Saudi Arabia executes 37 in connection with terrorism

imageRights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in Saudi Arabia [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Saudi Arabia executed 37 of its citizens on Tuesday for what it said were “terrorism” related crimes, publicly pinning at least one of the bodies to a pole as a warning to others.

The individuals were found guilty of attacking security installations with explosives, killing a number of security officers, and cooperating with “enemy organisations” against the interests of the country, the interior ministry said in a statement.

The sentences were carried out in Riyadh, the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, central Qassim province, and Eastern Province, home to the country’s Shia minority

The men were executed “for adopting terrorist and extremist thinking and for forming terrorist cells to corrupt and destabilise security”, a statement by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

Two of the executed men’s bodies were publicly hung from a pole for several hours in a process that is not frequently used by the kingdom and has sparked controversy for its grisly display.

The interior ministry said the individuals had been found guilty according to the law and ordered executed by the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which focuses on terrorism trials, and the country’s high court.

Leading executioner

The report didn’t state how the death penalty was implemented, but executions in Saudi Arabia are known to be carried out by shooting or beheading with a sword, sometimes in public.

Executions are traditionally carried out after midday prayers. Public displays of the bodies of executed people last for around three hours until late afternoon prayers, with the severed head and body hoisted to the top of a pole overlooking a main square.

The state killings came a day after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) said it was behind an attack on Sunday on a Saudi security building in the town of Zulfi. In that attack, all four gunmen were killed and three security officers were wounded.

At least 100 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the year, according to a count based on official data released by SPA.

Last year, the oil-rich Gulf state carried out the death sentences of 149 people, according to Amnesty International, which said only Iran was known to have executed more people.

People convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking face the death penalty, which the government says is a deterrent for further crime.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/saudi-arabia-executes-37-connection-terrorism-190423140531849.html

UN evacuates 325 refugees out of Tripoli as clashes continue

imageAbout 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention centres in Tripoli, according to the UN [File: EPA]

The United Nations refugee agency evacuated 325 refugees from a detention centre on the southern outskirts of Tripoli amid escalating violence near the Libyan capital.

UNHCR said in a statement on Wednesday those rescued from the Qasr bin Ghashir centre were transported to another detention facility in Az-Zawiyah, northwestern Libya, where they were “at reduced risk of being caught up” in ongoing fighting between renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar’s eastern forces and troops loyal to the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

The move was triggered by reports on Tuesday of the use of armed violence against detainees who were protesting against the conditions in which they were being held, UNHCR said, with 12 refugees requiring hospital treatment after being attacked.

Wednesday’s evacuation brings to 825 the number of refugees and migrants transferred further from clashes in four operations in the last two weeks, the agency added.

“The dangers for refugees and migrants in Tripoli have never been greater than they are at present,” said Matthew Brook, UNHCR’s deputy chief of mission in Libya.

About 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention centres in Tripoli, according to the UN, and remain at risk from the “deteriorating security situation” around the capital. Many of the detainees fled war and persecution in their home countries.

Hundreds killed, thousands displaced

Tripoli’s southern outskirts have been engulfed by fighting since Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive on April 4 aimed at wresting control of the capital from the GNA, which is supported by an array of local militias.

The showdown threatens to further destabilise war-wracked Libya, which splintered into a patchwork of rival power bases following the NATO-backed overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and has been split into rival eastern and western administrations since 2014.

Both the LNA and GNA have repeatedly carried out air raids against one another and accuse each other’s forces of targeting civilians.

At least 272 have been killed and more than 1,200 others wounded since the LNA started its offensive earlier this month, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

At least 36,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said on Wednesday.

UN conference cancelled

The violence has forced the UN to abandon its plans for a conference aimed at brokering an agreement to hold elections as part of a solution to Libya’s long-running political crisis.

War economy: Haftar and the battle for Libya’s oil wealth
The meeting was scheduled to bring Haftar and GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj together in the country’s southwestern town of Ghadames from April 14 to 16.

Haftar, who casts himself as a foe of “extremism” but is viewed by opponents as a new authoritarian leader in the mould of Gaddafi, has vowed to continue his offensive until Libya is “cleansed” of “terrorism”.

Al-Sarraj said last week the international community needs to be “united and firm” in supporting him and warned some 800,000 migrants and refugees, as well as Libyan nationals, could flee across the Mediterranean to Europe’s shores if the instability in Libya continues.

