Middle East

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Pakistani family sentenced to death over ‘honour killing’ outside court
November 20, 2014 | Waqar Gillani

Four members of the family of Farzana Parveen, who married a man against their will, have been sentenced to death for murdering the pregnant woman.

Lahore: A Pakistani court has sentenced four men to death for the murder of Farzana Parveen, a pregnant woman who was bludgeoned to death in May for marrying the man of her choice.

The killing of Ms Parveen, 25, generated global outrage partly because it occurred in broad daylight on a public street outside the high court in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city.

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Islamic State slaughters 50 Sunni tribesmen, women and children in Iraq
November 3, 2014 | Ruth Pollard

Islamic State militants have carried out their third massacre of Iraqi Sunni tribesmen, women and children in four days, shooting dead 50 people from the al-Bunimr tribe as punishment for resisting their Islamist insurgency.

The latest attack, which brings to at least 322 the number of al-Bunimr members killed by the Islamic State in just two weeks, took place in the village of Ras al-Maa in the north of Ramadi, the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry said on Sunday.

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Eman Mohammed: The courage to tell a hidden story
TED Talk | posted 25 September 2014

Eman Mohammed is one of the few female photojournalists in the Gaza Strip. Though openly shunned by many of her male colleagues, she is given unprecedented access to areas denied to men. In this short, visual talk, she critiques gender norms in her community by bringing light to hidden stories.

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Thousands of Syrian Kurds flee ISIL onslaught
September 21, 2014 | Bulent Kilic

Suruc, Turkey: Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds have flooded into Turkey, fleeing an onslaught by the Islamic State group (also known as ISIL) that prompted an appeal for international intervention.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said more than 60,000 Syrian Kurds had crossed into the country since the frontier was opened on Friday.

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ISIS Bans Teaching Evolution In Schools

BAGHDAD (AP) — The extremist-held Iraqi city of Mosul is set to usher in a new school year. But unlike years past, there will be no art or music. Classes about history, literature and Christianity have been “permanently annulled.”

The Islamic State group has declared patriotic songs blasphemous and ordered that certain pictures be torn out of textbooks.

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Abbott deploys 600 Australians to Middle East
14 September 2014 | Michelle Grattan

The government will deploy a contingent including up to eight Super Hornets and special forces – involving 600 personnel in total – as part of the American-led coalition’s operations against the ISIL forces.

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Airstrikes on IS in Syria’s backyard are high-risk if Assad objects
12 September 2014| Ben Rich

The expansion of airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) into Syria announced yesterday by US President Barrack Obama marks a predictable, if necessary, escalation of coalition operations against the Jihadist insurgent group. Debates over the wisdom of the operation aside, any military campaign aiming to cripple IS (also known as ISIL or ISIS) as an organisation must target its core logistical and command and control hubs. Most of these appear still to be based in Syria’s east.

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VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on Australia’s involvement in the Middle East
12 September 2014 | Michelle Grattan

University of Canberra Professorial Fellow Michelle Grattan and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Nicholas Klomp discuss the week in politics including Australia’s involvement in the Middle East, US President Barack Obama’s announcement, the possible rise of Australia’s terror threat, Julia Gillard facing the royal commission and announcement of the deferral of a planned referendum.

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The time has come for decisive action against Islamic State
4 September 2014 | Ali Mamouri

With an unmistakable British accent, the now-infamous Islamic State (IS) fighter thought to have killed journalist James Foley has addressed his second message to US president Barack Obama.

IS is trying to present itself as a nation but it is important to see that it is not. Its lack of legitimacy is what makes the case for intervention in Iraq so strong this time.

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Why Islamic State has no sympathy for Hamas
THE PULSE OF THE MIDDLE EAST | Posted 23 August 2014

Most of today’s Salafist jihadist movements have no interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the time being regarding it as irrelevant. Instead, their call is to engage in intense, bloody confrontations involving bombings, executions, and suicide attacks against governments headed by Muslims and against Muslim civilians.

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Australia to resettle Iraqis, Syrians fleeing Islamic State
BEN DOHERTY | 17 Aug, 2014

One-third of places in Australia’s Humanitarian Program for refugees will be reserved for Iraqis and Syrians who have fled the violence of terrorist group Islamic State in the Middle East.

Australian air force crews have assisted with aid drops to Yazidis fleeing Islamic State-led genocide in northern Iraq. The government will now quarantine places in its humanitarian program to resettle them in Australia.

