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Iraqi journalists face threats, murder

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Journalists and security forces take cover from a mortar shell during a battle with Islamic State militants, Mosul, Nov. 30, 2016

BAGHDAD — Abdul Qader al-Qaisi has become Iraq’s first slain journalist in 2017. He was kidnapped Jan. 1, and security forces found his body Jan. 5, dumped on the road between Kirkuk and Baghdad. Qaisi was a member of the Kurdistan Syndicate of Journalists and he was also the lawyer of former Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.

Two days before Qaisi’s body was found, Iraqi journalist Afrah Shawqi was released after being kidnapped and held for nine days.

“I don’t know who kidnapped me, but it seems they were an unorganized armed group,” Shawqi told Al-Monitor on the sidelines of a press conference she held a day after her release. “I think I was taken out of the capital because it took hours on the road from where I was kidnapped until we reached the cell I was held in.”

She said the kidnappers interrogated her about a story she hadn’t written that appeared in a newspaper she no longer worked for when the story ran. Shawqi had, however, previously written about the pictures of dead fighters from armed Shiite factions that were posted in the streets of Baghdad, raising the ire of many supporters of those factions. A few days before she was kidnapped, she had criticized how weapons are chaotically spread among several armed groups and militias.

Shawqi’s kidnapping stirred quite a buzz in Iraq, as activists and journalists formed a civil movement and took to the streets every day to call for her release. They said their actions were useful, and they plan to continue defending freedom of the press.

“The civil force, formed by organizations defending freedom of the press, human rights organizations and prominent journalists in Iraq, played a major role in Shawqi’s release,” Ziad al-Ajili, the director of Iraq’s Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, told Al-Monitor. “Journalists are concerned about being kidnapped or killed. However, they insist on continuing to do their job and unite against any action that seeks to restrict their freedom.”

International organizations concerned with journalistic freedoms have always noted that Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, with more than 400 killed since 2003. That’s an average of 31 per year.

Walid Ibrahim, the director of Al Jazeera‘s office in Iraq, spoke with Al-Monitor about the problem.

“The recent incidents in which journalists were victims are proof that journalists are still threatened by many parties, most notably militias, which have today gained a political and government cover,” Ibrahim said, referring to a recently passed law granting official status to the controversial Popular Mobilization Units, a grouping of militias accused of human rights violations. He added, “These groups do not tolerate being criticized and do not like journalists who refuse to deal with them and [who] believe the existence of such groups contradicts the principles of a civilized society and is contrary to the foundations of true democracy.”

Journalists in Iraq face significant risks, especially those who work in the field and write articles that displease the armed groups trying to extend their influence in Iraq. However, the groups are rarely held accountable for their actions against journalists.

Iraq has a law on journalists’ rights, but many in the business oppose it because they believe it was passed for political purposes and does not actually serve journalism.

Saad Maan, a spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, told Al-Monitor, “We support journalists and we call on them to continue to practice their profession normally. We promise to provide them with protection and to hold accountable all those who violate their rights.”

But despite the repeated promises made by Iraqi security officials, the people and parties who threaten or kill journalists are not brought to justice. On the contrary, there are many examples of impunity. Journalists have united to try to pressure political parties into helping, but reporters and editors still fear the possibility of falling victim to kidnapping and terrorist attacks.

Imad al-Abadi, a well-known show host in Iraq who survived a 2009 assassination attempt in Baghdad, told Al-Monitor, “Iraqi journalists still face many risks. Iraq is not a safe environment for journalists. We fear the [future] … in light of armed groups and gangs targeting freedom of expression.”

Since 2003, not a year has gone by without Iraqi journalists being killed, which reflects the absence of legal and field protection from government authorities.

Shawqi’s kidnapping was seen as a threat to journalism and to freedom of opinion and expression: Don’t criticize armed groups.

Iraq can be a dangerous place for anyone, but journalists face the added threat of being kidnapped or killed at any given moment simply for being journalists. Yet, they continue to tell the stories of other people’s lives, until it is time for someone to tell theirs.

(Source / 13.01.2017)

Written by altahrir

January 13, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Revolution Iraq

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Tunisian official slams French presidential candidate’s comments about women’s status

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Image of Anouar Gharbi, a senior Tunisian official

Image of Anouar Gharbi, a senior Tunisian official

A senior Tunisian official has strongly criticised French presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls for his remarks about the status of women in Tunisia. Anouar Gharbi warned of the “growing French intervention in Tunisia’s internal affairs” after Valls was reported as saying that women in the North African state “are forced to wear hijab, like in Iran”.

