Protect, advance women for a better South Sudan, pope says

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit receives Pope Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields at the Presidential Palace in Juba on Feb. 3, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 February 2023
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Protect, advance women for a better South Sudan, pope says

  • The rights of girls and women was a recurring theme on the penultimate day of the pope's visit to South Sudan
  • "Please, protect, respect, appreciate and honour every woman, every girl, young woman, mother and grandmother" the pope said

JUBA: Pope Francis joined other Christian leaders and the UN on Saturday in urging the protection and advancement of women in South Sudan, where rape has been a weapon of war, child brides are common and most girls do not reach secondary education.
The rights of girls and women was a recurring theme on the penultimate day of the pope’s visit to South Sudan, an unprecedented joint “pilgrimage of peace” with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Church of Scotland Moderator Iain Greenshields.
“Please, protect, respect, appreciate and honor every woman, every girl, young woman, mother and grandmother. Otherwise, there will be no future,” the pope said during a meeting of the three leaders with people displaced by conflict.
Later, Welby returned to the theme in his address to about 50,000 people at an ecumenical prayer vigil at a mausoleum to South Sudan’s liberation hero John Garang.
“Young men, you will value and honor women, never raping, never violent, never cruel, never using them as if they were there to satisfy desire,” he said.
“Women of South Sudan, I know that on top of the grief of conflict and the responsibility to provide for your families, many of you live with the trauma of sexual violence and the daily fear of mistreatment in your own homes.”
A United Nations report on South Sudan issued last March condemned widespread sexual violence against women and girls in conflict and said it was “fueled by systemic impunity.”
The report said “widespread rape is being perpetrated by all armed groups across the country, often as part of military tactics for which government and military leaders are responsible.”
South Sudan broke away from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into civil war in 2013 with ethnic groups turning on each other. Despite a 2018 peace deal between the two main antagonists, bouts of inter-ethnic fighting have continued to kill and displace large numbers of civilians.
PROTECT, RESPECT, HONOUR
At the event where the three religious leaders heard accounts from children living in displaced persons camps, the resident UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Sara Beysolow Nyanti, also raised the issue of pervasive sexual violence against women and girls.
The pope responded by calling on everyone in South Sudan “to ensure that women are protected, respected, valued and honored.”
Francis said that if women are given opportunities “they will have the ability to change the face of South Sudan, to give it a peaceful and cohesive development!“
Sister Orla Treacy, an Irish member of the Loreto Sisters religious order who runs a school in Rumbek, north of the capital, and works to prevent child marriages, said less than 5 percent of girls finish secondary school. About 10 percent of 15-year-old girls and 52 percent of 18-year-old girls in South Sudan are married, she said.
Treacy and a group of students had walked about 200 km (125 miles) from Lakes State to see the pope. She said the governor of that region had recently signed a decree promising to stop child marriages.
South Sudan has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, according to the World Bank, and poverty and hunger are rife across the country, with two thirds of the population needing humanitarian assistance as a result of conflict as well as three years of catastrophic floods.


Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

Updated 47 min 29 sec ago
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Bangladesh proposes new digital platform to counter Israeli disinformation on Palestine

  • Israel’s ‘systematic misinformation campaigns’ aim to ‘cover its brutality and genocidal massacres’ in Gaza, OIC says
  • At least 88 journalists have been killed in Palestine since Israel’s onslaught on Gaza began in October 

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s state minister for information has proposed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation create a collaborative digital platform to combat Israel’s disinformation campaign against Palestine, as the Muslim grouping launches new plans to expose Tel Aviv’s war crimes. 

Information ministers of OIC member countries were in Turkiye over the weekend for an extraordinary session discussing Israel’s disinformation campaign and attacks on journalists in Gaza, where nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since October. 

State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mohammed Ali Arafat said Israel’s “despicable disinformation campaign” is an attempt to cover its blatant war crimes in Gaza, including the indiscriminate targeting of babies and children, as well as journalists and humanitarian workers. 

