ANKARA, August 12 -- The Turkish state can’t tolerate the gains by people of North and East Syria, or the democratic system they built, so they aim to invade the area under the guise of a “safe zone”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu continued to issue threats of invasion against North and East Syria. Cavuşoğlu said: “What we say about the east of the Euphrates is this: We will either clear the area together, or Turkey will enter and clear away the terrorists. Like they were cleared from Afrin, like ISIS was cleared from Jarablus, we will clear the east of the Euphrates from YPG and PKK. Whatever the price may be. There is no change in our resolve here. We won’t let the US delay things like Manbij. We say this clearly, and we told them the same.” The Turkish state can’t tolerate the gains by people of North and East Syria, or the democratic system they built, so they aim to invade the area under the guise of a “safe zone”. North and East Syrian officials see Turkey’s insistence on a 32 km deep safe zone as an attempt to massacre the peoples of the region and to invade the area as a whole, and counter-propose patrols along the border under supervision by the international coalition, outside residential areas. North and East Syrian officials warn that a possible Turkish state attack will make the control of thousands of ISIS members in prisons difficult and risk subjecting the region and the world to terrorist attacks. They also say they will resist to the end.
TEHRAN, August 12 -- It's difficult to combat a subject that's so taboo, discussion of it is off-limits. But the silence that has long surrounded sexual harassment and abuse of power in the Iranian workplace is finally being broken.
The Information Technology Organisation (ITO), a subsidiary of Iran's ICT Ministry, has become the first Iranian government agency to publish in-house guidelines banning what it refers to as "forbidden conduct" - harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse of power. Drawing on international examples, but modified to align with "Iranian and Islamic values", the harassment guidelines cover verbal and physical threats, aggressive behavior, defamation and intimidation, among other offences. Sexual harassment is described by the guidelines as any sexual advance made without consent, while discrimination is defined as "any form of unpleasant, unjust or in-equal behavior" based on race, nationality, religion, gender, age or political tendencies. The section on abuse of power covers all misuses of authority that negatively affect an individual's career. The guidelines were spearheaded by ITO's head of women participation, Meshkat Asadi. "Obviously we're still at the beginning of the road," she said in an interview with the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. "But it seems that serious barriers can come down when thoughts turn into words and those words are put on paper, so there's hope that this could be effective." Asadi's boss, ITO head Amir Nazemy, in an effort to catalyze change within companies that fall with his ministry's remit, used Twitter to call on CEOs of major startups and fintech firms to adopt the guidelines. "As sexual harassment is a taboo [in Iran], preventing it requires special support from executives," he wrote. Several of the largest names in Iran's startup and tech scene have answered the call. Those adopting the guidelines include ride-hailing companies Snapp and Tap30, online buying platform Takhfifan and cloud computing services provider ArvanCloud. ArvanCloud has taken the initiative a step further and established an in-house online platform to give employees the option to report harassing behavior anonymously. ITO officials responsible for the guidelines refused requests for comment.
The task of changing workplace culture
Some Iranian executives welcome the government effort to curb abuse, and want to build on the guidelines to effect genuine change in the workplace. "Even if we set the right framework, nothing meaningful will happen if we don't work on the cultural aspect and develop a corporate culture that has the capacity to welcome such improvements," Aseyeh Hatami, CEO of recruitment and jobs site IranTalent said. That promises to be a long road, she said, because the absence of initiatives to encourage healthy sexual behaviors in the workplace and in society at large has led to confusion over what constitutes acceptable behavior. "For instance, one of my male employees had asked a female co-worker to go to a coffee shop to discuss a work project, and she perceived that as a breach of her private space and professional etiquette," Hatami said. Reporting abuses of power is difficult even in the most constructively regulated environments. It often invites personal scrutiny and ends up re-victimizing and, in the worst cases, vilifying victims of abuse. The fears associated with reporting abuse and harassment are acute in Iranian workplaces, which are often bereft of resources to deal with these issues. Many small and medium-sized businesses lack robust human resources departments to investigate complaints. Companies that have established support mechanisms reporting and rooting out abuse have done so independently because the law does not require it. While Hatami is pleased that the government has established binding rules, she is concerned about regulatory overreach. "Having regulations is great and necessary, but businesses in Iran, especially fledgling ones, take a hit both from lack of suitable regulations and from hasty laws that go into too much detail and tell executives how to run their businesses," she said. Hatami hopes the ITO guidelines can be gradually refined through community feedback.