Article no longer available

Islamic State fighters kill dozens of Yazidi villagers
By Liz Sly August 16, 2014

DAHUK, Iraq — Extremist fighters have killed more than 80 men and detained hundreds of women in a Yazidi village, Yazidis and Kurdish officials said Saturday, offering a reminder that the ancient minority sect is still at risk despite President Obama’s conclusion that the threat had passed for those stranded on Mount Sinjar.

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Sunni tribal leaders offer to battle Islamic State if Baghdad makes concessions
McClatchy Foreign StaffAugust 15, 2014

IRBIL, IRAQ — Leaders of Iraq’s Sunni Muslim tribes threatened Friday to rebel against the Islamic State, the first indication that a change of government in Baghdad might allow a new prime minister to rally the country’s divided ethnic and religious groups against the Islamist extremists.

But the Sunni offer to battle the militants came with strings _ possible autonomy and the withdrawal of Iraqi military forces from Sunni areas _ that would be difficult for a Shiite-led government to grant, and Shiite politicians in Baghdad showed little enthusiasm. One, Dhiaa al Asadi, a member of Parliament loyal to cleric Moqtada al Sadr, called the Sunni proposal “very exaggerated and unrealistic.”

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Gay Palestinians In Israel: The ‘Invisible Men’
WORLD NEWS 08.13.14

On the run from their Palestinian families, living illegally in Israel—treated by both sides as the enemy—gays from the Palestinian territories can’t go home again.
TEL AVIV, Israel — On a weekday morning in August, Abdul Rawashda, a 27-year-old Palestinian from Hebron, shows me his West Oslo bachelor pad via Skype. It’s a short tour. Rawashda is holding his laptop as he points out every nook and cranny of his studio apartment. “Cozy” is what you’d call it if you were putting up a “For Rent” ad in the paper. “It’s very small,” he said, as though he could read my thoughts, “but I like it.”

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Boris Johnson: We cannot abandon the Kurds
Boris Johnson, Special to National Post | August 12, 2014

Like all the rest of us I have been looking with sickened disbelief at the changes in the map of northern Iraq, and the Ebola-like spread of the fanatics. It seems incredible that the disintegration should happen so fast.

It was only in May this year that we welcomed a dynamic and forward-looking young politician to City Hall in London. His name is Nechirvan Barzani, and he is the Prime Minister of the fledgling state of Kurdistan. He brought his finance guy, his transport minister, his tourism minister — the whole lot.

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Protesters gather to support Israel, peace for Gaza
August 10, 2014 | Henrietta Cook

Hundreds of protesters have gathered on the steps of state parliament in Melbourne to show their support for Israel and call for peace.

Police estimate about 500 people, many dressed in blue and white and waving Israeli flags, attended the peaceful rally.

Organisers say about 3000 people attended the rally.

The crowd bowed their heads and observed a minute’s silence for those who had lost their lives in the conflict.

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Uncovered newsreader sparks outrage in Saudi Arabia
AUGUST 06, 2014

THIS female newsreader has caused outrage in Saudi Arabia after she became the first person to read the news without a headscarf.

The Independent reports that the unnamed TV anchor was not in Saudi Arabia and was broadcasting from the Al Ekhbariya studios in London but added that “we do not tolerate any transgression of our values and the country’s systems.”

While some women are occasionally seen on state television without a headscarf, newsreaders are always covered up with a hijab.

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Sydney woman facing adultery charges refused help with finding safe house
August 3, 2014 | Natalie O’Brien

A Sydney woman who is trapped in Lebanon facing adultery charges has been refused help with finding a “safe house” by the Australian embassy in Beirut.

Mahassen Issa, 29, a mother of two from Greenacre has pleaded for help, saying she has run out of money, has nowhere to stay and is being pursued by bounty hunters, but staff on behalf of Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said it is “outside the scope of their consular role”.

The charges of adultery were apparently triggered when Ms Issa’s Australian husband registered their marriage in Lebanon and then made a complaint that she had travelled there and was with another man.

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UN refugee agency says more rockets found at one of its Gaza schools
July 30, 2014

Gaza: The United Nations agency that looks after Palestinian refugees said it had found a cache of rockets at one of its schools in the Gaza Strip and deplored those who had put them there.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness condemned those responsible for placing civilians in harm’s way by storing the rockets at the school but he did not specifically blame any party.

“We condemn the group or groups who endangered civilians by placing these munitions in our school. This is yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises. We call on all the warring parties to respect the inviolability of UN property,” Mr Gunness said.

