‘De-radicalization’ offers Moroccan prisoners route to freedom

Saleh, a prisoner who has been languishing in Moroccan jails for 19 years on terrorism charges, sits at the library inside Kenitra Prison, in the coastal city of the same name, near the Moroccan capital Rabat. (AFP)
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Updated 18 October 2021

‘De-radicalization’ offers Moroccan prisoners route to freedom

  • The program, launched in 2015 and led by Morocco’s DGAPR prison service with several partner organizations, aims to help terror detainees who are willing to question their beliefs

RABAT: Saleh has been languishing in Moroccan jails for 19 years on terrorism charges, but he hopes to be freed soon thanks to a de-radicalization program.

The former hard-line militant, today a bearded prisoner in his 50s, said he once held beliefs that justified violence.

“I believed Muslims had a duty to fight oppressive rulers who don’t apply Islamic law, and to attack states that fight Muslims,” he told AFP in the library of Kenitra Prison, near Rabat.

But those ideas were based on a literal reading of the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad “that I wasn’t qualified to understand,” he says.

Today, after passing through the North African kingdom’s Moussalaha (“Reconciliation“) program, he is hoping for a reprieve.

The program, launched in 2015 and led by Morocco’s DGAPR prison service with several partner organizations, aims to help terror detainees who are willing to question their beliefs.

Saleh said his journey into militancy began after he emigrated in the 1990s to Italy, where he met an imam at a Turin mosque who belonged to Jamaa Islamiya, the Egyptian jihadist group that assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

In 2001, he left what he used to call “the country of the infidels” and moved with his family to Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

But the Sept. 11 attacks in the US forced him to change his plans.

With the US threatening to invade and topple the Taliban, he fled home to Morocco — and was promptly arrested.

He says he does not have blood on his hands, but he has been in detention ever since.

Morocco has had painful experiences with militancy at home and abroad.

In 2003, five suicide attacks killed 33 people and wounded scores more in the economic capital Casablanca.

Fifteen years later, two Scandinavian tourists were murdered by Daesh-linked militants during a hiking trip in the High Atlas mountains.

The security services have dismantled more than 2,000 extremist cells and made over 3,500 arrests linked to terrorism since 2002, according to official figures published in February.

Many cells busted in recent years have been linked to the Daesh group, which seized a swathe of territory in Syria and Iraq and proclaimed a “caliphate” there in 2014.

More than 1,500 Moroccan fighters are known to have traveled to the area over the past decade, a security source said.

But in 2015, Moroccan authorities launched Moussalaha as part of “a new approach” to detainees, said DGAPR official Moulay Idriss Agoulmam.

The program “includes monitoring the participants and helping those who express a need for guidance,” he said.

It also includes studies on law and the economy, as well as a three-month psychological accompaniment.

It has so far reached 207 detainees, including eight women. Around 116 have received royal pardons and been freed, while 15 have had their terms reduced.

Mohamed Damir, another ex-detainee who had been sentenced to death in 2003 on terror charges, said many radicalized people “only realize they need to leave their extremist ideas once they find themselves alone” in a prison cell.

The 47-year-old said he reached that point after seven years of prison. That began a long process to convince the authorities to help out convicts in a similar situation.

In 2011, his sentence was commuted to 30 years in jail.

Then he was released in 2017 after taking part in the first round of Moussalaha.

Part of his re-education involved reading the works of philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire, some of whose ideas “are not far from the spirit of Islam.”

“I discovered the concept of the social contract, which allows everyone to live in peace, as we are obviously all different,” he said.

After leaving prison, Damir joined an Islamic scholars’ association in the town of Mohammadia that oversees the religious aspect of Moussalaha.

Today, he is helping guide detainees through the program.

“It’s not always easy,” he said.

“Most of them don’t know much about the Islamic religion,” he said, adding that he uses religious texts to change their views.

“I try to persuade them that they will not earn God’s favor by following the path (of violence).”


UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

Updated 25 January 2022

UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

  • At least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep on Friday by suspected Daesh gunmen

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council has unanimously condemned “in the strongest terms” a recent terrorist attack in Iraq’s Diyala Province, and called for all “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism” to be brought to justice.
At dawn on Friday, Jan. 21, at least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep during an attack on their barracks by suspected Daesh gunmen, according to reports citing Iraqi security officials. It happened in the Al-Azim district, a mountainous area more than 70 miles north of the capital, Baghdad.
The Security Council urged all states to actively cooperate with the Iraqi Government in seeking to hold the perpetrators to account, in line with their obligations under international law and the council’s resolutions. It reiterated that terrorism is one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.
In a joint statement, council members reaffirmed that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”
They highlighted the need for all states “to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”
Council members also shared “their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the government of Iraq, and they wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured.”


Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert

Updated 25 January 2022

Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert

  • More than 700 child citizens of 57 countries, including France, Germany, the UK and the US, are detained at Al-Ghuwayran prison, which holds Daesh militants and their families
  • Fighting continues at the prison, where almost 300 detainees have been killed since a deadly jailbreak attempt by hundreds of Daesh insurgents began last week

NEW YORK: A UN human rights expert on Tuesday voiced serious concern for the well-being of more than 700 children incarcerated at Al-Ghuwayran prison, in Al-Hasakeh in northeast Syria, and called on all countries to repatriate their young citizens held in the country.
The prison was the scene of a deadly attempted jailbreak by hundreds of Daesh insurgents last week.
“Boys as young as 12 are living in fear for their lives amid the chaos and carnage in the jail,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
“They are tragically being neglected by their own countries through no fault of their own except they were born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups.
“The treatment of hundreds of boys who have been detained in grotesque prison conditions is an affront to the dignity of the child and the right of every child to be treated with dignity.”
Almost 300 detainees have been killed during days of fighting at Al-Ghuwayran, which began last Thursday with the detonation of two car bombs. Clashes are continuing at the prison, which holds more than 5,000 alleged Daesh militants from almost 60 countries. The insurgents had seized control of the children’s section of the facility.
Fighters from the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces are said to be closing in on the final section of prison still held by Daesh attackers, as the situation becomes increasingly worrying for inmates.
Humanitarian groups have renewed calls for all governments to repatriate their citizens from Syria.
“The abject refusal of states to repatriate their children is a contributory factor in the security and human rights morass that has ignited in Al-Hasakeh in recent days,” said Ni Aolain, who last year sent official letters to 57 governments of countries believed to have citizens in Syrian camps. They include France, Germany, the UK, Finland and the US.
The failure of governments to repatriate detained children, who are victims of terrorism and in need of protection under international law, “beggars belief,” Ni Aolain said.
“Many of these boys, forcibly separated from their mothers and family members in recent years, have been denied their most fundamental human rights their entire lives,” she added.
“They have been held arbitrarily and never participated in any legal process that would justify depriving them of their liberty, and in conditions that constitute torture, cruel and degrading treatment under international law.
“Treating boys as a distinct class, refusing to recognize in practice their rights as children, is a form of gender discrimination that has had horrific consequences for these children now caught up in the violent confrontation at Al-Hasakeh prison.”
Ni Aolain called on all states and other entities active in northeastern Syria to ensure that civilians are protected, and for those involved in regaining control of the prison to protect the children held there and prevent further harm coming to them.
Special rapporteurs are independent experts who serve in individual capacities, and on a voluntary basis, on the UN’s Human Rights Council. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.


Frenchman gets long jail term in Iran; denies spy charges

Updated 25 January 2022

Frenchman gets long jail term in Iran; denies spy charges

  • French foreign ministry says prison sentence has no basis in fact and is unacceptable
  • Briere began a hunger strike on Dec. 25 to protest mistreatment in the prison where he is being detained

PARIS: A Frenchman detained in Iran and hunger striking to protest his treatment has been sentenced to 8 years in prison on what his lawyer insisted Tuesday are trumped up espionage and propaganda charges.
Benjamin Brière, 36, was arrested in May 2020 after taking pictures in a desert area where photography is prohibited and asking questions on social media about Iran’s obligatory Islamic headscarf for women.

