Israel president hit with criminal complaint in Switzerland: prosecutors

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that it had received a criminal complaint against the Israeli president (AFP)
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Updated 19 January 2024
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Israel president hit with criminal complaint in Switzerland: prosecutors

  • Addressing issue of immunity, statement suggested could be lifted “in certain circumstances”
  • WEF confirmed to Arab News Swiss authorities did not contact them regarding complaint

Geneva: Israeli President Isaac Herzog has been targeted with a criminal complaint during a visit to Switzerland, Swiss prosecutors said Friday, amid allegations of crimes against humanity over the war in Gaza.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office (BA) confirmed that it had received a criminal complaint against the Israeli president, who was at the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s annual meeting in Davos on Thursday to discuss the Gaza war.
“The criminal complaints will now be examined in accordance with the usual procedure,” BA said in a statement, adding that it was in contact with the foreign ministry “to examine the question of the immunity of the person concerned.”
It did not say what the specific complaints were, or who had filed them.

WEF confirmed to Arab News that Swiss authorities did not contact them regarding the complaint against the Israeli president.

But a statement allegedly issued by the people behind the complaint, entitled “Legal Action Against Crimes Against Humanity” and obtained by AFP, said several unnamed individuals had filed charges with federal prosecutors and with cantonal authorities in Basel, Bern and Zurich.
The statement said the plaintiffs were seeking a criminal prosecution in parallel to a case brought before the UN’s International Court of Justice by South Africa, which accuses Israel of genocide in its offensive in Gaza.
Addressing the issue of immunity, the statement suggested that it could be lifted “in certain circumstances,” including in cases of alleged crimes against humanity, adding that “these conditions are met in this case.”
South Africa launched the emergency case at the ICJ in The Hague this month, arguing that Israel had breached the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.
South Africa demanded that the judges order Israel to halt its offensive in the Palestinian territory. Israel has denounced the case as “distorted.”
Fighting has ravaged the Gaza Strip since Hamas’s attacks on Israel on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Israel responded with a relentless offensive that has killed at least 24,762 Palestinians, around 70 percent of them women, children and adolescents, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.
Herzog told the Davos forum that Israel had launched its campaign in “self-defense” and again condemned the South Africa case as “outrageous.”
“They (South Africa) basically support the atrocities and barbarism that we have seen on October 7,” he said, adding that Israel was concerned about the destruction in Gaza.
“We care. It is painful for us that our neighbors are suffering so much,” he said.
“But how else can we defend ourselves if our enemies decided to entrench themselves in an infrastructure of terror of unbelievable size and scope?” he said.


Germany arrests suspected Hezbollah member

A masked demonstrator waves a Hezbollah flag during a demonstration supporting the Palestinians in Beirut. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 July 2024
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Germany arrests suspected Hezbollah member

  • The Lebanese man named as Fadel Z was arrested on Sunday, prosecutors said in a statement
  • He was “strongly suspected of membership of a foreign terrorist organization,” the prosecutors said

BERLIN: A suspected member of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has been arrested in Germany, accused of procuring components for drones believed to be used in attacks on Israel, German prosecutors said Monday.
The Lebanese man named as Fadel Z was arrested on Sunday, prosecutors said in a statement.
He was “strongly suspected of membership of a foreign terrorist organization,” the prosecutors said.
The man is believed to have “procured components, particularly engines for the assembly of drones” which “were supposed to be exported to Lebanon and used in terrorist attacks on Israel,” they added.
The prosecutors added that the man was suspected of having joined Hezbollah “no later than in summer 2016” and that he was apprehended in the town of Salzgitter in Lower Saxony province.
The Israeli military has been trading regular cross-border fire with Hezbollah since early October.
The Shiite Muslim movement has been supporting its ally Hamas since the group’s October 7 attack on Israel triggered war in the Gaza Strip.


100 injured as Bangladesh student groups clash over job quotas

Updated 15 July 2024
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100 injured as Bangladesh student groups clash over job quotas

  • The quota system reserves more than half of well-paid civil service posts totalling hundreds of thousands of government jobs
  • These jobs are reserved for specific groups, including children of heroes from the country’s 1971 liberation war from Pakistan

