Tuesday, January 8, 2019

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New video highlights UK's 'moral hypocrisy' on arms sales to Saudi Arabia

‘2019 needs to be the year the UK finally does the right thing and ends its shameful Saudi arms shipments’ - Kate Allen
Amnesty International has renewed its longstanding call on the UK Government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the risk that UK weapons will be used to commit war crimes in conflict-ravaged Yemen.
The call comes as Amnesty releases a hard-hitting animated videohighlighting the UK’s failure to abide by its own arms exports control systems.
While ministers have repeatedly claimed the UK has among the world’s “toughest” or “most rigorous” arms controls, Amnesty’s one-minute video highlights a pattern of continued UK arms exports despite numerous Saudi-led coalition attacks in Yemen resulting in large numbers of civilian deaths.
Since the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition entered the Yemen conflict in March 2015, more than 16,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed and tens of thousands injured, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The UN has assessed that the majority of casualties have been the result of coalition attacks. 
In nearly four years of almost constant bombing, Saudi coalition airstrikes have destroyed homes, hospitals, funeral halls, schools and factories. Last August, in one of its most notorious attacks, 40 schoolchildren were killed when their school bus was hit by a coalition airstrike.
Since the conflict began, the UK has authorised licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia worth £4.6 billion - easily the most lucrative destination country for UK arms in this period. Weaponry has included combat aircraft, bombs, missiles and equipment for the launching, handling and control of munitions.
Amnesty’s call on the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to halt arms sales to Riyadh has received the support of more than 28,000 people. In November, Denmark become the latest country to suspend the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia in light of the risk that they could fuel breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen. 
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said:
“The UK’s moral hypocrisy over arms to Saudi Arabia is absolutely blatant. 
“While preaching about respect for human rights on the international stage, the UK continues to pour weaponry into the huge Saudi arsenal despite the clear risk that more Yemeni civilians will die as a result. 
“There’s a huge disconnect between what ministers say about UK arms export ‘controls’ and the terrifying reality on the ground in Yemen. 
“2019 needs to be the year the UK finally does the right thing and ends its shameful Saudi arms shipments.”

Legal challenge

In October, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Rights Watch UK announced they would intervene in a legal case against the UK Government brought by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) to test the legality of the Government’s decision to continue issuing licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia despite the risk of the weapons being misused in the conflict in Yemen. 
In 2017, the High Court in London dismissed CAAT’s original case, which had argued that arms transfers to Saudi Arabia should be halted because of the clear risk that the weapons supplied would be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen. However, having been given permission to appeal the ruling, CAAT’s case will now be heard by the Court of Appeal in April, with submissions from Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and Rights Watch UK. 


Qatif region in Saudi Arabia has been the scene of fresh bloody violence. Saudi forces have stormed a small village in the Shia-populated region, killing five people and injuring an unspecified number of others.

Social media users have reported clashes, mortar attacks and shooting in the Umm al-Hamam village on Monday, and have even identified some of the victims.
According to local sources, Saudi forces surrounded the village for about 15 hours. They stormed a number of rural houses, claiming they were searching for a number of wanted people.
Qatif, situated in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, has been the scene of anti-regime protests since 2011, with demonstrators demanding free speech, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination.
Riyadh has suppressed pro-democracy rallies, but they have intensified since January 2016 when the Al Saud regime executed respected Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
In 2017, Awamiyah, another Shia-populated Qatif town, witnessed a deadly military crackdown on protests that were being held against the regime’s attempt to raze the historical Musawara neighborhood.
Saudi rulers claimed the district’s narrow streets served as a hideout for armed men who were behind the attacks on Saudi forces in Eastern Province.
The Wahhabi rulers in Riyadh have always looked at the oil-rich Eastern Province with suspicion because of its Shia-majority population, keeping a strict tab on any sign of dissent
Riyadh then deployed military forces with heavy weapons to the town, while bulldozers escorted by heavily armored military vehicles demolished several houses, businesses and historical sites across the region.
Dozens of civilians were killed during the weeks-long military crackdown. Some 30,000 people also fled the town.


