Friday, May 24, 2019
To the outside world, Loujain al-Hathloul is regarded as one of the most influential women on the planet – but in her own country, she is seen as a threat who must be stopped.Loujain al-Hathloul always likes to ask questions, her brother Walid says. “Growing up, she always pointed out the hypocrisy around driving in Saudi Arabia, trying to understand why women were banned from driving. She kept questioning.”
But when Hathloul, now 29, was pulled over while driving in neighbouring United Arab Emirates last April before being deported back to Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s rulers began the latest in a series of increasingly brutal efforts to silence her.
Hathloul says she was detained for three days, freed and then seized again from her family home in Riyadh. She says she was blindfolded, thrown into the boot of a car and taken to a detention centre she has called a “palace of terror” and has been tortured, and threatened with rape and death. Hathloul has now been held for more than a year.
Hathloul was arrested with 10 other women in a sweep targeting outspoken women who had campaigned for the right to drive. The arrests included veteran campaigners like Aziza al-Yousef and blogger Eman al-Nafjan. It marked a crescendo in what human rights groups have branded Saudi’s “year of shame”. Clerics, activists, journalists and writers have been targeted.
Eleven women were put on trial for “coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom” amid accusations of contact with foreign diplomats and journalists. Seven were bailed earlier this year, but Hathloul’s brother says the family do not expect the same for her. Observers say Hathloul has received particularly poor treatment in prison because of her role as a leading feminist campaigner, her activism seen as a slap in the face to the kingdom’s narrative that change for women should come from the top. As the trial drags on, no one is clear just how long her imprisonment could be.
Dr Hala al-Dosari, a prominent Saudi human rights activist and scholar at the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University, said the women are on trial “as a deterrent. They’re being treated as an example for other women who might think of doing the same thing.”According to Amnesty International, the women were held incommunicado for a month and subjected to electric shocks, as well as psychological and physical torture.Walid al-Hathloul, Loujain’s brother, spoke to the Guardian from Canada, where he stayed to avoid a travel ban imposed on the entire family within Saudi. “A month after she was arrested, she called my parents from a hotel in Jeddah,” he said. “Whenever my parents asked about the case, she said she couldn’t answer – it seemed like someone was telling her what to say.”Dosari says Hathloul was singled out. “She received the most severe torture while in detention. It shows you the state is really aware of her influence, how she represents a wider vector of society who really relate to her and her aspirations.”Saud al-Qahtani, the infamous former adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, visited Hathloul in detention to oversee her torture, according to Walid.“He sat in on one of the sessions. He told her: ‘I’ll kill you, cut you into pieces, throw you in the sewer system. But before that, I’ll rape you,’” Walid said.
Hathloul remains more concerned about the fate of women outside the prison walls than herself, said her brother.
“Even when she was in jail, although she didn’t witness women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, she kept asking me how women there were feeling, whether they were enjoying their right to drive,” Walid said. “She was thinking about them even though she was in jail, and it wasn’t a time to think about others.
“She never gives up. She believes in fundamental rights. She’s there to think about other people. That’s who she is as a person, she cares about others more than she cares about herself.”
Rauza Khan, a friend since they met at Vancover’s University of British Columbia, said Hathloul was “always an outspoken person with this intoxicating laugh that makes heads turn. She would always be very confident, very knowledgeable. She never feared to speak her mind. It was always mesmerising to be friends with someone like that.”
Urooba Jamal, who along with Khan has campaigned as part of the group “Friends of Loujain,” to push for her release, tweeted a photo of her from 2012 at a UBC event. “Characteristically, she is in the centre,” she wrote.
Khan said Hathloul would drive everywhere she could while in Canada, often offering rides to friends. “For everyone [else] I suppose this is a basic necessity, but I guess coming from Saudi, it was a kind of luxury to be able to drive,” she said.