The UN puts the number of people in Libya who have fled their homelands at more than 700,000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/evacuates-325-refugees-tripoli-clashes-continue-190424200149291.html

 

 

Climate change erosion feeding deep ocean trash dump

Trash photoStills of ROV footage show litter accumulations at the bottom of the Messina Strait [Courtesy of Nature.com]

by Tarek Bazley

There are growing concerns that increasing coastal and river-bank erosion is carrying millions of tonnes of long-buried rubbish into deep ocean canyons, where toxic waste and plastics will remain for decades.

The warning comes after heavy flooding on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island washed part of a disused landfill into the ocean on March 26, scattering thousands of tonnes of plastic along 50km of normally pristine coastline.

The once in a hundred years flood – which saw 1,000mm of rain fall in less than 48 hours – is believed to have swept thousands more tonnes of trash out to sea, depositing some of it into a 4km-deep underwater canyon off the coast.

“We know rubbish has ended up along a wide stretch of the coastline,” Joshu Mountjoy, a marine geoscientist at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, told Al Jazeera.

“It is likely that a component of the Fox River landfill waste will end up out of sight in the deep ocean by the same processes.”

Marine litter is known to have a major impact on marine life. Plastics can be especially insidious as they break down to microplastics that can be ingested.

“Submarine canyons are exceptional environments for focusing marine life and can be badly impacted,” said Mountjoy.

Along with plastics, toxic materials from the waste can also be incorporated into the food chain.

“Fish can absorb toxic substances in waste [and] store it in their bodies,” Jeff Seadon, a Built Environment engineer at Auckland University of Technology, told Al Jazeera.

“These substances proceed up the food chain till humans eat the fish and we can absorb those chemicals, which can affect our health.”

Global issue

As climate change results in more extreme weather events and sea level rise, there are fears similar flooding could see many more landfills around the world exposed in the same way.

Last month, the United Nations Environment Programme published a report looking into waste management practices in Small Island Developing States.

It identified coastal dumpsites and those close to rivers as a major issue.

“This is also applicable to many of the 11,000 other inhabited islands around the world and many mainland dumpsites,” said Seadon.

“Given the opportunity, waste – including hazardous waste – that can poison marine life and affect humans, will wash into the sea,” he said.

Of concern is hazardous waste coming from small-scale industrial processes such as leather tanning, electroplating of metals or photofinishing.

“Although they are often disposed of in small quantities, they can spread through landfills and contaminate large quantities of other waste,” said Seadon.

Larger industries are also responsible, producing toxic waste including paint, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, detergents, batteries, print cartridges and electronics.

While modern facilities separate hazardous waste and can treat them to render them harmless, legacy landfills pose a much more significant environmental threat.

“They often have no way of keeping toxic leachate confined to the landfills. As a result, this can seep into surrounding soils, streams, lakes, underground aquifers and into the marine environment,” said Seadon.

“This seepage can affect soil productivity, make the water unusable for humans, or kill marine life.”

Deepsea trash dumps

Many deep ocean canyons around the globe are believed to be affected, including some of the planet’s deepest.

A recent study of canyons in the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily found huge amounts of rubbish in water depths up to 1,000 metres, transported there by flash floods.

This included bottles, cups, toys, gutter pipes, garden hoses, car tyres, bricks, cement piles and foam padding.

“It shows what a huge problem erosion of municipal waste in big flood events can be,” said Mountjoy.

“If anyone had any doubt that the rubbish we discard can end up way down in the deep ocean here is the proof,” he added.

Once the rubbish is on the ocean floor it is believed to gradually sink to the deepest regions.

“The long-term fate of sediment entering large submarine canyons is the deep ocean floor hundreds of kilometres offshore and several kilometres deep,” said Mountjoy.

It is here that the rubbish, including plastics, becomes a layer of sediment.

“The endgame for all plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is sedimentation, either on a coastline or in the deep sea,” Marcus Eriksen, director of research for the 5 Gyres Institute, told Al Jazeera.

“There will forever be a geological layer filled with microplastic that represents this time in human civilisation, circa 1950 to 2050,” he said.

Action needed

While New Zealand’s government is looking at what can be done to secure around 100 other old landfills it has identified as vulnerable, Mountjoy says “more needs to be done to understand how rubbish moves through the natural environment and where it is concentrated so we can gauge the impact it is having on marine life.”

Stopping the rubbish at source is also suggested as a way of reducing the problem.

“If we do not make waste in the first place, then we do not need to deal with the consequences,” said Seadon.