'Twitter changed the game against what he wished for me': Saudi who fled to Bangkok reveals video 'showing Kingdom official saying Thailand should have taken her phone' after social media saved her

The Saudi teenager who fled to Thailand saying she feared her family would kill her has tweeted a video purporting to show a Kingdom official saying 'they should have taken her phone' because of the global social media attention her case has sparked.
Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, ran away from a family trip to Kuwait five days ago, and flew to Bangkok in the hope of reaching Australia, where she is now being assessed by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
Sharing the video on Twitter, Ms Al-Qunun praised social media for helping her avoid deportation, after she gained 94,000 followers in just a few days and has has a swell of support online.
'Twitter account has changed the game against what he wished for me,' she wrote regarding the comments allegedly made in the video by Abdulilah al-Shouaibi, charge d'affaires at Bangkok's Saudi embassy.

Twitter changed it: Ms Al-Qunun praised social media for helping her avoid deportation, after she gained 94,000 followers in just a few days.
The video allegedly shows al-Shouaibi speaking to his translator during a meeting with Thai officials about Ms Al-Qunun. According to Ms Al-Qunun, he says: 'She opened a Twitter account and her followers grew to 45,000 within one day. 'It would have been better if they confiscated her phone instead of her passport because Twitter changed everything'.
Ms Al-Qunun's father and brother have since arrived in Bangkok and demanded to see her, but have been told they will need to wait for the UNHCR's approval before they are allowed to see her, Thailand's immigration chief Surachate Hakpan said today.
Meanwhile, Australia has said it would 'carefully consider' a humanitarian visa application made by the Saudi teenager, once the UNHCR's assessment of whether she can claim refugee status is completed.
'The Australian Government is pleased that Ms Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun is having her claim for protection assessed (by the UN),' a Department of Home Affairs official said. 'Any application by Ms Al-Qunun for a humanitarian visa will be carefully considered once the UNHCR process has concluded.' Yesterday, one of Ms Al-Qunun's friends tweeted that her three-month Australian tourist visa has been cancelled. The Australian government has neither confirmed nor explained if or why this may have happened. Earlier today, they posted a screen-grab from a Whatsapp conversation with Ms Al-Qunun, in which she said: 'I'm happy because I'm out the airport now but I'm worried because my dad is here.'
The teenager fears retaliation from her family after she renounced Islam - and lawyers say she 'could be jailed for many years and be subject to human rights violations and torture' for 'insulting' her country and religion.
On Monday, Rahda Stirling, a Dubai-based human rights lawyer said in a statement: 'She has violated Saudi laws in seeking to travel without the permission of her male guardian and has now further violated a number of laws and outraged the regime.
'There are reports that she is receiving death threats and that Saudi men are calling for her to be hanged as an example to other would be 'rebels'.'
The UNHCR said today it continues to investigate Rahaf's case, but activists have voiced concern about what may happen if her father and brother are allowed to meet with her.
'The father is now here in Thailand and that's a source of concern,' Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy director for Asia, told Reuters.
'We have no idea what he is going to do ... whether he will try to find out where she is and go harass her. We don't know whether he is going to try to get the embassy to do that.' Lawmakers and activists in Australia and Britain urged their governments to grant asylum to Qunun, who was finally allowed by Thailand to enter the country late on Monday, after nearly 48 hours stranded at Bangkok airport under threat of being expelled. The teenager was due to have been marched onto a flight back to Kuwait on Sunday morning but, fearing her family would kill her, she refused to board the plane and posted videos and photos on Twitter of her barricading her hotel door with a table, mattresses and a chair.
After being allowed to meet with representatives from UNHCR, she is now staying in a Bangkok hotel while the UN agency processes her application for refugee status, before she can seek asylum in a third country.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun is the latest young Saudi woman to attempt to flee her family and seek asylum abroad. Her calls for help on Twitter have grabbed international attention and prompted Thai authorities to say they will not deport her back to her family.
With Saudi women runaways increasingly using social media to amplify their desperate pleas for help, here a look at the obstacles they face:
