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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Persian Gulf

LIBYA: Kadafi addresses nation

Photo: Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi waves from a car in his Bab Azizia compound in Tripoli on April 10. Credit: Louafi Larbi / Reuters

After disappearing in recent days as the Libyan capital was besieged by rebel forces, Moammar Kadafi resurfaced late Tuesday delivering an address on Al Orouba TV, according to Reuters.

Kadafi's speech aired on a Tripoli radio station and was broadcast by Al Orouba in conjunction with Al Rai TV, Reuters and Al Jazeera reported.

In the address, Kadafi vowed "martyrdom" or victory in the fight against "aggression."

Photos: Battle for Kadafi's compound

He also said that his Bab Azizia compound in Tripoli had been leveled by 64 NATO airstrikes and that his withdrawal from the compound was a tactical move.

A spokesman for Kadafi's government told Al Orouba that loyalist forces had captured four "high-ranking" Qataris and one Emirati, Reuters reported. The spokesman said the Kadafi government can resist for months or years, Reuters reported.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi waves from a car in his Bab Azizia compound in Tripoli on April 10. Credit: Louafi Larbi / Reuters

ARABIAN PENINSULA: Majority of Persian Gulf Arabs too afraid to protest against their leaders, new poll says

6a00d8341c630a53ef014e5fc3d324970c-320wi Many Persian Gulf Arabs are frightened and pessimistic about the uprisings and revolutions that are sweeping the Middle East and are too afraid to speak out against their rulers.

According to a new opinion poll commissioned by the Qatar-based public forum The Doha Debates, that's the current mood among many gulf Arabs.

The online study, conducted by YouGov in June in which over 1,000 respondents were polled in 17 different Arab states, said an increasing number of gulf Arabs view the so-called Arab Spring with pessimism and fear. 

And more than more half of those polled in countries in the Arabian Peninsula said they would be be "too scared" to go out in the streets and protest against their leaders.

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MOROCCO: Protest violence could escalate, intelligence analyst says

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Moroccan police beat dozens of protesters who defied a ban on demonstrations and took to the streets of the capital Rabat and Casablanca on Sunday, according to news reports.

Months of protests in the north African nation have led its monarch, Mohammed VI, to make some concessions, but not enough to please protesters. They appeared more defiant Sunday, although their numbers have failed to match the scale of demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia other countries that saw "Arab Spring" uprisings.

Babylon & Beyond spoke Monday with Metsa Rahimi, an intelligence analyst with London-based Janusian Risk Consultancy who specializes in North Africa, about the Moroccan protests.

B&B: Why are people protesting in Morocco?

M.R.: The protests have been going on for three months now, so it’s not necessarily new. It was inspired by other events in other countries in the region back in February, the 20th of February protest movement.

The economy is one of the poorest in the region, dependent on tourism, with a younger population.

In terms of the other monarchies -- there is a sense of loyalty to monarchies, as opposed to self-appointed autocrats, and so they have been less vulnerable to protesters calling for their downfall.

Q: How have Morocco's leaders and security forces responded to the protests?

A: Until now, we haven’t seen a lot of violence in Morocco. It’s all been very moderate. What we’ve seen in the last fortnight, not only has the 20th of February movement become more radical, but the police have begun to use more force.

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BAHRAIN: Student details, speaks out against government pledge

Pledgephoto Students at the state-funded University of Bahrain say they have been forced this week to either sign a pledge of allegaiance to the government promising not to speak out against the Persian Gulf kingdom's monarchy or face expulsion.

The pledge was apparently distributed to students by campus police and security officials as they returned to classes Sunday. It comes after anti-government protests in February, mass arrests and charges against opposition activists. At least four activists have been sentenced to death for killing two officers during the protests, while others were sentenced earlier this week to one- to three-year terms in connection with the demonstrations. Many of those who oppose the Sunni-led monarchy, including those in detention, belong to the Shiite majority.

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

Bahraini government spokesmen did not return calls concerning the pledge Wednesday. The Bahrain News Agency previously reported that hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis allegedly volunteered to sign similar pledges to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa earlier this year.

Babylon & Beyond spoke with a student at the university and obtained a copy of the pledge distributed by this week in Arabic, which says:

"In accordance to this document I, the signatory below, confirm that I am a student attending the University of Bahrain, that my full allegiance is with the leadership of the Kingdom of Bahrain represented in His Majesty The King Hamad Bin Essa Al Khalifa, the King of the country may God guard and bless him and the wise government.

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BAHRAIN: U.S. diplomats call for dialogue as authorities allege protester mowed down policemen

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A protester drove his car into a group of policemen during demonstrations Tuesday, injuring nine, four seriously, according to Bahrain News Agency and state television reports.

"Nine police officers were run over in a heinous act carried out by criminal rioters this evening in Nuwaidrat area," the director general of the Police Directorate of the Central Governorate of Bahrain told the news agency.