With the volume of new plastic expected to increase five-fold over the next 30 years, there are concerns that landfills will not be able to keep pace with the rubbish.

“Whether they are modern or not, [landfills] cannot absorb the volumes of trash expected to be created in the decades ahead. There is simply no place to put all that trash,” said Eriksen.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/sudan-leaders-face-pressure-transfer-civilian-rule-190415085115793.html

Nigerian troops evacuate ‘entire town’ in security operation: UN

Nig photoA surge in attacks in December saw tens of thousands of civilians fleeing into Maiduguri [File:Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

Up to 10,000 civilians have been forcibly relocated because of a military operation against Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria, the United Nations said on Thursday, calling for better protection.

At least 2,000 people were initially said to have been moved the 40km from Jakana to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, on Tuesday. But the UN said five times as many were forced to flee.

“The military ordered the immediate departure and forced the relocation of up to 10,000 civilians in the middle of the night, without prior warning,” it said in a statement.

“The entire town of Jakana was emptied, and people were forced to move to Maiduguri with very little time to collect personal belongings,” added UN Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon. “Some people said they arrived in Maiduguri with nothing, not even with shoes on their feet.”

The northeast is the battleground in Nigeria’s decade-long fight against the armed group of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram.

A surge in attacks in December in which towns and military bases were overrun saw tens of thousands of civilians fleeing into Maiduguri and swelling the population of existing camps.

Humanitarian concerns

The armed groups have in the last few weeks been hit by intensive air and ground offensives from coalition forces involving Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon in the Lake Chad region, according to military sources and armed fighters.

But there are fresh concerns about the effects of the conflict on civilians after nearly 10 years of fighting, more than 27,000 deaths and 1.8 million made homeless.

Previous mass displacements of civilians have forced them into already overcrowded camps for the internally displaced in Maiduguri, putting pressure on the authorities.

“The United Nations is urging the government to urgently provide safety, shelter, food, water and medical care to the displaced civilians, in addition to information about when they will be allowed to return home,” said Kallon.

Jakana lies on a known crossing route for ISWAP fighters moving between their camps in the Benisheikh forest area of Borno and their hideouts in the Buni Yadi area of Yobe.

In January, ISWAP sent letters to Jakana and Mainok residents telling them to vacate their homes for an impending raid on the military.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/nigerian-troops-evacuate-entire-town-security-operation-190411103958546.html

Indonesian Buddhist woman’s blasphemy conviction upheld

Indonesia photoSibarani said there was insufficient evidence against Meiliana to warrant a custodial sentence [Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi via Reuters]

Medan, Indonesia – Indonesia’s Supreme Court has upheld an 18-month jail sentence for a 44-year-old Buddhist woman convicted last year on blasphemy charges.

Meiliana’s conviction last August stemmed from a complaint filed after she was accused of making remarks against mosque loudspeakers in the city of Tanjung Balai in North Sumatra nearly three years ago.

Her lawyer Ranto Sibarani said that his client was a “victim of a hoax,” denying she made those remarks.

“There is no evidence that she committed blasphemy. This hoax spread in the course of a week and ruined a woman’s life in the process,” Sibarani told Al Jazeera.

“Today’s decision is very dangerous because in the future it means that people can spread false information which will lead to wrongful convictions under the blasphemy law.”

The case is based on an incident on July 22, 2016 when Meiliana, an ethnic Chinese-Buddhist resident of Medan, purportedly made a complaint to her neighbour, Kasini, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name.

Kasini claimed that Meiliana asked for the azan, the Islamic call to prayer, to be turned down at the local al-Mashum mosque. Her version has been disputed and the ensuing blasphemy conviction widely criticised byhuman rights groups, including Amnesty International Indonesia.

In the days and weeks that followed the initial incident, comments were widely shared on social media stating that Meiliana, a mother of four, had tried to stop the mosque from broadcasting the call to prayer.

A mob in Tanjung Balai set fire to Meiliana’s front lawn while two of her four children were inside her home. They escaped with the help of a Muslim pedicab driver who happened to be passing at the time.

Members of the mob were then called as witnesses at the trial which took place in Medan District Court between June and August last year.

Sibarani said there was insufficient evidence against Meiliana to warrant a custodial sentence.

“The hoax was legitimised by the court. The judge allowed a statement letter to be submitted as evidence by three witnesses outside Meiliana’s house,” he said.

