Greater Middle East
hegazi

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, 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. (Photo via Middle East Eye)

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Yemen

COVID-19 concern in war-torn Yemen

With testing capacity low and the health system ravaged by five years of war, nobody really knows how many people are infected or dying of COVID-19 in Yemen, but the outlook does not seem good. Hundreds of people in Aden have reportedly died with symptoms that appear consistent with the coronavirus, while in the Houthi-controlled north there are unconfirmed but persistent rumors of a cover-up to mask a rising case count. To make matters worse, the UN—concerned it can’t protect its staff from the virus inside their compound—has pulled half of its remaining international workforce out of Sana’a. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

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NEOM

Tribesman killed for resisting Saudi robot city?

Saudi activists and dissidents are disputing official accounts alleging that a tribesman who refused government orders to surrender his home to make way for a new mega-project was killed in a shoot-out with security forces. Authorities say Abdul Rahim Ahmad al-Hwaiti, from Tabuk province on the Red Sea, was a “wanted terrorist” who opened fire on State Security agents who arrived at his home. But the incident came two days after al-Hwaiti posted a video statement saying he and other local residents were being pressured by the government to give up their properties and accept relocation. Al-Hwaiti, a member of the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe, accused the government of a policy of “forced displacement.” The project at issue is the NEOM, a planned “special economic zone” for high-tech industry, to cover an area bigger than Belgium, where robots will outnumber human residents. (Image via NeoScribe)

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KSA

Saudi Arabia abolishes flogging, execution of minors

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court announced that it has abolished flogging as a form of punishment, part of a series of reforms to advance human rights in the kingdom. Court-ordered floggings sometimes extended to hundreds of lashes, and the punishment could be imposed for offenses such as extramarital sex and breach of the peace. The ruling came along with a royal decree ending the death penalty for individuals convicted of crimes when they were minors. These reforms follow unprecedented international criticism that Saudi Arabia received in 2019 for its human rights record, which included 184 executions, 84 of which were for non-violent drug crimes. (Photo: Pixabay via Jurist)

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Yemen

Yemen’s southern separatists declare self-rule

Yemen’s southern separatist group declared self-rule in the parts of the country it controls, leading to fears of a new and even more dangerous conflict after five years of war. The Southern Transitional Council said in its announcement that it plans to govern several southern provinces, including the de facto capital city of Aden,which the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi also claims as its seat. (Map of Yemen before 1990 unification via Wikipedia)

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Yemen

Ceasefire confusion as COVID-19 arrives in Yemen

Yemeni government officials reported the country’s first case of COVID-19, shortly after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition announced that it would be observing a two-week unilateral ceasefire, in part to help confront the pandemic. The move was welcomed by the UN, and the office of Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said he was working with the warring parties on a “comprehensive initiative” to end the five-year war. But a Houthi rebel spokesperson said coalition air-strikes have continued after the truce’s onset, and dismissed the initiative as a “political and media manoeuvre.” The past weeks have seen an increase in violence, including Saudi air-strikes on the Houthi-controlled capital city of Sana’a, and the shelling of a prison in the province of Taiz that killed at least five women and one child. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Europe
PKK flag

Belgian high court: PKK not ‘terrorist’ organization

The Court of Cassation of Belgium upheld a lower court’s judgement and ruled that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is not a “terrorist organization.” The case, one of several in Belgium relating to the nature of the PKK, stems from an investigation into three local Kurdish supporters of the party by Belgian judicial authorities. The legality of the investigation was challenged, and in May 2017 the Court of Appeals ruled for the three activists. The Federal Prosecutor’s appeal of this ruling has now been rejected. One of the three targeted leaders, Zübeyir Aydar of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress, said: “The Court of Cassation ruling recognizes the fact that the Kurdistan freedom struggle cannot be accused of terrorism, that what is in question is not terror but a war, and the PKK is a party of this war. This is a first in Europe and we hope it will set an example to other countries.” A case has been pending since November 2018 before the European Court of Justice challenging the European Union’s listing of the PKK as a “terrorist organization.” (Photo: ANF)

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Jamal Khashoggi

Death sentences in murder of Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced that five people have been sentenced to death and three sentenced to prison terms in connection with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. The verdict revealed that charges had been dismissed for the remaining three of the 11 that had been on trial. The trial did not find that the killing was premeditated. Among those not indicted were two top Saudi officials, who were exonerated due to lack of evidence. Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post, entered the consulate to obtain marriage documents in October 2018, only to be killed there, his body dismembered and later taken from the consulate. The remains have yet to be found. (Photo: Committee to Protect Journalists)

Greater Middle East

Egyptian revolution rebooted

Anti-government protests broke out across Egypt, with thousands joining demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—a rare show of defiance since he established his dictatorship four years ago. Demonstrators filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square, center of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Protesters also gathered in Alexandria, Suez and Gharbiya. Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting “rise up, fear not, Sisi must go” and, reviving the slogan of the 2011 Arab Revolution, “the people demand the downfall of the regime.” Hundreds of protesters were finally dispersed from Tahrir Square by the riot police. (Photo via Twitter)

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Turkey: sweeps, unrest follow electoral dispute

The municipalities of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van in Turkey’s east have been rocked by unrest since the central government removed their mayors from office over alleged links to a Kurdish armed group last month. “Trustees” have been appointed to govern the municipalities, as protesters have repeatedly clashed with riot police, who have deployed tear-gas, water-cannons and armored vehicles. The leftist and Kurdish-supported Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has refused to accept the suspension of the mayors and called for ongoing protests to uphold “the will of the people.” Amid the protest wave, Ankara has launched “Operation Kıran,” a new campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the region, with hundreds arrested. Among those sentenced to prison last week was Raife İnatçı, a 70-year-old Kurdish woman in Diyarbakır, whose six-month term was upheld by a local court. She was accused of spreading “terrorist propaganda” with a placard she carried at a demonstration. (Photo of Raife İnatçı via Turkey Purge)

Greater Middle East

Yemen: now a three-way war —or four?

Over the past weeks, the two biggest members of the international coalition supporting the official government of Yemen against the Houthi rebels have fallen out, with Saudi Arabia continuing to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates switching its support to southern separatists. UAE-backed forces of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) seized control of the port city of Aden after days of fighting with Saudi-backed forces of the official government. Hadi’s government had been based in Aden since Iran-backed Houthi rebels sezied the capital Sanaa in 2014. Aden had been the capital of South Yemen before it united with North Yemen in 1990. In addition to Hadi’s government, the STC and the Houthis, militants of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) continue to wage an insurgency in the south. (Map via  Perry-Castañeda Library)

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Egypt: ‘crimes against humanity’ in Sinai feared

Human Rights Watch detailed abuses against civilians by both the Egyptian government and militants in the Sinai Peninsula, some of which HRW classified as war crimes or crimes against humanity. The information in the report was collected over a two-year investigation into conditions facing civilians in Sinai. Abuses include mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians. These actions are part of the government’s fight against the ISIS-affiliated militants in Sinai. HRW claims that both groups are guilty of atrocities against civilians, but the Egyptian government is responsible for the majority of the abuses. (Photo: Egypt Daily News)