Educating executives to lead the way
Though the reforms are seen by many as an important catalyst, changing attitudes, they say, needs to start at the top of an organisation. "The ITO guidelines are a positive step, but there's much to be done in terms of educating executives and other employees, and organisational structures need to be improved in a way that would support victims," a training specialist at the National Iranian Gas Company said on condition of anonymity. "If guidelines are put in place across the country, I have no doubt that many [people] will undermine [cast doubt on] whether instances of sexual harassment and abuse of power even take place due to the taboo nature of the subject," she said. In its guidelines, the ITO encourages educational initiatives including organisation-wide workshops to educate all employees about forbidden conduct, requiring executives and supervisors to undergo targeted training as a prerequisite for job promotions, and handing out copies of the guidelines to new employees. The guidelines also designate a role for local nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) to act as a safety net for victims and for reporting harassment cases. "There is a tendency in companies to sweep such issues under the carpet, which encourages perpetrators," ITO chief Nazemy said in a recent interview. "By involving NGOs, at least an independent pair of eyes will scrutinize such cases".
The training expert at the state-run gas company said that the company has received complaints of abuse in the past, which were mostly handled directly by high-level executives rather than the human resources department. "Management usually prefers to resolve complaints peacefully at the personal level through reaching mutual agreements, and acts very strictly in terms of requiring evidence in dealing with serious cases to prevent defamation," she said. The trainer told that in one of those cases, an executive in a provincial branch of the state-run entity was fired from his post after a victim produced video evidence of harassment. The ITO guidelines encourage the resolution of complaints by mutual agreement, including through the involvement of a third-party arbiter. If unsuccessful, the guidelines direct alleged victims to file formal complaints within 90 days of the offence that was committed or the last event in the chain of reported events and present evidence.
NEW YORK, August 8 -- Islamic State is reinvesting in its ability to carry out sophisticated operations from Europe to South Asia by the end of 2019, a United Nations report has found.
“The ISIS covert network in the Syrian Arab Republic is spreading, and cells are being established at the provincial level, mirroring that which has been happening since 2017 in Iraq,” the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said. In the near term, the Islamic State will rely on locally-planned attacks in “unexpected locations,” similar to the Easter bombings carried out in Sri Lanka, they assessed. But the report, presented to the Security Council in July, warns that externally-planned attacks in high profile locations could ramp up as early as four months from now. “ISIS will reinvest in the capacity to direct and facilitate complex international attacks when it has the secure space and time to do so. The current abatement of such attacks, therefore, may not last long, possibly not even until the end of 2019,” it said. Tens of thousands of Islamic State loyalists and their children are now corralled in desert camps in northeastern Syria, where they were detained by US-backed Kurdish forces following the surrender of the last pocket of the caliphate in March. Neighboring Turkey has now threatened to seize the area from the Kurds – raising the possibility that some of Islamic State’s most hardcore members could escape.
Get out of jail
The UN report estimates that up to 30,000 foreign nationals who traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the caliphate are still alive, whether at large in the region, detained or relocated to Europe. These caliphate veterans now pose a radicalization threat, whether in prison or out. “The radicalization of criminals within the prison system remains a critical concern in Europe, where prisons provide a venue for inmates afflicted by poverty, marginalization, frustration, low self-esteem and violence to be influenced by radical ideologies,” it said. “In addition, some of the first wave of returnees from the ‘caliphate’ to be imprisoned are expected to be released in the coming year.” The monitoring team which carried out the report emphasized that data on the exact number of repatriations of foreign fighters to Europe and other regions remains sketchy. Approximately 2,000 nationals from the former Soviet states are now detained in northeastern Syria. Central Asian nations including Tajikistan and Uzbekistan cite their own citizens returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq are currently their primary terrorist threat. Central Asian migrant laborer communities in Russia and Turkey are also seen as particularly vulnerable to recruitment. The report also flags South and Southeast Asia as prime targets for Islamic State returnees, as evidenced by both successful and thwarted attacks. “Two troubling trends observed are the targeting of places of worship and the continued prominence of women in operational activities,” it said. Both returnees and attempted jihadists have been linked to attacks in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Islamic State has been resourceful in financing its activities post-caliphate, the report found, using small and medium-sized business to generate revenue, offering “seed money” to new affiliates and stashing valuable antiquities for a rainy day. “One Member State described ISIS affiliates being treated in a manner similar to start-up businesses, receiving ‘seed money’ and advice from head office,” it said. The group is estimated to have anywhere from US$50-300 million at its disposal to carry out its activities. However, “the group is adapting to its insurgency role with far fewer demands on its financial holdings.” The UN investigators learned that monetary transfers persist, with family members of active militants using personal or small business bank accounts in countries neighboring a given conflict zone – the cash then passed on by courier. Mobile payment applications and crypto currencies are cited as ripe for exploitation. A special ISIS unit – the ministry of “natural resources” – is believed to be responsible for the sale of antiquities which the group had excavated in Iraq and Syria. “Details of traded antiquities, as well as the current location of any stored antiquities, are assessed to be known only by ISIS leaders.” Preserving that leadership, at the top of which is self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains the primary concern of the group.
