Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ukraine uprising: The private zoo, the galleon moored on a private lake, the fleet of vintage cars - Ukrainians left open-mouthed at the opulence of President Yanukovych's country estate

It's a kleptocratic state with no independent judiciary where one in four lives in poverty. No wonder they've had enough

The Independent

"It was the expressions on the faces of the everyday Ukrainians that stayed in the mind. As the crowds flung aside the gates and flooded into President Yanukovych's country estate, they were left open-mouthed at the scale of the opulence uncovered.

It was not just the size of it; so big, in fact, that many reported walking around for hours but still seeing only a fraction of the grounds.

Nor the private zoo, complete with its own peacocks. Or the faux galleon permanently moored on his private lake. Or the fleet of vintage cars. Or the motorcycle collection. It was the fact that they had never imagined anything like this even existed.
Every Ukrainian knows the country has a corruption problem. It is impossible not to. You can barely visit, let alone try to do business there, without at some point realising a bribe is expected. But until able to see for themselves the luxury that those at the top had bought with the money they had skimmed off, few could conceive the scale of the theft undertaken [Sounds familiar to most Arabs].

The average daily wage in Ukraine is £8. In a number of regions, it is barely £5. More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. It has the most severe HIV epidemic in Europe. Millions lack adequate health and social care.

It did not have to be like this. Blessed with natural resources, a benign climate across much of its southern regions, an educated workforce and access to the Black Sea, this should be a wealthy country. In 1992, after the Soviet empire had imploded, its economy was roughly the size of that of its neighbour Poland. Now it is half its size.

The reason why is largely due to the kleptocratic state that has been formed there. Forbes magazine reported that Yanukovych's own son, a dentist, won 50 per cent of all state contracts last month, which one commentator called "possibly the biggest dental extraction in history". There is no independent judiciary......"

Ukraine's Yanukovich refused exit from country - Interfax. What a Blow to Putin!

I Hope the Next Blow to Putin Comes From Syria!

"Feb 22 (Reuters) - Ukraine's border authorities said on Saturday it had refused to allow President Viktor Yanukovich to leave the country, Interfax news agency said.
Armed men had tried to bribe border staff at Donetsk airport in the east of the country to allow the charter flight to take off but they had refused, the agency, quoting an aide of the head of the state border service, said.
Yanukovich subsequently got off the plane and left in a waiting car, it said.
It was not clear where the plane had wanted to fly to."

From the Guardian

"A Ukrainian rabbi has urged Kiev’s Jews to leave the city and even the state. Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, told Ma’ariv, an Israeli newspaper:
“I told my congregation to leave the city center or the city all together and if possible the country too. I don’t want to tempt fate. But there are constant warnings concerning intentions to attack Jewish institutions.”
Edward Dolinsky, head of the umbrella organization of Ukraine’s Jews described the situation in Kiev as dire, told Maariv “We contacted Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman requesting he assist us with securing the community.”"

Al-Jazeera Video: مقارنات بين فض الاعتصام برابعة وفض اعتصام أوكرانيا

Ukraine army says won't get involved in politics


Compare this with the bloody Arab armies which are in fact the private militia for preserving the dictator in power. Look at Syria, where the army has destroyed most of the country to preserve the mass murderer in power, Assad. This follows the pledge, "Assad or we will burn the country!"

Anti-government protesters guard the  the Ukrainian Parliament building in Kiev.
Anti-government protesters guard the the Ukrainian Parliament building in Kiev. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA
"KIEV (Reuters) - The armed forces of Ukraine will not become involved in any political conflict, the military general staff said in a statement posted on the website of the defense ministry on Saturday.

"The armed forces of Ukraine are loyal to their constitutional obligations and cannot be pulled into domestic political conflict," it said."

Ukraine’s Future is Tied Up With Syria’s – and Vladimir Putin is Crucial to Both

By Robert Fisk

February 22, 2014 "Information Clearing House - "The Independent" -  No one in the Middle East will be studying Ukraine’s violent tragedy with more fascination – and deeper concern – than President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

He won’t care a fig about Obama’s critics – who are already chastising the US President for giving Vladimir Putin the green light to support the Ukrainian President by flunking his threat to bomb Damascus last year – nor will Assad care very much about the future political career of Viktor Yanukovych, whom he happens to know well.

He will instead be dwelling upon the remarkable similarities between Yanukovych’s besieged government and his own Syrian regime, which is still battling an armed struggle against insurgents. The parallels are by no means exact, as Assad’s enemies claim them to be when they suggest that he and Yanukovych are “blood brothers”. But they are close enough to persuade the Syrian President and his Talleyrand – the Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem – to study the degree of support Putin gives to his ally in Kiev.

Without Russian and Iranian support, Assad could scarcely have survived the past three years of war in Syria. Nor could Yanukovych, without Moscow’s “brotherly” friendship, have withstood opposition forces – and the EU’s flirtation with Ukraine – as long as he has. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been using almost the same words of irritation and anger towards the US over Ukraine as he did towards America when it was threatening to bomb Syria. If Ukraine constitutes Russia’s eastern defensive wall against Europe, Syria – fighting against Islamist rebels every bit as ruthless as Putin has faced in Chechnya – is part of Moscow’s southern flank.

There are other, more intriguing comparisons. The initial Syrian opposition to Assad – following revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt – was peaceful, although armed men did occasionally appear even in the early days of the revolt. Then military deserters formed an armed opposition that was swiftly taken over by radicals more interested in replacing Assad with a caliphate than the “free Syria” which the opposition originally demanded. So, too, in Kiev: Yanukovych’s opponents found themselves, after several weeks, uneasily linked to small, right-wing, neo-Nazi groups who had – in the eyes of their enemies – more in common with the Ukrainian fascists who helped the Germans in the Second World War than with the Soviet resistance to Nazi occupation.

Just as Assad’s first opponents were idolised by the West – and its media – as freedom fighters, so were the Ukrainian opposition regarded as anti-regime rather than anti-constitutional by the same powers and their newspapers. Once Syria’s unrest became weaponised on both sides, the West and its Arab allies sent military equipment to Assad’s enemies. There is no evidence that the West has done the same for Yanukovych’s opponents, some of whom are now also armed, but be sure it is only a matter of time before the Russians claim that they have.

