Anger mounts in Italy over torture and murder of student, seen as victim of Egypt’s ‘death squads’

The Local reports: Italy on Monday warned Egypt it would not allow the fate of Giulio Regeni to be brushed under the carpet as anger mounted over the Cambridge University student’s torture and killing in Cairo.

With the media publishing gruesome details of Regeni’s treatment and pointing the finger at Egyptian security services, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was under pressure to authorize a state funeral for the slain 28-year-old.

Regeni disappeared on January 25th and was found dead on February 3rd. An Italian autopsy carried out following his corpse’s repatriation at the weekend concluded that he was killed by a violent blow to the base of his skull having already suffered multiple fractures all over his body.

Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that Egypt appeared to be collaborating with a team of Italian detective and forensic investigators dispatched to Cairo.

But he warned: “We will not settle for alleged truths.”

Gentiloni, in an interview with daily La Repubblica, added: “We want those really responsible identified and punished on the basis of law.”

La Repubblica reported that, as well as being systematically beaten, Regeni had his finger and toe nails pulled out in a pattern of torture which the daily said suggested that his “death squad” killers believed him to be a spy. [Continue reading…]

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Outrage grows as Italy investigates research student’s murder in Egypt

The New York Times reports: The furor surrounding the death of an Italian student whose body was discovered Wednesday on an Egyptian roadside grew Friday as Italian investigators flew to Cairo to help find his killers, and it emerged that the young man had secretly written from Egypt for a left-wing Italian newspaper.

The newspaper, Il Manifesto, published an article on Friday that the Italian student, Giulio Regeni, 28, had written under a pseudonym weeks before he was found dead that was sharply critical of the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, while describing faltering attempts by Egyptian unions to organize.

There was no indication that Mr. Regeni’s writing led to his death, but the article contributed to the broader Italian outrage over Mr. Regeni’s injuries as news outlets pointed an accusatory finger at the Egyptian security forces. Egyptian officials said on Thursday that Mr. Regeni had been tortured extensively and probably died from a brain hemorrhage.

“Giulio, Egyptian police under accusation,” read the headline of La Stampa, a Turin-based daily newspaper.

Hoping to defuse a potentially damaging crisis with a relatively close European ally, Egyptian officials promised cooperation and vowed to find Mr. Regeni’s killers. The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, spoke with Mr. Sisi by telephone and both agreed to cooperate to “unravel the mystery,” Mr. Sisi’s office said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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The West must stop giving Turkey a free pass

Behlul Ozkan writes: Last month, more than 1,200 Turkish and foreign academics signed a petition calling attention to the continuing humanitarian crisis in many Kurdish-majority towns in southeastern Turkey, which are the site of fighting between the Turkish Army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K. The petition decried the Army’s shelling of urban areas and the imposition of weekslong, 24-hour curfews, which have left many civilians unable to bury their dead or even obtain food. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly denounced the signers as “so-called intellectuals” and “traitors.” Within days, antiterror police had detained and harassed dozens of the signatories.

Mr. Erdogan’s actions shouldn’t have been surprising. The president has a history of jailing journalists and cracking down on media companies critical of his policies. And yet this time the response from his supporters was exceptionally chilling: A pro-Erdogan organized crime boss proclaimed, “We will take a shower in your blood,” while the office doors of some of the academics were ominously marked with red crosses.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who as a former academic might have been expected to come to his colleagues’ defense, announced that he “did not regard the petition as falling under the rubric of free speech.” He then set out on a trip to several European countries in order to encourage foreign investment in Turkey’s foundering economy. In Britain and Germany, Mr. Davutoglu received a warm welcome from Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The European Union’s response to the latest crackdown on dissent in Turkey amounted to little more than a statement calling the persecution of the academics “extremely worrying.”

Many prominent Western academics and non-governmental organizations have been vocal in censuring the persecution suffered by their Turkish counterparts. The European Union’s lack of action on Turkey’s crackdown on academic freedom and human rights would therefore be inexplicable but for one crucial detail: As the European Union faces its largest refugee crisis since World War II, the 2.5 million Syrians currently in Turkey are a huge bargaining chip for Ankara. Europe’s leaders are well aware of this. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia: Palestinian poet sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes for apostasy

The Guardian reports: A Saudi court has overturned the death sentence on a Palestinian poet accused of renouncing Islam, instead imposing an eight year prison term and 800 lashes.

