Taliban fire into air to disperse women’s rally backing Iran protests

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Taliban forces fired shots into the air on Thursday to disperse a women’s rally supporting protests that have erupted in Iran. (AFP)
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Taliban forces fired shots into the air on Thursday to disperse a women’s rally supporting protests that have erupted in Iran. (AFP)
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Taliban forces fired shots into the air on Thursday to disperse a women’s rally supporting protests that have erupted in Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 30 September 2022

Taliban fire into air to disperse women’s rally backing Iran protests

KABUL:  Taliban forces fired shots into the air on Thursday to disperse a women’s rally supporting protests in Iran over the death of a woman in the custody of morality police.
Deadly protests have erupted in neighboring Iran for the past two weeks, following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while detained by the Islamic republic’s morality police.
Chanting the same “Women, life, freedom” mantra used in Iran, about 25 Afghan women protested in front of Kabul’s Iranian embassy before being dispersed by Taliban forces firing in the air, an AFP correspondent reported.
Women protesters carried banners that read: “Iran has risen, now it’s our turn!” and “From Kabul to Iran, say no to dictatorship!“
Taliban forces swiftly snatched the banners and tore them in front of the protesters.
Defiant Afghan women’s rights activists have staged sporadic protests in Kabul and some other cities since the Taliban stormed back to power last August.
The protests, banned by the Taliban, contravene a slew of harsh restrictions imposed by the hard-line extremists on Afghan women.
The Taliban have forcefully dispersed women’s rallies in the past, warned journalists against covering them and detained activists helming organization efforts.
An organizer of Thursday’s protest, speaking anonymously, told AFP it was staged “to show our support and solidarity with the people of Iran and the women victims of the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
Since returning to power, the Taliban have banned secondary school education for girls and barred women from many government jobs.
Women have also been ordered to fully cover themselves in public, preferably with the all-encompassing burqa.
So far the Taliban have dismissed international calls to remove the curbs on women, especially the ban on secondary school education.
On Tuesday, a United Nations report denounced the “severe restrictions” and called for them to be reversed.
The international community has insisted that lifting controls on women’s rights is a key condition for recognizing the Taliban government, which no country has so far done.


Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16

Updated 4 min 47 sec ago

Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16

  • Rodrygo flicked the ball on to Casemiro just inside the box and the Man United midfielder’s volley flew into the net with the help of a slight but significant deflection off Manuel Akanji
  • Tite’s side are just the second team to qualify for the last 16 after France and the only side apart from the holders to have won both group matches so far in Qatar

DOHA: A Brazil side lacking spark without the injured Neymar needed a late strike from Casemiro to edge out Switzerland 1-0 on Monday as the five-time winners secured their place in the World Cup last 16 with one game to spare.
The Brazilians had been frustrated by an obdurate Swiss side at Doha’s Stadium 974 and it looked as if they would have to settle for a point after a Vinicius Junior strike in the second half was disallowed for offside following a VAR check.
But then, with seven minutes remaining, Rodrygo flicked the ball on to Casemiro just inside the box and the Manchester United midfielder’s volley flew into the net with the help of a slight but significant deflection off Manuel Akanji.
Tite’s side are just the second team to qualify for the last 16 after France and the only side apart from the holders to have won both group matches so far in Qatar.
“The first aim was to qualify. That was really important in a group as difficult as ours,” the 30-year-old Casemiro told Brazilian broadcaster Sportv.
“We had to be patient against an experienced side who know how to play the game. It was always going to be decided by little details but we knew we would have plenty of possession and thankfully we managed to get the goal.”
With six points, Brazil will be tempted to rest players for their final Group G game against Cameroon on Friday, when a draw will secure top spot.
Switzerland, meanwhile, failed to muster a shot on target but remain on course to qualify too, knowing a win against Serbia in their last game will take Murat Yakin’s side through and a draw may also suffice.
“We are competitive against bigger teams. I think we have proven that time and time again,” said Yakin, who was missing one of his main creative sparks in Xherdan Shaqiri.
“We lacked a bit of courage going forward but there are a lot of good things to take from this.”
They have made a habit of making at least the first knockout round at major tournaments, while Brazil are in Qatar to win a sixth World Cup and nothing less will do.
The Selecao were always going to miss Neymar, although coach Tite has said he is confident the Paris Saint-Germain superstar will recover from his ankle injury to play a part again at the finals.
After the class of Richarlison made the difference in their opening win over Serbia, this was a reminder for the Brazilians of the strength in depth in the European game.
Four years ago, before losing to Belgium in the quarter-finals, they were also held by Switzerland in the group stage.
Yakin’s side therefore had no reason to fear Brazil, who introduced Manchester United midfielder Fred into their line-up in place of Neymar.
As a result they were set up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Fred and Lucas Paqueta either side of Casemiro, while Eder Militao stood in for the injured Danilo at right-back.
There were only flashes of what Brazil could do in a frustrating first half, with the loudest cheers from the masses of supporters in yellow and green coming when the big screen showed two-time World Cup-winning striker Ronaldo in the stands.
Vinicius had the best chance of the opening period when he connected with a Raphinha cross at the back post in the 27th minute, but Yann Sommer tipped his effort behind.
That Tite was not satisfied with Brazil’s first-half showing was clear when he hooked Paqueta at half-time and sent on Rodrygo.
The 21-year-old was involved when Brazil thought they had taken the lead just after the hour mark, helping gain possession before Casemiro released Vinicius to run through and score.
But the celebrations were cut shot as the goal was disallowed by VAR for an offside against Richarlison.
Tite turned to his bench and sent on more attackers in Gabriel Jesus and Antony, but the goal finally arrived from a less likely sources in Casemiro and Brazil saw out a deserved victory.