There are differences, of course. Yanukovych was elected in a rather more convincing poll than Assad. Ukraine is not ethnically divided: Catholicism and Christian Orthodoxy outline the internal borders, although the Catholic/Croat-Serb/Orthodox civil war in ex-Yugoslavia does not suggest a happy outcome to Ukraine’s suffering. Syria’s war has created areas of conflict in which Sunnis are largely fighting Shia Alawites, Christians, Druze and others, along with middle-class Sunnis and Sunni army officers who support the government.

There have, of course, long been contacts between Syria and the Ukraine. Just before the revolution in Syria, Assad visited Kiev, signed a free trade agreement and heard Yanukovych praise his country as Ukraine’s “gateway to the Middle East”. There are closer ties: the large number of Syrian students who have been attending Ukrainian universities and the larger number of Ukrainian citizens born to Syrian and Soviet parents before the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe. The older Syrian generals also know Kiev well from their early training in Soviet military schools.

But the real question for Syria is this: will Putin be able to support Yanukovych if US and EU pressure continues to build? Is the survival of Yanukovych worth a new Cold War? If it is, Assad is safe: the Russians will not abandon Syria since this would demonstrate how easily they might turn their backs on “Russian” Ukraine. But what if the US offered Putin carte blanche in the Ukraine in return for his abandonment of the Assad regime? Obama could once more make his fraudulent claim that it was American military threats – rather than Russian mediation – that forced Assad to hand over his chemical weapons to the UN. And insist that Assad must bow to the transitional government which the Americans and British and other EU nations have been trying to foist upon his regime at Geneva.

Assad, however, is a survivor. His Baath party was schooled in self-preservation by Putin’s predecessors. Assad may understand Yanukovych; yet he knows Putin better. Not for nothing do the Egyptians admiringly call the Russian leader “the fox”. That’s why Putin has sent his personal mediator to Kiev. Washing its hands of Damascus would do incalculable harm to Moscow’s standing in the “new” Middle East. The Syrians realise Russia is big enough to fight on two fronts. So Putin will probably just have to go on struggling for his allies – before Ukraine turns as bloody as Syria – in the hope that Obama will turn out to be as sanctimonious – and toothless – in Kiev, as he was over Damascus.


Friday, February 21, 2014

"Democracy" -- American and Russian Styles, by Khalil Bendib

2-17-American-vs.-Russian-style.jpg (700×477)

Iran Steps Up Support of Mass Murder: Iran boosts military support in Syria to bolster Assad

A view shows damaged buildings in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A view shows damaged buildings in Deir al-Zor, eastern Syria February 19, 2014.
(Reuters) - As Syria's war nears the start of its fourth year, Iran has stepped up support on the ground for President Bashar al-Assad, providing elite teams to gather intelligence and train troops, sources with knowledge of military movements say.
This further backing from Tehran, along with deliveries of munitions and equipment from Moscow, is helping to keep Assad in power at a time when neither his own forces nor opposition fighters have a decisive edge on the battlefield.
Assad's forces have failed to capitalize fully on advances they made last summer with the help of Iran, his major backer in the region, and the Hezbollah fighters that Tehran backs and which have provided important battlefield support for Assad.
But the Syrian leader has drawn comfort from the withdrawal of the threat of U.S. bombing raids following a deal under which he has agreed to give up his chemical weapons.
Shi'ite Iran has already spent billions of dollars propping up Assad in what has turned into a sectarian proxy war with Sunni Arab states. And while the presence of Iranian military personnel in Syria is not new, military experts believe Tehran has in recent months sent in more specialists to enable Assad to outlast his enemies at home and abroad.
Analysts believe this renewed support means Assad felt no need to make concessions at currently deadlocked peace talks in Geneva.
Assad is now benefiting from the deployment by Tehran of hundreds more military specialists to Syria, according to Iranian sources familiar with deployments of military personnel, Syrian opposition sources, and security experts.
These include senior commanders from the elite Quds Force, the external and secretive arm of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as IRGC members.
Their function is not to fight, but to direct and train Syrian forces and to assist in the gathering of intelligence, according to sources in Iran and outside.
An Iranian foreign ministry official said: "We always have said that we support our Syrian brothers and respect their will ... Iran has never got involved in Syria by providing arms or financially or by sending troops."
But a former senior Iranian official with close IRGC links said Iranian forces were active in Syria.
He said the Quds force was gathering intelligence in Syria, which Iran regarded as a top priority. He said a few hundred commanders from the Quds Force and the IRGC were in Syria, but they did not get involved directly in the fighting.
A recently retired senior IRGC commander said Iranian forces on the ground included some Arabic speakers. He said top Quds force commanders numbered 60 to 70 at any given time.
These men were tasked with advising and training Assad's military and his commanders, he said. Revolutionary Guards directed the fighting on the instructions of the Quds Force commanders, he added.
The former IRGC commander said these personnel were also backed up by thousands of Iranian paramilitary Basij volunteer fighters as well as Arabic speakers including Shi'ites from Iraq. The former Iranian official and a Syrian opposition source also put auxiliary forces in the thousands.
The figures could not be independently verified from Syria, but the deaths of at least two IRGC commanders in Syria have been publicly reported.
European and U.S. security officials said hundreds of Iranians were active in Syria, advising, training and in some cases commanding Syrian government forces.
"Iran's presence in Syria has been and remains a concern, given the resources Tehran has at its disposal and its unwavering support for the Assad regime," a U.S. official said.
A report by Western intelligence agency obtained by Reuters said that while Assad forces had an advantage in the balance of fighting on the ground, at present they were "unable to translate this advantage into a decisive victory". The report said Assad's dependence on Hezbollah and Iran was increasing.
"Behind the regime's improved combat capabilities stands significant support from Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, while at the same time the rebels' weaknesses are becoming more pronounced," the report said.
"Syria is especially important to Iran and Hezbollah in geo-strategic terms - and its ability to act as a conduit to help strengthen the radical (i.e. pro-Iran and pro-Hezbollah) bloc."
Scott Lucas, of EA WorldView, a specialist website on Iran and Syria, said the evidence indicated hundreds of Iranian advisers and trainers were inside Syria at any one time.
"They are trying to work with the Syrians in ramping up the number of (Syrian) troops they can put in the field and making sure those guys can hold the line as well as carry out certain offensive operations," he said.
Iranian and Syrian opposition sources said personnel could enter Syria through the border with Turkey since Iranians did not need visas to enter Turkey. Others come in across the Iraqi border, and more senior commanders fly in to Damascus.
A Turkish official said the number of Iranians crossing into Syria had increased in the last few months. Most had non-Iranian passports.
A Syrian opposition source said in recent months that Iranian- led forces had begun operating in coastal areas including Tartous and Latakia. They have local ID cards, wear Syrian military fatigues and work with the elite Syrian air force intelligence unit.
The presence of units in coastal areas could not be independently corroborated. The Iranian sources declined to give details of where the forces were located.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Middle East case officer with the CIA, said Iran sought to avoid getting embroiled in direct fighting.
"It would be difficult to integrate Iranians into Arab combat operations, and they would essentially have to run their own combat operations, since they would be loath to put themselves under the Alawite control," said Gerecht, who is now with U.S. think-tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
Torbjorn Soltvedt, of risk consultancy Maplecroft, said Iran's role in training and coordinating "constitutes a lifeline for the regime".
"The involvement of Iranian Revolutionary Guard personnel and Shiite militias such as Hezbollah remains crucial to the Syrian regime's war effort," Soltvedt said.
In recent weeks Syria has continued to receive arms and military equipment from Russiaand via proxies, according to several sources. Those supplies included unmanned spy drones, guided bombs and spare parts for combat craft.
Moscow says it violates no international laws with its military supplies to Syria, which do not include offensive weapons.
Nic Jenzen-Jones, a military arms specialist and director of Armament Research Services, said Iranian-made Falaq-1 and Falaq-2 rocket launchers had been sent from Iran to Syria.
"While they have been around for a while, we have seen an increase in use of late," he said
Jenzen-Jones added that relatively new Iranian small arms ammunition - produced in the last three to four years - had reached Syria recently.
A rebel fighter operating in Homs province with Islamist group Liwa al-Haq said opposition forces knew of Iranian planes flying into Hama airport in central Syria to deliver weapons.
A source in the international arms industry with knowledge of Middle Eastern weapons movements said Syria had received millions of rounds of ammunition for light weapons of late, much of it former eastern bloc material coming in by sea and air from the Black Sea area.
The Syrian opposition source said Latakia airport and port as well as the port in Tartous were used to bring in equipment.

