Russia says leaving Open Skies military treaty

Russia had put forward proposals to retain the “viability” of the treaty but did not receive support from Washington. (AFP)
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Updated 15 January 2021

Russia says leaving Open Skies military treaty

  • Moscow is beginning ‘domestic procedures for Russia’s withdrawal from the Open Skies treaty’

MOSCOW: Russia’s foreign ministry said Friday it is leaving the Open Skies treaty, a post-Cold War defense accord that allows its signatories to carry out unarmed surveillance flights over each other’s territories.
Citing “lack of progress” on maintaining the functioning of the treaty after the United States withdrew from it last year, the ministry said in a statement it is beginning “domestic procedures for Russia’s withdrawal from the Open Skies treaty.”
The Open Skies treaty was signed in 1992 and came into force in 2002. It allowed its nearly three dozen signatories to carry out short-notice flights over one another’s territory to monitor potential military operations.
Members include countries across Europe, the former Soviet Union and Canada.
Washington announced it would be leaving the treaty after accusing Russia of violations, including blocking flights over certain sites and forbidding surveys of military exercises.
The Russian foreign ministry said Friday that the United States had used a “fictitious pretext” for its withdrawal and in doing so disturbed “the balance of interests of the participating states.”
The ministry added that Russia had put forward proposals to retain the “viability” of the treaty but did not receive support from Washington.


UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

Updated 26 February 2021

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

  • Campaigner tells Arab News he welcomes “proactive” approach to reaching Muslim communities
  • Report: British Asians have highest mortality rate during second wave of COVID-19

LONDON: A night-time vaccine drive is reportedly being planned by the UK government during Ramadan, following reports that the country’s Asian community had the highest mortality rate during the second wave of COVID-19.
The government hopes to mitigate a potential vaccine uptake drop-off by Muslims during the holy month, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Ramadan 2021 will begin on April 12, a critical time in the UK’s vaccine rollout and just three days before the government’s planned date to have offered all over 50s the jab.
Concerns over the impact of Ramadan on vaccine uptake are compounded by a government report that British Asians, many of whom are Muslim, are the demographic with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate per 100,000 people in the UK’s second wave.
“A large part of this continued disparity for South Asian populations can be explained from geographic, socioeconomic and health factors,” the report read.
Kawsar Zaman, founder of the Take the COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign, told Arab News that he welcomes the government’s “proactive” approach in reaching out to and inoculating the UK’s Muslim community.
“I think the plan is excellent. Anything that we can do to promote uptake, particularly within communities where we’ve found it difficult to encourage people to take the vaccine, is positive,” he said.
“Particularly during Ramadan, where nine times out of 10 people are awake late into the night and early morning, anything that makes receiving the jab more accessible is great news.”
Zaman also hailed the government’s outreach to, and consultation with, Britain’s Muslim communities throughout the country’s world-leading vaccine rollout.
“What’s quite unique about this vaccine drive is that they’re being proactive about it, as well as consulting with a very wide range of people in many communities, including the Muslim community — which isn’t always the case,” he said.
Zaman singled out for praise Nadhim Zahawi, who is in charge of the UK’s vaccine rollout, saying he has done “a lot of really good work” and has been “very open in meeting with communities.” Zaman added: “What’s great here is that they’re listening first, then acting.”


Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker

Updated 26 February 2021

Indonesia finds weapons on impounded Iranian tanker

  • Vessel was seized along with Panamanian ship in January
  • Crew members face charges including violation of the right to innocent passage