In an exclusive interview with Quds Press, Gharbi criticised Valls’ remarks as “insulting” to a large segment of Tunisian society by comparing the status of women in Tunisia to that in Iran. Such interference, added Gharbi, is not limited to politicians. A French lawyer, he explained, called recently for the release of some union leaders who were tried and convicted by a court in Tunisia. The lawyer is apparently very close to the French authorities. Such behaviour, insisted Gharbi, is not conducive to clearing the air between Tunisia and France.

The former foreign affairs adviser to the president of Tunisia called on his country’s diplomats to build balanced international relations and defend its economic and political interests. It is important, he concluded, to maintain Tunisia’s sovereignty and independent decision-making.

(Source / 13.01.2017)

Written by altahrir

January 13, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Revolution Tunisia

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Demonstrations Countrywide Demanding Regime Downfall & Accountability for War Crimes

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The Syrian people on Friday took to the streets of many rebel-held towns and cities urging FSA and rebel groups to unite “under the umbrella of the revolution.” Demonstrators also condemned breaches of the ceasefire agreement by the Assad regime and the allied Iranian militias.

Demonstrators in the town of Douma in Rural Damascus called for the downfall of the regime and for holding Assad as well as those responsible for war crimes against civilians to account.

Big demonstrations were held in the towns of Maaret Alnouman and Kafar Diriyan in rural Idlib, as well as in the town of Atareb in western rural Aleppo. Demonstrators reaffirmed solidarity with the residents of Wadi Barada valley which has been subjected to ferocious assault by the Assad regime forces and the Hezbollah militias since late December. They also called upon who leaders of the FSA and rebel groups to unite in one front under the banner of the Syrian revolution.

Demonstrators reiterated calls for the departure of all foreign militias from Syria and for the release of all detainees in the prisons of the Assad regime. They denounced the silence of the international community over the truce violations by the Assad regime and its allies.

Activists in Wadi Barada valley said that the Assad regime forces and the Hezbollah militias continue to escalate the assault in the area in blatant violation of the cease-fire agreement which went into force on December 29. They said that dozens of airstrikes and barrel bomb attacks as well as artillery shelling by regime forces hit the area on Thursday. Ground attacks on the villages of the rebel-held area were also launched in parallel.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office / 13.01.2017)

Written by altahrir

January 13, 2017 at 5:12 pm

Posted in Revolution Syria

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Rival Libya government seizes ministries in Tripoli

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President of the National Salvation Government, Khalifa Ghwell [Libyan.Press/Facebook]

President of the National Salvation Government, Khalifa Ghwell

National Salvation government forces have seized at least three ministries in Libya’s capital, following the current UN-backed government’s year-long failure to bring stability and order back to the war-torn country.

The leader of the group, Khalifa Ghwell, confirmed that his forces seized control of the ministries of defence, labour and the “martyrs and the wounded” ministry, which looks after the families of the aforementioned. He also declared himself “Prime Minister of Libya”.

Ghwell’s group was formed by the outgoing parliament after a dispute in 2014 about the transfer of power which led to the establishment of rival governments.

The UN helped establish a third government in Tripoli last year under Fayez Al-Sarraj in the hopes he could unify Libya and lead the fight against “Islamist extremists”.

However, a spokesman for Al-Sarraj’s government, Ashraf Tulty, dismissed the takeover, stating that the group was just “trying to sow chaos [and] they have no means to control.”

Tulty further explained how the ministry buildings that Ghwell claims to have seized are either under maintenance, not controlled by Al-Sarraj’s government, or were seized only briefly before being let go.

“This is nothing more than a media hoax,” Tulty said. “They are trying to sabotage the only internationally recognised government in Libya.”

In a speech aired on television, Ghwell said that past arrangements brokered by the UN were “invalid” and described Al-Sarraj’s government as “expired”.

The self-declared prime minister referred to his forces as the “Presidential Guard”, stating that he ordered them to secure the capital and warned other militias to stand down. He also renewed calls for new talks to ensue among Libyan factions away from the presence of foreign mediators.

“We are the ones with legitimacy,” Ghwell explained. “We extend our hands to our Libyan rivals,” before adding “God’s law will rule among us.”

Ghwell’s earlier government has previously been linked with Islamist groups, including some hard-line factions.

Ghwell further stated how conditions in Libya have gone “from bad to worse” in the year since Al-Sarraj’s government was formed.