Hathloul continued to grow her online presence, cementing her reputation as a critic of the restrictive rules around male guardianship, which prohibit women from travelling or undertaking other independent activities without male permission. “As much as she’s an outspoken, modern woman, she’s also very patriotic. You would never hear her bashing her culture or government in any way,” said Khan. “Saudi and its culture was a part of her. The only thing she wanted were basically minor improvements that would lead them into the modern world.”
Walid said his sister would never be content to campaign for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia from afar.
Hathloul first made headlines in 2013, when her father recorded a video of her driving from the airport to their house as part of the “Women to Drive” movement, a campaign that prompted a police crackdown. A year later, while living in the UAE, she was detained after driving her car to the Saudi border. She spent 73 days behind bars, an experience she later described as “enriching”.
Dosari said she was immediately impressed by Hathloul when they met at a conference in the US. “I felt this was someone to be supported as an icon and an agent of change,” she said. “For me, I felt she is an amazing example of someone privileged, with all the potential to live a very prosperous life, but one willing to take a risk for people.”
Dosari, who repeatedly referred to Hathloul as an “icon”, said she has sparked fear from the ruling powers because “she has a voice not empowered by the state”.
The Hathloul family now await Loujain’s regular phone call every Sunday to know that she is surviving what has become solitary confinement, after her cellmates were bailed. Her supporters fear that she may have been subject to torture once more, but that she won’t worry her family.
“Because she’s been traumatised and isn’t thinking properly, she said: ‘Because they damaged my reputation, it’s better for me to stay in jail as what they did to me was so horrific,’” said Walid. But his sister’s reputation is anything but damaged. Along with Eman al-Nafjan and Nouf Abdulaziz, she was awarded the PEN America/Barbey freedom to write award in March this year. In April, she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential figures of 2019.
Hathloul’s growing international reputation as an inspirational feminist has fulfilled an ambition of her mother’s. Khan recounted how her friend told her about her mother seeing a magazine with a woman on the cover. She was presented as a smart and confident business woman, and it made an impact.“She said that she gathered [Loujain] and her sisters, and told them she wanted them to be like that woman in the magazine. To know what they were doing, to have a clear path. She told them not to be afraid to take charge, and do whatever it takes to achieve results,” she said.
By Catie Edmondson
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of the slain columnist Jamal Khashoggi, implored lawmakers in wrenching testimony on Thursday to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for his death.
Mr. Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who lived in Virginia and wrote for The Washington Post, disappeared in October after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents needed for his impending marriage to Ms. Cengiz. Turkish intelligence later concluded that Saudi agents quickly strangled Mr. Khashoggi and dismembered his body with a bone saw.
“In the early days, President Trump said it would be solved. Ms. Pelosi said how unacceptable it was,” Ms. Cengiz, 37, an Istanbul-based graduate student, said through a translator. “Seven or eight months later, we see that nothing has been done.”
Ms. Cengiz’s testimony before a House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee was part of a broader hearing to explore the dangers of reporting on human rights. It underscored the continuing outrage of lawmakers, not only at the killing but also at the White House’s unflagging support of Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Speaking sometimes breathlessly and with tightly clasped hands, Ms. Cengiz testified that she had nightmares every night “thinking of Jamal’s suffering,” and she chronicled how their dream of building a life together was cut short. “This was my destiny,” she said, “to stand beside him in his life and his work, and for him to stand behind me in mine.”
“If Jamal’s murder passes with impunity, then me speaking here today puts me in danger,” Ms. Cengiz said. “It places everyone who shares these universal values in danger.”
Mr. Khashoggi’s killing unleashed a bipartisan furor on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers calling for action. “I fully realize we have to deal with bad actors and imperfect situations on the international stage,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a longtime proponent of the United States’ alliance with the kingdom. “However, when we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset.”
But the White House remained cool to the killing. While the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis accused of being involved, President Trump issued an equivocal statement about Mr. Khashoggi’s death, ignoring the C.I.A.’s conclusion that the crown prince was directly responsible.