“They claimed she told them the prayer call hurt her ears while a gang confronted her and pelted her home with rocks and bottles. Yet there is no evidence that this conversation ever happened and the statement letter was written six months after the incident.”

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population but it also is home to sizeable numbers of Buddhist and Christian minorities.

The alleged remarks also kicked off some of the worst race riots since the fall of Suharto in 1998. At least 11 Buddhist temples were torched in Tanjung Balai, where Buddhists number around 11,000 out of 185,000 residents.

There has been widespread criticism of Indonesia’s blasphemy law, which in recent years has been wielded against minority groups including the former governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama.

Ahok was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting Islam following comments he made about a verse from the Quran in 2016.

According to Sibarani, Meiliana’s legal team are now considering their final legal options.

“We believe that video evidence of the discussion outside Meiliana’s home exists and we plan to use it to file a judicial review,” he said. “If this case is not followed up then it means that anyone can now file a statement letter to a judge accusing someone of blasphemy without having to prove it.”

“This case shows that there is no legal certainty in Indonesia any more.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/04/indonesian-buddhist-woman-blasphemy-conviction-upheld-190408100321754.html

Exclusive: Yemeni child soldiers recruited by Saudi-UAE coalition

Child soldier photoAhmad al-Naqib, 16, managed to flee a military camp at the Saudi-Yemeni border [Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera has obtained exclusive footage that proves the presence of child soldiers in the recruitment camps of the Saudi-UAE-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The children, desperately poor, are being recruited to fight along the Saudi border to defend it from the Houthis, a rebel group that overran the capital, Sanaa, and large swaths of Yemen’s northwest in 2014.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) formed a coalition to overthrow the Houthis – plunging Yemen into a ruinous war – supported by forces loyal to the country’s internationally recognised government.

The conflict has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, pushing Yemen to the brink of famine and leaving about 80 percent of its population – 24 million people – in need of humanitarian assistance.

However, many children face an even worse reality: being recruited by either warring side to fight in the conflict. According to the United Nations, two-thirds of the child soldiers in Yemen fight for the Houthis. The others fight for the Saudi-UAE-led coalition.

Although Yemen and Saudi Arabia signed the international protocol banning involvement of children in armed conflict in 2007 and 2011, respectively, at the end of 2018, Saudi Arabia was accused of recruiting Sudanese children from Darfur to fight on its behalf in Yemen.

Today, Yemeni children are being recruited using local trafficking networks to defend the Saudi border.

Bereaved families interviewed by Al Jazeera questioned why the coalition would need to recruit children to fight in its war. Al Jazeera investigated these claims.

Paycheck promises

In the southern city of Taiz, Al Jazeera spoke to 16-year-old Ahmad al-Naqib and his family at the end of 2018, and the family of Mohammad Ali Hameed, 15, in February 2019. Both boys left their home, chasing promises of a regular paycheck and non-combatant roles.

Ahmad was able to flee and tell us his story, but Mohammad never made it home after he was recruited, leaving his father to tell his story.

“He had graduated from high school and started working, but before we knew it they had recruited him. He insisted on going to al-Buqa’,” Mohammad’s father, Ali, told Al Jazeera in an interview in December.

“It has been five months since he left. We have not heard anything since; we still don’t know where he is,” he added.

Both teenagers, who came from a poor background, embarked last year on separate and arduous journeys from their villages near Taiz, in the south of Yemen, towards the Saudi border crossing of al-Wade’a in the north.

According to Ahmad, al-Buqa’ in Yemen – close to the Saudi border – is where Yemeni children are being trained to fight. It is also an area that has seen frequent fighting between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition. In order to avoid exposure to the Houthis, buses carrying people to al-Buqa’ were going through the border town of al-Wade’a into Saudi Arabia.

‘There are many just like them’

The teenagers were first contacted by recruiters in the south’s poverty-stricken villages; they were looking for young boys to take to the Saudi-Yemeni borders.

Ahmad said he and many other boys were recruited ostensibly to work in the kitchens of Yemeni military units stationed inside Saudi Arabia.

“We went because we were told we would be working in a kitchen and making 3,000 Saudi riyals ($800)… so we believed them and got on the bus,” Ahmad told Al Jazeera.

Typically, a recruiter would deliver his human cargo to a trafficker at one of the Yemeni cities along the route leading up to the borders. The trafficker would then deliver the young recruits to another smuggler who would provide them with identification cards – if they did not have one – so they are able to cross into Saudi Arabia, where they would be placed into a military camp.