JAKARTA: Indonesian authorities said on Friday that firearms and ammunition have been found on an Iranian supertanker, one of the two vessels seized in the country’s waters over a suspected illegal oil transfer last month.
The Iranian-flagged MT Horse and the Panamanian-flagged MT Freya were impounded by the Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) in waters bordering the South China Sea off Pontianak, West Kalimantan province, on Jan. 24, over suspicions of illegal fuel transfer between ships, polluting the water with oil, violation of the right of innocent passage, turning off their identification systems, illegal anchorage, and not flying their national flags.
On Friday, authorities said they had also found weapons on the Iranian tanker. “Investigators found a sniper rifle, three assault rifles, two pistols, and ammunition on the Iranian-flagged tanker MT Horse,” Bakamla spokesperson Col. Wisnu Pramandita told Arab News.
Earlier on Friday, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Mahfud MD said during a joint press conference with Bakamla that all other suspicions had also been confirmed.
“We concluded they deliberately did all those violations, and they were caught doing them in tandem,” he said, as Bakamla chief Vice Admiral Aan Kurnia told reporters that the two tankers had trespassed 25 nautical miles into Indonesia’s territorial waters when the agency caught them.
The tankers were impounded after a patrol ship detected an idle signal indicating that the automatic identification system of the vessels was turned off. When Bakamala personnel arrived at the location they caught the tankers conducting a ship-to-ship fuel transfer from MT Horse to MT Freya, with their hulls covered to conceal their identities.
The vessels have been anchored at Bakamla’s base in Batam, Riau Islands province near Singapore, since their seizure.
Investigators are still questioning 25 crew from the MT Horse and 36 Chinese crew members of the MT Freya, which is managed by a Shanghai-based company.
Deputy Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Sugeng Purnomo said the inter-departmental task force investigating the case will soon press charges against the suspects. 
In the wake of the incident, Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has ordered stricter law enforcement in the country’s waters, ministry spokesperson Adita Irawati told Arab News.
“We are committed to enforcing the law on Indonesia’s territorial waters, in accordance also with the international law as enforced by the International Maritime Organization,” Irawati said.


UN rights chief cites ‘need’ to assess rights in Xinjiang

Updated 26 February 2021

UN rights chief cites ‘need’ to assess rights in Xinjiang

  • Concerns about detention centers for Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang have provoked human rights concerns
  • Bachelet’s office and Chinese authorities have so far failed to arrange a visit for her to the region

GENEVA: The United Nations’ human rights chief on Friday cited the need for an “independent and comprehensive assessment” of the rights situation in China’s Xinjiang region, while emphasizing that activists, lawyers and rights defenders face unfair charges, detention and trials in China.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said her office is working to find “mutually agreeable parameters” for her to visit China, including Xinjiang. Efforts to arrange such a visit for the human rights commissioner date to before she took office in September 2018.
Bachelet discussed China while giving the UN’s Human Rights Council her regular update on the rights situation worldwide, this time involving some 50 countries.
Bachelet credited China’s progress in curbing COVID-19 but said “fundamental rights and civic freedoms continue to be curtailed in the name of national security and the COVID-19 response.” She said over 600 people are being investigated for participating in protests in Hong Kong.
Concerns about detention centers — which China calls training centers — for Muslim Uyghurs and others in Xinjiang have provoked human rights concerns for many months, and Bachelet’s office and Chinese authorities have so far failed to arrange a visit for her to the region.
“In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, information that is in the public domain indicates the need for independent and comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation,” Bachelet said, adding that her office was looking into reports of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and sexual violence in institutions, among other rights issues.
Rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said discussions were continuing for a “preparatory technical mission” that could pave the way for Bachelet to visit China. Shamdasani said such a mission was needed before a Bachelet visit “to ensure meaningful access.”
Bachelet’s address ran through an array of rights concerns and issues, including “the growing expansion of the definition of ‘foreign agent’” in Russia; a “serious contraction of civic space” in several countries in southeast Asia; “excessive use of force” against demonstrators in some South American countries, and “charges of sedition against journalists and activists” in India for reporting or commenting on protests by farmers there.
She noted several European governments restricted the work of groups that defend migrants’ rights, and cited some 50 cases opened in Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain over the last five years involving humanitarian search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea.
The comments were separate from other Bachelet speeches and council discussions on “major country situations” about places that included Belarus, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Venezuela
Overall, Bachelet cautioned about the impact of COVID-19 on human rights.
“Today, in every region of the world, people are being left behind — or pushed even further behind — as the coronavirus pandemic continues to gather pace,” she said.


