Pakistan arrests human rights leader who criticized army

Manzoor Pashteen heads the Pashtun Protection Movement, which has emerged as a force among the country’s Pashtun minority. (AFP)
Updated 27 January 2020

Pakistan arrests human rights leader who criticized army

  • Manzoor Pashteen was detained along with six others in a pre-dawn raid in the northwestern city of Peshawar
  • Pashteen was apparently arrested on charges of attending anti-government rallies

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Pakistani security forces on Monday arrested the leader of a human rights group that has accused the military of committing widespread abuses in its war on terror,
Manzoor Pashteen was detained along with six others in a pre-dawn raid in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said Javed Khan, a local police official. He said Pashteen was arrested on charges of making anti-government speeches at rallies and inciting violence. He provided no further details.
Pashteen, 27, heads the Pashtun Protection Movement, which has emerged as a force among the country’s Pashtun minority, drawing tens of thousands to rallies. The group contends that the military is waging a campaign of intimidation as it battles Islamist militants in the country’s rugged border region near Afghanistan. The group says the army’s heavy-handed tactics include extrajudicial killings and thousands of disappearances and detentions.
Mohsin Dawar, a lawmaker who is also a member of the group, confirmed Pashteen’s arrest. He told The Associated Press that police were taking Pashteen to Dera Ismail Khan, a town in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. He said Pashteen was apparently arrested on charges of attending anti-government rallies.
Pashteen’s supporters condemned his arrest on social media, while others praised the police action, saying a “traitor” had been arrested.
A prominent Pakistani rights leader Afrasiab Khattak criticized the arrest, saying it “exposes the colonial type repressive state policy against Pashtun in general,” as well as the people of the former tribal region of North Waziristan in particular.
Gulalai Ismail, a Pakistani human rights activist who recently fled the country to avoid harassment by security agencies, also denounced the arrest in a tweet. “We, Pashtuns, will remain non-violent in the face of the arrest of our movement’s leader,” she said, adding that peaceful resistance is “the major pillar” of the movement.
the military has used indiscriminate force as it hunts for Taliban hideouts in the tribal regions where the Pashtun dominate, imposing collective punishments like bulldozing the homes of family members of suspected militants and punishing entire villages for extremist attacks.
The catalyst for the group’s creation was the police killing in 2018 of Naqueebullah Mehsud, a 27-year-old ethnic Pashtun and aspiring model who was shot dead in the southern port city of Karachi. Many displaced Pashtuns have relocated there after being displaced by the military operations in the tribal regions.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.