struggle within Islam
Jihadist militants continue to wage a low-level insurgency in Mali, targetting government troops and their French allies. Last week, the Group for Support of Islam & Muslims (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin, or JNIM) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on French forces in northern Mali. The assault with two explosive-laden vehicles on a base in the Gossi area of Timbuktu region left one French soldier dead. (LWJ, July 30) But internecine fighting between jihadist factions has also started to take an increasing toll. Since an apparent truce broke down in February, there have been repeated clashes between JNIM, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and the self-declared Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS, or EIGS by its French rendering). The ISGS has also engaged another Qaeda-aligned faction active along the border with Burkina Faso, the Macina Liberation Front.
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same-sex relationships, Human Rights Watch announced July 28. Mohamad al-Bokari was arrested in Riyadh on April 8, after posting a video on social media, which authorities said contained "sexual references" and "violated public order and morals." This was apparently a reference to the line: "Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people." Sources told HRW that al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek "proof" of homosexual conduct. HRW says the practice has no scientific basis, violates medical ethics, and constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Al-Bokari was charged with "violating public morality" and "imitating women."
After more than 30 years of Islamist rule, Sudan's interim Sovereignty Council has unveiled a sweeping reform of the sharia-based legal code. Announcing the changes, Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari told the BBC, "We are keen to demolish any discrimination that was enacted by the old regime and to move toward equality of citizenship and a democratic transformation." He said the amendments aim to bring Sudan's laws in line with the Constitutional Declaration that established the country's transitional government a year ago, and included guarantees for basic rights and freedoms. Most significantly, the amendments abolish the crime of "apostasy"—meaning conversion from Islam, which had carried the death penalty and was widely used to target political opposition.
Sudan's new government officially criminalized female genital mutilation (FGM) on April 29. The change is the result of an amendment to Sudan's Criminal Law Article 141. The act is defined as removing or reshaping "the female genitalia by cutting, mutilating or modifying any natural part of it leading to the full or partial loss of its functions." The punishment for committing female genital mutilation is to be three years imprisonment as well as fines.
Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court announced on April 25 that it has abolished flogging as a form of punishment, part of a series of reforms to advance human rights in the kingdom. These reforms follow "unprecedented international criticism" that Saudi Arabia received in 2019 for its human rights record, which included 184 executions, 84 of which were for non-violent drug crimes. Court-ordered floggings sometimes extended to hundreds of lashes, and the punishment could be imposed for offenses ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder. In the future, the courts will have to choose between fines, imprisonment, or non-custodial alternatives, such as community service.
The Dec. 24 death of 92-year-old Noor-Ali Tabandeh, also known as Majzoub Ali Shah, leader of Iran's Gonabadi Sufi order, apparently prompted the regime to take pre-emptive measures against a fresh outbreak of protests. Radio Farda (linked to the US State Department) noted than a local activist reported on Twitter after the passing of the Sufi leader, that "riot police in armor who are equipped with batons, firearms and tear-gas have completely taken over all the streets leading to Zartosht Street," where the hospital he was held is located. Tabandeh was a harsh critic of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of Islamic Jurists), the system by which Iran's orthodox Shi'ite religious establishment has final say over all laws. He had been under effective house arrest since February 2018, when a wave of protests by Gonabadi dervishes against persecution of their Order (including blocking of its websites) led to hundreds of arrests. Since Tabandeh's death, his followers on social media have been speculating that he was poisoned by the authorities.
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo was sworn in for a second term Oct. 20 amid an official ban on protests, and Jakarta's streets flooded with 30,000 police and military troops. The inauguration was preceded by a wave of mass protests in September, mostly led by students. The demonstrations were sparked by a new law that weakens Indonesia's anti-corruption agency, and another that instates such moralistic measures as a ban on extramarital sex—the latter a play to cultural conservatives who accuse Widodo of being insufficiently Muslim. But protesters' anger was also directed at plans for a tough new criminal code, at troops mobilized to put down the unrest in Papua region, and at the failure to stem forest fires in Sumatra and Borneo that are causing toxic haze across Southeast Asia.
Saba Kord Afshari, a 21-year-old rights activist and an opponent of Iran's mandatory hijab law, has been sentenced to 24 years in prison, according to her lawyer, who was informed of the verdict by Branch 26 of Tehran Revolutionary Court on Aug. 27, a full 20 days after her trial. She received 15 years for "spreading corruption and prostitution" (appearing in public without hijab), seven years and five months for "conspiracy to act against national security," and one year and five months for "propaganda against the state."