France's foreign ministry slammed the verdict as “unacceptable.”
Paris-based lawyer Philippe Valent said an Iranian revolutionary court has sentenced Brière to 8 years in jail for espionage and 8 months of imprisonment for anti-government propaganda. Under the Iranian law, the longer part is applicable in practice.
The lawyer said the charges are entirely without foundation.
Brière began a hunger strike on Dec. 25 to protest mistreatment in the prison of the northeastern city of Mashahd where he is being detained.
His sister, Blandine Brière, told The Associated Press “we are disheartened at such huge sentence and also very angry to see this is actually a political trial.”
“This is like a huge mountain in front of us, we feel helpless,” she added, saying her brother is caught in “a diplomatic game” played by Iranian authorities.
“Today we need the (French) government to take action and help us, help Benjamin and do whatever is needed to get him out,” she said. “He is getting weaker, he is very tired physically and mentally. This is something that is very worrisome for us.”
Brière’s Iranian lawyer, Saeed Dehghan, told the AP that his client is still on a hunger strike yet is “in good spirits.”
Dehghan said the court hearing happened Thursday in Mashhad. Brière was charged for “cooperation with a foreign hostile nation against Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
This is the first time that an Iranian court considers France a “hostile nation.” So far the US and Israel were on the list in similar cases.
France, alongside other world powers, is negotiations with Iran in Vienna to revive 2015 nuclear deal.

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Sudan frees medics held in crackdown on anti-coup protests

Updated 25 January 2022

Sudan frees medics held in crackdown on anti-coup protests

  • During the evening of 24 January, 9 MSF staff members were detained by the Sudanese authorities in Khartoum
  • The team was released on Tuesday morning

KHARTOUM: Sudan on Tuesday released nine medics from Doctors Without Borders, the aid group said, a day after they were arrested during a broadening crackdown on anti-coup protests.
“During the evening of 24 January, nine MSF staff members were detained by the Sudanese authorities in the capital Khartoum,” the group said in a statement, using its French acronym.
They were detained as they were making their way back to their office from a hospital, said the organization.
“MSF’s emergency medical teams are working in Khartoum to support the health authorities with their response to injuries from ongoing protests and Covid-19,” the statement said.
The team was released on Tuesday morning, it added.
Among those arrested were staff members from both Sudan and other countries, according to the pro-democracy Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.
Sudan has been rocked by protests calling for civilian rule since an October 25 military coup led by general Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
The military takeover derailed a power-sharing transition between the military and civilians that had been painstakingly negotiated after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir.
The crackdown on anti-coup demonstrations has left at least 76 people dead and hundreds wounded, according to the doctors’ committee.
Hundreds of people have also been rounded up in the crackdown, including pro-democracy activists.
On Saturday, a leading women’s rights campaigner, Amira Othman, was arrested following a raid on her home in Khartoum, according to a statement by the “No to Women’s Oppression” initiative which she leads.
Other activists from the “resistance committees,” informal groups which have been instrumental in organizing the anti-coup protests, were also detained late Sunday, according to members who requested anonymity because they feared reprisals.
The United States has slammed the protest crackdown.
On Tuesday, the US Bureau of African Affairs said Sudan’s military leaders had committed to dialogue to resolve the crisis in the country during a visit last week by senior US diplomats to Khartoum.
“Yet their actions — more violence against protesters, detention of civil society activists — tell a different story, and will have consequences,” the bureau said on Twitter.
Sudan is one of the world’s poorest countries and has seen vital foreign aid cut as part of the international community’s condemnation of the coup.


Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults

Updated 25 January 2022

Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults

  • Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk
  • Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020

JERUSALEM: An expert panel on Tuesday advised the Israeli government to begin offering a fourth vaccine dose to everyone over the age of 18, citing research showing it helps prevent COVID-19 infection and severe illness.
The advisory committee said research shows a fourth dose provides three to five times the level of protection against serious disease and double the protection against infection compared to three doses. The Health Ministry’s director must approve the recommendation.
Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk as it struggles to contain a wave of infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. It began offering third doses to the general population last summer.
Figures from Israel’s Health Ministry show there are currently some 580,000 active patients, with just 845 listed as seriously ill. Nearly half the population has received a third dose and more than 600,000 have gotten a fourth. Israel has reported 8,487 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020. It has gathered extensive data that is informing other countries’ responses to the pandemic.