After six-year tenure, General Bajwa retires as Pakistan army chief today

Updated 28 min 41 sec ago

After six-year tenure, General Bajwa retires as Pakistan army chief today

  • Outgoing chief holds farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi
  • Will pass baton to successor General Asim Munir at change of command ceremony

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be retiring today, Tuesday after completing a six-year tenure as head of Pakistan's all-powerful military, which has an outsized role in the governance and foreign policy of the nuclear-armed nation.

A change of command ceremony will be held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday morning during which Bajwa will pass the baton to his successor, General Asim Munir, who will become the 17th army chief of the country.

Ahead of the handing over, Bajwa on Monday held farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif and President Arif Alvi, in which both leaders lauded the outgoing officer's services for Pakistan, particularly in the areas of defense, security, and geo-economics.

“Under the leadership of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army demonstrated exemplary services in effectively dealing with various challenges, including the country’s exclusion from the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) Grey List, COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent flashfloods,” the PM office said in a statement. 

“You had the honor of leading the best army in the world.”

In an interview published in an international media outlet on Sunday, Bajwa reiterated the army’s resolve to remain apolitical and, in an apparent reference to former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said that a campaign had been launched against the armed forces because it refused to intervene in politics. 

“Despite some criticism and undue vilification of the armed forces through mass propaganda and meticulously crafted false narratives, the institutional resolve to remain apolitical will remain steadfast,” the outgoing army chief said in the interview.

“I am certain that this political quarantine of the armed forces will auger well for Pakistan in the long term by fostering political stability and strengthening the army-to-people bond.”

The army has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 75-year history either through coups or as an invisible guiding hand in politics.

Munir's appointment coincides with a dispute between the military and former premier Khan, who blames the army for playing a part in his ouster earlier this year and who has been leading anti-government protests since then.


BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ program appoints Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as guest editor

Updated 47 min 14 sec ago

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ program appoints Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as guest editor

  • Her show will feature reports on Iran, examine government efforts to free British prisoners

DUBAI: British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who spent six years jailed in Iran, has been chosen as one of seven guest editors of BBC Radio 4’s “Today” program, as part of BBC Radio and BBC Sounds Christmas plans.

In an annual tradition, for the last 19 years, the program has invited high-profile guests to take over the show in the week between Christmas and new year.

Owenna Griffiths, editor of the “Today” program, said: “For nearly 20 years the guest editors have transformed Christmas on ‘Today,’ creating some of the most memorable moments in the program’s rich history along the way.

“This year is no different and I’m enormously grateful these guest editors have given up their time to bring new stories, unexpected perspectives, and a little festive cheer to the ‘Today’ audience.”

Each guest will edit Radio 4’s “Today” program between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 and each show will include an interview with the guest editor.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held in an Iranian prison after being accused of spying in 2016.

Following a long-running campaign and negotiations between the British and Iranian governments, she returned home to the UK in March.

In September, she posted a video showing her support for the ongoing protests in Iran following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

In the clip, Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen cutting her hair and it ends with her saying, “for my mother, for my daughter, for the fear of solitary confinement, for the women of my country, for freedom.”

Her show on Dec. 28 will explore how people can hold onto their freedom in difficult times and feature reports about Iran and the UK government’s efforts to free British prisoners.

Other guest editors include ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus; chef Jamie Oliver; Jeremy Fleming, director of the UK’s intelligence, cyber, and security agency Government Communications Headquarters; Sharon White, chairman of John Lewis Partnership; former cricketer Ian Botham, now a member of the British House of Lords and UK trade envoy to Australia; and Anne-Marie Imafidon, technologist, author, and chief executive officer of Stemettes, a social enterprise promoting women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers.