BANGKOK, August 6 -- At least 500 security officials will be deployed to protect Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha and keep the peace in his visit to Yala on Wednesday morning to open the new head office of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre.
Security officials on Tuesday rehearsed measures for maintaining security for Prayut trip to the new head office of the SBPAC, which is located in the heart of Yala. The visit to the restive southern border province will go ahead despite a series of bomb attacks in Bangkok that some have said could be linked to insurgents. The 500 police, soldiers and rangers will be deployed around the new SBPAC head office while the prime minister is chairing its opening ceremony. The SBPAC purchased the Chang Lee Hotel building from the Assets Management Committee to renovate as its new head office. The SBPAC spent Bt147.84 million for the procurement, below its estimated price of Bt225.48 million. After the opening ceremony, the prime minister is scheduled to visit the Yala Rubber Market, which also functions as a market for buying durians from local people, officials said.
BAGHDAD, July 12 -- Four Islamic State (IS) militants and two paramilitary Hashd Shaabi members were killed Friday in an operation to hunt down the extremist militants in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, a statement and a provincial official said.
Early in the morning, the Iraqi army, interior ministry's provincial intelligence and Hashd Shaabi units carried out an operation to hunt down IS militants in the rugged area in the northeastern part of the province after being tipped off by intelligence report, the Hashd Shaabi said in a statement. Sadiq al-Husseini, head of the security committee in Diyala provincial council, told Xinhua that the troops, so far, killed four IS militants, including a local leader, and destroyed three of their hideouts. Also during the operation, a roadside bomb struck a convoy of a joint police, intelligence and Hashd Shaabi force in al-Hafayer area at the edges of al-Sa'diyah town, some 125 km northeast of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, al-Husseini said.
Brigadier General Ali al-Sudani, head of Diyala's intelligence, escaped the attack with wounds, but a Hashd Shaabi member was immediately killed and another died later in the hospital, while three other Hashd Shaabi members were wounded by the blast, al-Husseini added. Despite repeated military operations in Diyala, some IS militants are still hiding in some rugged areas near the border with Iran, and in the sprawling areas extending from the western part of the province to the Himreen mountain range in the northern part of the province. The security situation in Iraq was dramatically improved after Iraqi security forces fully defeated the extremist IS militants across the country late in 2017. IS remnants, however, have since melted in urban areas or resorted to deserts and rugged areas as safe havens, carrying out frequent guerilla attacks against security forces and civilians.
Author: Lora Smith
MADRID, July 10 -- On behalf of the EU, Morocco is making it more difficult to flee across the Mediterranean to Spain. In fact, the number of refugees is decreasing. But the deal has fatal consequences for migrants, human rights activists say.
"If only we could be left, we could save much more," says Manuel Capa. The trade unionist works for the sea rescue in the Spanish city of Valencia. If Morocco or Spain embark on a new course when it comes to migration, they will feel it immediately. And he does not like the new course of the Spanish government at all. According to the law of the sea every captain must take shipwrecked persons, if he is able to do so, Capa explains. Regardless of whose sea area he is in. "So, if a shipwrecked man was in the Moroccan Maritime Rescue Zone and Morocco did not take care of him because of the lack of resources or perhaps the will, then the Moroccans allowed us to go into their waters and save the humans." That has changed. A new protocol stipulates that Morocco is solely responsible for its zone. The Spanish saviors must often be left out. Trade unionist Capa says what happens to the people who are shipwrecked in Moroccan waters is incomprehensible. It remains unclear whether they were saved and if so, where they would be taken.