DHAKA: Rival students in Bangladesh clashed on Monday leaving at least 100 people injured, as demonstrators opposing quotas for coveted government jobs battled counter-protesters loyal to the ruling party, police said.
Police and witnesses said hundreds of anti-quota protesters and students backing the ruling Awami League party battled for hours on Dhaka University campus, hurling rocks, fighting with sticks and beating each other with iron rods.
Some carried machetes while others threw petrol bombs, witnesses said.
The quota system reserves more than half of well-paid civil service posts totalling hundreds of thousands of government jobs for specific groups, including children of heroes from the country’s 1971 liberation war from Pakistan.
“They clashed with sticks and threw rocks at each other,” local police station chief Mostajirur Rahman told AFP.
Masud Mia, a police inspector, said “around 100 students including women” were injured, and had been taken to hospital. “More people are coming,” Mia added.
Students launched protests earlier this month demanding a merit-based system.
They have continued despite Bangladesh’s top court suspending the quota scheme.
Anti-quota protesters blamed the ruling party students for the violence.
“They attacked our peaceful procession with rods, sticks and rocks,” Nahid Islam, the national coordinator of the anti-quota protests, told AFP.
“They beat our female protesters. At least 150 students were injured including 30 women, and conditions of 20 students are serious.”
Critics say the system benefits children of pro-government groups who back Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Hasina, 76, won her fourth consecutive general election in January, in a vote without genuine opposition parties that saw a major crackdown against her political opponents, who boycotted the poll.
Injured student Shahinur Shumi, 26, said the protesters were taken by surprise.
“We were holding our procession peacefully,” she said from her hospital bed at Dhaka Medical Hospital.
“Suddenly, the Chhatra League (the ruling party student wing) attacked us with sticks, machetes, iron rods, and bricks.”
Police said hundreds of students from several private universities shouting anti-quota slogans joined the protests in Dhaka, halting traffic near the US embassy for more than four hours.
“Some 200 students squatted and stood on the road,” deputy police commissioner Hasanuzzaman Molla told AFP.
Thousands of students also marched in a dozen universities overnight Sunday into the early hours of Monday morning, protesting against what they said were Hasina’s disparaging comments.
Protesters said they were compared to collaborators of the Pakistani army during Bangladesh’s war of independence.
“This is unacceptable,” a female student from Dhaka University said, asking not to be named for fear of reprisal.
“We want a reform of the quota system so that meritorious students can get a fair chance.”
Violence also erupted during protests in Bangladesh’s second city Chittagong late on Sunday, anti-quota students said.
Khan Talat Mahmud Rafy, the organizer, said two fellow protesters were injured.
“Dozens of Chhatra League activists attacked one of our processions,” Rafy said.
Students are demanding that only those quotas supporting ethnic minorities and disabled people — six percent of jobs — should remain.
Bangladesh was one of the world’s poorest countries when it gained independence in 1971, but it has grown an average of more than six percent each year since 2009.
But much of that growth has been on the back of the mostly female factory workforce powering its garment export industry, and economists say there is an acute crisis of jobs for millions of university students.


Pro-Palestinian activists held after protest at UK war memorial

Youth Demand activists hold placards reading “Stop arming Israel” and “Never again for anyone.”
Updated 15 July 2024
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Pro-Palestinian activists held after protest at UK war memorial

  • A Palestinian flag was laid in front of the Cenotaph and “180,000 killed” spray-painted on the ground in front of the monument
  • The Cenotaph is the focus every year of of national events to commemorate Britain’s war dead

LONDON: UK police on Monday arrested two pro-Palestinian demonstrators after a protest at Britain’s Cenotaph war memorial in central London.
A Palestinian flag was laid in front of the Cenotaph and “180,000 killed” spray-painted on the ground in front of the monument, photos and video footage showed.
The Cenotaph is the focus every year of of national events to commemorate Britain’s war dead.
“Two women were quickly arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and are in custody,” the Metropolitan Police said on X, adding that damage was caused to the road and not to the monument itself.
In a statement, the Youth Demand group said its supporters had taken action to “commemorate the thousands killed in Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza.”
It said Youth Demand was calling for a two-way arms embargo on Israel and for the new UK government to halt all new oil and gas licenses granted since 2021.
Supporters planned to disrupt the State Opening of Parliament by head of state King Charles III on Wednesday, it added.
Youth Demand last month staged a protest at the constituency home of former prime minister Rishi Sunak.
The war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas’s surprise October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,584 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Gaza health ministry.


Families of Pakistanis held ‘hostage’ in Myanmar in recruitment fraud urge authorities to secure release

Updated 15 July 2024
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Families of Pakistanis held ‘hostage’ in Myanmar in recruitment fraud urge authorities to secure release

  • Families say Pakistanis were lured with lucrative job offers by alleged Chinese scammers operating near Thailand-Myanmar border 
  • Spokesperson at Chinese consulate in Karachi says no evidence so far of involvement of Chinese nationals in ‘unsubstantiated’ accusations