The decision by a panel of judges came after Ashraf Fayadh’s lawyer argued that his conviction of apostasy was seriously flawed as he was denied a fair trial. In a briefing on the verdict, Fayadh’s lawyer said the new judgement revoked the death sentence but upheld that the poet was guilty of apostasy.

A memo written by the lawyer, posted by Abdulrahman al-Lahem on Twitter, describes the details of Fayadh’s new punishment. He is sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes, with 50 lashes carried out on 16 occasions, and must also publicly renounce his poetry on Saudi state media.

Al-Lahem welcomed the overturning of the death sentence but reaffirmed Fayadh’s innocence and announced they would launch an appeal and ask for bail.

Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Instead of beheading Ashraf Fayadh, a Saudi court has ordered a lengthy imprisonment and flogging. No one should face arrest for peacefully expressing opinions, much less corporal punishment and prison. Saudi justice officials must urgently intervene to vacate this unjust sentence.” [Continue reading…]

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How the politics of fear and the crushing of civil society imperil global rights

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Kenneth Roth writes: Fear stood behind many of the big human rights developments of the past year. Fear of being killed or tortured in Syria and other zones of conflict and repression drove millions from their homes. Fear of what an influx of asylum seekers could mean for their societies led many governments in Europe and elsewhere to close the gates. Fear of mounting terrorist attacks moved some political leaders to curtail rights and scapegoat refugees or Muslims. And fear of their people holding them to account led various autocrats to pursue an unprecedented global crackdown on the ability of those people to band together and make their voices heard.

In Europe and the United States, a polarizing us-versus-them rhetoric has moved from the political fringe to the mainstream. Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonizing of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance.

These trends threatened human rights in two ways, one well known, the other less visible. The high-profile threat is a rollback of rights by many governments in the face of the refugee flow and the parallel decision by the self-declared Islamic State, or ISIS, to spread its attacks beyond the Middle East. The less visible threat is the effort by a growing number of authoritarian governments to restrict civil society, particularly the civic groups that monitor and speak out about those governments’ conduct. [Continue reading…]

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‘Politics of fear’ threatens human rights around the globe

Human Rights Watch: The politics of fear led governments around the globe to roll back human rights during 2015.

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

“Fear of terrorist attacks and mass refugee flows are driving many Western governments to roll back human rights protections,” Roth said. “These backward steps threaten the rights of all without any demonstrated effectiveness in protecting ordinary people.”

Significant refugee flows to Europe, spurred largely by the Syrian conflict, coupled with broadening attacks on civilians in the name of the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS), have led to growing fear-mongering and Islamophobia, Human Rights Watch said. But as European governments close borders, they are reviving old patterns of shirking responsibility for refugees by passing the problem to countries on Europe’s periphery that are less equipped to house or protect refugees. The emphasis on the potential threat posed by refugees is also distracting European governments from addressing their homegrown terrorist threats and the steps needed to avoid social marginalization of disaffected populations.

Policymakers in the United States have used the terrorism threat to try to reverse recent modest restrictions on intelligence agencies’ ability to engage in mass surveillance, while the United Kingdom and France have sought to expand monitoring powers. That would significantly undermine privacy rights without any demonstrated increase in the ability to curb terrorism. Indeed, in a number of recent attacks in Europe, the perpetrators were known to law enforcement authorities, but the police were too overwhelmed to follow up, suggesting that what’s needed is not more mass data but more capacity to pursue targeted leads, Human Rights Watch said.

“The tarring of entire immigrant or minority communities, wrong in itself, is also dangerous,” Roth said. “Vilifying whole communities for the actions of a few generates precisely the kind of division and animosity that terrorist recruiters love to exploit.” [Continue reading...]

