Taliban’s brutal killing of comic actor Khasha sparks fear and loathing in Afghanistan

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A screengrab from a video shows the Kandahar comic Khasha being abused by Taliban soldiers as they take him away in a car. (Social media)
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A photo showing Kandahar comic Khasha's corpse after he was killed at the hands of Taliban members. (Social media)
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Afghan security personnel are on alert outside the blue mosque in Herat amid attacks by the Taliban. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi / AFP)
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Updated 30 July 2021

Taliban’s brutal killing of comic actor Khasha sparks fear and loathing in Afghanistan

  • Taliban claims without proof the Tik-Tok prankster had abused civilians in his job as a police officer in Kandahar
  • Mistreatment and murder of comedian raises fear of deliberate targeting of artists and performers

KABUL:  Until last week, Nazar Mohammad Khasha was an obscure Afghan prankster that few had heard of beyond his village in southern Kandahar. That was before he was dragged from his home, forced into the back of a vehicle and killed by the Taliban, acts that sparked an outpouring of anger across Afghanistan.

A video circulating on social media appears to show Khasha with his hands tied behind his back, squeezed into the back seat of a car between two men, one holding an assault rifle.

One of the men twice slaps Khasha full in the face for cracking a humiliating joke — quite possibly the last he ever told. Another man outside the frame barks: “Don’t let him go … strangle him.”

A second video published on social media appears to show Khasha’s motionless body lying on the ground, having been shot multiple times. A man lifts Khasha’s head to reveal his face, recognizable by his distinctive mustache.

The videos of Khasha’s abduction and murder have flooded the internet, igniting outrage across Afghanistan and overseas over the punishment meted out by the Taliban to a man well liked for the videos of his goofball charm filmed by villagers and posted on TikTok.

Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported that the 60-year-old left behind seven children. Saad Mohseni, the Afghan-Australian chairman of Moby Group, which owns Tolo News, expressed his revulsion at the execution in one word: “Horrific.”

Khasha’s routines, in which he would crack crude jokes, perform songs and poke fun at himself, had picked up a loyal following. His killing has led to fears of the targeting of artists and performers by the ultraconservative militants, long known to be intolerant of humor and free expression.




Afghan militia fighters keep a watch at an outpost against Taliban insurgents at Charkint district in Balkh Province on July 15, 2021. (Photo by FARSHAD USYAN / AFP)

In a statement on Wednesday, Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s former president, strongly condemned “the killing of Khasha by individuals related to the Taliban” and called it an act “against all human rights acts and orders of Islam.”

Mohsin Dawar, a prominent liberal Pakistani Pashtun lawmaker, said on Twitter: “A man who brought smiles to many was killed brutally for being who he was. The world watches as the Taliban continue with their atrocities against Afghans.”

In a Facebook post, Sarwar Danesh, Afghanistan’s second vice president, described Khahsa’s killing as “a slap in the face of all people of Afghanistan ... an insult against humanity and dignity,” and a violation of “justice, knowledge and art.”

Ross Wilson, the US charge d’affaires in Kabul, also condemned the killing. “Nazar Mohammad ‘Khasha’ was a beloved comedian, bringing laughter and joy to his community even in dark times,” he tweeted.

“The Taliban kidnapped and lynched him, then gleefully published video evidence on Twitter. We condemn these sickening actions and the Taliban leadership should too.”

 

 

The Taliban may have picked on Khasha for more than just his social media antics; he was also a police officer in Kandahar and a former soldier.

The group accepted responsibility for the murder after initially denying involvement, saying Khasha was not killed for his comedy routines but for alleged abusive treatment of civilians and collaboration with US forces. It has not produced any evidence to back up that claim.

Maryam Durrani, a prominent women’s rights activist in Kandahar, told Arab News that Khasha “was not a well-known, professional artist or comedian, but a village entertainer, about whom villagers made some short videos for fun.”