Other supplies included machine guns and ammunition for artillery and tanks, the arms industry source said.

Israel Helping the Ayatollahs: REPORT: Israeli Arms Shipment Intercepted On Its Way To Iran

"Greek authorities intercepted an Israeli arms shipment intended for Iran, the Greek daily Kathimerini reported on Sunday. It is unknown when exactly the shipment was intercepted.
According to a secret investigation conducted in two phases, one in December 2012 and the second in April 2013, by the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations as well as Greece’s Financial Crimes Squad, the arms shipment contained spare parts for the U.S.-made F-4 Phantom aircraft.
Iran still has a fleet of U.S.-made, aging F-4 aircraft it bought in the 1970s. The U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution; the embargo made it illegal to sell any military hardware to Iran, especially U.S.-made.
The F-4 first went into service in the 1960s and is still in use by several air forces around the world; Israel phased it out of service recently. The Phantom would not have been a threat to Israel's advanced air force, which has one of the biggest fleets of Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA) F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers in the world.
Kathimerini, which claims it had access to the secret police probe, said the shipment had originated from an Israeli town, Binyamina-Giv’at Ada, 30 miles south of the Mediterranean port of Haifa. The shipment was sent via a Greek ghost company registered under the name Tassos Karras SA in Votanikos, near central Athens.
Israeli officials declined to comment Sunday, but Israel’s Channel 2 news reported that the U.S. was aware of shipments “in real time” and relayed the message to Israeli officials, as reported by the Times of Israel.
Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran was the world’s biggest buyer of Israeli arms, but after the Shah was deposed in 1979, Iran's new regime called for the destruction of Israel. But this did not stop Israeli arms dealers from continuing to supply Tehran with military goods.
In 1980, Israel made its first arms sales to the new Islamic government of Iran -- a sale that happened to include spare parts for the F-4. Later that year, Israel also sold parts for U.S.-made tanks, according to the "Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence."
In 1981, Ya’acov Nimrodi, an Israeli businessman and arms dealer, signed a deal with Iran’s Ministry of National Defense to sell Iran arms worth aproximately $136 million, which included Lance missilesCopperhead shells and Hawk missiles
In 1985, in a secret agreement between the U.S. and the Israeli Defense Ministry, a plan was devised to provide Iran with LAU anti-tank missiles and Hawk anti-aircraft missiles in exchange for Iran to pressure its proxy Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon to release U.S. and Western hostages kidnapped by the Shiite radicals. This deal was part of what became known as the Iran–Contra affair, also referred to as Irangate."

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Egypt: High Price of Dissent

Journalists, Protesters, Academics Charged over Speech Offenses

"(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities in recent months have demonstrated almost zero tolerance for any form of dissent, arresting and prosecuting journalists, demonstrators, and academics for peacefully expressing their views.
Prosecutors on January 29, 2014, referred three Al Jazeera English journalists to trial on politicized charges such as disseminating “false information” and belonging to a “terrorist organization,” some of which carry prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years. At least 17 other journalists and opposition figures face similar charges in the same case, with the trial scheduled to begin on February 20. On January 19, prosecutors referred 25 people to trial on charges of “insulting the judiciary,” including Amr Hamzawy, an academic and former member of parliament.