“The world has hardly seen the continued killing of journalists and the spreading of disinformation as is happening in Gaza. I believe fighting to contain and combat against such dissemination of misinformation needs collective effort,” Arafat told the participants. 

At least 88 journalists and media workers were among the tens of thousands of Palestinians killed in over four months since Israel began its onslaught on Gaza, according to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists. 

“We need to create a collaborative digital platform to combat the spreading of such disinformation against Palestine. I request the OIC Secretariat to prepare a plan in this regard immediately,” Arafat said. 

Bangladesh is ready to support the OIC in establishing an information pool documenting Israeli war crimes that can be regularly shared with its member states, he added. 

“Muslim Ummah must work together to stop this massacre and let the world know the truth. Bangladesh supports and stands firm by our Palestinian brothers and sisters in this dire situation.” 

In a final communique, OIC information ministers condemned Israel’s “systematic misinformation campaigns” to “cover its brutality and genocidal massacres committed in the Gaza Strip.”

The 57-member organization also condemned Israel’s “systematic targeting of Palestinian journalists,” describing it as part of a campaign to “silence the voices of truth-tellers.” 

The OIC said they are determined to collectively “counter and expose attempts by the Israel colonial occupation to cover up the destruction” in the besieged enclave, as they mandate the group’s media monitoring unit to establish an action plan to “lay bare and counter” the Israeli disinformation campaign at the international level. 


US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli embassy in Washington

Police are deployed outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024.
Updated 26 min 35 sec ago
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US airman sets himself on fire outside Israeli embassy in Washington

  • The man had filmed himself shouting “Free Palestine” as he lit himself on fire, according to footage shared on social media
  • In the video, the man is seen wearing military fatigues and declaring he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid

WASHINGTON: An active member of the US Air Force has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington over the weekend in protest of the war in Gaza, the Pentagon said Monday.
Emergency responders on Sunday had rushed to the scene just before 1:00 p.m. (1800 GMT) in response to a “call for person on fire outside the Israeli Embassy,” according to a message on X, formerly Twitter, by the capital city’s fire department.
They arrived to find that officers from the Secret Service — the US law enforcement agency tasked with protecting embassies in Washington — had already extinguished the fire.
The man had filmed himself shouting “Free Palestine” as he lit himself on fire, according to footage shared on social media.
He was initially transported to hospital with “critical life-threatening injuries,” the fire department said.
An Air Force spokeswoman told AFP Monday morning that the unnamed “individual involved in yesterday’s incident succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night.”
“We will provide additional details 24 hours after next-of-kin notifications are complete.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy said no staff were injured in the incident, and that the man was “unknown” to them.
In the video shared on social media, the man is seen wearing military fatigues and declaring he will “not be complicit in genocide” before dousing himself in liquid.
He then lights himself on fire while yelling “Free Palestine!” until he falls on the ground.
The video was reportedly first shared in a livestream on the social platform Twitch.
The shocking act came as protests are increasing across the United States against Israel’s actions in Gaza, where it is waging a retaliatory war for an attack on October 7 by Hamas militants.
With the death toll in Gaza nearing 30,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there, international pressure has been increasing on the United States to rein in its ally Israel and call for a ceasefire.


Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

Updated 26 February 2024
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Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