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King Salman’s first year in power in Saudi Arabia has been a dark year for human rights

Amnesty International: Despite limited improvements in the field of women’s rights, the Saudi Arabian authorities have pursued a persistent and ruthless crackdown on all forms of dissent by, among other measures, detaining critics after grossly unfair trials before the Specialized Criminal Court, often on spurious terrorism charges, increased their use of the death penalty and maintained practices that discriminate against the country’s Shi’a Muslim minority. The Kingdom’s military has also repeatedly violated the laws of war in its military campaign in Yemen.

Dozens of human rights defenders, peaceful activists and dissidents remained behind bars after being imprisoned in previous years. Among them were blogger Raif Badawi and his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, the first human rights defender to be sentenced after an unfair trial under Saudi Arabia’s counter-terror law, in force since February 2014. Dozens more were jailed under the law in 2015, including human rights defenders Dr Abdulkareem al-Khoder and Dr Abdulrahman al-Hamid, both founding members of the now disbanded independent Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), also after unfair trials. Most of the organization’s other founding members remained in prison.

Prominent writer Dr Zuhair Kutbi was sentenced in December 2015 to four years in prison by the Specialized Criminal Court, followed by a five-year ban on overseas travel, a fine of 100,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (about US$26,600) and a 15-year ban on writing and giving interviews to the media. The court also ordered him to erase his social media accounts. It suspended two years of his four-year sentence because of his poor health, but indicated they would be re-imposed if he “offended” again. [Continue reading…]

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Amnesty: Iran still a leading executioner of children

The New York Times reports: Iran is one of the leading executioners of juvenile offenders, despite its improved legal protections for children and a pledge more than two decades ago to end the death penalty for convicts younger than 18, Amnesty International said Monday.

In a new report, Amnesty International said that it had documented the execution of at least 73 juveniles in Iran from 2005 to 2015 and that 160 juvenile offenders are languishing on the country’s death row.

The report casts doubt on laws meant to improve children’s rights in Iran in the past few years, including new discretion by judges to impose alternative punishments on juveniles convicted of capital crimes. In reality, the report said, these changes are attempts by the authorities to “whitewash their continuing violations of children’s rights and deflect criticism of their appalling record as one of the world’s last executioners of juvenile offenders.”

Amnesty International, a leading global advocate for abolition of the death penalty, had also recorded the execution of juveniles in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and there are juveniles on death row in the Maldives and Nigeria.

There is little doubt among rights groups that Iran has executed more people convicted of capital crimes committed as minors than any other country. [Continue reading…]

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Failures in handling unaccompanied migrant minors have led to trafficking

The Washington Post reports: On the phone, the boy was frantic. After traveling hundreds of miles from a village in Guatemala, he had made it across the U.S. border and into a government-funded shelter for unaccompanied minors.

But then something went terribly wrong.

Instead of sending him to his uncle, Carlos Enrique Pascual, a landscape worker in Florida, authorities said the shelter released the teenager to traffickers who took him to central Ohio, held him captive in a roach-infested trailer and threatened to kill him if he tried to leave.

“Please, how can I get out of this?” Pascual’s nephew begged him during a stolen moment with a telephone. “I’m hungry, and my heart is bursting with fear.”

Pascual called police and, in December 2014, authorities found his nephew, then 17, and seven other boys living in cramped, dirty trailers about an hour outside of Columbus. Authorities said they were working at Trillium Farms, one of the country’s largest egg producers, debeaking hens and cleaning cages nearly 12 hours a day, six days a week, for as little as $2 a day.

The boys were part of a surge of children flowing across the U.S.-Mexico border over the past four years, overwhelming federal officials responsible for their safekeeping, child advocates say. Since 2011, more than 125,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America have been stopped at the border, many placed in shelters funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon wants psychologists to end ban on interrogation role

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The New York Times reports: The Pentagon has asked the American Psychological Association to reconsider its ban on the involvement of psychologists in national security interrogations at the Guantánamo Bay prison and other facilities.

The Defense Department reduced its use of psychologists at Guantánamo in late 2015 in response to the policy approved by the association last summer.