Referring to the cash crisis, Ghwell blamed Libya’s economic woes on disputes between Al-Sarraj and the head of the central bank who declined to release funds needed to run the UN-brokered government since March.

The central bank this month approved a $26 billion annual state budget.

“We gave him a year, and when he failed, we decided to return [to power],” Ghwell told AP before advising people to “wait, and you will see what happens in the coming days” when pressed on logistical questions.

(Source / 13.01.2017)

Written by altahrir

January 13, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Revolution Libye

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Wadi Barada Villages Being Reduced to Rubble as Assault Enters Its 23rd Day

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The towns and villages of Wadi Barada valley are lying in ruins as the assault by the Assad regime forces and the Hezbollah Militia entered its 23rd day on Wednesday. The bombardment has been concentrated on residential buildings and vital civilian facilities amid utter silence by the UN Security Council and Russia, a guarantor of the ceasefire agreement.

Local activists said that the village of Bsseima bore the brunt of indiscriminate bombardment by the regime and Hezbollah militias, with over 65% of the village now reduced to rubble. Over 40% of the town of Ayn Alfija has been destroyed, and the villages of Deir Miqrin and Kfeir Alzeit were severely damaged by regime bombardment by rockets, heavy artillery, mortar and tanks.

Vital civilian structures in Wadi Barada valley, such as medical centers, civil defense centers, and the media office were put out of service as a result of the deliberate targeting by regime forces and their allied foreign militias, activists said. The bombardment did not spare the ancient Roman temple at the water facility. Moreover, five mosques were completely destroyed, including two in the village of Bseima, two in Kfeir Alzeit, and one in the village of Husseiniya.

The Ayn Alfija water facility was hit by regime forces in the early days of the assault, now in its 23rd day. The facility, which is the primary source of clean water for Damascus and its suburbs, has been put out of service, and the equipment inside has been severely damaged.

Medical sources in Wadi Barada valley said that many people were affected as a result of drinking infected water as chlorination equipment is no longer operating.

The Syrian Coalition earlier called upon the United Nations to send a fact-finding mission to Wadi Barada valley to investigate the crimes being committed against civilians. It said that the Assad regime is using water as a weapon of war against the Syrian people after bombing the Ayn Alfija water facility.

The United Nations Children’s Fund has raised alarm over a potential increase in diarrheal diseases among people, especially children, in the areas around Damascus due to lack of clean water.

A UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac on Monday said that private distributors were providing water in and around Damascus. Boulierac said he was worried about the quality and price of those supplies.

(Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office / 12.01.2017)

Written by altahrir

January 12, 2017 at 6:53 pm

Posted in Revolution Syria

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Egypt’s parliament, judiciary face off against each other

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A policeman stands guard outside the Supreme Constitutional Court in Cairo, Feb. 25, 2015

CAIRO — The 2014 Egyptian Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary and protects it from the interference of any other authority. And, according to Article 184, “The judiciary is independent. It is vested in the courts of justice of different types and degrees, which issue their judgments in accordance with the law. Its powers are defined by law. Interference in judicial affairs or in proceedings is a crime to which no statute of limitations may be applied.”

However, a bill that contradicts this constitutional text was recently proposed to parliament. On Dec. 13, Undersecretary of the parliamentary Legislative Committee and member of parliament Ahmed al-Sharif proposed a draft law related to the appointment of the heads of judicial committees. According to Youm7 newspaper, the draft law stipulates, “The president shall appoint the head of the Administrative Prosecution Authority from among three senior judges that the authority’s Higher Council nominates; the head of the State Lawsuits Authority from among three senior judges that the Higher Council nominates; and the head of the Cassation Court from among three senior judges that the Higher Council nominates.”

The draft law states that the head of the Egyptian State Council must be appointed out of three senior judges nominated by the State Council’s General Assembly pursuant to the president’s decision also.

The draft law, which tasks the president with appointing the heads of judicial committees, consists of an amendment to Article 44 of the Egyptian Judicial Authority Law of 1972 stating that the head of the judiciary is appointed by the Higher Judicial Council by order of absolute seniority.

The law that the parliament submitted is in line with Article 239 of the 2014 constitution, which states that the parliament issues a law organizing the rules for managing justice affairs and delegating judges and members of judicial bodies and entities within a period not exceeding five years from the date this constitution comes into effect.

