Greater Middle East

Saudi Arabia imprisons Yemeni dissident blogger

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." 

Syria: controlled elections amid deepening crisis

To nobody's surprise, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's bloc won a majority of seats in the country's parliamentary election, dismissed as a farce by the exiled opposition. Assad's "National Unity" list won 177 seats in the 250-member parliament, the electoral commission announced July 22. As in the presidential elections that just as predictably confirmed Assad's hold on the presidency in 1994, millions of people displaced by the war were not able to vote. "Simply put, these are illegitimate elections. The regime chose the candidates, even the independent ones, and they elected them," said Yahya al-Aridi, a member of the opposition committee at UN peace talks in Geneva. "The people in Syria did not have the freedom to vote... This was a theater play by the regime." (Al Jazeera, DW)

OPCW condemns Assad regime over chemical attacks

Member states of the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on July 9 voted 29-1 to condemn Syria's Bahsar Assad regime over chemical attacks on civilians in opposition-held areas. Overriding a sustained propaganda campaign by Russia, the regime and their supporters, the member states endorsed the conclusions by the OPCW Investigation & Identification Team (IIT) that regime forces used sarin and chlorine gas in attacks on al-Lataminah, Hama governorate, in March of 2017. Russia and Iran, the primary backers of the Assad regime since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, voted no. The only other country joining them was China. There were nine abstentions.

Bahrain upholds death penalty for protesters

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

Yemen: secret torture centers revealed

In an exhaustive report released June 30, the independent monitor Mwatana for Human Rights documents a chilling aspect of Yemen's more than five-year war that has gone overlooked, precisely because of its secretive nature: "enforced disappearances," torture, and deaths at illegal detention centers across the country. The report documents abuses by all parties to Yemen's war, some of which it says may constitute war crimes. The Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) rebel group are all accused of running detention centers—some on military bases or intelligence compounds, some in cellars below private homes or requisitioned public buildings. 

UN Rights Council sees Russian 'war crimes' in Syria

A United Nations Human Rights Council report released on July 7 concluded that air-strikes on civilian infrastructure by Syrian government and Russian forces in Idlib and Aleppo provinces amounted to war crimes. The report, prepared by the UN-mandated Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, assessed incidents that occurred from November 1, 2019, to June 1, 2020. The Syrian government and Russian Aerospace Forces carried out both land and air attacks, which destroyed civilian infrastructure. The report documented 52 "emblematic attacks" that led to civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure. These included 17 attacks on hospitals and medical facilities as well as 14 attacks on schools. 

Syria: protests against ex-Nusra rule in Idlib

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."

Egyptian LGBT activist a suicide in exile

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.

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