Journalists should not have to risk years in an Egyptian prison for doing their job,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The prosecution of these journalists for speaking with Muslim Brotherhood members, coming after the prosecution of protesters and academics, shows how fast the space for dissent in Egypt is evaporating.”

The three detained Al Jazeera journalists – Egyptian nationals Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed and an Australian, Peter Greste – face charges including editing video footage to “give the appearance that Egypt is in a civil war,” operating broadcast equipment without a license, membership in a terrorist organization, and possession of material that promotes the goals of a terrorist organization.

The charges against Hamzawy relate to a June 2013 Twitter message saying that the conviction of 43 employees of pro-democracy organizations demonstrated the “politicization” of the judiciary. Other defendants in this case include Mustafa al-Naggar, also a former parliament member, and Alaa Abdel-Fattah, a well-known activist who had been detained since late November on false charges of organizing a demonstration without notification.

In early January 2014 authorities charged another prominent academic, the American University in Cairo political science professor Emad Shahin, along with senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders, with conspiring with foreign organizations to harm Egyptian national security. Both Shahin and Hamzawy had been vocal critics of President Mohamed Morsy’s government, but they had also criticized the bloody repression of the Brotherhood after the military removed Morsy from power. Authorities placed Hamzawy under a travel ban and his case has been referred to trial but no date has been scheduled. Shahin had left Egypt before the charges against him became known later in January.

Police have relied on a repressive November 2013 protest law to violently disperse and arrest hundreds of peaceful protesters under the pretext that they assembled without a permit. A court used this law in December to sentence three leading activists – Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, and Ahmed Douma – to three years in prison.

In late December, the interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organization,” citing recent attacks on security installations and officials but providing no evidence linking the Brotherhood to those attacks. Although the designation does not have the force of law unless issued by a court, officials have used it to arrest and prosecute people who have any contact with Brotherhood members, such as the Al Jazeera journalists.
Egypt’s new constitution, in article 65, protects freedom of thought and opinion, and in article 71 states that no one shall be imprisoned for “crimes committed by way of publication or the public nature thereof.”

As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, Egypt is required to protect freedom of expression. Article 19 of the ICCPR guarantees the “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body of experts that reviews countries’ compliance with the ICCPR, has written that the freedom of expression is “essential” to the full enjoyment of the right to participate in public affairs and vote.

More than 50 foreign correspondents issued a statement on January 13 calling for an end to the imprisonment of the three Al Jazeera journalists, saying that their arrest had “cast a cloud over press and media freedom in Egypt.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists named Egypt among the top three deadliest countries for journalists in 2013.

“Egyptian and international human rights organizations have for years called on Egyptian authorities to amend the country’s penal code, whose overly broad provisions were the government’s main legal tool to lock up dissenters.” Stork said. “Today, prosecutors have at their disposal an even greater arsenal of repressive laws that criminalize legitimate expression, assembly, and association.”

Arrest and Detention of Al Jazeera Journalists
On December 29, 2013, police raided two rooms at the Marriott hotel, where Greste, an Al Jazeera English correspondent, and Fahmy, the Cairo bureau chief, were staying, as well as the home of Mohamed, an Al Jazeera English producer. Media supportive of the government have since referred to the arrested journalists as the “Marriott cell,” and Tahrir TV on February 2, 2014, aired a lengthy videoof the raid on the hotel rooms.

Police arrested Fahmy, who holds joint Egyptian and Canadian citizenship, as well as Greste, Mohamed, and a cameraman, Mohamed Fawzy, an Egyptian. Police released Fawzy on December 31, 2013, but prosecutors ordered the detention of the other three for two successive 15-day periods, pending interrogation on allegations oflinks to a “terrorist organization” and “spreading false news” that harms national security. Authorities accused the journalists of using their Marriot suite as a meeting point and broadcast center for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Authorities have detained the three in Tora Prison, in southern Cairo, since their arrest. In a letter from prison, Greste described routinely being kept in his cell for 24 hours a day and allowed out only for questioning. Until recently, authorities held Fahmy and Mohamed in the maximum-security Scorpion unit of the prison, where people alleged to be responsible for terrorist attacks are held.

On January 29, 2014, a court rejected Greste’s appeal of his pretrial detention.

That same day, the State Security Prosecution Office referred the three journalists for trial, along with the 17 others, three of them non-Egyptians and 12 of them in absentia. Prosecutors charged the Egyptian journalists with membership in a terrorist organization and the foreign journalists with colluding with the Egyptian defendants. The charges also include possession of printed and recorded material that promote the goals of a terrorist group, disseminating false information with the purpose of harming public order, and the possession of broadcasting and filming equipment without official authorization.

A Dutch journalist, Rena Netjes of Holland's Parool newspaper and BNR radio, went into hiding and fled Egypt after discovering she was one of the 20 journalists on the government’s list of people facing charges of disseminating false information and promoting the goals of a terrorist group. Netjes had met with Al Jazeera’s Fahmy the week before his arrest.
Reuters reported on February 9 that a Cairo prosecutor had ordered the detention of another man, Hassan al-Banna, accusing him of editing a photo he sent to Al Jazeera and of being a member of a terrorist organization.

The State Security Prosecution Office press release on January 29 said that the journalists had “used broadcasting equipment and computers to gather footage and manipulate it to produce a false image to give the outside world the impression that what is happening in the country is a civil war … and the broadcasting of these images via the Qatari Al Jazeera to assist the terrorist group to fulfill its goals in influencing public opinion abroad.”
The prosecutor’s statement said that experts had confirmed that “footage had been changed and edited using software and high-tech editing equipment” and that these included “false images that harm national security.”

In a January 25 letter smuggled out of Tora Prison, Greste wrote:
The state has presented no evidence to support the allegations, and we have not been formally charged with any crime. But the prosecutor general has just extended our initial 15-day detention by another 15 days to give investigators more time to find something. He can do this indefinitely – one of my prison mates has been behind bars for 6 months without a single charge … The state will not tolerate hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood or any other critical voices.