The director told the news agency that the police officers were on duty at the time they were injured in the Nuwaidrat area, "dealing with a group rioters attempting to provoke riots and acts of vandalism."

The news agency said one of the "rioters" also suffered a head injury.

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BAHRAIN: Report alleges torture, calls for Obama, U.S. leaders to help

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More than 800 people have been arrested in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain since mid-February. Most of the detainees have been Shiite Muslims who protested against the Sunni monarchy of King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa. 

According to a report Tuesday by New York based nonprofit Human Rights First, most of those detained since anti-government demonstrations began in Bahrain have been arrested without warrants and held at unknown locations, without access to lawyers or relatives.

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

Those who have been released from detention, or family members who witnessed their arrest, told  Human Rights First staffer Brian Dooley about how they or their relatives were snatched late at night by teams of masked men who ransacked their homes and robbed them. Released detainees said they were blindfolded for days, handcuffed and beaten, forced to sing the Bahraini national anthem or to chant pro-government slogans. Several said they had been forced to sign something they were not permitted to see.

Doctors and other healthcare providers have been particularly targeted by security forces, with dozens detained, human rights activists say, in part because medicine is a common career for Bahraini Shiites.

One female physician, who asked not to be named, was among those who spoke to Human Rights First, detailing her experience in detention:

"I was taken from the hospital where I was working during the middle of the day. Four masked men came and took me for an interrogation. They blindfolded me and took me to the investigations office. They were verbally abusing me, saying the doctors at the hospital were sectarian, only treating Shiite patients.

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IRAN: Tensions increase as second Iranian flotilla to Bahrain is blocked

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Iranian supporters of Shiite dissidents in Bahrain saw their second flotilla in less than a month turned back from the Persian Gulf kingdom Monday. 

The 120 people aboard the two-ship "flotilla of solidarity" included a mix of workers, athletes, lawmakers, physicians and nurses, according to the semi-official Iranian Mehr News Agency. They had left the Iranian port of Bushehr, traveled a dozen nautical miles and were approaching international waters when they were forced to return to port by the Iranian coast guard, according to Mehr News.

There was speculation that the ships, including one named Ayat al-Ghermezi after the late Bahraini dissident poet allegedly raped and murdered by security forces, were barred from entering Bahraini waters after being intercepted by Gulf warships. 

Shaykh Fawwaz Bin-Muhammad Al-Khalifah, president of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, told Al Arabiya satellite network that the Persian Gulf states had responded to what he believed was "Iranian interference."

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BAHRAIN: Seven protesters sentenced; defendant details alleged rape threats in custody

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Seven anti-government protesters on trial before a military court received sentences ranging from one to three years Monday in connection with their participation in anti-government protests in the Persian Gulf kingdom earlier this year, activists said.

Majad Ali Mohamed and Ibrahim Salman Abdullah each received one-year sentences. Mohammed Mullah Ahmed, Haitham Shobar Sharaf and Hassan Mansour Hussein were each sentenced to two years, and Hussein Ali Ahmed and Jafar Mohammed Ibrahim received three-year sentences, according to human-rights activists.

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights released a statement saying the organization was “deeply concerned” about the sentencing by the National Safety Court set up under the country’s emergency law, due to be lifted June 1.

Timeline: Repression in Bahrain

The defendants were charged with, among other things, participating in illegal demonstrations and rallies and inciting the public against the government.

They were among 21 opposition figures charged, seven in absentia.

At a Monday court hearing, one of the other defendants, Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said that he had been threatened with rape in custody after he refused to apologize to the king on camera, according to activists. The Bahraini judge responded by having Alkhawaja removed from court, activists said. Other activists have said they were tortured while in custody.

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LIBYA: Human rights lawyer on Kadafi warrant impact on Arab Spring

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After the International Criminal Court prosecutor's requested arrest warrants for Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, son Seif Islam and brother-in-law Abdullah Sanussi for crimes against humanity, Babylon & Beyond spoke with Widney Brown, a human rights lawyer and senior director for international law and policy at Amnesty International in London. She helped lobby for passage of the ICC's Rome Statute in 1988 that covers such warrants.

Q: How significant is the prosecutor's request for these ICC warrants?

A: It’s a good sign that being a head of state is not seen as a protection against having a warrant issued when there are signs you have broken the law.

Q: But how effective are these warrants, given that other embattled leaders -- for instance, President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir in Sudan -- have had warrants issued against them and remained in power, traveling the world without being arrested?

A: [Bashir's] world has definitely gotten smaller. But it is distressing to see the number of countries that seem very happy they don’t have to arrest him. He’s being very careful about where he’s going. It’s not a good sign that you can have an outstanding warrant for a year and nothing’s been done.

Q: The warrant for Kadafi would only cover crimes committed since the current conflict began Feb. 15. Could past crimes be included, too?

