Greater Middle East
A trial over the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey began at a prison courtroom in Sincan on May 22. Two hundred of the 221 defendants in the case were marched into the courtroom before a group of pro-government protesters, some of whom threw nooses and demanded the death penalty. Many of the protesters had lost relatives during the coup, which resulted in 240 deaths, primarily civilians. Most of the defendants are former military personnel, with ranks ranging from captains to generals. Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for the defendants, who they are accused of "commandeer[ing] tanks, warplanes and helicopters, bombing the parliament and attempting to overthrow the government." US-based Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, named as the number one defendant in the case and accused of orchestrating the coup, will be tried in absentia.
UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion Ahmed Shaheed stated May 22 that Houthi de facto authorities in Yemen must end the campaign of harassment against the Bahá'í community in Sana'a. Shaheed's statement was prompted by reports of increased arbitrary arrests and detentions against the Bahá'í community. In addition to demanding Bahá'í community members be released, he also said that authorities must open an inquiry into the disappearance of Bahá'í who were arrested by Houthi-controlled political police in April and whose whereabouts are unknown. Shaheed said "the new wave of court summons and arrest orders appears to be an act of intimidation pressuring the Yemeni Bahá'ís to recant their faith." Such discrimination and harassment against the religious minority threatens the Republic of Yemen's independence and is a violation of Yemeni individuals' rights.
Turkish police on May 16 arrested two sisters and deported them to Saudi Arabia after receiving a formal complaint from their family living in the kingdom. The complaint was lodged by their father in March, claiming they are ISIS loyalists. Areej and Ashwaq al-Harby pleaded for help in a video that went viral on social media as they were being taken to a Turkish police station by immigration officers. In the video, they said their abusive family has been spreading lies to get them deported. The sisters, who fled Saudi Arabia in February, were seeking for asylum in Turkey, fearing they will be criminally charged and face execution if returned to their home country. (India Today, May 17)
US jets attacked a convoy of forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in southern Hama governorate May 18—ironically within one of the "deconfliction zones" established by the US and Russia. The convoy was apparently approaching the base at al-Tanf, which is used by FSA forces and US advisors. "We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian army and Iranians in this point, and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy," said Muzahem al-Saloum of the local FSA militia, Maghawir al-Thawra (also rendered Maghaweer al-Thawra). The pro-Assad militia targeted in the raid was named as Saraya al-Areen, apparently an Alawite force commanded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The regime was also said to be moving Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary forces into the area.
In their White House meeting May 16, President Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan of course pledged cooperation in the fight against terrorism. But what is signficant is that Trump, probably none too sophistcated about the complexities of factional politics in the region, was sure to mention the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) by name: "We support Turkey in the first fight against terror and terror groups like ISIS and the PKK, and ensure they have no safe quarter. We also appreciate Turkey's leadership in seeking an end to the horrific killing in Syria."
The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad has installed a crematorium at the notorious Saydnaya military prison outside Damascus in order to destroy the remains of thousands of murdered prisoners, the United States charged May 8. "We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison," said Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. The State Department also released commercial satellite photographs showing what it said is a building in the prison complex that has been modified as a crematorium. Jones said Washington's information came from "credible humanitarian agencies" and from the US "intelligence community," and that as many as 50 people per day are thought to be hanged at Saydnaya. In presenting the photographs, Jones said Assad's regime "has sunk to a new level of depravity" with the support of Russia and Iran.
President Donald Trump on May 9 announced approval of a plan to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the anti-ISIS coalition led by the Rojava Kurds. The aid—including heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, armored cars and engineering equipment—will boost the prowess of the People's Protection Units (YPG), territorial defense militia of the Rojava autonomous zone and the central pillar of the SDF. "The Syrian Democratic Forces, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future," said a Pentagon statement. The move is being taken over strenuous Turkish objections to arming the Syrian Kurds, and will certainly be a contentious point when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Trump in Washington next week. (ANF, NYT, May 9)
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Ben Emmerson on May 5 said that Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism laws are too broad and pose a threat to individual rights. He noted that Saudi Arabia's definition of terrorism, which includes "endangering 'national unity' or undermining 'the reputation or position of the State,'" is over-inclusive and should conform to international law, which maintains that terrorism must include "acts or threats of violence." Emmerson also expressed concern about the reported prosecution of writers and activists for non-violent actions. He urged Saudi Arabia's government to establish an "independent national security and due process review mechanism" to re-examine those prosecuted for political expression.