Authorities earlier detained two other journalists from Al Jazeera sister channels, Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr. Authorities detained Mohamed Badr on July 15, 2013, on charges of rioting. A court acquitted him, and he was released earlier in February 2014. Police arrested Abdullah al-Shami during the dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Raba’a Square on August 14, 2013. He remains in detention, without a trial date, on accusations of inciting violence, disturbing the peace, and destroying public property.

Arrests of Other Journalists and Media Activists
In the aftermath of the military’s ouster of President Morsi on July 3, security forces closed down TV stations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents. Authorities have detained 18 contributors to the citizen news network, Rassd, since July 3, including two who are facing military trials, Asma al-Khatib, a journalist with the network, told Human Rights Watch.

On January 22, 2014, police arrested an Egyptian filmmaker, Hossam al-Meneai, and an American translator, Jeremy Hodge, at their Cairo apartment. Police released Hodge four days later without charge, but held al-Meneai for 18 days. Al-Meneai still faces charges of spreading “false names and endangering the stability of the nation.” Hodge told journalists that al-Meneai was tortured, which al-Meneai subsequently confirmed.

On February 1, police arrested a Yemeni blogger and activist, Feras Shamsan, following interviews he conducted at the annual Cairo Book Fair. He faces charges of spreading false news about the Egyptian authorities, receiving money from foreign agencies, taking photographs without permission, and disturbing the public peace.

On February 2, police raided the facilities of Yqeen and Hasry, Cairo-based media outlets, arresting 13 staff members on allegations of inciting violence and airing false news. Police later released the journalists on bail, though they still face criminal charges.

Other Expression-Related Arrests 
The recent arrests of journalists are only one element of the Egyptian government’s expanding crackdown on freedom of expression. Arrests have also targeted a wide range of voices of dissent.

Prosecutors accused Hamzawy, the professor at the American University in Cairo and former member of parliament, of insulting the judiciary for a Twitter comment in June criticizing the conviction of 43 workers at nongovernmental groups and imposed a travel ban to prevent him from leaving the country.

Earlier in January, prosecutors charged Shahin, the American University in Cairo political science professor, with espionage and conspiring to undermine Egypt’s national security, charging him along with senior Brotherhood leaders. Both Hamzawy and Shahin had criticized the government of President Morsy and also the repressive policies of security services under the military-backed government that replaced Morsy.

In late December 2013, the Cairo University president, Gaber Nassar, referred a law professor, Yasser al-Serafy, to the authorities for allegedly belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and raising political issues during his lectures that led to heated arguments between himself and his students. At 1 a.m. on February 3, 2014, authorities raided al-Serafy’s home, arresting him and taking him to the Central Security Forces camp on the Cairo-Alexandria Road, his son Shadi told Human Rights Watch.

In the days before the constitutional referendum on January 14 and15, police arrested at least seven peaceful activists from the Strong Egypt party for distributing posters calling for a “no” vote and for protesting military trials of civilians, corruption, and rights abuses by the Interior Ministry. The activists have been released but face various charges, including, “propagat[ing] … the call for changing the basic principles of the constitution … when the use of force or terrorism, or any other illegal method, is noted during the act,” alleged involvement in terrorism, and attempting to overthrow the government.

On January 23, authorities seized the facilities of a publishing house that was in the process of printing a report by United Group, a group of legal researchers and human rights lawyers. The authorities confiscated copies of the report, which documents torture and other cruel punishment in Egypt during the period of September 2012 to September 2013, and arrested two employees of the publishing company.

The Interior Ministry announced on January 30 that it would begin arresting those who engage in what it termed incitement against the police and other citizens on social media websites. At least 11 Brotherhood members have been detained on the basis of social media statements, the Associated Press reported, including a government employee and his son who posted a page with the title “Revolutionaries of Bani Suef.” On February 15, the Interior Ministry announced the arrest of the administrator of the page for the “Tanta Anti-Coup Movement,” another protest group."

In Sisi's Egypt: Egyptian detainee handcuffed to bed after having baby is released

Photographs of Dahab Hamdy, 19, who was arrested while pregnant for alleged involvement in protest, sparked outcry

Dahab Hamdy
Dahab Hamdy handcuffed to a hospital bed. Photograph: Facebook
A 19-year-old woman has been released from detention after the birth of her child. Photographs of the new mother handcuffed to her hospital bed led to a public outcry.
Speaking at the family's home in the impoverished Cairo neighbourhood of Al Darb al-Ahmar after their release from Zeithoun hospital earlier this week, Ashraf Sayed, 34, said his wife, Dahab Hamdy, was still facing charges for her alleged involvement in an anti-regime protest.
He said the family feared that police would return to take his wife back to prison. "We are facing injustice," Sayed said. The couple have named their child Houreyya (Freedom).
Hamdy was arrested while heavily pregnant on 14 January – swept up in a crackdown on supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood during the first day of voting on Egypt's new constitution – when mass arrests took place in Cairo and other major cities throughout the country.
Hamdy said she was detained as she walked past a police station on her way to a doctor's appointment. Despite her repeated claims that she had not taken part in any protests, she was imprisoned at a police station and charged with violating the draconian protest law imposed in November.
Hamdy was sentenced to 15 days in detention, which was renewed three times pending investigations – a common practice used by Egyptian authorities to hold prisoners for extended periods of time.
In an interview broadcast on a Cairo-based news network before her release, Hamdy said a police officer told her following her arrest: "You will give birth in prison, just so you know."
Last Wednesday she was moved from her police cell to hospital, where her daughter – the couple's first child – was delivered the following day by caesarean section. Immediately after the delivery, Hamdy was once more restrained in her hospital bed.
A photograph of Hamdy, her right wrist handcuffed to the bed frame, spread quickly across social media sites.
Interior ministry officials ordered her early release after mounting criticism from human rights activists and lawyers about the state's treatment of the young woman. The step comes amid allegations of arbitrary arrests and the use of torture in prisons and police cells.
On Sunday, after confirmation that she would be freed, her lawyer asked that attention now turn to "all the other Dahabs" being held in Egyptian prisons and police stations.
Over the past two weeks, even state-owned media outlets have published accounts of brutal treatment of detainees by prison staff and police.
The reports mark an apparent shift in public opinion, and tolerance, for the unprecedented crackdown on any form of protest or criticism of the military-backed government.
Amnesty International has reported the routine beating of detainees, both men and women, as well as girls and boys, the denial of legal representation, and the holding and interrogation of those arrested in police camps, in violation of Egyptian and international laws.
More than 16,000 people are believed to have been arrested over the past six months following the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi. Most are believed to be supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In recently months, however, the state's targets for arrest have spread to secular, pro-democracy movements, including individuals who were prominent in the 2011 revolution that saw the removal of President Hosni Mubarak.