Commenting on the draft law proposed to parliament, Judge Mohamed Abdel Mohsen, the head of Egypt’s Judges’ Club, wrote on the club’s Facebook page Dec. 25, “Reducing the judiciary’s authority by amending Article 44 without changing the whole [draft] law is not in line with the requirements of public interest.”

Mohsen noted that the draft law must be amended wholly to be in line with the 2014 constitution.

Saber Ammar, a legal expert and member of the Higher Committee for Legislative Reform, agreed with Mohsen and told Al-Monitor, “We must steer clear of partial legal amendments. Since the [initial] law was issued in the 1970s, it needs wider re-examination instead of amending just one article.”

Mohsen posted on Facebook that the Judges’ Club is working on preparing a complete project with suggestions for the judicial law, in consultation with the concerned parties. He noted that the draft law violates the independence of the judiciary, as it infringes upon the stable judicial constants.

The judges in Egypt refuse the draft law because it interferes with their work. On Dec. 27, the Egyptian Judges’ Club issued a statement, which Al-Monitor examined, indicating absolute refusal of the draft law and considering the parliament’s amendments of the judiciary law a violation of the separation principle between the judicial, legislative and executive authorities.

Sharif told Al-Monitor over the phone, “The Judges’ Club is not concerned with issuing any suggestions on the laws or making amendments related to legislation. This task should be left to the different judicial committees. The draft law is seeking to replace the seniority principle and give more chances based on competence.”

Former presidential candidate Khaled Ali, who had filed a lawsuit to annul the maritime demarcation agreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, said Dec. 27 that the independence of the judicial committees and the State Council are being targeted in order to limit the judiciary’s role in protecting the legitimacy principle. The draft law came after the State Council issued a ruling stating that the islands of Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian, but said the ruling contradicted the decision of the Egyptian government to give up the two islands in April 2016. According to Ali, the aim is to undermine the role of the Egyptian judiciary, especially the State Council because of its rulings that often do not go in line with the executive authority’s views.

Former President of the State Council Mohammad Hamed al-Jamal told Al-Monitor that the parliament must withdraw the draft law because this is a judicial affair.

In case the draft law is approved, Jamal said that the judges will have to resort to the constitutional court.

The current clash between the legislative and judicial authorities did not end here. On Jan. 2, a statement issued by the Egyptian Institution for the Protection of the Constitution criticized the government’s decision to refer the maritime demarcation agreement between Saudi Arabia and Egypt without waiting for the final ruling from the Higher Administrative Court.

The institution led by Ambassador Amr Moussa, who is the head of the constituent assembly responsible for drafting the 2014 constitution, expressed its concerns regarding the government’s decision and its timing. The association called on the state authorities to respect the constitution.

(Source / 12.01.2017)

Written by altahrir

January 12, 2017 at 6:33 pm

Posted in Revolution Egypt

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Dear Donald Trump: A letter from a Syrian refugee

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‘We started the revolution holding roses and hoping for support … the roses turned into guns but the hope remains.’

Dear Donald,

My name is Abdulazez Dukhan. I am 18 years old. I am one of the four million people who have fled Syria. We left behind our hearts and the people that we lost – both buried somewhere along the road.

I am sending you this message to congratulate you on the presidency. But also to remind you how much your words matter in deciding our future.

We started the revolution holding roses and hoping for support from the international community.

Years passed; the roses turned into guns but the hope for support continues. Still, neither roses nor hope helped.

Could your predecessor have done anything to change our fate? I don’t know. But we will continue to have faith. Your words matter to us. You might be able to change our future.

I left Syria with my family four years after the revolution started. Nobody wanted to leave. But what can we do against the tanks? What can we do when death is falling from the sky?

Like many others, we went to Turkey and from there to Greece. We travelled, looking back at our cities, streets and houses being destroyed.

We are weak. We wanted the international community’s support and we know that it will come. Faith is what moved us and faith is what is keeping us going.

Now I am a refugee. The hardest thing about living in a refugee camp is the isolation. People build walls around us and countries build walls around those walls.

Dear future president, borders kill dreams. I’ve seen dreams die before their body – it leaves that person with no soul. For those of us who still have faith, please don’t build walls in front of us.

Maybe today is my last day as a refugee and tomorrow I will be safe somewhere in the world. Maybe I will go back to my beloved Syria and start rebuilding. Maybe I can still dream for one more day.

Dear future president, we hope that someone can hear our words. We hope that you do.

 

(Source / 12.01.2017)

Written by altahrir

January 12, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Posted in Revolution Syria

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