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Gaza conflict: Shujaiya residents sift through devastation after Israeli air strike
July 30, 2014 | Ruth Pollard

Shujaiya: Nissana Sukar picked her way carefully over the mountain of twisted metal, smashed concrete and rubble that once was the apartment block next to her home.

As Israeli drones buzzed overhead and the boom of shelling echoed through the air, she stopped to sift through the edge of the devastation to try to recover something – anything – from the wreckage of her own apartment.

The 25-year-old rehabilitation graduate walked away with very little – she was able to salvage a bag of disposable nappies before deciding to move to safer ground as people began running along the ruined road warning that Israeli tanks were on the move nearby.

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The Shifting Landscape for Iran’s Women
By The Globalist, July 27, 2014

Surprising Insights from a key country in the Middle East

1. 60% of Iranian university students are female.

2. The unemployment rate for women under 25 stands at 42.3% in Iran – double the average for young people.

3. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report ranked Iran 130th out of 136 countries for women’s economic participation and opportunity.

4. Population growth in Iran has fallen from 3.2% in the early 1980s to 1.2% in recent years, due in part to family planning policies.

5. In Iran, divorce is on the rise and marriage is declining — as women refuse to have children and instead seek higher education and more senior-level jobs.

6. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader does not consider women’s unemployment a primary concern.

7. However, Iran’s pro-reform first vice-president considers women’s unemployment “a serious threat” and priority for the government.

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Israeli strike on Gaza school kills 15 and leaves 200 wounded
Peter Beaumont in Beit Hanoun | The Guardian, Friday 25 July 2014

UN condemns shelling of UNRWA school, saying it asked IDF for time to evacuate civilians, which was not given

International scrutiny of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip intensified on Thursday when more than 15 Palestinians were killed and 200 injured in a strike on a UN school in northern Gaza crowded with hundreds of displaced civilians.

Most of the injured were women and children. Among the dead was a mother and her one-year-old baby. UN staff had been attempting to organise the school’s evacuation when the attack took place.

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Family hate: I would put a bullet between her eyes, says brother of Sydney mum Mahassen Issa, accused of adultery in Lebanon

POLICE have condemned violent threats made by the family of a Sydney mother who is facing jail in Lebanon over adultery charges.

Mahassen Issa was due to face court in Tripoli last night amid angry threats from her family in Sydney, who say they have “disowned her’’ and want her jailed. Ms Issa yesterday made an 11th-hour plea for the federal government to intervene, saying she now “fears the worst”.

The 29-year-old Greenacre woman is facing a six-month jail term under Islamic law after she separated from her husband and met a man in Lebanon.

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The end of Christianity in the Middle East could mean the demise of Arab secularism
William Dalrymple | The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014

In a Middle East rebuilt on intolerant ideologies, there is likely to be little place for beleaguered minorities

The past decade has been catastrophic for the Arab world’s beleaguered 12 million strong Christian minority. In Egypt revolution and counter-revolution have been accompanied by a series of anti-Copt riots, killings and church burnings. In Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian Christians are emigrating en masse as they find themselves uncomfortably caught between Netanyahu’s pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised Sunni neighbours.

In Syria most of the violence is along the Sunni-Alawite fault line, but stories of rape and murder directed at the Christian minority, who used to make up around 10% of the population, have emerged. Many have already fled to camps in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan; the ancient Armenian community of Aleppo is reported to be moving en masse to Yerevan.

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Israel may have committed war crimes during Gaza offensive, UN says
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Ian Black and Paul Lewis in Washington | The Guardian, Thursday 24 July 2014

UN human rights council debates resolution calling for urgent dispatch of ‘independent, international commission of inquiry’

The UN has said that Israel may have committed war crimes in its offensive against Hamas in Gaza, in which hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed in two weeks, and voted to launch an international inquiry. The US opposed the move, and 17 countries abstained.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in the debate in Geneva.

Later, Hamas’s leader-in-exile, Khaled Mishal, said the organisation would consider a humanitarian truce in the 16-day conflict in Gaza if Israel agreed to lift its blockade.

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U.N. Rights Panel Votes for Inquiry in Gaza Conflict

GENEVA — The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to establish an inquiry into human rights violations in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories at a special session on Wednesday in which the top human rights official, Navi Pillay, said Israel and Hamas had likely committed war crimes with indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

Twenty-nine of the council’s 47 members voted for a resolution calling for the creation of a commission of inquiry to look at “all violations” of international law, with only the United States voting against and with 17 states abstaining, 10 of them European.