From Azmi Bishara's Facebook Page

أي تفجير يقتل المدنيين والمارة بشكل عشوائي هو تفجير مدان سياسيا وأخلاقيا. هذا موقف لا يجوز أن يتغير من مكان لآخر. 
والآن هل تذكر أين سمعت الجمل التالية:
- الإرهاب قضية قائمة بذاتها لا علاقة لها بالوضع السياسي، سواء أكان الاحتلال أو الاستبداد، او القتل الذي سبقه. ويجب أن يناقش على حدة.
- ليس من سبب للإرهاب، فهو يستهدفنا بسبب ما نحن، ومن نحن، وبسبب نمط حياتنا.
- قصف المدنيين من الجو لأهداف سياسية مثل التهجير أو الضغط لتغيير المواقف ليس إرهابا.
- من الشرعي قصف المدن والأحياء المأهولة بالسكان المدنيين، لأن الإرهابيين يختبئون فيها.
- قتل الآلاف من المدنيين من الأرض والبحر والجو لترويعهم، أي لإرهابهم، ليس إرهابا، الإرهاب هو فقط ان يقوم انتحاري بتفجير نفسه بين مجموعة من المدنيين.
- سبب الإرهاب هو ثقافة الإرهابيين الدينية المتطرفة وليس البيئة الاجتماعية أو الانتقام على القتل والإذلال، أو الظروف السياسية.
- تعصبهم الديني ارهابي، أما تعصبنا الديني فليس تطرفا ولا إرهابا.
- طائفيتنا ليست طائفية، أما طائفيتهم فطائفية.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Iraq is Run by Wolves

The Farewell Speech of Muqtada Al-Sadr

I am not of those who turn a blind eye and keep their mouths shut in the face of corruption and wrongdoing. It has been decreed upon us, the Sadrs, to be those who call and work for guidance.
Here we are seeing our wounded and oppressed Iraq, under a black cloud that has covered its land and its sky: blood is flowing, wars are everywhere, people killing each other, some under the name of the ‘law’ and some under the name of ‘religion’.
Cursed is this ‘law’ that sheds blood and violates sanctities and down with a religion that gives right to beheading, bombing and assassinations.
Then politics became a door for injustice, mockery, autocracy and violation. So a dictator would become in charge of wealth, and he steals it, and of lives of people and he kills them, and of cities and he attacks them, and of sects and he divides them, and of minds and he buys them, and of hearts and he breaks them, so that everybody votes for him to stay in power.
Iraq with no life, no farming, no manufacturing, no services, no security or safety, no peace. And elections that thousands of lives are scarified for, all that, so a government would rule us, disregarding our rights and opinions, and a Parliament, with its worn seats, that can’t protect itself, let alone protect others.
A Parliament that can only agree to vote in one condition; if there are special rewards for MPs; but if there are (laws for) general benefit of the nation, everyone steps back, or the matter reaches the cabinet, where they (the laws) would be turned down/vetoed. But the cabinet would never veto against the MPs special rewards or their pensions.
Iraq that is ruled by wolves, thirsty for blood, souls that are eager for wealth, leaving their nation in suffering, in fear, in water puddles, in dark nights, lightened only by moonlight or a candle, swamped by assassinations based on differences or after ridiculous disagreements. All that and the government is only watching.
Iraq that is ruled by a group which came from beyond the borders. We long awaited for them to free us from the dictator, only for them to hold firmly on to the seats themselves, in the name of Shia, and Shiaism.
Was the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali (peace and blessings upon him) able to sleep whilst there was a hungry person near to him? And now, how full are the streets with (people) with no roofs, no walls, no basic food, instead they sleep on the bare ground, covered by the raining sky.
A government that is overstuffed, has forgotten those who live beyond the guarded walls, has become blinded with wealth, houses, palaces, and aeroplanes, ignoring a prison that is called ‘Iraq’.
An honourable nation, that has been engulfed by wars, with harsh conditions that left it an easy bite that has fallen between the jaws of politicians and leaders. A nation that does not want food, but it demands honour, a heard voice and freedom, that lead it to the pleasure of the Lord, and to prove itself.
But, a government has come to shut the voices, to kill the opposition, to force them into exile, to fill prisons with them, and with everyone who resisted and tried to free his country from the tanks and aeroplanes of the occupation.
A government that has dominated over everything. It does not listen to anyone, even to the voice of the ‘Marj’’ (scholar)i and his ‘fatwa’ (rulings), or even to the voices or complaints of its counterparts, supported by the East and the West, in a way that surprises every wise man. In all this, we do not want to take their post or their chair, as we, the Sadrs, are much above this. We want to guide them, and protect them from mistakes, so Iraq would be in safe and caring hands. But they only listen to their masters, leaving the Sadrs and the two Sadr martyrs behind them, and whoever has an objection against them; Shia, Sunni or Kurd, theywould accuse him of terrorism or sectarianism, using the politicised judiciary to finish him, or to the army to arrest him, or using media propaganda or other ways which you know more about.
We, the Sadrs, if we could not change this, we say: Oh God do not associate us with the oppressors, and associate us with those who love the truth.
Peace upon those who supported us, we have not betrayed them, and we will not betray them. We seek to protect them, and their reputation, and from being led astray in this life. Especially, as there are those who seek to manipulate you, our loved ones and even use our name, the Sadrs, to reach his heinous aims in this life .They have collected well, they have spilt blood, they have violated sanctities and became in charge of people’s lives using our name and no one else’s name
And all that, they do not respect a ‘fatwa’ (ruling) or ruling or a question or a decision (or even a small paper from me), not even advice and not even an order, they ignore all of these.
And so that you know, all the people of Iraq, we love you so continue on your faith, love, religion and your support. God has made you victorious by us and has made us victorious by you. You are an honour to us except those the misguided who misguide others, who chose this life over the afterlife- down with them.
If there are amongst you honourable voices, political or others, let them continue in their work but in an independent way or otherwise away from me, under general guidelines, based on righteousness, faith, patriotism, wisdom and the public good. Iraq should not be left to the people of injustice
But I shall remain for all, I am not only to the Sadrists, I have devoted myself to Iraq, to Islam and I shall remain for everyone.
Whatever decisions or orders I have made, that you could not bear, I seek forgiveness for myself and for you but I am proud of these decisions until the day of judgment because I tried in all of them to be inspired and based on the path of the two Martyrs, their ideas and their manners and I shall not deviate from this, as they are my masters and my leaders, they are my authority and their enemies are my enemies.
In addition the society appears to be far away from the remembrance of God all praise to him, and this this has put a distance between myself and the society to some extent. I urge the believers to remember God and to be obedient to him so that he may forgive us all and so the gates of mercy would open for us and may this be an opportunity for the appearance of truth. Truth shall rise and nothing shall rise above it.
O beloved ones I have a few other points to mention:
Firstly the participation in elections. Despite this decision (by myself), I see participation in the elections as an obligation and must be on a large scale so the government would not fall into the hands of the sly ones who cannot be trusted, God forbid.
As for me I shall vote and I shall give my vote, if I live, to every honourable person who wants to serve the people, and I shall stand with everyone at equal distance, so I ask the Iraqis to participate in these elections and not to fall short. To fall short in this would be a betrayal to Iraq and its people.
Secondly, there are politicians who have served the Iraqi people honestly and sincerely, “and if there were no pious ones, it would have been destroyed”, and they are many, God willing. But I particularly would like to thank and to mention the two brothers; the governor of Misan and the governor of Baghdad, may God reward them as He would reward the righteous ones. They should continue and perfect their work in serving their nation.
Thank You.
Translation of Sayd Muqtada Al-Sadr last speech on 18/2/14 by Hassen Basil Al-Sader.