Alqunun has told rights groups and media she's fleeing an abusive family and seeking greater freedoms abroad.
Saudi females who flee their families are almost always running away from abusive male relatives, often a father or brother. In a few of the cases, the women have also renounced Islam and claim they cannot return home. They fear they could be killed after publicly denouncing the faith and publicizing their identities online.
In other cases, a woman's father might be barring from her marriage or forcing her into marriage. In other cases her salary is being confiscated, or she's facing sexual or physical abuse. 
The kingdom has granted women greater rights in recent years, like the right to drive, run and vote in local elections and play sports in school.
Ultimately, however, male guardianship laws remain in place. Under these laws, a woman must have her male guardian's permission in order to obtain a passport, travel abroad or marry.
From childhood through adulthood , every Saudi woman passes from the control of one legal guardian to another, a male relative whose decisions or whims can determine the course of her life. Legal guardians are often a woman's father or husband, but can also be a brother or her own son.
Although King Salman has tried to limit its scope, male permission is sometimes still demanded when a woman tries to rent an apartment, undergo elective medical procedures or open a bank account. 
There are no public statistics available for how many Saudi women try to flee abroad each year. The most recent statistics from the Ministry of Labor and Social Development show that 577 Saudi women tried to flee their homes within Saudi Arabia in 2015. That figure is likely to be much higher in reality because many families do not report runaways for fear of social stigma.
Social media has brought attention to a number of cases of women trying to flee in recent years.
Saudi women like Dina Ali Lasloom who was stopped in the Philippines, two Saudi sisters who fled to Turkey, and now Rafah Alqunun in Thailand have all used Twitter and social media to raise awareness of their plight and ask for help. 
If women are caught running away, they can be pressured to return home or placed in shelters where often the only way out is to escape again. Others are jailed for violating so-called obedience laws and only a male guardian can sign for their release.
Last year, Mariam al-Otaibi spent more than 100 days in prison in Saudi Arabia after her father filed a complaint to police against her for leaving home. She'd moved from the ultraconservative province of Qassim to the capital, where supporters helped her rent an apartment and find work.
Women can also be placed in restrictive shelters where they cannot freely access the internet or mobile phones. Their movements are also restricted and often the only way to leave is with the consent of a male guardian.
The shelters say they offer women psychiatric care and therapy, but do not take in women who, for example, are pregnant out of wedlock. Premarital sex can lead to criminal prosecution in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. 
Saudi women who attempt to apply for asylum face a number of legal hurdles, including proving abuse. Without evidence, such as threatening texts, video or photos of abuse, a woman's case for asylum can be rejected in the United States, for example.
Without access to a bank account of their own or a credit card, women can find themselves in dire circumstances in foreign countries where they do not know the local laws.
Saudi activists who have successfully fled political persecution in the kingdom do not advise women to flee as a first option, warning that women who run away without a clear plan in place are vulnerable to various kinds of abuse.
Often the Saudi women who run away are young and inexperienced, further complicating their ability to navigate lengthy and complex asylum processes.
Two young Saudi sisters found dead in New York last year had sought asylum in the U.S., according to detectives. They'd maxed out the older sister's credit card before their bodies were found along the rocky banks of the Hudson River wrapped together with tape. Police did not suspect foul play was involved. 
It could take several days to process the case and determine next steps,' UNHCR's Thailand representative Giuseppe de Vincentiis said in a statement.
'We are very grateful that the Thai authorities did not send back (Qunun) against her will and are extending protection to her,' he said.  
The case has drawn new global attention to Saudi Arabia's strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male 'guardian' to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.
It comes at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.
Ms Al-Qunun's plight unfolded on social media, drawing support from around the world, which convinced Thai authorities to back down from sending her back to Saudi Arabia. 