“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” the president said in an extraordinary official statement in November. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Lawmakers were further enraged when the White House defied a legal deadline to provide Congress with a report determining whether the crown prince was personally responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death.
In a rare invocation of the War Powers Act, Congress passed a bipartisan resolution that would have forced an end to American military involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, sending Mr. Trump a pointed rebuke over his continued defense of the kingdom. But the president vetoed the resolution in April, and supporters could not muster the votes to override it.
This year, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, introduced legislation that would impose sanctions on those responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death and prohibit some arms sales to Saudi Arabia. That legislation has yet to be taken up by the committee’s chairman, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, a Trump loyalist.
At Thursday’s hearing, however, lawmakers again vowed to hold the kingdom accountable.
“There is a time now to draw a bright line in the sand,” said Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, upbraiding the kingdom’s “arrogance” as Ms. Cengiz nodded in agreement.
Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Thursday that until those responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death are brought to justice, “journalists around the world, particularly those covering human rights, will continue to work in an environment of uncertainty and vulnerability.”
But he cautioned that Mr. Khashoggi’s death was part of a larger trend of threats facing reporters around the world, with at least 54 journalists killed last year — an 88 percent jump from 2017.
“Murder,” Mr. Simon said, “is the ultimate form of censorship.”
By Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne
The Trump administration has declared an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries -- including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- citing the need to deter what it called "the malign influence" of Iran throughout the Middle East.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally told lawmakers Friday of the administration's plans.
"These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said in a statement that put the value of the sales at $8.1 billion.In a Friday letter to congressional lawmakers, Pompeo said that he "determined that an emergency exists, which requires the immediate sale of the defense articles and defense services" to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan "in order to deter further the malign influence of the Government of Iran throughout the Middle East region," according to a copy obtained by CNN.The notification comes on the same day as President Donald Trump's announcement that he is sending an additional 1,500 US troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. Pompeo noted in his statement that "today's action will quickly augment our partners' capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to US posture in the region to deter Iran." Overall, the State Department listed more than 20 proposed sales, according to a congressional source.
CNN reported earlier Friday that the Trump administration was planning to announce its decision to use a pre-existing rule that would allow it to expedite arms sales to allies in the Middle East. The move drew bipartisan condemnation, with lawmakers decrying the precedent it sets, questioning the administration's claims of an emergency and raising the issue of Saudi Arabia's human rights record and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.Pompeo directly addressed lawmakers' unhappiness in his statement, saying, "I intend for this determination to be a one-time event." He noted that the provision has been used by at least four previous administrations since 1979, and said "this specific measure does not alter our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress." But he cast blame at Congress as well.
"Delaying this shipment could cause degraded systems and a lack of necessary parts and maintenance that could create severe airworthiness and interoperability concerns for our key partners, during a time of increasing regional volatility," Pompeo said. "These national security concerns have been exacerbated by many months of Congressional delay in addressing these critical requirements, and have called into doubt our reliability as a provider of defense capabilities, opening opportunities for U.S. adversaries to exploit." A US official tells CNN that the arms packages for UAE and Saudi Arabia will include surveillance aircraft and maintenance, as well as training programs, advanced precision kill weapon guidance systems and Javelin missiles. "The Trump Administration formally informed Congress that it is invoking an obscure provision of the Arms Export Control Act to eliminate the statutorily-required Congressional review of the sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others, but failed to explain its legal or practical basis for doing so," New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
'Disappointed, but not surprised'
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia," he added. The committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Jim Risch, told CNN that he has "received formal notification of the administration's intent to move forward with a number of arms sales" and is reviewing the legal justification for this action.Section 36 of the Arms Control Act allows the White House to forgo the traditional 30-day congressional notification period for arms sales of the President declares an emergency, thereby preventing Congress from being able to put a hold on any arms deals.