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Urgent Call from Gaza Civil Society: Act Now!
Socialist Project 13 July 2014

We, Palestinians trapped inside the bloodied and besieged Gaza Strip, call on conscientious people all over the world, to act, protest, and intensify the boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel until it ends this murderous attack on our people and is held to account.

With the world turning their backs on us once again, for the last four days we have in Gaza been left to face massacre after massacre. As you read these words over 120 Palestinians are dead now, including 25 children. Over 1000 have been injured including countless horrifying injuries that will limit lives forever – more than two thirds of the injured are women and children. We know for a fact that many more will not make it through the next day. Which of us will be next, as we lie awake from the sound of the carnage in our beds tonight? Will we be the next photo left in an unrecognizable state from Israel’s state of the art flesh tearing, limb stripping machinery of destruction?

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Iranian film star ‘faces 50 lashes and jail time for kissing man on cheek at Cannes’
ANI | May 24, 2014

Iranian movie star Leila Hatami is facing a severe backlash back home after she gave a peck on the cheek to Cannes festival president Gilles Jacob, as she arrived to take part in the judging.

Students with links to the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran are demanding that Leila Hatami, 42, should be imprisoned and given 50 lashes for the incident, the Mirror reported.

They have said that Hatami also flouted their religious beliefs by appearing in public with her head bare.

Under Iran’s Islamic laws, a man and a woman who are unrelated cannot embrace in public, and neither should a woman have her hair on display.

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Unholy Choices for Atheists & Christians in Middle East
17 abr 2014 per SDRCA | Aryn Baker / @arynebaker / Cairo —with reporting by Hania Mourtada / Beirut, Ashraf Khalil and Hassan Elnaggar / Cairo and Karl Vick / Jerusalem – foto Mosa’ab Elshamy – TIME – April 10, 2014

Escalating fear A mourner at the funeral of four Egyptian Christians killed in a drive-by shooting Christians in the middle east find themselves at a crossroads in a region rocked by war and revolution Half an ounce of gold. In the 7th century, that’s how much Christians in what is now Syria had to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Caliphate. If they didn’t want to pay, they had two other options: they could convert or, as some interpretations of the pact between Muslim rulers and their Christian subjects suggest, “face the sword.”

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Woman in Saudi Arabia to get 150 lashes for driving
Hasan Jamali | The Associated Press | Apr 25, 2014

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—A woman in Saudi Arabia was sentenced this week to 150 lashes and eight months in jail for driving and striking police officers who arrested her, news websites in the kingdom reported.

Women in the conservative country are prohibited from driving.

It appeared that the particularly harsh sentence was handed down because of the charges of resisting arrest and attacking police officers, according to various reports.

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Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents
ADAM WITHNALL  | Tuesday 01 April 2014

Saudi Arabia has introduced a series of new laws which define atheists as terrorists, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.

In a string of royal decrees and an overarching new piece of legislation to deal with terrorism generally, the Saudi King Abdullah has clamped down on all forms of political dissent and protests that could “harm public order”.

The new laws have largely been brought in to combat the growing number of Saudis travelling to take part in the civil war in Syria, who have previously returned with newfound training and ideas about overthrowing the monarchy.

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New Law in Saudi Arabia Labels All Atheists as Terrorists
By Elliot Hannon | 1 April 2014

No one has ever accused Saudi Arabia of being the Holland of the Middle East. You know, Holland, the country of unbridled liberalism where they encourage euthanization via legal pot brownie consumption. But, a recent report from Human Rights Watch shows new laws in Saudi Arabia have taken the country a step back and bulldozed what little public space there is for dissent in the country. The changes, predictably, come under the guise of “fighting terror.” And what’s the number one terrorist threat facing the country? Atheists, apparently.

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Saudi Arabia Doubles Down on Atheism; New Laws Declares It Equivalent to Terrorism
March 31, 2014 | By Terry Firma

We’ve seen before how Saudi pundits find it easy to conflate atheism and terrorism, but now it’s official: Saudi Arabia’s new terrorism laws say outright that nonbelievers and others who commit thought crime are the same as violent terrorists.

According to Human Rights Watch:

The interior ministry regulations [introduced over the last three months] include … sweeping provisions that authorities can use to criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam. These “terrorism” provisions include the following:

Article 1: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.

