Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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Dispatch: The Saudi Government’s Global Campaign to Silence Its Critics

By Sarah Aziza
Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to burnish his image as a modernizing force of liberal reform knows no boundaries.
on the morning of August 18, 2017, Rana deboarded her Saudia Airlines flight in Munich, Germany, bleary-eyed and clutching a small leather bag. Her husband, a near-stranger whom she had married two days earlier, in Riyadh, with the stroke of her father’s pen, marched ahead of her. As the couple approached passport control, he reluctantly handed Rana her passport, which he had taken before landing. Rana stole a glance inside to insure that the note she had scribbled in the airplane’s bathroom was still tucked between the newly minted pages. The line crawled forward. Rana’s heart pounded. A German officer processed her husband’s paperwork, then waved Rana over. Rana slid her documents to the official on the other side of the glass window. Inside, a short plea, written in English, read, “i want to apply for asylum.” And then, in shaky German, “mein Mann weiß nicht”—“my husband doesn’t know.”
The moment had been a lifetime in the making. Rana’s earliest memories were dominated by the violent fits of her father, whose abuse once drove her mother to run away, with Rana, then just a toddler, in tow. The experience served as an early lesson on Saudi Arabia’s patriarchal norms. Rana’s mother, under pressure from her family, abandoned her hopes for a divorce and returned to her husband. Later, she explained her reasoning to Rana: it is better to suffer abuse inside a respectable marriage, she said, than to live as a woman in disgrace.
At school, Rana chafed under long hours of religious instruction, which taught her to fear hellfire and respect men as fundamentally superior. At Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, a brief phase of online activism landed her at the disciplinary office, where the administration threatened police action. Later, while trying to help a friend suffering from domestic violence, Rana was rebuffed by authorities for attempting to file a police report. After college, Rana’s hopes for a career as an English translator were repeatedly blocked by her father, who considered the prospect shameful. She was eventually able to start a small phone-repair business with several female friends, but she was soon confronted by her worst nightmare: her parents arranged for her marriage. On their first meeting, her young suitor informed her that he’d expect to start having children immediately, and that she would devote herself to child-rearing. “I saw him, and I saw the end of my life,” she told me.
Rana, who was twenty-four at the time, was still unwilling to surrender. “I realized there would be no future for me in Saudi Arabia,” she recalled. “I had no choice but to find a way out.” In this, she made her new husband an unwitting accomplice: he agreed to take her on a honeymoon, giving her an alibi to obtain a passport and travel documents—something no Saudi woman can do without the permission of her wali, or male guardian. He’d even been accommodating when she suggested that they travel to Germany, which she’d identified, after extensive research, as the best asylum destination in Europe.
Moments after handing over her passport in Munich—on her first day outside of her native country—Rana was escorted away from her husband, who quickly grew hysterical. For the next fourteen hours, she was shuttled between various holding facilities, each packed with migrants from around the world, before being assigned a room in a nearby halfway house. Collapsing into bed that night, numb with exhaustion and relief, her mind circled a single thought. “I had left behind a life that others chose for me, and, finally, I was choosing for myself,” she told me. “I thought, This choice is freedom.”
But, even as Rana slipped beyond the stifling grip of her husband and father, she unwittingly placed herself in the crosshairs of a new, more formidable foe. Back home, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince popularly known as M.B.S., had come to dominate the Saudi royal court and was working tirelessly to project an image of himself as a liberal reformer. The young monarch had spent billions on an international P.R. campaign, touting a message of a Saudi renaissance, in which his subjects would enjoy unprecedented freedom and prosperity. This new Saudi Arabia would, in turn, become an “investment powerhouse” for global capital and a respected peer among the world’s most powerful economies. The crown prince frequently played up themes of women’s empowerment as evidence of his country’s liberal awakening, promising to increase the female workforce to thirty per cent by 2030 and to allow women to drive for the first time in the country’s history.
The crown prince’s ambitious agenda won him acclaim from many in the West, who hailed him as the harbinger of a more moderate, even democratic, Arabian Gulf. However, at home, M.B.S. was seizing power through blatantly autocratic means. By the end of 2017, about a year before the murder of the prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, M.B.S. had locked up hundreds of people, including civilians and members of the royal family, in an effort to clamp down on opposition, both real and imagined. At the same time, the crown prince was overseeing a quiet campaign of suppression of Saudis abroad, working through Embassies and back channels to silence them through blackmail, intimidation, and forced repatriation. These efforts were not reserved for vocal dissidents like Khashoggi, who fled Saudi Arabia around the same time that Rana did. Increasingly, the Saudi government was widening its net of censorship and harassment to include private Saudi citizens who possessed little or no political profile.
The reason appeared to be a matter of image control: though Rana had refrained from publicizing her critical opinions of the government, she still represented a troubling demographic for M.B.S. The number of Saudi asylum seekers had increased dramatically since the beginning of the crown prince’s rise—from five hundred and seventy-five cases, in 2015, the year he emerged on the political scene, to more than twelve hundred, in 2017. (This was in addition to a swelling number of Saudis who, like Khashoggi, opted for self-exile under separate visa processes.) The implicit critique of this exodus was enough to stoke the ire of the crown prince. Rana would soon learn what the case of Khashoggi later taught the world: the young monarch’s obsessive need to control his reputation heeded no national boundaries.
It began with a WhatsApp message that appeared on Rana’s phone a few weeks after her arrival in Germany. She had been moved to a small town in the northeast of the country, where she was staying in a complex reserved for refugee families. The message came from one of Rana’s friends and former business partners in Riyadh, informing her that the small phone-repair shop she’d helped launch was in trouble with the government. On a recent trip to the bank, the partner had been informed that Rana’s name had been flagged; as a result, authorities had frozen the company’s assets. The news puzzled Rana, who had painstakingly set her affairs in order before fleeing Saudi Arabia, registering at two separate government offices, including the Ministry of Commerce and Investment, to grant power of attorney to her co-founders. Rana’s associates hired a lawyer, who informed them that, while their paperwork was in order, the authorities would not reverse their decision. “Everything they tried failed,” Rana said. “The authorities just insisted I had to go to the Embassy to fix the problem.” (Rana’s name, as well as the names of other women in this story, have been changed to protect their safety.)
The Saudi state frequently uses finances and other “national services” as leverage to lure its citizens into face-to-face meetings with government officials. One Saudi asylum seeker, who fled to Frankfurt, in the summer of 2018, received a text alert, as her plane touched down, that the government had frozen her bank account. She was later notified that her National Identification Card and all the privileges afforded to Saudi citizens, including passport renewals, e-banking, and residency permits, had been revoked. She was instructed to return to Saudi Arabia to fix the issue.
Saudi authorities have also used bank activity as a way of locating citizens, Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, who focusses on Saudi Arabia, says. He cited a case of three Saudi women who fled to Lebanon, along with seven of their children, in 2016. “Twenty minutes after they swiped their credit card to register at a hotel, Lebanese authorities showed up to turn them over to the Saudis.” Khashoggi’s own case was predicated on paperwork—after seeking government documents for his upcoming marriage at the consulate in Istanbul, on September 28th, he was told to return a week later, during which time the trap was laid for his murder. Rana, who is quiet and deliberate by nature, had serious misgivings about entering her country’s Embassy in Berlin. While Khashoggi’s murder was still months away, Rana had heard plenty of stories—some documented and others rumored—of Saudis disappearing abroad. “Inside the Embassy, I’m not in Germany. I’m in their territory,” Rana said. “I could disappear and no one would know, or they wouldn’t be able to help me.” None of Rana’s business partners had known in advance of her plan to flee the country, but all of them understood her hesitation about meeting with officials. “Now, especially under M.B.S., everyone is suspicious of the government,” she said.
In the meantime, Rana tried to focus on her new, often confounding life in Germany. In the camp, she befriended a few Saudi women who, like her, had fled oppressive homes in hopes of a new life. She was particularly drawn to Farah, a twenty-five-year-old former BodyPump coach, from Riyadh, with a buoyant mane of dark hair and an athletic swagger. “She is very outgoing and bold,” Rana said with a smile. “The opposite of me.” One thing the two did have in common was their troubling run-ins with the Saudi state. Within days of arriving in Germany, Farah began receiving messages on Twitter and Snapchat from pro-government accounts, warning her that she’d pay for disgracing the reputation of Saudi Arabia. Farah also began hearing from friends back in Saudi Arabia that authorities had been interrogating people associated with her. During questioning, her friends said, the investigators revealed personal information about Farah’s life in Germany, including details about her whereabouts and activities. “That was different,” Farah told me. “How did they know so much about my life? Did someone I knew feed them information?”
As Farah and I shared a hookah and milk chocolates in the drafty, bare-walled apartment that Rana now calls home, the subject turned to family. Rana emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tray of spaghetti and cream-cheese sauce—one of the few recipes that she’d mastered since acquiring a place of her own—and joined us on the couch, which doubles as her bed. Both women were aware that the government routinely penalizes the relatives of those it deems disloyal or dangerous to the state. Farah cited the case of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist currently living in Canada. After Abdulaziz flouted the Saudi government’s efforts to silence him, the state arrested his two brothers back in Jeddah. Similarly, after Khashoggi fled the state, the government harassed his family members and placed his son, Salah, under a travel ban. Members of Farah’s family were interrogated shortly after her escape and have since cut off their already strained communication. “I didn’t want anything to happen to my family,” Farah said, “even if we weren’t close.” Rana says that most of her relatives and friends are reluctant to speak with her for fear of reprisal. “Sometimes I get a little video or note from one of my younger siblings on Snapchat, but, mostly, that’s it,” she told me. “I don’t miss Saudi Arabia at all, but I do miss my mother.”
Still, the women strived to create a sense of normalcy, occupying themselves with German classes, Netflix, and part-time work. Their delicate calm was shattered, though, in April, 2018, when Farah encountered two strange Arab men outside of her apartment building. Their message, spoken in the Saudi dialect of Arabic, was ominous. “They told me they knew information about me, they knew who I was, a Saudi woman who had left the country,” Farah explained. “They told me, ‘You will be sorry.’ ” The men had not presented any government identification and made no specific threats. But Farah felt sure that they were loyalists of the regime. Around the same time, she received a cryptic photograph over WhatsApp from a man claiming to be an employee of the Interior Ministry. In the picture, a file containing Farah’s name and photograph lay open on a desk. The document included an order for her arrest.

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#Pakistan - #RT - Human Development Index: Uncovering where #Balochistan Stands

By: Yousaf Ajab Baloch
Recently, Chinese government revealed the number of higher education scholarships allocated for the youth of Balochistan which is around 7,000 annually. However, among currently enrolled 25,000 students in Chinese universities, less than 200 students are from Balochistan.
The Chinese authorities shared this data with the delegation of tribal leaders during their visit to China. Former member Balochistan Assembly and Minister, Jaffar Khan Mandokhail who led the delegation disclosed the facts with media persons.
“Since Balochistan has a greater contribution in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), these scholarships are part of the initiative for social development of the region”, Jaffar Khan Mandokhail told Balochistan Review. However, he added, “Balochistan is completely ignored in this mega project whether the opportunities are in the field of education or in other development grounds. The federal government has recommended thousands of students from other provinces on the same scholarship opportunities,” he added.  
The inadequate proposition of scholarships is just one reality that confirms unequal policies which directly affect human development in Balochistan. The recent UN Human Development Index shows the Balochistan clearly lags far behind the average line of 0.391 in all three dimensions; education, health and living standard.
Lack of opportunities and lowest levels of Education
In the HDI report, the comparison proves that the districts in Balochistan are not in magnitude experienced by districts in Punjab, KP and Sindh. With a literacy rate of only 41% according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and in HDI report, Balochistan stands at the lowest levels with only 7.4 years of average schooling where Punjab stands at 10.1 years, KPK at 9.7 years and Sindh at 8.3 years.
Talking to Balochsitan Review, Gul Khan Naseer, a development analyst and Head of Programs at Azat Foundation Balochistan said, “Among all three dimensions of HDI, education is the most critical. Not only because education improves lives at individual level, but it strengthens societies for economic development. But as the data shows education is the weakest link here which further results in lack of employment opportunities, higher population and poverty.”
Provincial Secretary for secondary education Mohammad Tayyab Lehri told Balochistan Review, “The disturbing statistics of education did not generate over-night. There has not been much reform in the education system over the last few decades. Fewer opportunities and fewer number of institutions with major technical, computer, social sciences and natural science, commercial, law colleges and polytechnic institutes is another big reason. Colleges throughout Balochistan are not well equipped. The youth from Balochistan’s far-flung areas are unable to benefit from these colleges.”
Gul Khan Naseer was of the view that provision of quality education to all children and youth, establishment of technical and vocational institutions to ensure availability of skilled human resource, economic empowerment of masses particularly youth and women are very essential to uplift human development in Balochistan.
“Solid reforms, special attention and equal distribution of opportunities in education sector can contribute in the overall development of the province,” Mohammad Tayyab Lehri suggested.
Declining Health Indicators
The data in HDI report shows a marked decline in health indicators in more than 50% of the province. This also includes the capital city of Quetta. The highest achiever in terms of health is Kalat, which according to recent data, falls under the medium health category.
Balochistan has the lowest percentage of children fully immunized where half of the children (51%)are not immunized as compared to other three provinces where seven in every ten children are immunized. Officials at the Balochistan Nutrition Program for Mothers and Children (BNPMC) told Balochistan Review that half of the women (54.9%) and seven in every ten (73.5%) children are vitamin A deficient. On the other hand, four in every ten women and half of children in Balochistan are iron deficient. However, the ongoing drought has worsened the situation in Balochistan.
Due to the poverty in Balochistan, children remain severely and moderately malnourished. The World Food Program officials state that 61% population in Balochistan is food insecure. Because 40% children are underweight, and 52% are shorter as per their age.