A: What you have also with Col. Kadafi is not only the crimes he is alleged to have committed in the conflict now, but the crimes he committed in the past, some of which are ongoing. The prosecutor might be able to look at ongoing crimes. It’s not as if there’s going to be a dearth of things to investigate.

Q: What would be considered "ongoing crimes?"

A: For instance, enforced disappearances.

Q: Would that be similar to those disappeared in South America's "dirty wars" in the 1970s?

A: Yes, like in South America's dirty wars. That was when the term was created, when governments found it very effective to disappear people. Quite frankly, that’s what’s happening in Syria now. Why they’re being rounded up is pretextual or illegal. They’re being held incommunicado, they don’t have lawyers and we think they’re being subjected to torture and disappeared into a black hole. Things are worse now in Syria than they were in Libya when they made the Kadafi referral.

Q: So you and Amnesty officials think the ICC should pursue warrants against Syrian officials as well?

A: For the ICC to maintain its legitimacy, it needs to maintain its consistency and not irreparably politicize justice. We have called on the ICC to make a referral on Syria, to refer the situation to the prosecutor.

Q: Why Syria and not other countries in the region, such as Bahrain, Yemen or Egypt?

A: When the military is really turning on civilians in a systematic way, that certainly is a trigger to say this could be crimes against humanity. It’s not to say we’re not looking at evidence we’re  gathering in places like Yemen, Bahrain and northern Iraq to see what evidence there is. All these countries didn’t ratify the Rome Statute. So you want to go to the U.N. with really good evidence. You don't want it to be a case where they cannot defend their own actions in terms of making the referral.

Q: How many countries in the region have not ratified the Rome Statute that allows for these warrants to be issued?

A: The only country that ratified it in the Middle East was Jordan. Egypt and Tunisia have said they will, but they have not deposited instruments of ratification with the U.N. yet.

The interim Egyptian authorities have also said they will investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes during the revolution.

Q: But how can you guarantee they will investigate fairly when a new president has not even been elected?

A: If it turns out that the investigation is a sham, then you revisit the case and try to get it before the International Criminal Court. People have a gut feeling that justice is a local concept. They want justice in their own countries and you want to support that. In Egypt, for instance, you want to build a credible justice system because then if they do it right, you’ve helped rebuild a critical institution.

 

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Cairo

Photo: A man looks at portraits of people who killed or disappeared under Moammar Kadafi's regime in Benghazi, Libya, on Monday. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, announced Monday that he would seek arrest warrants against the Libyan leader, son Seif Islam and the country's intelligence chief on charges of crimes against humanity. Credit: Rodrigo Abd /Associated Press.

 

BAHRAIN: Military court postpones trial of opposition leaders

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Bahrain's special security court has postponed the trial of 21 opposition leaders set to start Monday until next Sunday, according to the state-run Bahrain News Agency.

The news agency also reported Monday that the military court had agreed to remove the opposition leaders from solitary confinement, where they have been held since they were detained since the government crackdown began in March.

The suspects, mostly Shiites including 14 in custody and the rest charged in absentia, are accused of attempting to overthrow the monarchy and of having links to foreign terrorist groups, a reference to Hezbollah. They have all pleaded not guilty, and human rights activists have demanded access to them, to their trial and to lawyers on their behalf.

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BAHRAIN: Activist describes electroshock, torture by government forces

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After reports this week of security forces in Bahrain torturing detainees, particularly medical personnel, Babylon & Beyond spoke with Mohammed Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights who has been working to document human rights abuses in the capital, Manama, and throughout the Gulf nation with international partners such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Q: What is your focus now?

50356_10604207164_4576_n A: On Thursday the first nurse got sentenced in Bahrain, his name is Hassan Matooq. He is also a photographer, he took photos of all the injured people who came to the hospital. They charged him with four charges: torturing the injured, illegal gathering, participating in a rally and also broadcasting false news. He was sentenced to three years.

If he has only four charges and he is sentenced to four years, we are very afraid for the 47 medical staff (in custody), many of them have more than 10 charges against them.

Q: Why are medical personnel being detained?

A: They helped the injured and they are witnesses. If the government wants to destroy all the evidence, it’s one answer -- you accuse medical staff because the main witness of what happened in Salmaniya Hospital, the number of figures of the injured and what kind of weapons were used at that time, was the medical staff. The medical staff know everything.

Q: Have you spoken with any of the medical personnel?

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YEMEN: GCC attempts to revive agreement as Saleh stalls

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The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif Zayani, was scheduled to arrive in the Yemeni capital of Sana on Saturday for a three-day visit to try to resurrect a deal that would allow longtime President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down with immunity.

The GCC includes six oil-rich countries on the Arabian peninsula who have a vested interest in restoring political stability in Yemen, although Qatar withdrew support for the deal earlier this week as Saleh's troops clashed with protests.

In remarks published in the Saudi Okaz daily newspaper on Saturday, Saleh said that after any transfer of power he plans to go out on the streets as the opposition and, “bring down the government again.”

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