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Saudi Arabia: New Terrorism Regulations Assault Rights
MARCH 20, 2014 | Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – Saudi Arabia’s new terrorism law and a series of related royal decrees create a legal framework that appears to criminalize virtually all dissident thought or expression as terrorism. The sweeping provisions in the measures, all issued since January 2014, threaten to close down altogether Saudi Arabia’s already extremely restricted space for free expression.

“Saudi authorities have never tolerated criticism of their policies, but these recent laws and regulations turn almost any critical expression or independent association into crimes of terrorism,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “These regulations dash any hope that King Abdullah intends to open a space for peaceful dissent or independent groups.”

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Iraqi atheists demand recognition, guarantee of their rights
Ali Mamouri, posted 6 March 2014

Atheism might seem like a strange phenomenon in a country such as Iraq, considered one of the most religious on earth, where the degree of interest in religion is very high. This perception is also held in the Gulf, as noted by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi in his March 3 article about the growing visibility of atheists there. Yet, you do encounter people here who identify themselves as atheists and who demand that their rights be safeguarded in accordance with UN resolutions that guarantee freedom of belief. In this regard, previous surveys have indicated the existence of a growing agnostic movement in the country, which continues to expand at a remarkable pace.

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Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws Are A Death Sentence For Religious Minorities
AP | by KATHY GANNON | Posted: 01/29/2014

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — The elderly man’s troubles started when two young men milling inside his homeopathic clinic casually asked him about his religion. He thought they were merely curious. In fact, they belonged to an outlawed militant group and were carrying hidden tape recorders.

Within hours, police officers showed up at Masood Ahmad’s clinic and played back the tape in which he explained the tenets of the minority Ahmadiyya sect, rejected by mainstream Muslims because it disputes the basic tenet of their faith that Muhammad is Islam’s last prophet.

Ahmad, who returned from Britain to his Pakistani homeland decades ago to open the clinic, was charged with blasphemy — which can carry the death penalty. The 72 year old has been jailed since his arrest this month, awaiting a trial that could take months or even years to begin.

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Mother of British doctor Abbas Khan confronts Syrian delegation in Geneva screaming: ‘Why did you kill my son?’
ADAM WITHNALL Author Biography Wednesday 29 January 2014

Video footage shows ‘the sadistic nature of Assad regime’, says Amnesty International’s UK campaigns manager.

The mother of British doctor Abbas Khan, who died while being held in a Syrian jail, has confronted the delegation from Bashar al-Assad’s government to peace talks in Geneva.

Video footage showed Fatima Khan approaching diplomats and asking, in increasingly desperate terms, why her son was “killed”.

As the delegates walk past ignoring her, Ms Khan screams: “For God’s sake tell me why you killed my son. He was a humanitarian aid worker. He wasn’t a fighter, he was a humanitarian aid worker.

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Three years after Arab Spring, officials thwart digital dissent
24 January 2014 | By Adrian Shahbaz

The “social media revolutions” once had tyrants fearing their imminent demise. Now Twitter users from Marrakech to Manama know — call for political reforms, joke about a sensitive topic, or expose government abuse and you could end up in jail

One hundred and forty characters are all it takes.

Twitter users from Marrakech to Manama know—call for political reforms, joke about a sensitive topic, or expose government abuse and you could end up in jail. Following the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, authorities in Libya and Tunisia unblocked hundreds of websites and dismantled the state surveillance apparatus. But overall, internet freedom in the region has only declined in the three years since the Arab Spring as authoritarian leaders continue to crack down on any and all threats to their ever-tenuous legitimacy.

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First female law firm opens in Saudi Arabia
3rd January 2014

AFP Photo - Hassan AmmarThe country’s first female law firm has opened its doors to protect women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, two months after its founder along with three other female lawyers were granted licenses to practice law in the traditionally patriarchal kingdom.

Now Saudi women can seek help, advice and legal aid from Bayan Mahmoud Al Zahran, the first Saudi woman lawyer who launched the female law firm in Jeddah.

Zahran told Arab News that her law firm is ready to fight for the rights of Saudi women and relate women’s cases to the court, a task which her male counterparts at times cannot understand or handle.

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Manal al-Sharif: A Saudi woman who dared to drive
Published on 14 Jun 2013

There’s no actual law against women driving in Saudi Arabia. But it’s forbidden. Two years ago, Manal al-Sharif decided to encourage women to drive by doing so — and filming herself for YouTube. Hear her story of what happened next.

