Human Rights Watch has called upon Iran's judiciary to abandon charges and quash the verdicts against 11 members of a Sufi order convicted in what the rights group called unfair trials and informed of their sentences this month. HRW found that evidence suggests all 11 were prosecuted and convicted solely because of their peaceful activities on behalf of the largest Sufi order in Iran or in connection with their contributions to a news website dedicated to documenting rights abuses against members of the order. "The Sufi trials bore all the hallmarks of a classic witch hunt," said Tamara Alrifai, HRW's Middle East advocacy director. "It seems that authorities targeted these members of one of Iran’s most vulnerable minorities because they tried to give voice to the defense of Sufi rights."
Iraqi special forces are said to be closing in on the most senior member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle still on the run, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, head of the now-outlawed Ba'ath party. Al-Douri, who was the king of clubs in the US military's famous playing-card deck of wanted Iraqis, is said to be hiding near Saddam's home town of Tikrit. He is believed to be leading an armed unit called the "Men of the Army of the Naqshbandi Order," known by its Arabic acronym JRTN, drawn from followers of one of Iraq's oldest Sufi orders. In a January video, Douri, surrounded by men in uniform, urged resistance to Iraq's Shi'ite-led government. April was the bloodiest month since 2008 in Iraq, with sectarian violence claiming more than 700 lives. (PBS News Hour, May 2; The Guardian, April 18)
Radio France International (RFI) and French newspaper Libération claim that their reporters discovered, in the ransacked offices of the ORTM national TV station in Timbuktu, a document in which AQIM commander Abdel Malek Droukdel outlines his strategy for Mali. The news website Algérie 1 also publishes excerpts from the 79-page hand-written document dated July 20, 2012, entitled "Roadmap Relating to Islamic Jihad in Azawad." The document is portrayed as revealing a moderated vision of an Islamic state that could win the support of the Tuaregs while hiding the actual role of AQIM.
Thousands of people massed on Feb. 8 in Tunis for the funeral of slain opposition leader Chokri Belaid, with the city shut down in a general strike called by the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT). "With our blood and our souls we will sacrifice ourselves for the martyr," shouted the mourners, who included some prominent politicians. Chants also denouned the ruling Ennahda party as "assassins." Police fired tear-gas and warning shots as clashes erupted. Strikes and clashes were also reported in other cities, with police firing tear-gas on protesters in Sousse and the mining town of Gafsa. Two days of protests across the country have left scores injured and a police officer dead. (Middle East Online, Middle East Online, Al Jazeera, AFP, The Lede, Feb. 8)
Thousands of Pakistanis chanitng "we want change" filled the streets of Islamabad in a massive anti-corruption protest led by Sufi cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri Jan. 14. Security forces responded with tear gas and shots fired in the air as the protesters attempted to march on parliament. Qadri has given an ultimatum to the Pakistan government to dissolve the national and provincial assemblies by the next day. He is also calling for a delay in elections, and a greater role for the army in forming a caretaker government. Grievances include chronic energy shortages, economic stagnation, and continued attacks by the Taliban like-minded Islamist militants. Islamists accuse Qadri of being backed by the military. (Frontier Post, IBN, Jan. 15)
Islamist militants occupying Timbuktu in northern Mali destroyed remaining mausoleums in the ancient city using pick-axes Dec. 23, a leader of the group said. "Not a single mausoleum will remain in Timbuktu, Allah doesn't like it," Abou Dardar, head of Ansar Dine, told the AFP. "We are in the process of smashing all the hidden mausoleums in the area." (Al Jazeera, Dec. 23) Three days earlier, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve an African-led intervention force to oust the Islamist forces from Mali's north. (The Real News, Dec. 20)
Mali's prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra was forced to resign on state television Dec. 11 after junta troops arrested him for attempting to leave the country. President Dioncounda Traoré appeared on TV to appoint Django Cissoko, a French-educated university professor and presidential aide, as interim prime minister. Diarra's ouster was a show of force by a military that staged a coup in March, just as rebels were seizing the country's desert north. Following his arrest, Diarra was taken to a meeting with coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo, where he was accused both of failing to retake the north and of scheming to to disrupt talks now underway with the rebels.
In an Oct. 15 statement, Human Rights Watch called on Tunisian authorities to investigate a series of attacks by religious extremists over the past 10 months and bring those responsible to justice. The statement noted a letter sent in July to the ministers of justice and interior, detailing six incidents in which apparent Islamists assaulted artists, intellectuals and activists. Human Rights Watch said no progress had been made in these cases, and it meanwhile received reports of another such attack against the organizers of a festival in August. "The failure of Tunisian authorities to investigate these attacks entrenches the religious extremists’ impunity and may embolden them to commit more violence," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.