Greater Middle East

Saudi Arabia sentences Palestinian poet to death

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Nov. 20 that a Saudi Arabia court has sentenced Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death for apostasy or abandoning his Muslim faith. The organization's researcher in the Middle East, Adam Coogle, said that he had seen the trial documents and confirmed the death sentence. According to Coogle, Fayadh's original sentence was four years in prison and 800 lashes, but this changed after another judge revised the sentence to death three days ago when the case was brought for retrial after Fayadh's appeal was dismissed. According to Mona Kareem, a migrant rights activist from Kuwait, Fayadh's identification documents had been confiscated during his arrest in January 2014, after which the judges and prosecutor for his case were changed. Kareem said that the new judge passed the verdict without even speaking to Fayadh. Kareem speculated that Fayadh is in reality being punished for posting a video online showing the Mutaween (religious police) lashing a man in public. According to Fayadh, he has no legal representation and has been given 30 days to appeal against his ruling.

Saudi Arabia executions break 20-year record

Amnesty International (AI) reported Nov. 9 that Saudi Arabia has executed a record 151 people this year, the highest number since 1995. In 2014 the total number of executions carried out was 90, and so far this year the number is up by 68 percent. AI said that almost half of all the executions carried out in 2015 were for offenses that are not considered "most serious crimes" under the international human rights laws. Saudi Arabia also reportedly continues to impose the death sentence on individuals under the age of 18, violating child human rights laws. AI's Middle East deputy director James Lynch said, "Instead of intimidating people with the threat of state sanctioned killing, the Saudi Arabian authorities should halt all impending executions and urgently establish a moratorium on executions as well as overhaul the Kingdom's deeply flawed justice system."

Syria: anti-ISIS forces advance —despite everything

Since launching their offensive on ISIS-controlled territory in northern Syria a week ago, the Kurdish-Arab alliance of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, also rendered DFS or QSD) says it has recaptured 36 villages in Hasakah governorate and is advancing towards Raqqa, the "Islamic State" capital. (See map.) The SDF leadership said in a statement Nov. 7: "Within a week of anti-ISIS operations, we have liberated 350 square km held by Daesh (ISIS) terrorists, including 36 villages, 10 farms, 2 gas stations and 6 border posts." The statement also claimed 196 ISIS "terrorists have been killed since the operation started," and "13 SDF fighters have been martyred during the battles so far." (ARA News, Kurdish Info)

Egypt: officials arrest prominent rights activist

Egyptian authorities on Nov. 8 arrested prominent human rights activist and journalist Hossam Bahgat after military officials questioned him concerning a report he wrote on the secret trial of former military officers. Bahgat, who writes for Mada Masr, was charged with "publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs public peace." Rights groups such as Amnesty International  have called the arrest a "blow for freedom of expression." [Sic*]

US sells Turkey 'smart bombs' (to use against Kurds)

The Pentagon announced on Oct. 29 that the US State Department has approved a $70 million sale of "smart bombs" to Turkey—one day after the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) informed Congress that the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) systems would be sold. Lawmakers have 15 days for any block. The package to be sold to Turkey includes BLU-109 "bunker-busters" as well as 900 "smart bomb kits," 100 laser kits and 200 warheads. "It is vital to the US national interest to assist our NATO ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability," the DSCA stated on its website. (Hurriyet Daily News, Oct. 30)

Turkey attacks Kurdish positions on Syrian border

Turkish military forces attacked positions of the People's Defense Units (YPG) at the Syrian border town of Gire Spi (Arabic: Tal Abyad), the Kurdish militia reported Oct. 25. Two fire-fights of two hours each were reported over the night. There was no mention of casualties on either side, but the development raises fears that Turkey is moving to establish its "buffer zone" in what is now the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava in northern Syria.

Saudi Arabia confirms Shi'ite cleric's death sentence

Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was found guilty of sedition and other charges following his involvement in the 2011 Arab Spring movement. Nimr's brother made the announcement via Twitter on Oct. 24, telling Reuters that his family and lawyers were not given notice of the hearing. King Salman must sign off on the death sentence and could decide to issue a royal pardon. Nimr is one of six Shi'ites that have been sentenced to beheading and public display of their bodies.

Turkey: lawyer arrested for comments on PKK

A Kurdish lawyer in Turkey will face trial at a later date for comments he made about the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), when he said the group was not a terrorist organization but a political movement. Tahir Elci was detained on Oct. 20 and released later that day, but he is not permitted to leave the country and must report regularly to the police. In an interview for CNN Turk, Elci stated that even if the PKK's actions sometimes are of a terrorist nature, it has widespread support. The PKK, a separatist group launched in 1984, is considered a terrorist group in Turkey, the US and the EU. Terror propaganda laws in Turkey make being a "terror apologist" punishable with prison time.