic relations with Western nations and being the world’s top crude oil exporter, Riyadh has long used its powerful influence in the Middle East’s geopolitical order and international energy markets to foster ties with groups like AQAP with minimal objection from the kingdom’s Western allies.
In the case of Yemen, analysts contend that the Obama Administration’s support for Riyadh’s war against the Houthis has occurred within the context of Washington’s efforts to secure Saudi support for the Iranian nuclear agreement, despite U.S. reservations over the kingdom’s policies. Paris has been a strong backer of Riyadh’s campaign in Yemen, largely due to France’s interest in becoming the kingdom’s leading arms dealer. Over time, however, Riyadh’s de facto alliance with AQAP should raise further questions in the U.S. and France about whether the kingdom is a genuine partner in the global War on Terror or is a direct sponsor of groups affiliated with those who perpetrated the 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo attacks.
In Syria, where Saudi Arabia’s support for hardline jihadist militias is fueling tension in Riyadh’s relations with Western governments, the means and objectives of the kingdom are increasingly at odds with those of American and European officials. As the U.S. explores diplomatic opportunities with the Houthis in Yemen, and as EU officials begin eyeing Iran as a potential partner in regional security crises, there is a widening gulf between Western and Saudi perceptions about security considerations in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia’s Blowback in Yemen?

Beyond implications for Saudi relations with the West, the kingdom is playing a risky high stakes game of poker by incorporating a short-term alliance with AQAP into a larger strategy of countering Iran’s alleged hegemonic aims in the Middle East. If history can serve as any guide, groups such as AQAP are unlikely to maintain any loyalty to state or other non-state sponsors that serve as allies of convenience. Riyadh has in the past sponsored jihadist movements in foreign countries—most notably Afghanistan and Pakistan—that later turned their guns on the kingdom. As the conflict in Yemen is extremely fluid, and complicated by the vast array of armed groups with a broad range of objectives and ideologies, the nation’s future political landscape is entirely unpredictable. Riyadh is taking a big risk by cooperating with armed groups on its borders that have previously exposed their hostility toward the kingdom and its Arab/Western allies.
Last month U.S. officials and local Yemeni sources reported that AQAP militants were closing in on Aden. According to unconfirmed media reports, al-Qaeda’s flag flew over an administrative building with the group patrolling some of the city’s neighborhoods. If the al-Qaeda franchise were to seize control of Yemen’s second largest city, such a dangerous development would certainly create new security dilemmas for locals already enduring a grave humanitarian crisis. It could also pose a serious threat to international traders if jihadist terrorist groups were to usurp control of both the Yemeni and African sides of the narrow Bab-el-Mandab—one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, linking the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.
Saudi Arabia finds its own security further imperiled by Daesh-affiliated cells that have carried out attacks against police officers, Shi’ite mosques, and Western expatriates in recent months, and with the “caliphate” leadership vowing to topple the ruling Al Saud family. Therefore, Riyadh may very well regret having pursued a short-term foreign policy that is creating conditions in Yemen in which AQAP gains the most from the nation’s chaotic and ungovernable environment. Saudi Arabia would benefit from having the same long-term orientation toward Sunni extremism as it does toward the global oil landscape.

After Beheading 100 People This Year, Saudi Arabia Joins U.N. Human Rights Council With U.S. Support


The State Department has welcomed news that Saudi Arabia will head a U.N. Human Rights Council panel. Criticism has regularly been levelled at Saudi Arabia by human rights groups due to perennial human rights violations.
Saudi Arabia beheaded over 100 people this year through June. That’s already more than they beheaded in the entirety of 2014. The regime there is also known for its use of floggings and implementation of the death penalty against people convicted as minors. A group of U.N. experts called on Saudi Arabia as recently as this week to spare the nephew of a prominent Shia cleric from beheading and crucifixion. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is regularly the target of international rights groups’ critiques due to their complete disregard for international human rights standards on free speech, freedom of religion, and a plethora of other violations.
 “Saudi Arabia … systematically discriminates against Muslim religious minorities, notably Twelver Shia and Ismailis,” a Human Rights Watch (HRW) 2015 report on Saudi Arabia reads. This development has been widely denounced by figures who see the appointment as a way for Saudi Arabia to justify their current practices.
“[The appointment] is like a green light to start flogging Raif Badawi again!” Ensaf Haidar, the wife of Badawi said according to AJ+. Badawi, who helped found an internet discussion channel to discuss religion and politics, was sentenced to 1,000 lashes earlier this year for insulting Islam. Rights groups have rallied to Badawi’s defense but Saudi Arabia has still given him at least 50 lashes to date.
Another case of criminal punishment has caught the world’s attention as of late and this case has come to light almost synonymously with the appointment of Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador at the UN in Geneva, to the human rights panel.
Ali-al Nimr, now 21, was arrested at 17-years-old for participating in a protest calling for social and political reforms in Saudi Arabia’s Qatif province. The area is largely inhabited by Shia Muslims, a minority that faces harsher penalties and less rights than the Sunni majority.
After his arrest, Nimr was convicted of belonging to a terror cell, attacking police with Molotov cocktails, incitement, and stoking sectarianism, CNN reported.
“Mr. al-Nimr did not receive a fair trial and his lawyer was not allowed to properly assist him and was prevented from accessing the case file,” independent experts told the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In a recent interview, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner seemed to mangle his words when asked about Nirm’s case.
“I’m not aware of the trial that you — or the verdict — death sentence,” Toner told AP’s Matt Lee. Toner followed up by saying that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia share close ties and maintain an active dialogue and that he hoped their involvement on the Human Rights Council panel would help encourage introspection.
Two other minors, also arrested in 2012 at the Qatif protests have also been sentenced to death and are at risk of imminent execution.
“It is scandalous,” U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, told CNN. “Petro-dollars and politics have trumped human rights.”