Aljazeera Video: الاتجاه المعاكس.. سوريا بين استمرار الصراع والحل

ناقشت الحلقة كيفية التوصل إلى مصالحة وطنية في سوريا وهل النظام السوري جاد في الذهاب نحو مصالحة حقيقية وتوافق وطني؟ 
تقديم: فيصل القاسم
الضيوف: شريف شحادة، حبيب صالح
تاريخ البث: 18/2/2014

Syria: New Deadly Cluster Munition Attacks

Powerful Rocket Attacks Cause Casualties, Long-Term Danger

(Washington, DC) – Syrian government forces are using a powerful type of cluster munition rocket not seen before in the conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. The new use of cluster munitions is causing civilian casualties and adding to the country’s already devastating legacy of unexploded ordnance.
Evidence indicates that government forces used the rockets containing explosive submunitions in attacks on Keferzita, a town north of Hama in northern Syria, on February 12 and 13, 2014. The rocket is the largest type of cluster munition rocket to be used in Syria and contains submunitions that are more powerful and deadly than other types of submunitions.
It is appalling that Syrian government forces are still using banned cluster munitions on their people,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Cluster bombs are killing Syrian civilians now and threatening Syrians for generations to come.”
Syrian government rocket attacks on Keferzita on February 12 and 13 killed at least two civilians and wounded at least 10 others, according to a local activist from Hama who is not affiliated with rebel groups and a doctor who spoke to Human Rights Watch.
Photographs of rocket remnants provided to Human Rights Watch by local activists who said they took them after the attack show sections of a 9M55K 300mm surface-to-surface rocket – including parts of the rocket motor, its cargo section, nose cone, and the associated connectors. Also pictured is an unexploded cylindrical 9N235 antipersonnel fragmentation submunition, the type delivered by the 9M55K rocket, with markings indicating the submunition was manufactured in 1991.
The 9M55K rocket is launched from the BM-30 Smerch (tornado in Russian), a multiple launch rocket system designed and initially manufactured by the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and then manufactured and exported by the Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise “SPLAV State Research And Production Association” from 1991 onward.
According to its manufacturer, the BM-30 Smerch has 12 launch tubes and can deliver up to 12 9M55K rockets per volley, each containing a total of 72 individual 9N235 submunitions. The BM-30 Smerchweapon system was not previously known to be in the possession of the Syrian government, and Human Rights Watch had not previously documented the use of the 9M55K rocket and 9N235 submunition in the conflict. Authoritative open-source databases on military equipment holdings and transfers by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute do not list Syria as possessing the BM-30 Smerch.
The local activist from Hama, who was present when four rockets hit the town on February 12 and 13, gave an account of the attacks to Human Rights Watch. He said that on the late afternoon of February 12:
A rocket fell on the eastern part of Keferzita on a neighborhood called al-Makassem al-Hatef. There is a small square and the rocket fell there. The rocket released small bomblets when it exploded in the air. I did not see any helicopter or warplane at the time of the attack or before. One of the rockets did not explode, and military specialists dismantled the rockets and they found dozens of bomblets. They removed the fuze from every bomblet.
The second rocket exploded halfway through in the air and released bomblets that injured people including women and children and killed one internally displaced person from nearby Mourik village. The only infrastructure damage caused was from the shrapnel. I remember seeing at least 10 injured but I was told that it was much more. I only saw injuries from shrapnel but I didn’t see any amputations.
The local activist told Human Rights Watch that he believed the rockets were launched from Hama airport just under 30 kilometers south of Keferzita, which is controlled by the Syrian government: “On February 12, in the afternoon around 4 maybe, I received a phone call from a [opposition] military source that two rockets were launched from Hama military airport. We all tried to alert the residents but not everyone was able to hide in time.”
According to its manufacturer, the BM-30 Smerch can launch 9M55K rockets from a minimum range of 20 kilometers to a maximum range of 70 kilometers.
The local activist said that the next day:
Two rockets fell on the northern area [of the village] next to al-Ma`sara road, injuring several people. There were no deaths. I saw a 65-year-old man injured by fragments in his shoulder and his son’s wife injured in the leg. Both rockets exploded but also caused limited damage to infrastructure. The rockets were also launched from Hama airport.  There were no airplanes flying before or after the attack. The injured were taken to the field hospital.
The local activist said at least 20 unexploded submunitions were collected after the rocket attacks on February 12 and 13.
A doctor in Hama told Human Rights Watch that he had also witnessed the rocket attacks on Keferzita. He said the attacks killed two civilians – a child named Abdulrahman Rami Almahmood, 3 or 4 years old, and a man named Mahmood Talal Aldaly, approximately 25 years old – and wounded 10 more civilians.