Talking to Balochistan Review Abdul Rauf Baloch, Additional Secretary (Development) Government of Balochistan at Health Department said, “Lack of facilities and quality health care in Balochistan has caused numerous problems in terms of health for the people. Among the key issues lack of staff, specially doctors and technical staff do not perform job in the remote districts of Balochistan.”
Lack of facilities and staff has also resulted in large number of maternal mortalities in the province. The recent years’ country based Maternal Mortality rate (MMR) was recorded at 260 per 100,000 live births, whereas, it is the worst-hit area when it comes to MMR and health-related indicators in Balochistan. Keeping in view Balochistan’s MMR and female reproductive health demographics the experts have already expressed that it could only compete with war-torn Somalia – with MMR of 1000 and Liberia with MMR 770 per 100,000 live births.
“Influential role and nepotism have also affected the health system causing no equitable Justice. There is no plan and work for the improvement in health sector. All those who have taken seats from concerned district, they should be assigned duties in that district on rotational basis whether he/she is professor, consultant or a doctor, should be posted in Quetta and no one should be allowed to run their business as private clinic,” added Abdul Rauf Baloch.
Majority of the Population Under Poor Living Standards
According to UN HDI report, majority of the population in Balochistan lives under extreme conditions including poverty and drought – eight in every ten people (89%) in the province live under low and very low development. In Sindh 33% of the population lives under similar conditions which is lower in KPK as only 16% and only 8% of Punjab’s population lives under low or very low development.  With 33% Balochistan has the lowest living standards as compared to other provinces.
Undoubtedly, Balochistan has extreme deprivation in terms of living standard index. According to the HDI only 0.34 people have a maximum number of living substandard conditions and 17 districts fall in very low category, 10 in low category except Quetta, which falls in High Medium category.
“The provincial government and stakeholders in Balochistan should be given decision making power in mega power projects for the sake of human development and empowering the masses. Federal government should also make efforts to contribute in improving the education system, standard of living, and health condition in all Balochistan. Initiating rural development programs and ensuring legal safeguards to the share of province in mega projects are crucial in the current situation,” Gul Khan suggested.
Lack of required facilities such as electricity, alternate for fuel, poor sanitation system, piped water, low livestock have greatly affected living standard in Balochistan. Tangible efforts by government of Balochistan and federal government are required to bring Balochistan at the level of other provinces. After 18th amendment the provincial government has power to work on legislation for the development of Balochistan. 


