Outcry as Houthis put prominent judge on trial over ‘fake news’

In February, the Houthis’ Supreme Judicial Council stripped Qatran of immunity and ordered that he be punished for breaking the law. (File)
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Updated 27 May 2024
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Outcry as Houthis put prominent judge on trial over ‘fake news’

  • Militia actions that ignore people’s basic rights draw widespread condemnation

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia are preparing to prosecute Abdul Wahab Qatran, a prominent and outspoken judge, on charges of denigrating their leader and publishing false news, a Sanaa-based lawyer told Arab News on Monday. 

Abdul Majeed Sabra, a Yemeni lawyer, said that the Houthi-run Specialized Criminal Prosecution in Sanaa will begin questioning Qatran on Tuesday after the Houthi security and intelligence service referred him to the court, accusing him of disseminating rumors, fake news, and inflammatory information about the militia’s leaders.

“The case has been sent to the prosecution for further investigation tomorrow. If he is brought in, the prosecution will investigate and either submit him to trial by indictment or rule that there is no grounds for initiating a case, which means he will be released,” Sabra said. 

Armed Houthis surrounded and broke into Qatran’s home in Sanaa in January, destroying personal documents and furnishings. 

The judge was abducted and taken to a security and intelligence agency detention center, where he was held in solitary confinement without access to medical care, a lawyer, or contact with his family. 

Qatran was eventually allowed to call his family, who reported that he had been secluded and was “dying” as a result of isolation. 

The judge was seized after criticizing the Houthis for human rights violations and failing to pay public workers. Shortly before his abduction he voiced sympathy for a journalist who was attacked and beaten by the militia in Sanaa.

In February, the Houthis’ Supreme Judicial Council stripped Qatran of immunity and ordered that he be punished for breaking the law.

His captors refused repeated requests from his family to visit him and provide him with his medications.

News that the Houthis were planning to try Qatran provoked an outcry from Yemeni activists and international rights groups, which demanded that the militia halt the prosecution and release him. 

The Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties on Monday called the trial a “dangerous development,” and accused the Houthis of attempting to suppress the last outspoken citizens who live in regions under their control.

SAM said it “considers the Houthi group solely accountable for Judge Qatran’s safety and urges them to free him immediately.”

In a statement, it also called on the militia to “stop its actions that infringe people’s fundamental rights, particularly freedom of thought and speech.”

Meanwhile, the US Central Command said that its forces destroyed a drone launched by the Houthis over the Red Sea early on Sunday, the latest in a series of clashes between the Houthis and the US-led marine coalition.

The militia have not claimed to have struck any ships in international waters off Yemen or in the Indian Ocean in the last 48 hours.

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship in the Red Sea, sunk another in the same shipping lane, and fired hundreds of drones and ballistic missiles at international commercial and naval ships.

The militia claims its actions are in support of Palestinians under attack by Israel in Gaza.

At the same time, the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement said on Sunday that four land mine explosions killed two civilians and injured four in April in three districts of the Red Sea province of Hodeidah.

This takes the total number of civilian casualties from land mines to 34, with 13 killed since the beginning of the year.

Human Rights Watch said last week that thousands of land mines laid by the Houthis continue to kill and maim people throughout Yemen. 

Explosive devices also “poison fields,” leaving farmland unusable, it said.


Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

Updated 5 sec ago
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Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

“Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said
He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken“