  • The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army

The Russian authorities on Monday sought a prison sentence of nearly three years for a veteran human rights advocate who spoke out against the war in Ukraine.
The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army and sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison, in a retrial after he was earlier ordered to pay a fine. In a move that underscored how little tolerance President Vladimir Putin’s government has for criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, the prosecution appealed the fine, seeking a harsher punishment.
The charges against Orlov, co-chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, came after he posted on Facebook an article he wrote denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. He has rejected the case against him as politically motivated.
A court in Moscow in October 2023 delivered a guilty verdict and fined Orlov 150,000 rubles (about $1,500 at the time), a significantly milder punishment compared to the lengthy prison terms some other Russians have received for criticizing the war.
Both the defense and the prosecution appealed the verdict, and a higher court voided the fine and sent the case back to the prosecutors. A new trial began earlier this month, another step in a yearslong, unrelenting crackdown on dissent in Russia that the Kremlin ratcheted up after sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
The hearing on Monday drew over 100 supporters and more than a dozen Western diplomats, Russian independent news site Mediazona reported. Orlov brought a book to the hearing — “The Trial” by Franz Kafka — reflecting his view of the trial as absurd. At a hearing on Thursday, Orlov read the novel and refused to engage in the proceedings.


The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

Updated 26 February 2024
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The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

  • The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan
  • It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban held a public execution on Monday of a man convicted of murder in northern Afghanistan as thousands watched at a sports stadium, the third such death sentence to be carried out in the past five days.
The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province, where the brother of the murdered man shot the convict five times with a rifle, according to an eyewitness . Security around the stadium was tight, said the witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021 as the US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after two decades of war.
The development was ominous as the Taliban, despite initial promises of a more moderate rule, began carrying out severe punishments in public — executions, floggings and stonings — shortly after coming to power. The punishments are similar to those under their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Taliban government officials were not immediately available for comment.
The statement said Monday’s death sentence was carried out following approval by three of the country’s highest courts and the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. The executed man, identified as Nazar Mohammad from the district of Bilcheragh in Faryab province, had killed Khal Mohammad, also from Faryab. The killing took place in Jawzjan.
On Thursday in the southeastern Ghazni province, the Taliban executed two men convicted of stabbing their victims to death. Relatives of the victims fired guns at the two men, also at a sports stadium as thousands of people watched.
Separate statements from the Taliban’s supreme court said a man and a woman convicted of adultery were flogged with 35 lashes each in northern Balkh province over the weekend. Two other people were lashed in eastern Laghman province, also over the weekend; they were given each 30 lashes for allegedly committing immoral acts.
The United Nations has strongly criticized the Taliban for carrying out public executions, lashings and stonings since seizing power, and called on the country’s rulers to halt such practices.


Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

Updated 26 February 2024
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Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

  • Research group ‘India Hate Lab’ documents 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023
  • Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, India’s prime minister since 2014

Anti-Muslim hate speech in India rose by 62 percent in the second half of 2023 compared to the first six months of the year, a Washington-based research group said on Monday, adding the Israel-Gaza war played a key role in the last three months.

India Hate Lab documented 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023, 255 of which occurred in the first half of the year while 413 took place in the last six months of 2023, the research group said in a report released Monday.

About 75 percent, or 498, of those incidents took place in states governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the report. The states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh accounted for the most hate speech.

Between Oct. 7 — when Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel, sparking the conflict in the Gaza Strip as Israel retaliated — and Dec. 31, there were 41 incidents of hate speech against Indian Muslims that mentioned the war, the report added. It accounted for about 20 percent of hate speech in the last three months of 2023.

The research group said it used the United Nations’ definition of hate speech — prejudiced or discriminatory language toward an individual or group based on attributes including religion, ethnicity, nationality, race or gender.

Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, who became prime minister in 2014 and is widely expected to retain power after the 2024 elections.

They point to a 2019 citizenship law that the UN human rights office called “fundamentally discriminatory;” an anti-conversion legislation that challenges the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief; and the 2019 revoking of Muslim majority Kashmir’s special status.

There has also been demolition of Muslim properties in the name of removing illegal construction and a ban on wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka when the BJP was in power in that state.

Modi’s government denies the presence of minority abuse and says its policies aim to benefit all Indians. The Indian embassy in Washington and India’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

India Hate Lab said it tracked online activity of Hindu nationalist groups, verified videos of hate speech posted on social media and compiled data of isolated incidents reported by Indian media.