But in a letter and accompanying memo to association officials this month, Brad Carson, the acting principal deputy secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, asked that the group, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, revisit its “blanket prohibition.” [Continue reading…]

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Two Iranian poets, facing lashings and prison, escape country

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The Associated Press reports: Two Iranian poets who face lashings and prison sentences have fled Iran, one of the writers said Monday, a rare escape for local artists and activists ensnared in an ongoing crackdown on expression in the country.

Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi’s freedom came as world powers lifted sanctions on Iran over its contested nuclear program and as the country separately freed four Iranian-Americans in exchange for seven Iranians held in the U.S.

The poets’ escape is a reminder that despite the growing detente with the West, hard-liners still exert control over much of life in the Islamic Republic.

Ekhtesari told The Associated Press on Monday that both she and Mousavi escaped from Iran in recent days and made it to another country. She declined to elaborate out of continuing concerns about their safety.

Ekhtesari faced an 11½-year prison sentence, while Mousavi faced nine years on charges ranging from propaganda against the state to “insulting sanctities.” Each was sentenced to 99 lashings. They likely were targeted because their work is known abroad. Both are self-described “postmodern Ghazal” poets who seek to revive the traditional Persian love sonnet by applying it to contemporary political and social issues. [Continue reading…]

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‘Death to Christians, enemies of Israel’ — Hebrew graffiti defacing Jerusalem monastery

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Reuters reports: Israel ordered a high-priority police investigation on Sunday into anti-Christian messages scrawled in Hebrew on the walls and doors of a Jerusalem monastery, saying they marked an assault on religious harmony.

“Idols will be extirpated” – a line lifted from the Jewish prayer service – and “Christians Go to Hell” were among graffiti left outside the Dormition Abbey with felt-tip pens. The varying handwriting suggested several vandals had been involved.

The Benedictine monastery, on Mount Zion in the Old City, is near a site where many Christians believe Jesus held the Last Supper as well as a tomb revered as the last resting place of the biblical King David and which draws many Jewish worshippers.

“We will not let anyone undermine religious coexistence in Israel,” Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement, adding that police would put a high priority on “nabbing those who carried out this despicable act”.

Israel has been struggling with a spate of hate crimes by suspected Jewish ultra-nationalists targeting Christian sites as well as Palestinians and Israeli human rights activists. [Continue reading…]

The Times of Israel: “Despite promises by the government, these incidents continue to happen,” Wadia Abu Nasser, the executive director of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops in the Holy Land, railed Sunday morning. “If we were to actually count all of these incidents, they’d be in the hundreds.

“We have limited resources at our disposal. It’s the state’s responsibility to not only apprehend these perpetrators, but to make the necessary changes in the education system to educate against this sort of thing,” he told Army Radio. [Continue reading…]

Ynet adds: “The inscriptions are not only against Jesus the Messiah, but also call to slaughter the Christians and send them to hell! How long will these acts of vandalism continue?” the church said.

“This is the area of our convent, which until today is not monitored by police cameras, although this has been promised to us in the summer of 2013 by the Israeli security authorities after the cars of the monastery were badly damaged and several hate graffiti were discovered.”

The Domition Abbey further complained of “aggressive gathering with loud music and chanting by Jewish right-wing radicals in our immediate neighborhood in the area of the Tomb of David” almost every weekend for the past three years. [Continue reading…]

In 2011, I posted a collection of articles under the headline, “Being spat at remains part of life for Christians in Jerusalem.” This included reports from Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and The Forward. Attacks on Christians were described by Eric J Greenberg in 2004 as what has been “Jerusalem’s dirty little secret for decades.”

Last month I received a message from a reader claiming that these incidents are being used “as a stick to beat all Jews,” to which I responded:

In none of the reports cited — all reports made by Jewish journalists — is the behavior of “young Jewish bigots” in Jerusalem portrayed as representative of Jews as a whole. At the same time, this phenomenon doesn’t sound like something that deserves being ignored — especially if the Jerusalem Post reports that the attacks on Christians are not rare but are in fact “habitual.”

Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Gilad Erdan, says:

“We will show zero tolerance to whomever harms the democratic foundations of Israel and its freedom of religion and we will apprehend those who carried out this heinous act.”