KARACHI: The families of six Pakistani nationals allegedly taken “hostage” by fake job scammers in Myanmar have appealed to Pakistani authorities this week to secure their release, saying their loved ones were being subjected to the “worst forms of torture.” 
Families of the Pakistani nationals say that they were lured by a group of alleged Chinese scammers in Thailand with the offer of lucrative jobs and were now being forced to work up to 18 hours a day and being tortured, including through sleep deprivation and electric shocks, according to their family members. 
Arab News could not independently verify that the Pakistanis were scammed by Chinese nationals but a spokesperson at the Chinese consulate in Karachi said that they were looking into the case but there was no evidence so far of the involvement of Chinese nationals in the “unsubstantiated” accusations. 
While the exact nature of the work the Pakistanis are allegedly being forced to do is not known, the scammers had set a performance target of $150,000 per employee against a salary of $200 a month for the first six months and $500 a month thereafter for a year. 
A copy of a contract by a company called YONGQIAN Group seen by Arab News did not specify the type of work the Pakistanis were required to do in return for the $150,000 target but said that their employment period would be extended until the goal was achieved, while any employee resigning before 18 months would have to pay $8,000 to the company.
In one case, Qamar Zaman, a Pakistani working in Thailand for 10 years, told Arab News that he had invited his son, Muhammad Zain, to the Southeast Asian country from Pakistan’s Punjab province a month and a half ago on a family visa to start a business. 
An acquaintance of the Zaman family, Shahid Mehmood, another Pakistani from Punjab’s Sialkot married to a Thai woman with two children, also convinced Zaman to send over his son.
“He (Mehmood) told me he had a great offer and that he would secure the job only if my son accompanied him,” Zaman told Arab News, saying that Mehmood was not involved with the scammers.
“He promised my son a lucrative salary, but instead, I have brought upon myself a living hell. My life now is worse than hell itself.”
Zaman said that both his son and Mehmood were now trapped in a fake job scam and had gotten in touch with him by using the “secret phone” of three other Pakistani nationals from the Sindh province who were also being held captive on the Myanmar side of the Thailand-Myanmar border.
“‘Papa, get me out of here before I die,’ he pleaded with me on the phone,” Zaman said. “He was crying in agony.”
Zaman, who hails from the city of Gujrat, said that he lodged a complaint about his son’s “abduction” with the Thai police on June 12 and was struggling to bring him home. 
In another case, Muhammad Amir Hussain from Punjab’s Mandi Bahauddin, was also “taken hostage” along with Zain and Mehmood, according to Zain’s father.
In a third case, a resident from Sindh’s Hyderabad, Ashiq Hussain, has written a letter to the Pakistani embassy in Myanmar saying his son Kashif Hussain, 22, and two of his friends, Faraz Khan and Shehroz Khan, had gone to visit Thailand on Feb. 19, but met some alleged Chinese individuals in Bangkok who offered them “good jobs with handsome salaries” on employment visas, tempting them into traveling to Myanmar.
According to the letter, the scammers took the men’s mobile phones and other documents and compelled them to work with them. Hussain’s son and his friends managed to use a secret phone to contact their families back home, telling them that they had been handcuffed on arrival at the facility and were now being “forced to work long hours without breaks.”
Hussain said that he had reached out to the Pakistani embassy in Myanmar after his son shared his location using the secret phone. 
“It’s been a month and a half, and we still haven’t heard from the Pakistan embassy,” the father said.
When asked to comment on the cases, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, a spokesperson for the Pakistani foreign office, said that she would forward the queries to Pakistan’s embassy in Myanmar and declined further comment. 
Meanwhile, families of the men said that the situation was becoming “increasingly unbearable” for them with each passing day.
“These are scammers and there was no factory as promised to Shahid,” Zaman said. “I threw my son in front of the wolves and his mother in Pakistan doesn’t even know it.”


Philippine trade officials tap small businesses in Mindanao to boost halal industry growth

Officials from the Department of Trade and Industry pose with local business owners in Zamboanga City on July 12, 2024. (DTI)
Updated 15 July 2024
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Philippine trade officials tap small businesses in Mindanao to boost halal industry growth

  • Country looking to access the multi-trillion dollar global market
  • Manila launched a national halal strategy in January, targeting $4bn in investment

MANILA: Philippine trade officials are helping small businesses in Mindanao boost their output in the halal market, as Manila continues its efforts to expand the domestic halal industry.

The government launched a national halal strategy in January, which includes targets to raise 230 billion Philippine pesos ($4 billion) in investment and generate about 120,000 jobs by 2028 by tapping into the global industry, which is estimated to be worth more than $7 trillion.

The Department of Trade and Industry visited western Mindanao’s Zamboanga City last week, where officials met local business owners to strategize ways “to harness the region’s vast potential and capitalize on the global halal market,” it said in a statement.

The halal industry is strategically important “in catalyzing economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation in Mindanao,” the DTI added.

In Zamboanga, the DTI held discussions with local authorities and business communities in an effort to unite “commitment to driving the halal industry’s growth.”

The department also recognized 13 halal-certified establishments in Zamboanga as part of the visit.

Zamboanga City’s strategic location to further expand the Philippines’ domestic halal industry also makes it a potential halal hub for the country, said Aleem Guiapal, who heads the DTI Halal Industry Development Program.

“Zamboanga is a strategic point that connects the island province and also the mainland provinces of the Bangsamoro,” Guiapal told Arab News on Monday, referring to the Philippines’ Muslim-majority region.

But trade officials will also be visiting other cities across the country to move the Philippines’ halal strategy forward.

“Any region is a potential halal hub,” Guiapal said. “We just need to provide the parameters, the availability and accessibility of halal products.”