Italian MEP blames EU inaction for Med migrant crisis

Updated 26 February 2021

Italian MEP blames EU inaction for Med migrant crisis

  • As well as serving as an MEP in Brussels, Bartolo is also the director of Lampedusa’s health services
  • Calls on Europe to give “the right answers” to solve humanitarian disaster on its doorstep

ROME: An Italian MEP known as the “doctor of migrants” has blamed EU inaction for the situation in the Mediterranean at a speech in the city of Florence. 
Pietro Bartolo, who sits in the European Parliament for the Solidarity Democracy party, said: “I believe that Europe has the biggest responsibility for what is still happening in the Mediterranean and in Libya.
“When I speak of Europe, I am of course talking about member states, but I’m also talking about the European Commission in Brussels,” he said. “It doesn’t do what it should do; that is, telling (members) to respect accords — human rights that are systematically violated across Europe — I have to say, including by (Italy).”
Bartolo is known for spending his weekends at his home on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, which is closer to the coast of North Africa than to the Italian mainland, and which has become a prominent landing site for migrants and refugees traveling to Europe.
As well as serving as an MEP in Brussels, Bartolo is also the director of Lampedusa’s health services, and he oversees the provision of first aid and other medical services to the migrants who land there.
Bartolo added that Europe’s policies on migrants were, in his opinion, “a failure,” and that the migratory phenomenon “cannot be faced like we have faced it so far, which has taken us all to a failure.
“Facts clearly certify that the so-called ‘Dublin 3’ Agreement has been a failure so far. It is a pact that talks about repatriations, along with strengthening the EU borders, creating a European fortress. This isn’t good,” he said. “That pact talks about pre-screening, it talks about loading more and more burden on the shoulders of countries of first entrance and first landing, including Greece, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Spain, and now I’d also say Croatia.
“We therefore have to ensure that the solidarity which is talked about in article 80 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU is put in place,” he added.
Bartolo called on politicians “at every level” to find solutions to the migratory issue. “Politicians must decide in Europe whether to close or open doors, on whether to let these people die in the middle of the Mediterranean or in the detention camps on Libya, or save them.
“It is up to politicians to decide whether to pay Libya or Turkey to block migrants or not. The point is that we need answers and we need them soon. As the phenomenon of migration was born with man, it will always exist, no one can stop it,” he added. “It must be dealt with differently: Not with barbed wire and walls. We need to give the right answers, based on solidarity, respect for human rights and for the right to life.”


Russian prisons chief confirm Putin critic Navalny in penal colony

Updated 26 February 2021

Russian prisons chief confirm Putin critic Navalny in penal colony

  • Russian president’s most prominent opponent was this month sentenced to two years and six months in a penal colony
  • Alexei Navalny spent months recovering in Germany from the poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok

MOSCOW: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been transferred to a penal colony where he will serve more than two years, the head of Russia’s prison service said on Friday.
President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent was this month sentenced to two years and six months in a penal colony for breaching parole terms while recovering in Germany from a poisoning attack.
“He has been transferred to where he is supposed to be under the court ruling,” state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Alexander Kalashnikov, the head of the Federal Prison Service, as saying.
Kalashnikov did not disclose the name of the prison but insisted that Navalny would serve his sentence in “absolutely normal conditions.”
“I guarantee that there exists no threat to his life and health,” he added.
Last week the European Court of Human Rights had ordered Russia to release Navalny, saying his life was in danger in prison, but Moscow swiftly rejected the call.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Prison Service said she could not provide further details and was not at liberty to release personal data about convicts.
Navalny’s lawyer Vadim Kobzev said on Friday he was still unaware of his client’s whereabouts.
On Thursday afternoon the opposition politician’s defense team said Navalny had been transferred from a Moscow jail to an unknown location, possibly to a penal colony.
Navalny spent months recovering in Germany from the poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok that saw him fall ill on a flight in Siberia in August.
Russia has denied involvement but Navalny has said it was ordered by Putin.
Navalny was immediately arrested on return to Moscow in mid-January, and Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.