Al Jazeera called a trafficker, posing as a man interested in travelling to a military camp with three boys between 15 and 16 years old. The trafficker said the boys would be “bought” by someone at al-Wade’a who would provide them with military identification. After expressing concern that the boys would be turned away for being obviously underage, the trafficker said: “Don’t worry, there are many just like them.”

In a follow-up phone call with the trafficker about the fate of the boys, he said: “Don’t worry, this stuff isn’t important to us. What is important is that they are good soldiers. Can they handle guns?”

Ahmad got to al-Wade’a and went further inland, but did not go all the way to al-Buqa’. He heard from people in an intermediary camp that they would only be paid half the $800 salaries they were promised every two or three months and that he might not be a cook after all. “They give you your gun and send you to the front lines [to fight the Houthis],” Ahmad was told.

“They take them into battles to defend Saudi Arabia. As if these children are the ones who will defend the kingdom. Where are their weapons, their aeroplanes?” said Mohammad al-Naqeeb, Ahmad’s father.

Ahmad said he and others managed to flee the camp late last year.

Fifteen-year-old Mohammad was not one of them.

“His mother is devastated. She has given up. I wish he’d just call to let us know that he’s OK; that’s all we want. We just want to know if he’s alive or dead,” Mohammad’s father said.

“These young and irrational boys should have never been allowed to be enticed and recruited to fight in the war. The government should have sent them back home to go to school, but in a time like this, conscience is dead. Instead, they’re welcomed with open arms,” he added.

Al Jazeera obtained access to a secret list containing the names of Yemeni soldiers captured by the Houthis that Yemen’s government submitted during a round of talks between the warring sides in Sweden last year.

Mohammad’s name was not on the list. His fate is still unknown.

Ahmad, on the other hand, managed to come home to his anguished parents after escaping from the camp.

But a terrible fate awaited him. In January, a stray bullet hit the young boy in the head, ending his short life.

Al Jazeera contacted the Saudi Ministry for Foreign Affairs for comment. They have not responded to the request.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2019/03/exclusive-yemeni-child-soldiers-recruited-saudi-uae-coalition-190329132329547.html

Uganda’s bicycle ambulances help the pregnant, sick and injured

Bicycle photo
The ambulances are managed by village health teams chosen from within the community. The teams distribute contact numbers so people in need can request the service. NICHOLAS BAMULANZEKI/AL JAZEERA

by Caleb Okereke

Kibibi, Uganda – In the early months of her pregnancy, Sandra Naigaga had to walk more than four kilometres to get to antenatal care at the health centre in Kibibi, Uganda.

Uganda has high maternal and newborn death rates, with 15 women dying every day from childbirth and pregnancy-related issues. That worried Naigaga in those initial months of pregnancy.

That fear however subsided in late 2018 when the NGO First African Bicycle Information Organization (FABIO) introduced its free bicycle ambulance service to the two major health centres in the region.

Naigaga is one of the hundreds of women, elderly persons, children and the sick in her area who regularly use bicycle ambulances to get prompt medical attention.

In many remote areas, many of the roads are impassable for vehicles, so the bicycles with their specialised trailers to carry patients are the only way for many to get to a health centre.

“As pregnant women, we are always weak,” says Naigaga, “They take us to hospital, we get treatment and they take us back home.”

In Uganda, 77 of the country’s 121 districts lack an ambulance service and fewer than 7% of patients arrive at hospital by ambulance.

That lack of transport prompted FABIO to develop its first bicycle ambulance service in 2006 in Uganda’s then war-torn northern region.

Their goal since has been to create something that is both environmentally friendly and easy to maintain.

“We wanted to create a sustainable way or a cheaper way for people to be able to access health centres,” says executive director, Katesi Najjiba.

The ambulances are built by locals, with locally sourced materials, using as a base the black bicycle whose spare parts are easily found in the villages.

Bryan Nleututu, a field officer at FABIO, says the ambulances are “African solutions to African problems”.

Some terrain can be challenging for the cyclists.

“The hilly areas are most times not easy for me to go pick the patients,” says Mukasa Harid, a bicycle ambulance cyclist. “It’s only possible when one helps me push it and we manage.”

To address that concern, FABIO introduced the e-scooter, a rechargeable electric bike used in place of bicycles in areas where the terrain is hardened like the region around the Kibibi health centre.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/ugandas-bicycle-ambulances-pregnant-sick-injured-190331165202646.html