Does the government accept dead?
Helena Maleno from the non-governmental organization "Caminando Froteras" goes further. She accuses the Spanish government of a cynical game:
"We're basically doing the same thing as Salvini: We're retreating, but not so obvious, of course, we can not pull out the sea rescue, but we're taking some risk with the new measures."
Spain's motto is to close this route, whatever the cost. Maleno assumes that the government will not protest because of the dead.
140 million euros in aid
The Spanish maritime rescue rejects the allegations. In the first half of the year, the number of registered deaths had dropped significantly. Currently there are 81 people who did not make it to Spain alive. Last year, at 151, it was almost twice as many. The fact is that Spain and Morocco are working together again on migration. Spain's head of state, Sánchez, has worked hard to ensure that the European Union gives Morocco more support in terms of border management. With success: the EU promised Morocco a total of 140 million euros in aid in January.
The refugees are being transported inland
And Morocco has delivered. Anyway, this is the conclusion reached by an internal paper of the EU Commission, which is available in the Spanish newspaper El País. Support for Morocco, both from Spain and from the European Commission, is the basis for the declining trend in arrivals, it says. The Moroccan government is also not overshadowing their successes: The authorities have this year so far prevented 25,000 people from reaching by sea illegally Spain, according to an official Moroccan side.
Often, however, this is done with dubious methods, says Said Tbel, migration officer of the human rights organization Association marocaine des droits humains (AMDH) in Rabat:
"Since last summer, Morocco has again resorted to methods that violate the rights of migrants."
So many migrants were picked up on the coast in northern Morocco and spent in the south. It has become increasingly difficult for people to leave Morocco for Spain. Many boats were capsized, there are now many missing and dead. The human rights activist believes that the situation will worsen in the medium term. The Moroccan Ministry of the Interior was not available for an interview at short notice.
Author: Lora Smith
WASHINGTON, July 10 -- The United States is planning to create a military coalition to safeguard commercial shipping from Iranian threats in waterways off Iran and Yemen following attacks on two oil tanker last month, U.S. media reported.
"We are engaging now with a number of countries to see if we can put together a coalition that would ensure freedom of navigation both in the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el Mandeb," said Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to reporters. Dunford also said he had discussed the plan with Mark Esper, the acting secretary of defense, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He added the Pentagon has developed a specific plan and it would be clear within a couple of weeks to see which nations join the coalition, according to the local media. Under the plan, the United States would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts while its allies would patrol waters near the U.S. command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation's flags, the reports said. Dunford called the coalition "scalable," suggesting that it will start small but will expand as more countries show interest.
President Donald Trump expressed frustration in June, questioning why the United States is protecting shipping lanes for oil-dependent countries like China and Japan, suggesting that countries should be protecting their own ships. Bilateral tensions have increased with the United States stepping up its pressure on Iran over Tehran's nuclear program, claiming that it is destabilizing the Middle East.
Washington has blamed Tehran on the June attacks on two oil tankers respectively operated by a Japanese company and chartered by a Taiwanese oil refiner near the Strait of Hormuz, a key corridor through which major oil exports flow to the world, as well as a similar tanker attack in May in waters off the United Arab Emirates. A U.S. drone was also shot down in Iran by the Middle Eastern country's paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in late June, drawing the ire of Trump. Iran has threatened in the past that it would close the Strait of Hormuz, further increasing tensions with the United States and some of its neighbors. The United States and Gulf allies also have concerns about the vulnerability of the Bab el Mandeb, a strait between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, caused by Houthi rebels who are accused by the United States of being Iranian proxies.
Author: Lora Smith
MOSCOW, July 9 -- The Moscow District Military Court has sentenced three members of the Islamic State (terrorist group, outlawed in Russia) to between 10 and 15 years in jail over plotting terrorist attacks in Moscow.
"The court has found the defendants guilty and sentenced Anzor Tlupov, Bakhtovar Tuychiyev and Manuchekhr Tuychiyev to 13, 15 and 10 years, respectively," the judge said, noting that the three men would be serving their sentences in a maximum security colony. The defendants were charged with illegal production of explosives, setting up a terrorist group, engagement in the group's activities, plotting a terrorist attack and contributing to terrorism. The court found that three IS group’s members had been plotting a series of terrorist attacks in Moscow and the Moscow Region. At the moment of detention in summer 2018, they were trying to destroy explosive substances.