NICOSIA: Cyprus on Thursday rejected as “groundless” allegations by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement that airports on the east Mediterranean island might be used by Israeli warplanes if the Israel-Hamas war spreads.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in a televised address on Wednesday threatened Cyprus in the event that total war erupts in the region.
“Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war,” he said, referring to Hezbollah.
The government in Nicosia swiftly denied any Cyprus military involvement in Israel’s war against Hezbollah ally Hamas.
“Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis told state radio on Thursday.
He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken.”
The island is home to two British military bases, but these are on sovereign UK territory and not controlled by the Cyprus government.
The British Akrotiri air base on the south coast has been used by the Royal Air Force which has joined the US Air Force in targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen who have attacked shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
The Houthis say they are doing so in solidarity with the Palestinian Hamas movement.
Over the past decade, Cyprus has built stronger ties with Israel, particularly in the search for new energy sources and in tourism.
Cyprus is the European Union’s easternmost member, and is less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Lebanon.
President Nikos Christodoulides has denied there has been any Cypriot involvement in the Israel-Hamas war except as “part of the solution” as a staging post for humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip via a maritime corridor.
“Cyprus is not part of the problem. As it is widely acknowledged, its diplomatic footprint is part of the solution,” government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis added in a separate written statement on Thursday.
“Any public allegations that refer to an involvement of Cyprus through its infrastructure or its territory in the event of a confrontation that relates to Lebanon are totally groundless,” the statement said.
“Cyprus has never facilitated and will not facilitate any aggressive action or attack against any country.”
On the street, reactions to the Hezbollah leader’s remarks were mixed.
“It’s a very tense moment all over the world,” Brazilian tourist Glaussia, 54, told AFP, not giving her last name.
She added that it was important that “everybody make an effort for peace.”
Nicosia resident Costas stressed that his country’s only involvement in the current conflict was to provide “humanitarian help to the people over there.”
He said the government would not become involved in the war in any military capacity.
“Cyprus is a credible enabler of stability, and an acknowledged regional hub for humanitarian operations, based on excellent relations with all the countries in the region,” government spokesman Letymbiotis said in his statement.

UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

Updated 58 min 19 sec ago
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UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

  • The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel
  • The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah

GENEVA/LONDON: A group of United Nations experts on Thursday warned arms and ammunitions manufacturers against taking part in the transfer of weapons to Israel, saying it could make them complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law.

The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel, “even if they are executed under existing export licenses.”

“These companies, by sending weapons, parts, components, and ammunition to Israeli forces, risk being complicit in serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian laws,” the experts said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Israel which has repeatedly denied carrying out abuses during its Gaza operations, saying it is acting to defend itself and is fighting Hamas militants, not the Palestinian population.

The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.

“In this context, continuing arms transfers to Israel may be seen as knowingly providing assistance for operations that contravene international human rights and international humanitarian laws and may result in profit from such assistance,” the experts said.

Israel has rejected the genocide accusations as false and grossly distorted.

Also on Thursday, British weapons manufacturers were warned that their selling of military equipment to Israel could lead to criminal charges for failing to prevent war crimes amid the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Four anti-arms trade campaign groups, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), highlighted “potential criminal liability for atrocity crimes currently taking place in Gaza” in a letter to 20 UK firms who contribute parts or software used in F-35 fighter jets being used by the Israeli air force to bomb the Hamas-held Palestinian enclave.

The letter cited a section in the 2001 International Criminal Court Act, where it is states it is an offense under English and Welsh law “to engage in ‘conduct ancillary’ to a war crime or a crime against humanity” in foreign jurisdictions.

The firms targeted by the activists include the UK arm of Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, the Guardian reported.

The UN human rights office said on Wednesday that Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict. Israel dismissed the findings as flawed.

Israel’s air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.

Israel launched its assault after Hamas fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

* With Reuters


Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

Updated 20 June 2024
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Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel after fighter killed

  • Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed
  • A source close to the group told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike

BEIRUT: Hezbollah said it fired “dozens” of rockets into northern Israel Thursday in retaliation for a deadly strike in south Lebanon, a day after a fiery speech from the group’s leader.
Israel and Hezbollah, a powerful Lebanese movement allied with Hamas, have traded near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel which triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
Fears of a regional war rose after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned Wednesday “no place” in Israel would be spared in case of all-out war against his group, and threatened the nearby island nation of Cyprus if it opened its airports to Israel.
Hezbollah on Thursday said that “in response to the assassination that the Israeli enemy carried out in the village of Deir Kifa,” fighters targeted an Israeli barracks “with dozens of Katyusha rockets.”
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) had reported one dead after an “enemy drone” struck a vehicle in south Lebanon’s Deir Kifa area.
Hezbollah announced that one of its fighters had been killed. A source close to the group, requesting anonymity, told AFP he was killed in the Deir Kifa strike.
The Israeli military said an air strike “eliminated” a Hezbollah operative in the Deir Kifa area, saying he was “responsible for planning and carrying out terror attacks against Israel and commanding Hezbollah ground forces” in south Lebanon’s Jouaiyya area.
Elsewhere, Israeli fighter jets struck “a Hezbollah surface-to-air missile launcher that posed a threat to aircraft operating over Lebanon,” the army statement added.
The exchanges between the foes, which last went to war in 2006, have escalated in recent weeks, and the Israeli military said Tuesday that “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.”
After the Hezbollah leader’s threats against Cyprus, Lebanon’s foreign ministry said Thursday that “relations between Lebanon and Cyprus are based on a rich history of diplomatic cooperation.”
Contacts and consultations continue between the two countries “at the highest levels,” a foreign ministry statement said, without making specific reference to Nasrallah’s remarks.
In a conversation with his Cyprus counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib expressed “Lebanon’s constant reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting regional stability,” the NNA reported.
Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides had denied his country’s involvement in the war and said it was “part of the solution.”
The cross-border violence has killed at least 479 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.


UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

Updated 20 June 2024
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UNHCR chief warns of ‘insufficent’ humanitarian access to Sudan

  • Grandi said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access
  • The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said

JUBA: Humanitarian access to war-torn Sudan remains woefully “insufficient,” raising the risk of starvation among its population, Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned.
War has raged since April 2023 between the regular military under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than ten million people, according to the United Nations.
In an interview with AFP on Wednesday, Grandi, who leads the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR, said that although he had “seen a little bit of progress in the last few weeks,” much more action was needed to improve access.
“We are asking all the parties to give access to humanitarians because our presence there is insufficient to help the people in need, and especially to bring the food and the other supplies that are needed for people that otherwise risk starvation,” he said.
Aid workers were able to get “a bit more” access than before, due to “insistence... on the part of the international community,” said Grandi, during a visit to South Sudan, which has seen a huge influx of returnees from Sudan since April last year.
The global community had to continue lobbying for aid access, he said, “because otherwise we risk having more displacement, and even worse, we risk seeing people dying of hunger.”
“I am very worried because I was hoping at the beginning like many Sudanese did, that this would be a short-lived conflict.”
Both sides have been accused of war crimes including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation.
Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Christos Christou, the international chief of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, on Thursday described Sudan as “one of the worst crises the world has seen for decades... yet the humanitarian response is profoundly inadequate.”
“There are extreme levels of suffering across the country, and the needs are growing by the day,” he said on X.


Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

Updated 20 June 2024
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Kuwait announces power cuts as demand spikes in summer heat

  • Temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
  • Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar

Kuwait City: Kuwait has announced temporary power cuts in some parts of the country during peak consumption hours, saying it is struggling to meet increased demand spurred by extreme summer heat.
In a statement on Wednesday, Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity, Water and Renewable Energy said the scheduled cuts would occur for up to two hours a day, in the first such step for the OPEC member state as climate change causes temperatures to rise.
It blamed the cuts on “the inability of power plants to meet increased demand” during peak hours amid “a rise in temperatures compared to the same period in previous years.”
On Thursday, the ministry published a schedule of expected cuts across several parts of the country, after urging residents to ration consumption to ease the load on power plants.
Kuwait, one of the largest crude producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is considered one of the world’s hottest desert countries.
In recent years, climate change has made summer peaks hotter and longer.
The extreme heat raises reliance on energy-guzzling air conditioners which are ubiquitous in Kuwait during the summer months.
Temperatures neared 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, according to Kuwait’s Meteorological Department.
“What we are experiencing today is the result of climate change,” said Kuwaiti astronomer and scientist Adel Al-Saadoun, noting that temperatures are expected to climb above the 50 degree Celsius mark in the coming days.
Last month, Kuwait signed short-term contracts to buy 500 megawatts of electricity, including 300 MW from Oman and 200 MW from Qatar, during the summer months. The contracts would last from June 1 to August 31.
Kamel Harami, a Kuwaiti energy expert, said that the Gulf state needed to revamp its energy infrastructure.
“The available energy is not sufficient, and instead of relying on oil and gas, we must go toward nuclear, solar and wind energy,” he told AFP.
“This is only the beginning of the crisis, and the programmed cuts of electricity will continue in the coming years if we do not accelerate the construction of power stations.”
Umm Mohammed, a Kuwaiti woman in her sixties, said she was left without power for two hours on Wednesday.
“We weren’t severely affected,” she told AFP, noting that the house remained cool during the brief outage.
“Some turn their homes into refrigerators, even when they are not inside, and this raises the load” on power plants, she said.