Rahaf made desperate appeals for help and repeated calls to speak to someone from the UN
Rahaf made desperate appeals for help and repeated calls to speak to someone from the UN
Rahaf has said on Twitter that she fears her family will kill her if she is forced to return to them from Thailand
Rahaf has said on Twitter that she fears her family will kill her if she is forced to return to them from Thailand
On Twitter, Rahaf had written of being in 'real danger' if forced to return to her family in Saudi Arabia, and has claimed in media interviews that she could be killed. She said she had renounced Islam and is fearful of her father's retaliation
On Twitter, Rahaf had written of being in 'real danger' if forced to return to her family in Saudi Arabia, and has claimed in media interviews that she could be killed. She said she had renounced Islam and is fearful of her father's retaliation
Saudi Arabia's embassy in Thailand denied reports that Riyadh had requested her extradition.
'The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not asked for her extradition. The embassy considers this issue a family matter,' the embassy said in a post on Twitter.
The Saudi embassy in Bangkok has, however, acknowledged that the woman's father had previously contacted them for 'help' to bring her back. 
The Thai immigration chief said on Monday the embassy had alerted Thai authorities to the case, and said that the woman had run away from her parents and they feared for her safety.  
Saudi culture and guardianship policy requires women to have permission from a male relative to work, travel, marry, and even get some medical treatment. The deeply conservative Muslim country lifted a ban on women drivers last year.
The incident comes as Saudi Arabia faces intense scrutiny over the shocking murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom's rights record.  
Restrictions and reforms: Saudi Arabia's treatment of women The teenager's desperate legal fight to stop her deportation from Bangkok airport has yet again shone a spotlight on the treatment of women in her homeland. Ultraconservative Saudi Arabia is striving to craft a new image - but a number of policies remain unchanged, leaving male relatives in charge of decisions that determine women's lives. Here is where the Sunni Muslim kingdom stands on five core issues:
- Education -
Saudi Arabia's so-called guardianship system places the legal and personal affairs of women in the hands of the men in their lives - fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.
Under the system, women require the formal permission of their closest male relative to enrol in classes at home, or to travel to enrol in classes abroad.
In July 2017, Saudi Arabia's education ministry announced girls' schools would begin to offer physical education classes for the first time, so long as they conformed with Islamic law. The ministry statement did not specify whether girls were required to have male permission to take the classes.
Saudi Arabia is home to a number of women-only universities.
- Employment -
Restrictions on women's employment, long ruled by the guardianship system, have been loosened as Saudi Arabia tries to wean itself off its economic dependency on oil.Prince Mohammed bin Salman, named heir to the throne in June 2017, has pushed an economic plan, known as 'Vision 2030', that aims to boost the female quota in the workplace from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030.King Salman - his father - has signed off on decrees allowing women to apply online for their own business licences. Women are now also permitted to join the Saudi police force.
- Travel, driving -
Women still require male permission to renew their passports and leave the country.
But the biggest change over the past year came on June 24, 2018, when women took the driver's seat for the first time in the kindgdom's history. While the end of the driving ban was a welcome major step, a number of women's rights activists were rounded up that same month and put behind bars - some of them campaigners for the right to drive.
- Personal status -
Under the guardianship system, women of any age cannot marry without the consent of their male guardian.
A man may also divorce his wife without the woman's consent.
On Sunday, the Saudi justice ministry said courts were required to notify women by text message that their marriages had been terminated, a measure seemingly aimed at ending cases of men getting a divorce without informing their partners.
- Public spaces -
In January 2018, women were allowed into a special section in select sports stadiums for the first time. They had previously been banned from attending sporting events.
Saudi Arabia has also dialled back the power of its infamous morality police force, or 'mutawa', who for decades patrolled the streets on the lookout for women with uncovered hair or bright nail polish.
Some women in the capital, Riyadh, and other cities are now seen in public without headscarves.

