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."
The Sudanese government is sending more forces to the restive Darfur region, following a new escalation in violence there. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said the troops are to protect people during the farming season. Dozens of people have been killed and several villages destroyed in Darfur over the past weeks. The most recent outburst came on July 25, when some 500 armed men attacked Masteri village, West Darfur, killing at least 60 people from the Masalit ethnic group. In a separate incident that same day, another armed group attacked the Um Doss area in South Darfur, killing at least 20 people.
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.
The highest court of Bahrain on July 14 upheld a lower court decision to execute two protesters, despite evidence that suggests their confessions were unlawfully extracted. Hussain Moosa and Mohammed Ramadan, members of Bahrain's traditionally excluded Shiite majority, were sentenced to death in 2014 for planting a bomb in the village of al-Deir that killed a police officer involved in repression of a riot in the village. After multiple appeals, the high court, known as the Court of Cassation, overturned the death sentences in 2018. The court accepted evidence of medical records showing injuries on Moosa, supporting witness statements that the two men were beaten and tortured into pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. However, in January a lower court successfully reinstated the death penalty, which the Cassation Court has now reaffirmed.
Protesters gathered in the town of Atmeh in Syria's opposition-held Idlib province on June 23 to demand the release of a locally based British aid worker arrested by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Islamist militia formerly known as the Nusra Front that now controls much of the province. Tauqir Sharif, who has been based in Atmeh near the Turkish border since 2013, was detained by HTS earlier in the week in a raid on his home. Footage of the protest showed many women and children among dozens chanting and holding banners calling for Sharif to be freed, as they marched through the town. The crowd finally gathered outside the closed gates of a compound guarded by masked militiamen. Demonstrators also protested closure of education and other social services by HTS, chanting "We want schools to open."
Three years after her arrest and torture by security forces in her native country, Egyptian LGBT activist Sarah Hegazi killed herself in exile in Canada on June 14, prompting an outpouring of sympathy and anger on social media. Hegazi, 30, an openly gay woman and rights advocate, was among a group of activists arrested in September 2017 after raising a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert of the Lebanese indie band Mashrou Leila, which includes gay members. Hegazi was charged with joining an illegal group promoting "deviant thought." She fled to Canada after being released on bail in January 2018. The incident was followed by a harsh crackdown on Egypt's LGBT community.
Amid spiraling inflation and fast-rising prices for food and other basic goods, protests are again emerging in regime-controlled areas of Syria—some reviving slogans of the 2011 revolution. On June 7, an angry protest was held in the southwestern city of Suweida. Crowds moved through the city's central streets, eventually gathering in front of the governorate building, where they chanted, "The people want to topple the regime!" "Revolution, freedom, social justice!" and "Down with Bashar al-Assad!" Discontent has been simmering in the city since local youth launched a campaign dubbed "We Want to Live" at the beginning of the year. The protest was particularly significant, as the Druze-majority province of Suweida has remained loyal to Damascus throughout the nine years of the Syrian uprising.
Recent inter-communal fighting in Darfur and Kassala State threatens Sudan's fragile democratic transition, United Nations officials warn. The government has dispatched the army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to South Darfur and Kassala states to quell the fighting. In a national address, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the joint civilian-military Sovereign Council that is responsible for Sudan's transition to democracy, said that the security forces would act decisively "to secure the country, lives and property."