struggle within Islam
Rights advocates in Iran's Khuzestan province, homeland of the marginalized Ahwazi Arab people, report another wave of sweeps and incommunicado detention of local activists. Agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Dec. 11 detained Zeinab Sawari, a teacher and prominent Ahwazi advocate for women's and children's rights. Sawari's younger siblings were also detained when they came to her defense during the raid on the family's home in Neysan district of Howeyzeh shahrestan (county). Agents simultaneously raided the nearby home of their aunt, Fatema Sawari. Zeinab Sawari had recently been involved in fundraising to help victims of the severe flooding that devastated the region both this year and in 2019. Both Zeinab and Fatema Sawari remain in detention at an undisclosed location.
Police and demonstrators clashed in Paris Nov. 28 as some 45,000 filled the streets to protest a new security law, with large mobilizations also seen in Bordeaux, Lille, Montpellier and Nantes. The new law would severely restrict publishing of the images of police officers. The issue was given greater urgency by video footage of Paris police savagely beating local Black music producer Michel Zecler days earlier. President Emmanuel Macron said the images "shame us," but critics point out that their release could have been barred if his new security law had already been in force. Four officers have been suspended over the incident, but there have been no arrests. (Al Jazeera, NYT, EuroNews)
Amid low turn-out and a boycott in regions of the country, Algerians approved a new constitution pushed by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in a Nov. 1 referendum. The referendum took place on the anniversary of the start of Algeria's war for independence from France in 1954, with the government adopting the slogan "November 1954: Liberation. November 2020: Change." The preamble to the new charter actually invokes last year's Hirak or "revolution of smiles" protest movement, and the reform was clearly intended as a response to the movement's demands. But in the northeastern Kabylie region, heartland of the country's Amazigh (Berber) people and a bastion of support for the Hirak, demonstrators blocked polling stations to enforce a boycott. In response, election authorities annulled the votes from 63 of the 67 towns in the region.
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.