#SaveRahaf: Activists' lightning campaign made Saudi teen's flight a global cause

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panu Wongcha-um
The first message from Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, in Arabic, was at 3:20 a.m. Thai time (2020 GMT Saturday) and posted from the transit area of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. It said: “I am the girl who escaped Kuwait to Thailand. My life is in real danger if I am forced to return to Saudi Arabia.”
Within hours, a campaign sprung up on Twitter dubbed #SaveRahaf. Spread by a loose network of activists around the world, within 36 hours it prompted Thailand’s government to reverse a decision to force the young woman onto a plane that would return her to her family.
Qunun was allowed to enter Thailand and on Tuesday was beginning the process of seeking asylum in a third country through the U.N. refugee agency.
“Everybody was watching. When social media works, this is what happens,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, of the international outcry.
Qunun’s family could not be reached to respond to her allegations of abuse. Reuters could not directly contact Qunun, but spoke to several confidants who described how the dramatic campaign unfolded across the world.
After her initial Tweet, Qunun posted nearly non-stop for five hours, saying she had been abused and threatened by her family.
Halfway around the world, retweets by Saudi Twitter users were noticed by Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahawy in Montreal who began translating and retweeting Qunun’s Arabic tweets at 4 a.m. Thailand time, even though she was initially unsure if the account was authentic.
“(I was) doing my best to get attention to her because I could not live with myself if she was real and I ignored it,” Eltahawy told Reuters in an e-mail.
About two hours later - 6 a.m. Sunday morning in Thailand but mid-afternoon in Australia - a Sydney-based video journalist noticed and retweeted Eltahawy’s translated messages.
The journalist, Sophie McNeill of Australia Broadcast Corp., began tweeting back to Qunun, and later the two began privately corresponding by direct message.
At 11 a.m. on Sunday in Thailand - eight hours after Qunun began tweeting - Human Rights Watch’s Robertson, who is based in Bangkok, also began tweeting about the case.
He also contacted Qunun directly and she replied. “She said very clearly that she has suffered both physical and psychological abuse. She said she has made a decision to renounce Islam. And I knew once she said that, she is in serious trouble,” Robertson told Reuters. Renouncing Islam is a crime punishable by death under the Saudi system of sharia, or Islamic law, though the punishment has not been carried out in recent memory. By early Sunday afternoon, Robertson had notified the U.N. refugee agency in Thailand and several foreign embassies about the unfolding case, and they began to contact Thai authorities.
At around the same time, journalist McNeill decided to fly to Thailand and try to meet Qunun.
“I’d never spoken to her before,” she told Reuters. “For me, it was so important that this was documented, and I wanted to be there and witness it.”
While McNeill boarded a flight from Sydney to Bangkok, Qunun was holed up in an airport transit hotel and afraid she would be forced onto the next flight back to Kuwait. She continued tweeting and also corresponding with Robertson of Human Rights Watch.
At around 5 p.m. Sunday, she was taken out of her room by Thai officials but later allowed to return.
“She filmed these two people talking to her,” said Robertson. “They said to her very clearly that they will put her on the Kuwait Airways flight KU 412 leaving (Monday) at 11:15 a.m.” By this time, global media outlets had picked up on the story and Thai immigration officials were confirming that Qunun was to be expelled on Monday morning. At about 1 a.m. Monday morning, Qunun posted a video of herself pushing a table to barricade her hotel room door.
McNeill arrived in Thailand early on Monday and managed to join Qunun in her hotel room.
“When it became clear that she wasn’t going to leave, I decided it was important to stay and have someone documenting what was going on,” McNeill said.
Qunun refused to open the door when various officials came to escort her to the Kuwait Airways flight.
“We were inside the room and there were numerous people coming to the door ... There were several Arabic speakers who came and were using threatening language to try and force her back on the plane,” McNeill recalled.
The flight to Kuwait City left without Qunun.
At 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn held a press conference at the airport for dozens of Thai and international media representatives gathered in the transit area. After a day of insisting that Qunun must be sent back under Thai law, Surachate said she would not be immediately be expelled since she could be in danger and he would meet U.N. officials to discuss her case.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) country representative Giuseppe de Vincentiis arrived at the airport at about 5 p.m. on Monday to meet Thai officials and Qunun herself.By about 7:30 p.m on Monday, Surachate told reporters Qunun would be allowed to enter Thailand and apply for asylum in a third country.The UNHCR said on Tuesday that it would take time to process Qunun’s application, and its officials continued to interview her at an undisclosed location.Saudi Arabia on Tuesday denied on its Twitter account that its embassy in Thailand had asked for Qunun to be extradited, although Surachate had said the previous day the embassy had been in contact with Thai immigration before her arrival from Kuwait.
The Saudi embassy in Bangkok declined to comment on Qunun’s case when contacted by Reuters on Monday and could not be reached on Tuesday.
But on Tuesday, the Thai immigration office released a video clip of its officials meeting Saudi diplomats to discuss the case.
“When she first arrived in Thailand, she opened a new site (account) and the followers reached about 45,000 within one day,” a Saudi official speaking in Arabic through a translator tells Thai officials in the video.
“I wish you had taken her phone, it would have been better than (taking) her passport,” the official said.

Urdu Ghazal - چراغِ طور جلاو بڑا اندھیرا ہے ذرا نقاب اُٹھاو بڑا اندھیرا ہے ساغر صدیقی -- - SARDAR ALI TAKKAR

