A Tunisian appeals court ordered the release of jailed activist Rania Amdouni on March 17, following an outcry from civil society and human rights groups. Amdouni had been charged with "insulting police and abuse of morals," which sparked concerns from rights groups over suppression of free speech. Amdouni is the president of Chouf Minorities and a member of the Tunisian Association for Justice & Equality (DAMJ), both organizations concerned with rights for women and the LGBT. She has faced abuse from law enforcement over of her involvement in recent protests against austerity policies and police brutality. Police and politicians have shared her photo on social media with disparaging comments about her appearance and presumed sexual orientation and gender identity.
Ten years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of large areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
The Higher Regional Court in Koblenz, Germany, on Feb. 24 convicted a former officer of Syria's General Intelligence Directorate, Eyad A., on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity—specifically, torture and deprivation of liberty committed against 30 persons. Eyad received a sentence of four years and six months in prison for his role in arresting people who were later tortured. The 30 persons, who were all civilians, had been participating in anti-government protests in Douma in 2011 when they were rounded up and sent by bus to Branch 251, or the al-Khatib detention center in Damascus. At Branch 251, they suffered grave physical, emotional and psychological abuse, in addition to being subjected to inhumane and degrading conditions. The court stated that "Eyad A. had already known about the regular and systematic torture in the prison of department 251 when the demonstrators were arrested... He also expected that the torture was part of a planned, organized action by the government to suppress opposition forces."
Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released Feb. 10 after spending a total of 1,001 days—almost three years—in prison. Al-Hathloul had been championing women's rights since 2013. She lobbied especially for the right to drive, as well as for an end to male guardianship laws in the Saudi kingdom. While women were granted the right to drive in 2017, advocates for the change were detained by authorities weeks before it took effect.
President Joe Biden announced Feb. 4 the United States will end support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country. "This war has to end," Biden told diplomats in his first visit to the State Department as president, saying the conflict has created a "humanitarian and strategic catastrophe." Biden pledged an end to "relevant" US arms sales, while giving no immediate details on what that would mean. The administration had already said it is pausing some of the billions of dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Frustration over a strict COVID-19 lockdown and a collapsing economy exploded into protests in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli, where a government building was set aflame on the night of Jan. 28, and several days of clashes between security forces and demonstrators left one person dead and more than 100 injured. Lebanon is in the midst of a 24-hour curfew, with even supermarkets closed—a measure that authorities defended as necessary given a surge of coronavirus cases that has left the healthcare system struggling to cope. But crippling poverty is on the rise in Lebanon—thanks to an ongoing financial crisis, compounded by the global pandemic and an August explosion at the Beirut port—and some argue that the strict containment rules go too far. Some local aid groups say they have been denied permission to bring help, including much-needed food, to vulnerable families.
The army was ordered into the streets in Tunisia Jan. 18 following four days of angry protests by disaffected youth that have led to hundreds of arrests. Enraged over widespread unemployment, youth have erected roadblocks of burning tires, clashed with police, ransacked shops and banks, and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at government buildings. The protests began in poor districts of Tunis, but quickly spread to other cities, including Kasserine, Gafsa, Sousse, Siliana and Monastir. At the more organized demonstrations, marchers carry placards reading "Employment is a right."
Two protesters were killed and several injured Jan. 10 in Iraq, as security forces attempted to put down a third consecutive day of angry demonstrations in the southern city of Nasiriyah. A police officer was also reportedly killed in street clashes. Anti-government protesters had two days earlier re-occupied Haboubi Square, demanding the release of their comrades arrested in recent weeks. A protest encampment had been in place in the square for over a year until November 2020, when the camp was attacked by followers of Shi'ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr, with several killed. Witnesses said that in the new violence, security forces opened fire to disperse protesters from the square. (Middle East Eye, The National, UAE)