Syrian refugees under pressure to return face an uncertain future tinged with fear

Updated 40 min 12 sec ago

Syrian refugees under pressure to return face an uncertain future tinged with fear

  • Countries that had offered sanctuary are devising plans to return displaced households, either voluntarily or by force
  • Human rights monitors say returnees are often harassed, detained without charge, tortured, and even disappeared

DUBAI: When Amir left his war-ravaged hometown of Homs, western Syria, in 2013, he believed he was heading somewhere that would offer him and his family lasting security and sanctuary from his nation’s grinding civil war.

Packing what few belongings were left unscathed by the regime’s incessant barrel bombing, Amir boarded a bus bound for Lebanon with his sister, Alia, and her toddler, Omar, where the trio settled in a camp in Arsal, Baalbek.

“My brother is a proud man,” Alia told Arab News from her adopted home in Lebanon. “After our parents died under rubble, he took it upon himself to fend for us and to raise my son, Omar.”

In doing so, Amir and his family joined the ranks of millions of Syrians displaced by the civil war — the majority of whom have settled in neighboring Turkiye, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, while others have struck out for Europe and beyond.

What started in 2011 as a peaceful protest movement demanding greater civic freedoms quickly escalated into one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, with a death toll now numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Around 13 million people have been displaced by the war. (AFP)

Another 100,000 people have disappeared, likely abducted by security service agents to be tortured and killed in Bashar Assad’s prisons. To date, around 13 million people have been displaced by the war — 5.6 million of them fleeing abroad.

Now, many of those countries that had offered sanctuary have devised plans to return their Syrian guests, either voluntarily or by force, despite warnings from aid agencies and refugees themselves that Syria remains unsafe and blighted by poverty.

Syrian refugees are viewed by the Assad regime and its loyalists as traitors and dissidents. Human rights monitors have identified cases of returnees being harassed, detained without charge, tortured, and even disappeared.

Nevertheless, countries like Lebanon, Turkiye and Denmark, grappling with their own economic pressures and rising anti-immigrant sentiments, have been upping the ante on Syrians to return home, claiming the civil war is now over.

In 2021, Denmark adopted a “zero asylum-seekers” policy, resulting in many Syrians who had been based there since 2015 having their residency status revoked, while others were removed to deportation facilities.

Struggling to take care of its own native population, the caretaker government of crisis-wracked Lebanon announced its own repatriation plan in October this year, with the aim of sending back 15,000 refugees per month.

The situation in Turkiye is no different, according to reports. Stories have emerged on social media of refugees being forced to sign voluntary return forms.

According to reports from the France-based advocacy group Syrians for Truth and Justice, Syrians dropped off at the Bab Al-Salama border crossing by Turkish authorities are classified as “voluntary returnees,” despite this being a regime-controlled crossing.

Returnees — voluntarily or otherwise — often face harassment, extortion, forced recruitment, torture and arbitrary arrest upon arrival on the regime side, irrespective of their age or gender.

Mazen Hamada, a high-profile activist and torture survivor who has testified about the horrors of Syrian regime prisons, mystified the world when he decided to return to Damascus in 2020.

Hamada, who long spoke of his mental torment following his release and his loneliness in exile, returned to Syria from the Netherlands under an amnesty agreement supposedly guaranteeing his freedom.

However, upon arrival in Damascus in February 2020, Hamada was arrested and has not been seen or heard from since.

Last year, human rights monitor Amnesty International released a report, titled “You’re returning to your death,” which documented serious violations committed by regime intelligence officers against 66 returnees, 13 of whom were children.

Around 100,000 people have disappeared, likely abducted by security service agents to be tortured and killed in Bashar Assad’s prisons. (AFP)

Five returnees had died while in custody, while the fate of 17 remains unknown. Fourteen cases of sexual assault were also recorded — seven of which included rape — perpetrated against five women, a teenage boy, and a five-year-old girl.

Voices for Displaced Syrians, another advocacy group based in Istanbul, published a study in February this year, titled “Is Syria safe for return? Returnees’ perspective,” based on interviews with 300 returnees and internally displaced persons across four governorates.

Their accounts outlined extreme human rights violations, physical and psychological abuses, and a lack of legal protections. Some 41 percent of respondents had returned to Syria voluntarily, while 42 percent said they had returned out of necessity, as a result of poor living conditions in their host country and a longing to reunify with family.