Saudi Arabia Slammed For Plans To Execute Man Convicted As A Teen

He was 17 when he was sentenced on charges relating to his involvement in Arab Spring protests.

Saudi Arabia's plans to execute a young man who was sentenced to death in 2012, when he was a child offender, have this week led human rights advocates to condemn the Kingdom's justice system.
Ali al-Nimr was convicted at the age of 17 on charges relating to his involvement in Arab Spring protests, according to UN rights experts
“We call upon the Saudi authorities to ensure a fair retrial of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, and to immediately halt the scheduled execution,” UN experts said on Tuesday. “We urge the Saudi authorities to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, halt executions of persons convicted who were children at the time of the offense, and ensure a prompt and impartial investigation into all alleged acts of torture." 
Saudi state-run media site Okaz reported that al-Nimr was part of a terrorist cell and manufactured bombs, but according to Human Rights Watch these are broad charges that were part of the wider steamrolling of justice, which led to al-Nimr's conviction.
After his arrest, al-Nimr was not given access to a lawyer and was coerced to confess while allegedly being tortured, according to HRW. He was then subject to a trial that failed to properly investigate his forced confession and fell far short of international standards, according to the group's report and United Nation's rights experts findings.
These groups note that al-Nimr is the nephew of prominent dissident cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who is also on death row after he was arrested on what HRW calls vague charges relating to his criticism of the state. 
Ali Al-Nimr has subsequently lost his appeals, and Okaz reported this week that his death sentence has been upheld, which spurred human rights groups to launch a campaign to save him.
If Saudi Arabia executes al-Nimr it will add to the Kingdom's skyrocketing use of the death penalty. The country has executed over 100 people so far this year, around half of which are for nonviolent drug crimes. 
Rights groups have been unable to determine exactly what's behind the rise, which started last year under Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who died in January, and has continued through the reign of King Salman.
There are a number of crimes that can be punishable by the death penalty including, murder, sorcery and adultery. Executions are most commonly carried out by beheading.
Saudi Arabia routinely ranks among the world's top practitioners of the death penalty, alongside China, Iran, Iraq and the United States, according to Amnesty International. 


Politicians in Germany have criticised Saudi Arabia’s offer to build 200 mosques in the country for the ‘spiritual needs’ of Syrian refugees, given that the Kingdom has not offered to take in refugees fleeing from the civil war in Syria.
“No, it is more than cynical. This is no Muslim Brotherhood. Where is the solidarity in the Arab world?” Andrea Scheuer, general secretary of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) party in Bavaria which is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ally in the state, asked.
Saudi Arabia offered to build mosques in Germany as tens of thousands of refugees make their way to the Hungarian border to seek asylum in European countries, especially Germany, which will be taking in 800,000 migrants this year.
Saudi monarch King Salman reportedly made the offer through diplomatic channels and the news surfaced in Lebanese newspaper al diyar.
Another German politician, Stephan Mayer, the domestic policy spokesperson of both the CSU and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in parliament in Berlin, agreed with Scheuer, adding, “Germany does not need a cash donation to build 200 mosques but solidarity with the refugees.”
CDU Deputy Chairman Armin Laschet also voiced his opinion and said, “Instead of talking about funding mosques, Saudi Arabia should be thinking about taking refugees.”
Following the Saudi offer, there was widespread outrage in Germany, with many newspapers expressing indignation that Germany would even consider such an offer from a country which gave out extreme punishments such as stoning, flogging and limb mutiliation.

Music Video - Demi Lovato - Cool for the Summer

Lena Dunham asks Hillary Clinton: are you a feminist? 'Yes, absolutely'

Girls creator sits down with Democratic frontrunner and the two discuss why anyone who believes in equal rights is a feminist
In a move seemingly designed to help her connect with millennial women, Hillary Clinton sat down with Girls creator Lena Dunham for an interview to be broadcast in full next Tuesday

The Democratic presidential frontrunner – whose recent efforts to court this demographic include joining Snapchat and taking selfies with Kim Kardashian – was asked: “do you consider yourself a feminist?” in a first clip of the interviewobtained by Politico.
“Yes,” replied Clinton, who appeared relaxed and happy in Dunham’s company. “Absolutely. You know, I’m always a little bit puzzled when any woman of whatever age, but particularly a young woman, says something like – and you’ve heard it – ‘well I believe in equal rights, but I’m not a feminist.’
“Well, a feminist is by definition someone who believes in equal rights. I’m hoping that people will not be afraid to say that doesn’t mean you hate men, it doesn’t mean you want to separate out the world, so you’re not a part of ordinary life – that’s not what it means at all! It just means that we believe that women have the same rights as men.”
The full interview, which was filmed in Manhattan on 8 September, will be available in the first issue of Lenny Letter, Dunham’s new online newsletter. Described as an “email newsletter where there’s no such thing as too much information”, Lenny Letter will be published to subscribers on 29 September.
Dunham - the writer and star of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning HBO series Girls - is an ardent Clinton fan, and often posts pictures on her Instagram account to show her support of the Democratic frontrunner. She called Clinton’s “H” logoher “new tramp stamp” in April.