Author: Lora Smith
ISTANBUL, June 24 -- In a major blow to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu has declared victory in the rerun of Istanbul's mayoral election, after initial results showed he was set for a clear win.
Imamoglu had won 54 percent of votes with almost all of the ballot boxes opened on Sunday, with the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) candidate trailing on 45 percent and conceding defeat. Imamoglu promised a "new beginning" for Turkey's largest city and commercial hub. "You have protected the reputation of democracy in Turkey," he told supporters. His opponent, former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, conceded defeat after initial results showed he was set to lose by a decisive margin. "According to the result as of now, my competitor Ekrem Imamoglu is leading the race. I congratulate him and wish him good luck," Yildirim said. CHP's projected win in the Istanbul election ends the 17-year rule by the AK Party in the metropolis. The Istanbul mayoral election was first held on March 31, when Imamoglu secured 48.8 percent of the vote, while the AK Party's Yildirim held 48.55 percent, granting Imamoglu the title of mayor with a razor-thin margin. The AK Party proceeded to file an "extraordinary objection" to the results, leading the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) to annul the results and schedule Sunday's rerun.
RIYADH, June 7 -- Days after Saudi Arabia announced it would allow women to drive in September 2017, blogger and activist Eman al-Nafjan wrote an uplifting column on CNN.
Praising the tenacity of women's rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul, she said: "Other issues seem conquerable. The biggest issue at the moment is the guardianship system." Eight months later, al-Nafjan, Loujain al-Hathloul, and other women's rights activists and male allies were arrested. They became victims of a widespread online and offline smear campaign, accusing them of trying to destabilise the country and incite public opinion. Since their arrest, there have been allegations of prisoners being tortured - with reports of lashings and electric shocks while in custody. Three Saudi Muslim scholars who are linked to the Sahwa, or the Awakening movement, who are reportedly on death row and could be executed in days, are also believed to have suffered in prison. Salman al-Awdah was hospitalised as a result of solitary confinement, according to Amnesty International, Awad al-Qarni health has also deteriorated, according to activists, while Ali al-Omari has reportedly suffered burns and injuries all over his body as a result of electric shocks during solitary confinement for more than a year.
Adam Coogle, Saudi Arabia researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: "You have serious allegations of torture by investigators. This is something you will frequently hear from other human rights activists as well." Among these prisons are al-Haer in Riyadh, Dhahban near Jeddah, and Dammam in the Eastern Province. Women's rights defenders, protesters from the predominantly Shia Muslim minority Eastern Province, and other dissidents often stand trial at the Specialised Criminal Court,the kingdom's counter terrorism court. "Most human rights activists and dissidents are in [both] Mabahith-run prisons or general prisons," Yahya Assiri, a Saudi activist who founded the human rights organisation Al Qst said. While general prisons are run by the Ministry of Interior, maximum security prisons are headed by the police agency of the Presidency of the State Security, commonly known as the Mabahith. Conditions in the general prisons are abysmal and worse than in the maximum security facilities, said Assiri, adding that corporal punishment is common while corruption has fuelled an illicit drug smuggling trade. "These facilities are far more outdated than maximum security prisons, and cells are often overcrowded," he said. In its 2018 annual report, Al Qst claimed that authorities forced prisoners to sleep in the toilets.
Essam Koshak, an activist and computer engineer was arrested in January 2017 for speaking out against the male guardianship system on Twitter, and sentenced to four years in prison followed by a four-year travel ban. Though he was tried in the Specialised Criminal Court, he was held in Mecca General Prison before being transferred to the maximum security al-Haer Prison in Riyadh. Similarly, activist Issa al-Nukheifi was held in pre-trial detention in Mecca General Prison without any charges presented. At the Specialised Criminal Court, he was sentenced to six years in prison followed by a six-year travel ban over Twitter posts criticising the Saudi royal family and government. He is also being held at al-Haer. Though conditions at Mabahith-run facilities are relatively better, Assiri said that overall, prisons built and administered for detainees suspected of terrorism or other extreme security charges are "extraordinarily worse than before". Although several activists have been temporarily released as their trials proceed, it is expected that they could face 20 years in prison, as per Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism law. Saudi Arabia has acceded to the UN Convention Against Torture - with reservations, but reports from human rights organisations and testimonies indicate that systematic torture is widespread with impunity.