Since armed opposition groups took control of Keferzita in December 2012 the town has been targets of Syrian government air strikes, including with barrel bombs, and artillery shelling. Fierce clashes between certain rebel groups and Islamic State of Iraq and Sham(ISIS) ended after ISIS withdrew its forces from the town on January 5, 2014. The local activist told Human Rights Watch that there were no Free Syria Army (FSA) targets in the Keferzita neighborhoods hit by the rocket attacks on February 12 and 13.
Several videos that the witnesses confirm were filmed in Keferzita show evidence of the cluster munition rocket attacks on the town:
  • video uploaded to YouTube on February 12 shows the attack and the remnants.
  • video uploaded to YouTube on February 12 shows multiple small explosions on the town after a rocket attack.
  • video uploaded to YouTube on February 13 shows several explosions on the town after a rocket attack.
It is highly unlikely that rebel forces could acquire the eight-wheeled, 43,700 kilogram launch vehicle or operate its sophisticated fire control system without significant training or time to conduct practice drills. There is no video evidence or written claims that any rebel group controls any BM-30 launchers, its similarly sized re-supply vehicle, or any 300mm surface-to-surface rockets like the 9M55K rocket.
Eliot Higgins of the Brown Moses blog, which tracks weapons used in the Syria conflict, has identified the BM-30 Smerch weapon system including 9M55K rocket and 9N235 submunition used at Keferzita and concluded that “it seems unlikely that the rocket could have come from any other source” than the Syrian military.” N. R. Jenzen-Jones and Yuri Lyamin of Armament Research Services also identified the weapons system and stated that, “It is not clear how Syria obtained these munitions, nor the systems required to fire them” but note that Russia is “the most likely origin of the systems in Syria.”
According to standard reference materials, the BM-30 Smerch system has been transferred to Algeria, India, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, while Azerbaijan, Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine either inherited or acquired the system after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Human Rights Watch has documented the Syrian government’s use of cluster munitions since 2012. With the discovery of the 9M55K rocket, a total of seven types of cluster munitions have been recorded as used in Syria during the conflict to date:
  • 122mm SAKR rockets, each containing either 72 or 98 dual-purpose antipersonnel/anti-materiel submunitions;
  • 9M55K rocket launched from the BM-30 Smerch, each containing 72 9N235 fragmentation submunitions;
  • RBK-250 cluster bomb, each containing 30 PTAB-2.5M high explosive anti-tank submunitions;
  • RBK-250-275 cluster bomb, each containing 150 AO-1SCh fragmentation submunitions;
  • RBK-500 cluster bomb, each containing 565 ShOAB-0.5 fragmentation submunitions;
  • PTAB-2.5KO high explosive anti-tank submunitions; and
  • AO-2.5RT fragmentation submunitions.
All of the cluster munitions used in Syria appear to have been manufactured in the Soviet Union except for the Egyptian-made 122mm SAKR surface-launched rocket containing dual-purpose antipersonnel/anti-materiel submunitions. There is no information available on how or when Syria acquired these cluster munitions.
The 9M55K rocket is three times as large as the other type of cluster munition rocket used in Syria (122mm SAKR rocket), while the mass (weight) of the fragments contained in the 9N235 submunitions make them more powerful and deadly than other types of submunitions. While designed to detonate on impact, each submunition has a back-up pyrotechnic self-destruct feature designed to destroy it two minutes after being ejected from the rocket, but in this attack the self-destruct feature appears to have failed to function in some cases. The body of the submunition, weighing 1.8 kilograms, is lined with two sizes of pre-formed fragments, 300 fragments weighing 0.5 grams and 95 weighing 4.5 grams. These latter fragments are about the same mass as a 9mm pistol bullet.
A total of 113 countries have signed or acceded to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions, and requires the clearance of cluster munition remnants within 10 years as well as assistance for victims of the weapons. Of these countries, 84 are states parties legally bound to carry out all of the convention’s provisions, while the other 29 have signed but not yet ratified the convention. Syria has not signed the convention.
Syria’s cluster munition use has attracted widespread media coverage and public outcry. The Convention on Cluster Munitions requires each state party to “make its best efforts to discourage States not party … from using cluster munitions.” More than 100 countries have condemned Syria’s use of cluster munitions, including more than three-dozen non-signatories. Most condemned the use through a UN General Assembly resolution, while several foreign ministers have repeatedly expressed concern about the use of cluster munitions in Syria.
Cluster munitions have been banned because of their widespread indiscriminate effect at the time of use, and the long-lasting danger they pose to civilians. Cluster munitions can be fired by artillery and rocket systems or dropped by aircraft, and typically explode in the air and send dozens, even hundreds, of small submunitions, or bomblets, over an area the size of a football field. Submunitions often fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that act like landmines.
Since the Convention on Cluster Munitions became binding international law in 2010, three governments are confirmed to have used the weapons, all non-signatories to the convention: Syria, Libya, and Thailand.
Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions.