Greater Middle East
In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)
Cholera has spread at an alarming rate in Yemen over the past month, from a few thousand cases to roughly 70,000. There have been over 600 deaths, and most areas of the country are affected. UNICEF now warns that cases could quadruple in the next month to 300,000, with regional director Geert Cappelaere calling the situation "incredibly dire." (NYT, Al Jazeera) Amid all this, Saudi warplanes on June 4 struck a hospital in Qahza, Sa'ada governorate, where cholera patients were being treated. Several were said to be killed in the strike, and the building destroyed. But, too tellingly, for reports on the Qahza strike we must rely on sources such as Iran's Tasnim News Agency and Venezuela's TeleSur.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on June 2 called on the government of Bahrain to investigate the deaths of five protesters that occurred during a security operation last month. The protesters were killed and 286 individuals were arrested when security forces were conducting an operation against a sit-in held by supporters of Sheikh Isa Qassem, the highest Shi'ite authority in Bahrain, in his home village of al-Diraz. Those who died were buried without their families' consent and without customary funeral traditions, an act which the High Commissioner called "disturbing." Al Hussein also called for the release of those being detained for "peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly," and for them to be "treated with full respect for their rights, including due process."
A Bahrain court on May 31 dissolved the major opposition political party, an act that Amnesty International said is a step toward the "total suppression of human rights" in the Persian Gulf monarchy. The National Democratic Action Society (Wa'ad) was ordered dissolved after Bahrain's Ministry of Justice accused the group of "advocating violence, supporting terrorism and incitement to encourage crimes and lawlessness." Amnesty called the allegations against Wa'ad "baseless and absurd." Wa'ad had criticized the Bahraini constitution in February, and condemned the execution of three men in January. Wa'ad was the last major opposition party in Bahrain, although two smaller opposition groups still exist in the country.
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.