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#harass_female_cashiers: Saudi Writer ‘Urges 97,000 Twitter Followers To Sexually Molest Working Women’
Huffington Post UK | By Sara C Nelson | Posted: 29/05/2013

A leading Saudi Arabian “self-help” writer and cleric has reportedly urged his 97,000+ Twitter followers to sexually molest working women in the nation’s grocery stores.

Using an Arabic hashtag translated by various news outlets as “#harass_female_cashiers”Abdullah Mohammed Daoud apparently made the comments in an attempt to “encourage” Saudi Arabian women to stay at home and protect their chastity – as the country’s female labour force increases.

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Pakistan votes under Taliban’s bloody threat
May 10, 2013, Ben Doherty, South Asia correspondent for Fairfax Media

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban has vowed a nationwide campaign of terrorism targeting candidates and voters in Saturday’s general election in Pakistan.

Suicide bombers have been dispatched to all four of the country’s provinces, with the aim of killing as many people as possible and derailing the country’s fragile democracy.

“We don’t accept the system of infidels which is called democracy.”
Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud

Correspondence between the leader of the Pakistani Taliban Hakimullah Mehsud, and the group’s spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, has been deliberately leaked to deter people from the polls.

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Court acquits convicted blasphemer awaiting execution
The Age, 6 April 2013

A Pakistani court has acquitted a Christian man who was sentenced to death for blasphemy six years ago in the country’s second largest city, lawyers say.

Younis Masih, 34, a labourer, was arrested in September 2005 in the Qenchi Amar Siddhu neighbourhood of Lahore after residents accused him of interrupting Sufi singing to make blasphemous remarks.

Mr Masih’s lawyer, Naeem Shakir, said his client was sentenced to death in May 2007 and fined 100,000 rupees ($960), but appealed to the high court in Lahore.

”The high court on Wednesday decided to overturn the death sentence and ordered that Masih be acquitted,” Mr Shakir said. ”I argued the case in February and put to the court that there is no direct evidence against Younis Masih and that the case was based on hearsay.”

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Syria: suicide bomber kills top Sunni preacher in Damascus mosque
Associated Press in Damascus, guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 March 2013

Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti and at least 41 others were killed in an explosion during evening prayers.

A suicide bombing has torn through a mosque in Damascus killing a top Sunni Muslim preacher and longtime supporter of Bashar al-Assad along with at least 41 others.

The assassination of Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti removes one of the few remaining pillars of support for the Syrian president among Sunnis – the majority sect that has risen up against him.

The explosion struck as al-Buti, an 84-year-old cleric and scholar who appeared often on TV, was giving a religious lesson in the Eman mosque in the central Mazraa district of Damascus, according to state TV.

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AFP, 7 NEWS, March 10, 2013

LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) – A drunken row between two friends was the trigger for blasphemy allegations that prompted a mob of angry Pakistani Muslim protesters to burn more than 100 Christian homes, police and witnesses said.

More than 3,000 Muslims rampaged through Joseph Colony, a Christian area of the eastern city of Lahore, on Saturday after allegations that a Christian had made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed three days earlier.

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UN: Vatican, Iran Resist UN Effort Fighting Violence On Women
AWID, source: AFP News 06/03/2013

The Vatican, Iran and other religious states are resisting efforts by a UN conference, which started Monday, to demand tougher global standards to prevent violence against women and children.

More than 6,000 non-government groups are registered at the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events held at the UN headquarters which regularly turns into a diplomatic battle.

This year’s meeting has been made more emotive after an attack several months ago by the Taliban on 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai for her attempts to promote girls’ education in Pakistan and because of widely publicized gang rapes in India and South Africa.

Diplomats said the Holy See, Iran and Russia are leading attempts wipe out language in a draft final statement that says religion, custom or tradition must not be used as an excuse to avoid a government’s obligation to eliminate violence.

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U.N. told atheists face discrimination around globe
By Robert Evans, GENEVA | Mon Feb 25, 2013 1:45pm EST

(Reuters) – Atheists, humanists and freethinkers face widespread discrimination around the world with expression of their views criminalized and subject in some countries to capital punishment, the United Nations was told on Monday.

In a document for consideration by the world body’s Human Rights Council, a global organization linking people who reject religion said atheism was banned by law in a number of states where people were forced to officially adopt a faith.

“Extensive discrimination by governments against atheists, humanists and the non-religious occurs worldwide,” declared the grouping, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) which has some 120 member bodies in 45 countries.

In Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan “atheists can face the death penalty on the grounds of their belief” although this was in violation of U.N. human rights accords, the IHEU said.

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