#Pakistan tightens the screws on electronic media


Pakistani media organizations have been operating in a much more challenging environment since the state began to impose restrictions on freedom of expression in late 2017.
The election of Imran Khan as prime minister in July 2018 only served to tighten the screws on freedom of expression and to make financial viability tougher for publishers. In the not so distant past, government controls on print and broadcast media were noticeable, but the rise of electronic media appears to have changed the dynamics of the power chessboard by giving most people easy access to a wide selection of news outlets.
Initially, the birth of electronic media killed off the decades-old business model of daily papers, where for the most part, the (nationalist) school of thought of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq had predominated. Somehow this new questioning spirit emboldened the whole media industry and the masses started to think that their voices had been heard. Some even began to believe that they were the real stakeholders and that they had at least some say in what happened in Pakistan’s corridors of power. When TV news anchors began questioning politicians, it gave the Pakistani people the feeling that at least some of those who ruled them could be held accountable.
Such a questioning spirit could not be allowed free rein, so the ambiguous term “national interest” was soon pressed into service by the government to muzzle the press. The term seems mostly to be used to control media that question someone’s patriotism or religious convictions.
Electronic media, a source of real-time information, penetrated dormant minds, unexpectedly overwhelming people with huge amounts of information. In the years before president Pervez Musharraf resigned in 2008, digital media played a huge role in fostering democratic forces. Free digital media demonstrated the extent of the oppression faced by journalists working in print and broadcast media.
After the fall of Musharraf, anchors on major TV networks began to realize that while they had little genuine power, somehow elements of the electronic media might be able to engage the masses and accomplish the destruction of a specific administration. This recognition led to a host of new alliances between the establishment, media commentators and a host of other groups within the political class. Each hoped that digital allies would allow them to profit or to debilitate old enemies as the scramble for power brought forth new heroes and highlighted hidden scallywags in the digital power game.
Soon divisions between media houses based on vested interests and affiliation turned to rivalry. None of them realized that by aligning with power chessboard players they were actually becoming part of the game instead of playing the role of reporting the facts and acting as a neutral commentator or watchdog.
Big business watched the power plays and bought up media licenses and news channels. In no time it largely controlled the Pakistani media market. Nobody understood back then that a little market like Pakistan can’t support such a large number of news channels. The financial specialists and the government’s media watchdog administrative body (PEMRA) took notes.
The increase in the number of TV channels gave rise to US-style breaking news programs featuring sensationalist coverage instead of positive, anchor-led debates.
With the end goal of most stations being to get the highest television ratings possible, every station traded its credibility and ceded editorial control of information. Instead of hosting debates, TV talk shows became programmes featuring participants being accused of wrongdoing without any proof offered or simply being goaded into a fight.
The lack of substance and programming innovation – combined with the networks’ very obvious bias towards certain political parties or the establishment – on most of these new TV networks resulted in the demise of objective journalism. Over the past five years especially, even people with very little formal education can tell you accurately which media group supports which particular political party or establishment group.
The rise of electronic media certainly ousted many fake columnists and government apologists from cushy jobs in print media, but the rise of digital media has also made people realize exactly who is trying to buy influence through their television screens.
The educated urban class has gradually come to realize that they are now being fed the same propaganda through TV and phone screens that they were being fed through newspapers two decades ago. Meanwhile, the powers that actually control state policies are equally keen to influence the media narrative. In 2017, they simply drew a new line. Any journalist or anchor going too far was named as an adversary of the dubious national interest and some were even considered to be a threat to national security. Bloggers were arrested and some have even disappeared.
So, slowly but surely, the powerful interests so used to controlling political puppets have now created a host of electronic media puppets.
The war between media houses and their associated political parties has exposed just how dependent they are on government-sponsored advertisements and political campaign ads. This makes them utterly dependent on the big player on the political chessboard and created divisions among journalists. When a particular TV channel or journalist is punished by a ban, the others tend to celebrate.
This divisions and biases also affect TV viewers, who love or hate journalists on the basis of their affiliations, rather than on the quality of the fact-based journalism they produce.
Strategists responsible for TV planning and programming policies have been sidelined, as owners tend to believe that anchors and reporters boost ratings. All this has created an unprofessional atmosphere within media organizations. When media bigwigs started dictating channel policies, flawed and inaccurate information became the norm and the trend of bashing opponents on TV began. It paved the way for the invisible forces to maneuver, and the channels and journalists who are not obedient are victimized.
The government already had a natural alliance with the media establishment, so financial curbs on the media followed with the state refusing to release payments for particular government campaigns and programs.
Media houses under pressure first fired production and newsroom staff and then the big names were also asked to leave. Censorship at certain media groups has forced them to fire all journalists not liked by the establishment and the current government. It did not happen all of a sudden; it was always coming and many sane voices in the journalism community tried to point it out, yet the ratings and the joy of profits had the last say.
The British author George Orwell said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” Good journalism requires principles and ethics.
It is not just invisible censorship and curbs that have hurt the electronic media – the media houses and journalists working for them have played an equal role in causing this situation by not sticking to commenting on facts and by not trying harder to be impartial.
It’s now time for those controlling Pakistan’s electronic media to reconsider their current strategy of aligning only with the power élite and to try doing real journalism instead. Otherwise, the current situation offers us a glimpse of some very dark days ahead for electronic media in the country.

