Greater Middle East
Amnesty International on July 19 condemned Bahrain's sentencing of a human rights defender. Nabeel Rajab was originally arrested in June 2016 after he tweeted about alleged torture in a Bahrani prison. A Bahrani court ordered his release in December 2016, but shortly after his release he was arrested on the current charges. Rajab was sentenced to two years in prison for political opinions he expressed during interviews in 2015 and 2016. Salil Shetty, Amnesty's secretary general, condemned the conviction as a "flagrant violation of human rights, and an alarming sign that the Bahraini authorities will go to any length to silence criticism." Rajab still faces numerous similar charges in cases expected to resume in August.
London's High Court of Justice ruled (PDF) July 10 that the UK can continue to export arms to Saudi Arabia. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) brought the suit on the grounds that the weapons have been used to violate international humanitarian and rights laws. For the last two years, Saudi Arabia has been waging attacks on Yemen, causing the deaths of over 10,000 civilians. Several advocacy groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, intervened in the suit. The court looked at a range of evidence, including secret information that was not released to the public due to security concerns. A substantial portion of Lord Justice Burnett's reasoning is contained in a "closed judgment" document that is only available to the government's legal team and a security-cleared "special advocate" for CAAT.
Civil resistance is mounting to the consolidating dictatorship in Turkey, with thousands marching from Ankara to Istanbul, and protests emerging to Presdient Recep Tayyip Erdogan's power-grab. The 450-kilometer cross-country march is now in its 20th day, led by banners reading "Adalet!" (Justice!) The movement began when Enis Berberoglu, an opposition MP from the Republican People's Party (CHP), was arrested for allegedly leaking documents purporting to reveal that the Turkish government is arming jihadists in Syria. It has swelled into a general expression of opposition to the arrests and purges that have unfolded in Turkey since last year's attempted coup.
Russia announced that it is preparing to deploy troops to police the borders of planned "de-escalation zones" in Syria after finalizing an agreement with Turkey and Iran. The word came from Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev following the latest round of ongoing talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana. (Reuters, July 4) We've noted that the so-called "de-escalation zones" or "safe zones" could become kill zones, where Russia and Assad will be able to bomb with (even greater) impunity—as they will officially not be "safe" for ISIS, and Moscow and Damascus have long used the propaganda trick of conflating all rebel forces with ISIS. Now, with the US also sending ground troops to join the forces fighting ISIS, American and Russian soliders could find themselves in close proximity, with greater of odds of ending up shooting at each other—potentially leading to unparalleled catastrophe
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that this year has seen a "notable trend of spontaneous returns" of displaced Syrians to their homes, both from outside and inside the country. Around 31,000 refugees returned from neighboring countries in the first six months of 2017, while more than 440,000 internally displaced persons went back to their homes—a combined total of nearly half a million. The main destinations are said to be Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus—all now largely under regime control after years of heavy fighting against rebel forces. UNHCR representative Andrej Mahecic said Syrians are seeking out family members, checking on property, and "in some cases responding to a real or perceived improvement in security conditions in parts of the country." But he warned that despite hopes over recent peace talks in Astana and Geneva, the "UNHCR believes conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place in Syria." (The Independent, July 1)
Security forces in southeastern Turkey, where authorities have been waging a brutal counterinsurgency war against Kurdish guerillas, reported the seizure this month of 2,290 kilograms of hashish and 6,632 kilograms of unprocessed cannabis "in an operation against the drug activities of the PKK terrorist organization." The operation took place June 8 in five villages of conflicted Diyarbakır province, with seven suspects taken into custody.
Human Rights Watch on June 22 accused the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of backing "Yemeni forces that have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured, and abused dozens of people during security operations." According to HRW, the UAE claims that the it provides financial and military aid to the Yemeni troops under the guise of fighting ISIS. However, HRW has traced the disappearance or arbitrary detention of 38 individuals to Yemeni forces backed by the UAE. The UAE also runs two secret prisons in Yemen, according to HRW. In a report also released on Thursday, the Associated Press found at least 18 secret prisons run by either the UAE or by troops receiving the Emirates' support.
Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court has temporarily halted decisions regarding a deal to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia until it can establish who has jurisdiction over them. The Egyptian government agreed to transfer the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, in April 2016, based on the belief that they had always belonged to Saudi Arabia. In June 2016 the transfer was invalidated by a lower court in Cairo, but that decision was overturned by another court. Egypt's parliament last week agreed to go through with the plan despite public protests. Both the Egyptian and Saudi governments say the islands, which have been under Egyptian protection since 1950, are Saudi territory. The protesters, however, assert that Egypt's sovereignty over the islands was established before Saudi Arabia was founded.