With ties to Pakistani Taliban, four terrorists, including the alleged mastermind of a deadly suicide attack of the last year in Orakzai, were killed in an encounter with security forces in Hangu today on Wednesday, police said.
Security forces had conducted a raid in Hangu after a tip-off was received that the house was serving as a militant hideout, a local police official, Muhammad Khalid, said.
Seeing the cops outside, the terrorists opened fire on security forces during the raid. Four terrorists were killed in the ensuing encounter. A civilian was also accidentally killed in the shootout.
One of the militants killed was identified as Muhammad Islam. The security source said that Islam had ties to the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
He was said to responsible for orchestrating the Nov 23 suicide attack near a Shia Imambargah in lower Orakzai's Kalaya Bazaar that left at least 32 people dead and 31 injured.

Freed by court, Pakistani Christian woman still a prisoner

Kathy Gannon, The Associated Press

Aasia Bibi still lives the life of a prisoner, nearly three months after the Pakistani Christian woman was acquitted of blasphemy and released from death row. She spends her days in seclusion for fear of being targeted by angry mobs clamouring for her death. In her hideout, she longs for her children who were taken to Canada for their safety.
A friend says guards are preventing the 54-year-old Bibi from opening a window in her hiding place.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is weighing a petition by Islamist extremists and right-wing religious parties that rallied against her acquittal and demand her execution.
Her case goes to the core of one of Pakistan's most controversial issues -- the blasphemy law, often used to settle scores or intimidate followers of Pakistan's minority religions.

KiK: German court rejects Pakistani lawsuit over deadly fire

A German court has rejected a lawsuit from Pakistanis against German retailer KiK over responsibility for a factory fire in Karachi. KiK said the blaze was an act of terrorism. Shamil Shams reports from Dortmund.
A German regional court in Dortmund on Thursday ruled against four Pakistanis who had sued the German discount clothing retailer KiK for €30,000 ($34,500) each. The plaintiffs said the company should have provided them compensation for the pain they suffered and the death of their family members in a 2012 fire at a clothing factory in Karachi that killed more than 250 people. 
Saeeda Khatoon, a Pakistani mother, along with Muhammad Jabir and Abdul Aziz Khan, all lost their sons to the fire. Another plaintiff, Muhammad Hanif, is himself a survivor.
"I am very sad that our voice was not heard by the court. We lost our children in the 2012 factory fire. It seems that nobody cares for the poor workers. It was a decision in favor of the companies. But I will not stop my fight for our rights," Khatoon told DW. 
The Dortmund court decided that under Pakistani law, the statute of limitations for the victims' right to compensation had expired. 
"We are disappointed because we still believe that under Pakistani law, the statute of limitations was interrupted, which means that the case is not time-barred under Pakistani law," Miriam Saage-Maass, a lawyer for the Pakistani plaintiffs, told DW after the hearing concluded. 
Gunther Lehleiter, an attorney representing KiK, told DW that the decision was a "sound ruling" because the fire was a "terrorist incident" and did not result from the factory being in poor condition.
The lawsuit raised the question of whether retailers of cheap clothing could be held accountable for accidents that occur in subcontracted production centers located in developing countries that ostensibly lack safety standards.
The Karachi factory reportedly had only one exit along with barred windows that prevented escape in the event of an emergency. Another one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Remo Klinger, said before the hearing that KiK had neglected fire safety regulations and hence shared responsibility for the high number of casualties.
Question of responsibility
Nine people in Pakistan are also reportedly being sued for the fire that broke out at the Ali Enterprises factory in Karachi on September 11, 2012, after a Pakistani investigation claimed that the fire was an arson attack carried out by a local political party.
Initially, KiK established a $500,000 emergency fund to support victims' families, and was even considering doubling the amount. But it backed out from its promise after the arson accusations emerged.
"KiK didn't cause the fire in the factory and hence doesn't have to pay pain and suffering damages — we're not talking about a cable fire or an electrical short circuit, but a planned attack," the company said.
Regardless of culpability, the factory blaze was able to spread quickly partly because factory owners blatantly violated safety standards, and the emergency exits were blocked or even locked. The incident was dubbed Pakistan's "industrial 9/11."
"The question of liability has not been addressed, which is very regrettable," said Saage-Maass, adding that, however, the debate on supply chain liability in Germany and in Europe has been "seriously advanced."
Nasir Mansoor, general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation in Pakistan, told DW that the "struggle to hold international companies responsible for the situation of workers in our countries will continue."