If Khasha was targeted in part for perceived affiliations with departing US forces, then Afghans who acted as interpreters and translators for the Western-backed Kabul government or US-affiliated organizations since 2001 many not be able to live freely without fear of reprisal from the Taliban.

Up to 18,000 Afghans who worked for the US military have applied for Special Immigration Visas to the US in recent months in the hope of escaping Taliban retribution. There is mounting public pressure on Western governments to evacuate Afghans who worked with their forces.




Afghan families gather at a refugee camp in Kandahar after fleeing their homes amid fighting between  Taliban and government security forces on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Aved Tanveer/AFP)

Khasha served for many years as a member of a local police force in Kandahar, but information about his relationship with the community in that capacity is scarce.

Local police in Kandahar historically have a bad reputation for abuses and atrocities against civilians in their fight against militants, including attacks prompted by tribal rivalries, extortion and other crimes.

A series of older videos and images online appear to show Khasha carrying assault rifles on various occasions.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, confirmed that Khasha was arrested by the group’s fighters and killed while in its custody, but claimed that he tried to snatch a gun, adding that the incident would be investigated.

“He had served for 18 years as a commander for a post, carried arms, worked with the US and was involved in extortion and brutal acts. He was not a comedian nor an innocent person. We are also investigating why he was killed without a trial,” Mujahid told Arab News.




In the words of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, Kandahar comic Khasha was killed when he snatched a gun from his captors. (AFP photo)

Khasha’s killing follows government allegations that the Taliban has murdered scores of people from one tribe in the Spin Boldak area of Kandahar, where the militants have made inroads since US-led forces began reducing their troop presence in May.

The Taliban denies it is committing such abuses and says it will allow an international investigation. However, reports emerging from areas overrun by the group in recent months tell a different story.

The Taliban is making rapid advances across the country, capitalizing on the final withdrawal of foreign troops — capturing districts, seizing key border crossings, and encircling provincial capitals.

As US and NATO forces leave, people within and outside Afghanistan have voiced concern about the cohesion of the country in the wake of soaring ethnic and tribal tensions, waves of troop surrenders and a weakened central government.

According to US defense officials, the Taliban has taken control of about half of the country’s districts.

In some areas the group is again introducing its harsh interpretation of Islamic rule that earned it notoriety until it was overthrown by the US-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.




In areas controlled by the Taliban, women are required to wear burqas, with no exception. (Photo by Sajjad Hussain / AFP)

In the areas it has retaken, schools have allegedly been burned to the ground and restrictions placed on the liberties of women, akin to those imposed on communities when the group ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

During those years, women were ordered to stay indoors unless accompanied by a male guardian, girls were banned from school, and those found guilty of crimes such as adultery were stoned to death.

Men had more freedom but were ordered not to shave their beards, would be beaten if they failed to attend prayers, and were told to only wear traditional clothing.

Afghanistan is deeply conservative and some rural pockets of the country adhere to similar rules even without Taliban oversight — but the group has tried to impose these edicts even in more modern centers.

The Taliban insist they will protect human rights — particularly those of women — but only according to “Islamic values,” which are interpreted differently across the Muslim world.

 


Shooting in Russian university leaves at least eight dead

Updated 41 min 9 sec ago

Shooting in Russian university leaves at least eight dead

  • Students and staff of the university locked themselves in rooms, and the university urged those who could leave the campus to do so

MOSCOW: A gunman opened fire in a university in the Russian city of Perm on Monday morning, leaving at least eight people dead and others wounded, according to local health officials.
Other reports meanwhile put the number of deaths at five, citing investigators.
The unidentified perpetrator used a non-lethal gun, according to the Perm State University press service. Students and staff of the university locked themselves in rooms, and the university urged those who could leave the campus to do so.
The gunman was later detained, Russia’s Interior Ministry said, adding that the shooting left some people dead, but not clarifying how many.
The state Tass news agency cited an unnamed source in the law enforcement as saying that some students jumped out of the windows of a building.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether those reported wounded sustained injuries from the shooting or from trying to escape the building.
Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened a murder probe in the aftermath of the incident.


Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Updated 20 September 2021

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

  • Up to a hundred public schools in areas considered ‘minimal risk’ for coronavirus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial

MANILA: The Philippines will reopen up to 120 schools for limited in-person classes for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in a pilot approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, officials said Monday.
While nearly every country in the world has already partially or fully reopened schools for face-to-face lessons, the Philippines has kept them closed since March 2020.
“We have to pilot face-to-face (classes) because this is not just an issue for education, it’s an issue for the children’s mental health,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.
“It’s also an issue for the economy because we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”
Under guidelines approved by Duterte Monday, up to a hundred public schools in areas considered “minimal risk” for virus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial.
Twenty private schools can also participate.
Classrooms will be open to children in kindergarten to grade three, and senior high school, but the number of students and hours spent in face-to-face lessons limited.
Schools wanting to take part will be assessed for their preparedness and need approval from local governments to reopen. Written consent from parents will be required.
“If the pilot class is safe, if it is effective, then we will gradually increase it,” said Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
Duterte rejected previous proposals for a pilot reopening of schools for fear children could catch Covid-19 and infect elderly relatives.
But there have been growing calls from the UN’s children fund and many teachers for a return to in-person learning amid concerns the prolonged closure was exacerbating an education crisis in the country.
It is not clear when the pilot will begin or which schools will be included.
A “blended learning” program, which involves online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast on television and social media, will continue.
France Castro of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the decision was “long overdue.”
Fifteen-year-olds in the Philippines were at or near the bottom in reading, mathematics and science, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Most students attend public schools where large class sizes, outdated teaching methods, lack of investment in basic infrastructure such as toilets, and poverty have been blamed for youngsters lagging behind.


‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial

Updated 20 September 2021

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial

  • Rwandan prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Paul Rusesabagina
  • The trial of 67-year-old former hotelier and 20 other defendants began in February

KIGALI: A court is set to deliver its verdict Monday against Paul Rusesabagina, the “Hotel Rwanda” hero turned government critic who is charged with terrorism in a trial supporters say is politically motivated.
Rwandan prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Rusesabagina, the 67-year-old former hotelier credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, and whose actions inspired the Hollywood film.
Rusesabagina, who used his subsequent fame to denounce Rwandan leader Paul Kagame as a dictator, was arrested in August 2020 when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
He is accused of supporting a rebel group blamed for deadly gun, grenade and arson attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.
His family say Rusesabagina was kidnapped and dismiss the nine charges against him, including terrorism, as payback by a vengeful government for his outspoken views.
Kagame has in turn rejected criticism of the case, saying Rusesabagina was in the dock not because of his fame but over the lives lost “because of his actions.”
“He is here being tried for that. Nothing to do with the film. Nothing to do with celebrity status,” Kagame said in television interview earlier this month, declaring that he would be “fairly tried.”
The trial of Rusesabagina and 20 other defendants began in February.
But the Belgian citizen and US green card holder has boycotted it since March, accusing the court of “unfairness and a lack of independence.”
The United States — which awarded Rusesabagina its Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 — along with the European Parliament and Belgium have raised concerns about his transfer to Rwanda and the fairness of his trial.
US rights group the Lantos Foundation this month urged Britain to reject the credentials of Kigali’s new ambassador to London, Johnston Busingye, saying that when he was justice minister he played a “key role in the extraordinary rendition and kidnapping” of Rusesabagina.
Presiding judge Antoine Muhima has defended the proceedings, saying none of the accused has been denied the right to speak.
The verdict was initially due in August but was put back until Monday.
Rusesabagina was the former manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, where he sheltered hundreds of guests during the genocide that left 800,000 people dead, mostly ethnic Tutsis.
A decade later the American actor Don Cheadle played Rusesabagina, a moderate Hutu, in the Oscar-nominated blockbuster that brought his story to an international audience.
Rusesabagina soon became disillusioned with the new Tutsi-dominated government led by Kagame, the rebel leader-turned president whose forces ended the mass killings.
He accused Kagame of authoritarian tendencies and left Rwanda in 1996, living in Belgium and then the United States.
Abroad, he used his global platform to crusade for political change in Kigali, and developed close ties with opposition groups in exile.
Kagame’s government accuses Rusesabagina of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group which is blamed for the attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in the attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.
Prosecutors in June said Rusesabagina “encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts.”
But his co-defendants gave conflicting testimony about the level of Rusesabagina’s involvement with the FLN and its fighters.
His family, who have campaigned globally for his release, say Rusesabagina is a political prisoner and accuse the Rwandan authorities of torturing him in custody.
According to the Hotel Rwanda Foundation, which supports him, they regard the trial as a “farce from start to finish... put in place by the Rwandan government to silence critics” and discourage “future dissent.”
In July, a media investigation claimed that Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine Kanimba, was spied on using Pegasus malware developed by Israeli company NSO.
Investigators confirmed that a cell phone belonging to Kanimba, a US-Belgian dual national, had been compromised multiple times.
For opposition official Victoire Ingabire, who spent six years in prison for terrorism, the verdict is not in doubt.
“In a country where freedom is limited, all power is in the hands of the executive,” she said.
“How could a judge dare to take a decision incompatible with the wishes of the president?”


Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

Updated 20 September 2021

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

  • Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne

SYDNEY: Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Monday reported its lowest rise in daily COVID-19 cases in more than three weeks as some lockdown restrictions were eased in Sydney, the state capital, amid higher vaccination levels.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said 935 new cases had been detected in the state, the lowest daily tally since Aug. 27, and down from 1,083 on Sunday. The state reported four more deaths.
“We’re feeling more positive than we have in a couple of weeks ... but I don’t want any of us to sit back and think the worst is behind us,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, warning of more deaths in the days ahead.
“Because we have seen the accumulation of so many cases, we know that October is going to be very challenging for our hospital system.”
Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, forcing officials there to abandon a COVID-zero target and shift to rapid vaccinations to ease curbs.
As the vaccine rollout gathers speed, with 53 percent of NSW’s adult population fully vaccinated, some restrictions were relaxed on Monday in 12 of the worst-hit suburbs in Sydney’s west. Time limits for outdoor exercise were lifted, while fully vaccinated people can gather outside in groups of five.
Neighboring Victoria state, which includes Melbourne, logged one new death and 567 new infections, its biggest daily rise this year, a day after revealing its roadmap back to freedom when vaccinations reach 70 percent, expected around Oct. 26.
So far, 44 percent of people in the state have been fully vaccinated, below the national average of 47 percent.
Meanwhile, several workers protested outside a union office in Melbourne against Victoria’s mandatory vaccination rule in the construction sector, local media reported.
The New Zealand Breakers basketball team, which play in Australia’s National Basketball League, released guard Tai Webster on Monday after he decided not to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Australia has largely lived in COVID-zero for much of the pandemic, recording 1,167 deaths and some 87,000 cases. About 56,000 cases have been registered since mid-June when the first Delta infection was detected in Sydney.
While NSW and Victoria bear the brunt of the Delta outbreak, most other states with little or no community transmission fear opening up too soon could overwhelm their hospital systems.


New Zealand’s Auckland COVID-19 restrictions eased slightly

Updated 20 September 2021

New Zealand’s Auckland COVID-19 restrictions eased slightly

  • The city will move to alert level 3 from alert level 4 starting midnight on Tuesday

WELLINGTON: Coronavirus restrictions in New Zealand’s largest city Auckland will be eased slightly from Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference.
The city, which is at the center of the latest Delta variant outbreak, will move to alert level 3 from alert level 4 starting midnight on Tuesday, Ardern said. Schools and offices will still remain closed at level 3 but businesses can operate contactless services.
The rest of the country will remain at alert level 2, she said.