Persian Gulf militarized —by drug war
The past year has seen a spate of dangerous brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf, with Iran and US naval forces along with those of the Gulf's oil-rich Arab mini-states playing chicken over the strategic choke-point of the Strait of Hormuz. But in addition to this show-down over a global oil outlet, the Gulf has seen escalating militarization in the guise of narcotics enforcement. Bahrain's Gulf Daily News on Nov. 26 ran a story boasting of the exploits of a 29-nation Combined Maritime Forces group, based at the petro-kingdom's sprawling US Navy base and commanded by Capt. Robert Slaven of the Royal Australian Navy. While it claims to have "considerably reduced the number of terrorist attacks in the region" over the past decade, it's most concrete gains are hashish and heroin seizures.
Syria: new chemical revelations; aid cut to rebels
Now here's a counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. The UN mission investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria stated that chemical agents may have been unleashed in five of seven cases investigated, occurring between March and August—not just the Aug. 21 attack at Ghouta. The other four cases that remain under investigation are named as Khan Assal, Jobar, Saraqeb and Ashrafiah Sahnaya. The mission unequivocally concluded that "chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic." (NPR, LAT, Dec. 12) Simultaneously, the US and UK suspended all "non-lethal aid" to the Syrian rebels. The cut-off came days after a newly formed "Islamic Front" seized a base and arms cache from the Free Syrian Army at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey. The Islamic Front recently brought together six rebel factions, and seems loosely allied with ISIS, heretofore the major jihadist army.
Egypt: Ikhwan unleash rage on Copts
As the death toll from the previous day's operation to clear Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) protest camps in Cairo was estimated as high as 600, Ikhwan supporters on Aug. 15 staged new marches in the capital, where a government building was set alight, as well as in Alexandria, where street clashes were reported. A governorate building was also torched in Giza, while seven soldiers were killed by unknown gunmen near El Arish in the Sinai peninsula. Ikhwan supporters also unleashed their rage on Coptic Christians, with several churches, homes, and Copt-owned businesses attacked throughout the country. Coptic rights group the Maspero Youth Union (MYU) estimated that as many as 36 churches were "completely" devastated by fire across nine governorates, including Minya, Sohag and Assiut. Egyptians on Twitter used #EgyChurch to crowd-source images and reports of attacks on churches. (Ahram Online, Ahram Online, Middle East Online, BBC News, Aug. 15; Al Jazeera, Aug. 12)
Bahrain blogger's lawyer detained: rights group
A human rights activist for Frontline Defenders on Aug. 9 reported that the lawyer representing a Bahraini blogger held by authorities has been detained himself days after alleging his client had been tortured while in police custody. Abdul Aziz Moussa is representing Mohamed Hassan, who acted as a media contact point for various foreign news stories, which included coverage of anti-government protests and police crackdowns in Bahrain. Hassan was taken from his home in July by men associated with the Ministry of Interior and detained incommunicado at the Criminal Investigation Department. Moussa was detained on August 8 after he reported on Twitter the visible signs of torture he had seen on his client Hassan. Front Line Defenders considers that the arrest and detention of Hassan and Moussa to be directly related to their activities in defense of human rights.
Kuwait court acquits politicians of insulting leader
An appeals court in Kuwait on July 22 overturned the criminal convictions of three former members of parliament for criticizing the Emir, the nation's leader. The Kuwait Society for Human Rights helped break the story internationally via Twitter, when its director posted a short statement regarding the acquittal. The three men were convicted in February of insulting Emir Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah at a protest in October. As members of parliament, they initially spoke out against new election laws and several other issues dealing with flawed civil procedure. The same flaws they addressed later led to the dissolution of the parliament. The Kuwait government has not yet indicated if it will choose to appeal this decision to the supreme court.
UAE court sentences 69 activists in coup plot
A United Arab Emirates (UAE) court on July 2 gave sentences of up to 15 years in prison to 69 out of 94 people on trial for planning an Islamist coup. The group of defendants includes unnamed doctors, academics, lawyers and other professionals arrested over the past year for allegedly forming a secret network with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The court found that the defendants planned to raise money to stage a coup against the Emirati ruling families. Most of the defendants are members of the conservative Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah), a nonviolent Islamist political association advocating greater adherence to Islamic precepts. According to media sources eight suspects received prison terms of 15 years after being tried in absentia. The court gave 10-year sentences to 56 of the suspects, seven-year terms to five others and acquitted 25. The trial began in March. The UAE tolerates no political opposition within its borders.
Bahrain acquits police officers of torture charges
A Bahraini high criminal court on July 1 acquitted two police officers on trial for the torture of six Shi'iite doctors during the uprising against the Sunni regime in 2011. The Grand Criminal Court's Third Chamber acquitted the two officers of all charges due to the lack of adequate evidence that the officers engaged in the torture of two female and four male doctors in March 2011. Both officers, one being Bahraini princess Noura Bint Ebrahim al-Khalifa who serves in Bahrain's Drugs Control Unit, denied the charges. Prosecutor Nawaf Hamza will appeal the decision if they find error in the court's reasoning.
Kuwait woman sentenced to 11 years for tweeting
A criminal court in Kuwait on June 10 sentenced a woman to 11 years in prison for remarks she made on Twitter. Huda al-Ajmi was found guilty of three violations, including insulting the nation's ruler, Emir Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, calling to overthrow the government and misusing her mobile phone. The 11-year prison term is the harshest sentence yet given to an online activist in Kuwait and will become final if it is not overturned when contested in the court of appeals and cassation court. Huda al-Ajmi, who denies the charges, is not a well-known activist and is not known to have participated in opposition protests.
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