How can anyone take seriously this claim that the Israeli government has “zero tolerance” for these types of attacks on religious freedom when it has been clearly documented that they have been going on for decades?

This isn’t just a domestic political issue for Israel, or reason for Israeli leaders and business owners to be concerned about the impact on tourism.

If a blind eye has been turned towards these hate crimes, it most likely also includes that of American Christian Zionists who are more closely aligned with right-wing Israelis than they are with fellow Christians in the Holy Land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers Christians United for Israel “to be a vital part of Israel’s national security.”

I guess for CUFI and Netanyahu, the latest anti-Christian incident in Jerusalem will be a cause for little more than mild and fleeting embarrassment.

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The paranoid style of American policing

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes: When I was around 10 years old, my father confronted a young man who was said to be “crazy.” The young man was always too quick to want to fight. A foul in a game of 21 was an insult to his honor. A cross word was cause for a duel, and you never knew what that cross word might be. One day, the young man got into it with one of my older brother’s friends. The young man pulled a metal stake out of the ground (there was some work being done nearby) and began swinging it wildly in a threatening manner. My father, my mother, or my older brother — I don’t recall which — told the other boy to go inside of our house. My dad then came outside. I don’t really remember what my father said to the young man. Perhaps he said something like “Go home,” or maybe something like, “Son, it’s over.” I don’t really recall. But what I do recall is that my dad did not shoot and kill the young man.

That wasn’t the first time I’d seen my father confront the violence of young people without resorting to killing them. This was not remarkable. When you live in communities like ours — or perhaps any community — mediating violence between young people is part of being an adult. Sometimes the young people are involved in scary behavior — like threatening people with metal objects. And yet the notion that it is permissible, wise, moral, or advisable to kill such a person as a method of de-escalation, to kill because one was afraid, did not really exist among parents in my community.

The same could not be said for those who came from outside of the community. [Continue reading…]

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Forget the sympathy – asylum is a refugee’s right

By Renos Papadopoulos, University of Essex

This year, the media has been full of tragic images of people risking their lives in a desperate attempt to flee their troubled countries. This phenomenon is not new, by any means, but the number of people involved has increased dramatically over a short period.

The statistics – which change almost daily – are staggering. It is estimated that more than 130,000 refugees and migrants have entered the European Union this year and more than 3,000 are known to have perished during their perilous crossing in the Mediterranean from Libya. Around 7,200 landed on just one Greek island, Lesvos, during May 2015. The numbers are equally shocking in other known crossings, notably from Somalia to Yemen and in the Far East to Indonesia and Australia.

The phenomenon is truly overwhelming. Whenever we are overwhelmed, we tend to oversimplify our perception in order to minimise our discomfort.

Perhaps the most common form of oversimplification is polarisation – and this is what we are witnessing around us now in relation to these images and statistics. On one side, some strongly oppose the uncontrolled influx of foreigners, arguing that developed countries can ill afford to host hordes of people. On the other are those who base their argument on compassion, urging governments to offer people dignified assistance in their hour of need.

In fact, neither view hits the mark.

[Read more…]

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Pentagon thwarts Obama’s effort to close Guantanamo

Reuters reports: In September, U.S. State Department officials invited a foreign delegation to the Guantanamo Bay detention center to persuade the group to take detainee Tariq Ba Odah to their country. If they succeeded, the transfer would mark a small step toward realizing President Barack Obama’s goal of closing the prison before he leaves office.

The foreign officials told the administration they would first need to review Ba Odah’s medical records, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the episode. The Yemeni has been on a hunger strike for seven years, dropping to 74 pounds from 148, and the foreign officials wanted to make sure they could care for him.

For the next six weeks, Pentagon officials declined to release the records, citing patient privacy concerns, according to the U.S. officials. The delegation, from a country administration officials declined to identify, canceled its visit. After the administration promised to deliver the records, the delegation traveled to Guantanamo and appeared set to take the prisoner off U.S. hands, the officials said. The Pentagon again withheld Ba Odah’s full medical file.

Today, nearly 14 years since he was placed in the prison and five years since he was cleared for release by U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic officials, Ba Odah remains in Guantanamo. [Continue reading…]

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