Greater Middle East

Bahrain court sentences 139 on terrorism charges

Bahrain’s High Criminal Court sentenced 139 terror suspects to prison terms ranging from three years to life in prison. The court also revoked the citizenship of all but one of those convicted. The accused were sad to be part of a network organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Bahrain’s ruling family is Sunni and most of those sentenced are believed to be Shia. The mass sentencing was immediately condemned by Amnesty International: “With these outrageous sentences, Bahrain’s authorities have once again demonstrated their complete disregard for international fair trial standards.” In February, Bahrain convicted 167 people of participating in a non-violent sit-in, and in a separate May 2018 trial 115 people were stripped of their citizenship. (Photo: Pixabay via Jurist)

Greater Middle East

Bahrain upholds life sentence of opposition leader

Bahrain’s highest court  upheld a life sentence for Shi'ite cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, for spying on behalf of neighboring Qatar. According to Amnesty International, the case is based on conversations that Salman had in 2011 with then-Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. Salman was initially acquitted, but sentenced to life in November 2018 by the court of appeals. This term has now been affirmed by the Cassation Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a "bitter blow to freedom of expression." The organization's Middle East director Samah Hadid said it "exposes the country's justice system as a complete farce. The decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman's conviction and life prison sentence following an unfair trial highlights the authorities' determination to silence critical voices." (Photo: Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain)

Syria

Kurdish forces turn Manbij over to Assad: report

Following the announcement of a US withdrawal of its troops embedded with Kurdish forces in Syria, the Kurds are again making overtures for a separate peace with the Assad regime. Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) are reported to have turned over the flashpoint town of Manbij to regime forces—marking the first time that the Assad regime’s flag has flown over the northern town for more than six years. “The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive,” said Ilham Ahmed, an official of the Kurdish autonomous administration. “If the Turks’ excuse is the [YPG], they will leave their posts to the government.” However, a Kurdish deal with Assad could cement the split between the Syrian rebels and the YPG, and holds risk of opening an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria. (Photo via Kurdistan24)

Greater Middle East

UN experts: continue inquiry into Yemen conflict

Yemen war crime investigators called upon the UN Human Rights Council to renew their mandate and allow the continued inquiry into Yemen's internal conflict, calling the situation in the county "extremely alarming." The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, in their initial report, released in August, found evidence that "members of the Saudi-led coalition, the Yemeni government, and the Houthi armed group have been committing abuses, including indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians, arbitrary and abusive detention, and recruitment of children." At the time of the report, the experts recommended that their mandate be renewed. However, Saudi Arabia and other coalition members have pressed the council to discontinue the inquiry. (Photo via WikiMedia Commons)

Greater Middle East

UN rights experts: end Bahrain rights abuses

A group of independent UN human rights experts called upon Bahrain to put an end to rights violations and investigate events surrounding the "State of National Safety" declared in 2011. The experts warned against military courts exercising jurisdiction over civilians, and discrimination against women and the Shi'ite population. The report called for abolition of the death penalty, and a halt to the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. While the "State of National Safety" officially ended after three months, the report noted an April 2017 amendment to the constitution granting military courts jurisdiction over civilians outside of a declared state of emergency. (Photo via Pixabay)

Greater Middle East

Yemen: demand investigation of UAE ‘war crimes’

A year after a network of secret prisons was first exposed in southern Yemen, Amnesty International has issued a report documenting continued rights violations in these facilities, including systemic forced disappearance and torture. The report details how scores of men have been arbitrarily detained by United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemeni forces operating outside the command of their own government. Many have been tortured, with some feared to have died in custody. Amnesty is calling for these violations to be investigated as war crimes. (Photo: Families of the disappeared protest outside presidential complex in Aden. Via Amnesty International)

Greater Middle East

UAE-Saudi plan to divide Yemen seen

A crisis over the Yemeni island of Socotra was resolved as the United Arab Emirates agreed to withdraw and turn control over to Saudi forces, which will in turn restore full Yemeni rule. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique flora and fauna, hailed as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean." Emirati forces seized Socotra at the start of the month, and raised their flag over the airport and other strategic points—sparking angry protests from residents. Socotra's governor condemned the move as an "occupation" and "a flagrant violation of Yemeni sovereignty." Even after the de-escalation, suspicions remain. Yemen's ambassador to UNESCO, Ahmad al-Sayyad, accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of "a hidden inclination to divide Yemen." (Map via University of Texas)

Iran

New oil shock feared in wake of Iran debacle

After all the talk we've heard in recent years about how depressed oil prices are now permanent, in the wake of Trump's announced withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Bank of America is predicting that the price of Brent crude could go as high as the once-dreaded $100 per barrel in 2019. The report also cited collapsing production in Venezuela due to the crisis there. Brent prices have risen above $77 per barrel since Trump's announcement. Prices have jumped more than 8% over the past month and 15% since the beginning of the year. According to the analysis, investors fear that renewed sanctions on Iran could lead to supply disruptions. Although the report failed to mention it, the Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets in Syria have doubtless contributed to the jitters.  (Photo: Shana)

Africa

Somaliland at issue in UAE-Mogadishu rift

The United Arab Emirates announced that it is ending its military training program in Somalia, as the governments of Abu Dhabi and Mogadishu trade charges back and forth. Tensions between the two governments have been on the rise over Emirati plans to build a military base in Somaliland, the self-declared republic that is effectively independent from Mogadishu. The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 for the weak and fractious Mogadishu government. But Mogadishu sees establishment of a foreign base at Somaliland's port of Berbera as a move toward recognition of the breakaway republic, calling it a "clear violation of international law." (Map: Somalia Country Profile)

Greater Middle East

Bahrain: activist gets five years for tweeting

Amnesty International criticized a Bahrain court for sentencing the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, to five years in prison for posts he made on Twitter in 2015. Rajab is currently serving a separate sentence for his comments in interviews in 2015 and 2016. Rajab's tweets and retweets resulting in his current sentence alleged acts of torture in Bahrain's Jaw Prison and also related to the killing of civilians in the conflict in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition that also includes Bahrain. Stated Amnesty: "The conviction of Nabeel Rajab today is a slap in the face to justice… This shameful verdict must be quashed and the authorities must drop all pending charges and immediately release Nabeel Rajab. It is absolutely outrageous that he be forced to spend a further five years in jail simply for daring to voice his opinions online." (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Planet Watch

Oil prices surge: vindication is tedious

We've been told for the past several years now that the depressed oil prices were permanent, thanks to fracking and the surge in US domestic production. Now prices are rising again, due to a convergence of crises in major producers: escalating tensions among the Gulf states, labor unrest in Nigeria, deepening instability in Venezuela. The US was able to contain the price spike after the ISIS irruption in 2014 by boosting its own production. This trick isn't going to work forever.

Greater Middle East

Yemen: rights group accuses UAE of war crimes

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR-UK) called for the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), especially concerning the recruiting of foreign nationals to serve in an army of mercenaries. AOHR-UK alleges that the mercenaries began work under contract to the UAE in March 2015 and have conducted military operations in Yemen, in addition to supervising secret prisons in which Yemeni citizens have been subjected to torture.