struggle within Islam

Report: Afghan government control lowest yet

In its latest quarterly report to Congress (PDF), the official US watchdog for Afghan reconstruction finds that the security situation is at an all-time low since monitoring began. Since the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) began tracking district control in 2015 Afghan government-controlled or "influenced" districts have declined 16% to 55.5%. In the same period, areas of insurgent control or influence rose 5.5% while "contested" districts increased 11%. As of late July, the US military assessed that the Kabul government controls or influences 226 of Afghanistan's 407 districts, while the Taliban controls/influences 49. The remaining 132 districts are identified as "contested." Since the prior quarterly report, Operation Resolute Support downgraded eight districts from "government influenced" to "contested." SIGAR said that Afghanistan's security forces "made minimal or no progress in pressuring the Taliban" from July 1 to Sept. 30 , the period covered in the report. (Long War Journal, Stars & Stripes, Nov. 1)

Pakistan overturns blasphemy death sentence

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Oct. 31 overturned (PDF) the 2010 blasphemy conviction and death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman, citing failure to proffer enough evidence that Bibi indeed committed the offense. Bibi's conviction stemmed from an altercation with her Muslim co-workers at a farm in Punjab province, who said they would not drink water fetched by Bibi after she sipped from it because she was impure. Heated words were exchanged, and the account of the incident was later apparently exaggerated to incriminate Bibi. The trial court convicted her of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. Bibi initially made what the high court called an "extra-judicial confession" to the crime at the scene, but claimed at trial that the confession was made under coercion and threat of death.

China fast expanding detention camp system

With China accused of detaining hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims without trial in its western province of Xinjiang, a BBC investigation analyzed satellite data to determine that the detention camp system in the region is rapidly expanding. Reviewing images from the European Space Agency's Sentinel satellite service, the BBC finds at least 40 such facilities across Xinjiang, half built within last two years—with a big thrust of construction just in the past six months. Among the largest is a "massive, highly secure compound" still being built at Dabancheng, about an hour's drive from the provincial capital, Urumqi. It is enclosed within a two kilometer-long exterior wall punctuated by 16 guard towers.

Afghanistan: US to groom Taliban to fight ISIS?

Taliban leaders confirmed that long-planned direct talks with the US took place in Doha, capital of Qatar, Oct. 12. The Taliban said in a statement (PDF)  that their delegation met with US special adviser for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. The statement said the two sides discussed the prospects for an end to the presence of the foreign forces in Afghanistan, and the return of "true peace" to the country. (Khaama Press, Long War Journal, Oct. 13) These overtures come as the US is stepping up operations against ISIS in Afghanistan. In an Aug. 25 air-strike in Nangarhar province, the US claimed to have killed Abu Sayed Orakzai, top ISIS commander in Afghanistan. (CNN, Sept. 3) Earlier in August, more than 200 ISIS fighters and their two top commanders surrendered to Afghan government forces in Jowzjan province to avoid capture by Taliban insurgents, after a two-day battle that was a decisive victory for the Taliban. (NYT, Aug. 1)

Wave of femicide in Iraq, vocal women targeted

Tara Fares, an Iraqi model and Instagram star, was shot dead at the wheel of her car as she was driving through central Baghdad Sept. 27. The 22- year-old, who has 2.7 million followers on social media, was slain in broad daylight by two men on a motorbike. The assassination has sparked outrage among her fans and admirers. One social media user wrote: "I should note that she was critical of her society and religious misogyny. She was...killed for simply being a woman who doesn't obey their misogynistic rules and challenges them." Fares' murder was the fourth in a series of killings that targeted prominent and outspoken women in the country over the past weeks. Just days earlier, Souad al-Ali was shot dead in Basra, as she and her husband were getting into their car. Al-Ali was a women's rights activist, and one of the major organizers of the recent popular protests in Basra. August was the slaying of Baghdad beauty salon woner Rasha Hassan and plastic surgeon Rafifi Yasiri; both were found dead in their homes. Shimaa Qasim, the 2015 Miss Iraq and current model and Instagram star, has since been receiving death threats, prompting her to flee the country.

Iran: demand release of lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

Amnesty International on Sept. 4 called for the release of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, detained since June, and her husband Reza Khandan, who was arrested this week. Reza Khandan was charged by Tehran’s Office of the Prosecutor with spreading propaganda against the system, colluding to commit crimes against national security, and promoting the practice of appearing in public without a veil. Khandan had raised concerns on Facebook about human rights violations in Iran and also publicly campaigned for the release of his wife. Amnesty International director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther said, "These callous actions illustrate the lengths to which Iranian authorities will go to silence human rights lawyers, even targeting their families." Currently, Sotoudeh is on a hunger strike in prison to protest the arrest of civil rights activists and the harassment of her family and friends by police forces. On Aug. 22, 60 members of the European Parliament sent a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to express concern over Sotoudeh’s imprisonment.

Woman activist faces execution in Saudi Arabia

Saudi rights advocates are warning of the possible imminent beheading of detained activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who has been provisionally sentenced to death by a Riyadh court. At an Aug. 6 hearing before the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital, the Public Prosecutor recommended the death penalty for six defendants, including Ghomgham and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, who have been held for nearly three years on charges related to anti-government protests in the Shi'ite-majority eastern region of Qatif. The charges include "participating in protests," "incitement to protest," "chanting slogans hostile to the regime," "attempting to inflame public opinion," "filming protests and publishing on social media," and "providing moral support to rioters." The prosecutor called for their execution based on the Islamic law principle of ta'zir, in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime. A judge is expected to either confirm or reverse the death penalty recommendation at Ghomgham's next hearing in October.

Iran: Sufi bus driver executed after 'unfair trial'

Amnesty International issued a statement protesting the execution of Mohammad Salas, a 51-year-old man from Iran’s largest Sufi order, the Gonabadi Dervish religious minority, on June 18, saying it "was carried out despite serious unfair trial concerns." Salas was arrested on Feb. 19 outside a police station where thousands of Gonabadi followers had gathered to protest the persecution of the dervish community. Salas, a bus driver by trade, reported that he was repeatedly beaten in the police station where he was held for several hours. He said he heard one officer order the others to "beat him until he dies." He was eventually taken unconscious to a hospital to be treated for his injuries, which included cuts to the head requiring stitches, broken teeth, broken ribs, a broken nose, and a partial loss of vision.

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