I’m a journalist who fled Pakistan, but I no longer feel safe in exile - Taha Siddiqui

By Taha Siddiqui

On Jan. 10, 2018, I survived an abduction and possible assassination attempt by armed men who stopped my taxi in the middle of an highway in Islamabad, Pakistan, when I was on my way to the airport. Luckily, I escaped. I believe the attack was orchestrated by the Pakistani army, which has been threatening me for years over my journalistic work on military abuses in Pakistan.
Since the brazen assault, I have fled Pakistan with my wife and five-year-old son, and we now live in self-imposed exile in France. After the attack, several well-wishers told me that if I did not stop speaking about the Pakistani military, I would be shot dead the next time they came for me. So I decided to speak up from the safety of exile. But now, even in exile, I feel unsafe.
I was in Washington last month for a conference organized by Pakistani dissidents in exile like me, when I received a call from U.S. authorities. I met with the officials, who told me they had intelligence about an assassination plot against me if I were to ever return to Pakistan. I was further advised to stay away from Pakistani embassies around the world and also Pakistan-friendly countries. Other Pakistani dissidents in exile have received similar warnings.
The U.S. intelligence officials told me they believe that, after Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, repressive regimes such as the one in Pakistan have been emboldened to silence critics, not only at home but also abroad. It certainly seems that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who may have ordered the hit on Khashoggi, is going to get away with this murder, as the Saudi royals' global relations remain unscathed.
When a journalist friend asked me to be careful after the Saudi journalist’s murder, I brushed it off by saying Paris, where I currently live, is safe. But then he reminded me of the killings of three Kurdish dissidents in the city in 2013, allegedly ordered by Turkish authorities.
Now, after the warning I received, I once again fear for my life. Every time I leave my apartment, enter public places or simply walk on the streets in Paris, I am paranoid about being followed. Every time I stand on the subway platform, I fear that someone may push me on the tracks at the last moment.
Since the warning by the U.S. agency, my family has been telling me to go quiet and forget about Pakistan. I remind them that the only reason I left Pakistan, where I had a stable job, a comfortable home and a strong journalism network, was so I could continue being the voice of those in Pakistan who cannot speak up.I have had friends murdered, disappeared and shot because they dared to challenge the powers that be. This past year was the worst year for Pakistani journalists.Hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs in recent months because of a financial squeeze that many believe has been orchestrated by the Pakistani authorities to teach independent media houses a lesson. With physical attacks such as the one on me and several others, fear has taken over the industry, resulting in unprecedented self-imposed censorship. A recent survey revealed 88 percent of Pakistani journalists exercise self-censorship.
With the mainstream media muted, social media platforms have become an important outlet for those who still dare to speak truth in Pakistan. But even those platforms are now collaborating with the Pakistani authorities. Facebook is heavily censored in the country and Twitter has been sending legal notices on behalf of the Pakistani government to its users to remove objectionable content. I received such a warning, too. Also, following the Saudi playbook, Pakistan also deploys armies of online trolls to target target critics like me, warning us of fates like Khashoggi’s.
Pakistan recently had elections, and a new government has come into power, led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. His close ties to the military show he may not care for democratic norms such as freedom of expression.
One year after my attack, the harassment, intimidation and threats have followed me abroad, too, and have forced me to think whether it is all worth it. As someone recently told me: If they are obsessed with silencing a journalist and his ideas, it probably means that his ideas are powerful and worth listening to.
I believe powerful and independent ideas should not be given up, no matter what the cost.

EDITORIAL: #Pakistan's Dependency on Gulf monarchies’ largesse

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. And nowhere is this aphorism more apparent than in international relations. In their speeches states-person extol one another and put bilateral ties on a high pedestal with an assortment of diplomatic performances. However, once you scratch the surface, you get to the realpolitik, with economic interests lurking around what are presented to the public as ‘brotherly ties’ and ‘fraternal bonds’. Such is also the case with Pakistan’s ties with Gulf monarchies, and we must not lose sight of the underlying realpolitik in the latest round of visits to finalise the financial package, a euphemism for the latest display of largess by Saudi Arabian and Emirati monarchs.
Earlier in October last year, Pakistan received a $6bn package from Saudi Arabia. And now, deals have been made with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in his day-long visit on Sunday.
With this visit, Pakistani and UAE leadership have met thrice now in three months. Last week, the two countries finalised the terms and conditions of a $6.2 billion support package to help Islamabad address its perennial balance of payments crisis.
For starters, none of the dollars offered to Pakistan in this package come free of charge. The money will have to be returned, with an interest on top of the principle amount, as is the norm in the international market. Secondly, the purpose of this package is to enable the country to pay for its import bill, mostly to entities in China with whom it has started doing business in the wake of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. Thirdly, like all such packages, this one will also have some strings attached.
The problem with strings attached to financial packages offered by authoritarian monarchs answerable to no one in their home countries is that they may or may not be in the interest of the nascent Pakistani democracy. We remember very well how things turned out the last time: the former army chief got a lucrative job to head a controversial military alliance headed by Saudi Arabia without the matter having been debated in the Parliament. We can’t afford such adventures for they entrap Pakistan into the sectarian conflict between Gulf monarchies and Iran.
Therefore, the government will be best advised to fix structural issues in the economy so that the country does not need financial packages every now and then. The bottom line: i) Pakistan needs to make its economy grow at a rate on which enough employment opportunities can be generated to manage the youth budge, and, ii) Pakistan needs to be able to pay for this growth without reliance on the international financial institutions or authoritarian monarchies with generous cash-flows. Only by meeting these two conditions can the government align its foreign policy with national interests like strengthening of constitutional democracy, promotion of religious and ethnic pluralism and nurturing of an egalitarian social order. Easier said than done, of course, since the authorities in Islamabad and Rawalpindi will have to rework the national project altogether. A Pakistan that has strengthened democratic institutions overseeing a pluralist and egalitarian social order will have no business dealing on friendly terms with theocracies and monarchies that live by the law of the jungle and fail to meet all international norms of democratic civility. Such a Pakistan will be able to name and shame the Saudi crown prince for his hands are red with journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Such a Pakistan will also raise its voice against Saudi brutalities in Yemen in the same breath as it condemns Indian and Myanmar violence in Kashmir and Rohingya areas.

Malala, Trevor Noah banter on 'The Daily Show'

Malala Yousafzai and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah got into a bit of a banter on Twitter last night as the Nobel Prize laureate made an appearance on the show.
Malala tweeted a picture of herself sitting in the backroom with a bored expression and holding Noah’s Born a Crime. “Why is this man Trevor late?” she tweeted.
She then tweeted another picture, this time with Noah who seemed to be trying to explain himself to her which she captioned, “Excuses, excuses…..”
Noah explained he was a bit nervous about meeting her.
The episode started off with Malala teasing Noah for keeping her waiting. “He was trying to impress me and say nice things about me,” she said. “I don’t think it's working.”
Noah then offered to teach Malala a little bit about swag after she said she does not bring up her Nobel Prize in class or anywhere. “If you have a Nobel Prize you start every sentence with Nobel Prize even if it’s not necessary. If you are in Starbucks you should start with, as a Nobel Prize winner I’ll have venti,” he suggested.
Speaking about her new book We Are Displaced which comes out today (January 8), the 21-year-old explained that it sheds light on the refugees she met. “People already know about my story. Displacement was part of my life in Pakistan and also moving to the UK. But I have met many girls around the world who are displaced.”
“People often talk about refugees in number but we never hear from them [refugees]. For me, it was important to hear from these girls how they showed resilience and bravery. And there is a lot to learn from them,” Malala added.
Turning to the misconceptions that the public has about refugees, Malala said, “Becoming a refugee is never anyone's first choice. This is the last choice and the only choice they have to leave their homes for their safety for their future because they have many things.”
She added that it is difficult to change people's opinion about turning away refugees but she is trying. “Most of the times people have not met refugees. The best way to know more about them is to speak to them. Talking to people and looking at the human reason why people leave their homes is important.”
Malala further shared that all the funds from the book will go towards the Malala Fund, which focuses on education.
“I chose this fund because I remember the time my own education was banned. I remember waking up 10 years ago and girls’ education was completely banned and I realised my education and my dreams were taken away from me. I was just limited to the house and I could not learn and go out and become a teacher or a doctor or an engineer,” she said.
Malala added, “For many girls getting an education and learning is the only way to stand on their own two feet. For me education is crucial.”