Concerning their treatment upon arrival, 17 percent reported they or a loved one had been arbitrarily arrested, 11 percent spoke of harassment and physical violence inflicted upon them or a family member, and 7 percent chose not to answer.

As for internally displaced persons, 46 percent reported they or a relative had been arrested, 30 percent recounted bodily harm, and 27 percent said they had faced persecution owing to their origins and hometowns. Many also reported difficulties reclaiming private property.

Concerning their treatment upon arrival, 17 percent reported they or a loved one had been arbitrarily arrested, 11 percent spoke of harassment and physical violence inflicted upon them or a family member. (AFP)

Despite the mounting body of evidence suggesting the regime is continuing to target civilians it considers dissidents, several countries are choosing to pursue normalization with Assad, lobbying for his rehabilitation into the Arab fold and reopening their embassies in Damascus.

For the relatives of returnees who have since gone missing, these developments smack of betrayal.

Amir, who eventually returned to Syria voluntarily, appears to have suffered the same fate as the activist Hamada. Tired of living in poverty in Lebanon, far from his extended family, he went back in Oct. 2021. He has not been heard from since.

“Life in Lebanon has become rather unbearable. Amir would return humiliated every time he left the house,” his sister Alia told Arab News.

Having initially lived in a UNHCR-provided tent in Arsal, Amir and his family finally managed to acquire a small one bedroom house near the camps. Alia said it was a constant struggle to scrimp together enough money to pay the rent.

Most refugees are unable to secure consistent employment due to their lack of official papers, which, under normal circumstances, would grant them residency and facilitate a stable income. Amir, like many working age men around him, resorted to hard manual labor.

Those who try to find work in the big cities risk being arrested at Lebanese checkpoints, imprisoned, and deported for staying in the country illegally.

Since Amir’s disappearance, Alia has been forced to make do on a single income cleaning houses.

What started in 2011 as a peaceful protest movement demanding greater civic freedoms quickly turned into a brutal crackdown by the Bashar Assad regime, and one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts. (AFP)

“He couldn’t take it anymore, being spoken to like a little boy by some of his employers and the degrading comments he’d hear at times,” said Alia.

“It happens to me too, but I hold back my tongue. I cannot afford to stand up for myself. He thought he would take his chances and return to Syria in the hope of finding us a place, back to familiarity.”

She says she begged her brother not to leave, aware of the many refugees they knew personally who had been mistreated upon their return to Syria. Some had been held in prison until they made bail, while others had gone missing.

“But he didn’t listen,” said Alia. “It’s been over a year since he left and I haven’t heard from him.”
 


Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

Updated 28 November 2022

Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

  • Major fire at JIC in late October destroyed dome of grand mosque
  • Islamic centers with ‘significant role’ in promoting tolerant Islam

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials have thanked Saudi Arabia after its pledge to finance the restoration of the Jakarta Islamic Center.

The announcement, which was made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month, has reaffirmed the close and important relations between the two countries.

A major fire broke out at JIC in late October, destroying the iconic dome of a grand mosque located at the complex.

The crown prince announced the Kingdom’s financing of the center’s restoration earlier this month, and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the planned restoration “confirms his keenness and interest in Islamic centers in all brotherly and friendly countries.” 

Saudi’s financial help is expected to help speed up the restoration process which, according to the center’s management, could have taken as long as five years without assistance.

Paimun Abdul Karim, spokesman of JIC’s management, told Arab News: “We are very grateful for such help from the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We are filled with thanks because it means the restoration will be faster.

“His action shows the solidarity between Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia’s plan to help us shows the good relations between the Saudi and Indonesian governments, and it will bring great benefits for us.

“This is another way to open up JIC’s diplomacy and connection to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

JIC’s work has centered on the promotion of tolerant and moderate Islam, with the complex housing not only a grand mosque, but also a research studies center and a conference hall which hosts various programs and gatherings.

Eko Hartono, Indonesia’s consul general in Jeddah, told Arab News that the support offered by Saudi Arabia “reaffirmed the closeness of friendly relations” between Jakarta and Riyadh.

He added: “Saudi’s assistance also reaffirms the country’s commitment to help the Muslim world and glory of Islam in every part of the world, including Indonesia.”

Marzuki Abubakar, researcher and lecturer at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh, said Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has always had a very close relationship with the Kingdom.

He told Arab News: “Islam in Indonesia certainly has its own unique characteristics that have captured the world’s attention, and this has led to campaigns for religious tolerance and moderation, which are also important for Saudi Arabia.

“This is why Saudi Arabia’s participation in supporting programs related to tolerance and moderation, including at the Jakarta Islamic Center, has become very important.”