"President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale," Murphy said in a statement. "There is no new 'emergency' reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there. This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress.""We have the constitutional duty to declare war and the responsibility to oversee arm sales that contravene our national security interests. If we don't stand up to this abuse of authority, we will permanently box ourselves out of deciding who we should sell weapons to," Murphy added.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Trump's decision to sell arms outside the standard review process "is unacceptable" and that Khashoggi's murder changed her view of Riyadh."My whole view of Saudi Arabia changed with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi," Feinstein said."I will not support another Saudi arms sale, and I urge all of my Senate colleagues to stand up for congressional prerogative and block the President's end-run around the law."
Amaq news agency says Pakistan stronghold already caused casualties among Indian soldiers in Kashmir; India police also confirm presence of ISIS fighters in contested border area.
Amaq news agency says Pakistan stronghold already caused casualties among Indian soldiers in Kashmir; India police also confirm presence of ISIS fighters in contested border area.
The Islamic State is creating a presence in South Asia after recent defeats in Iraq and Syria, where it ruled thousands of square miles of territory.Considered a terrorist group by the Western world, ISIS announced the formation of bases in nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, two arch-rivals that fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.
According to the ISIS-affiliated Amaq News Agency, the terror organization on May 11 officially proclaimed the existence of “Waliyah of Hind,” or India Province. Shortly afterward, on May 15, ISIS said it had established an additional stronghold called “Wilayah Pakistan.” Amaq claimed that Wilayah Pakistan had already inflicted casualties on Indian army soldiers in the village of Amshipora in the Shopian district of India-administered Kashmir. Indian police confirmed the presence of ISIS fighters in the contested area and noted that security forces recently killed Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi, an alleged ISIS operative in the region.According to local media reports, Sofi had been associated for more than a decade with several armed groups in Kashmir before joining Islamic State.The establishment of Wilayah Pakistan sent shock waves through local law enforcement agencies, and on May 16, Islamabad’s security forces raided suspected terrorist locales in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province.The forces killed nine ISIS members during a three-hour long operation, a spokesperson for the chief of the Baluchistan police told the Media Line. Four Pakistanis wounded during the assault were rushed to a hospital.
Though this was the first direct face-off between Pakistani forces and ISIS, the latter has been carrying out attacks in Pakistan for years. As far back as February 2016, Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau had warned the government that ISIS was emerging as a threat. Concern over the extent of ISIS’s power resurfaced a year later following a suicide bombing at the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar – located in Pakistan’s historic city of Sehwan – which killed scores of people and injured some 300 others.
A recent UN Security Council counter-terrorism report revealed that ISIS has been using Pakistan-based organizations such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar to carry out terror attacks on its behalf.Analysts believe that ISIS is desperate to establish new strongholds, including in Afghanistan, where it has repeatedly clashed with the Taliban.
“ISIS has been looking for new ventures after it was defeated in Iraq and Syria. Even in Afghanistan, things are not in ISIS’s favor,” says Rashid Hussain, a Rawalpindi-based security expert.“It is now trying its luck in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, where it already has been outsourcing attacks.”Alarmed by ISIS’s growing influence in the region, Pakistan and Russia are working together to curb the group’s activities. “Since ISIS has challenged both nations… Islamabad and Moscow are working together to counter the group,” a senior official in Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism Department told The Media Line on condition of anonymity.The official said the two countries have been cooperating since 2016, adding that a “major shift in Russia’s policy… (came) after it expressed concerns about the possibility of Afghanistan turning into a refuge for Islamic State militants fleeing from Iraq and Syria. This is why it has extended (assistance) to Pakistan and the Taliban.”
A source from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Moscow was committed to denying ISIS a sanctuary in Afghanistan, especially if and when international forces are sent home. In Sri Lanka, ISIS claimed responsibility for last month’s series of Easter Sunday bombings in the capital Colombo that killed 290 people and wounded 500 others.