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Islamic World News ( 4 March 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Riyadh to Execute 5 Teenage Activists: Rights Group

New Age Islam News Bureau

4 March 2020

A Pakistani Hindu prays at a temple in Karachi. A new report disputes the view that religious minorities in the Muslim-majority nation are subject to widespread poverty and forced conversion to Islam. (Photo: Asif Hassan/AFP)


• Research Dispels 'Minority Myths' In Pakistan: Ahmadis, Parsees and Bahais Also Denied Forced Conversion of Their Women

• Want Good Relations with All for Rebuilding Afghanistan:Taliban

• ‘Relationship with Mullah Is Very Good’, Says Trump after Speaking With Taliban Leader

• Bill to Crack Down On Communal Violence Languished In Parliament for 9 Years

• Iranian Students Asks India to Stop Massacre of Muslims, Calling on the Iranian Foreign Ministry to Adopt an Efficient Measure to Stop the Killing

• China Forcing Muslims to Work in Factories for Nike, Apple, Others: Report

• Somalia: After Taliban, Will Al-Shabaab Negotiate?

• Muslims in NZ on High Alert after Report of Possible Attack against Christchurch Mosque


Arab World

• Riyadh to Execute 5 Teenage Activists: Rights Group

• Hospitals in Lebanon ready to contain coronavirus: Health minister

• Iraq reports five new coronavirus cases, total up to 31

• Qatar open for dialogue with Saudi Arabia even though channels suspended: Foreign Minister

• Russia won’t stop terror fight in Syria to solve EU’s refugee problem: Lavrov

• Syrian government forces shoot down Turkish drone in Saraqib

• Saudi Arabia, Pakistan discuss ways to enhance defense cooperation



• Research Dispels 'Minority Myths' In Pakistan: Ahmadis, Parsees and Bahais Also Denied Forced Conversion of Their Women

• Sherry Calls Out JUI-F Leader for Opposing Aurat March

• Islamabad hails Tehran for slamming violence against Indian Muslims

• Pakistan seeks ex-premier’s deportation from UK

• Imran himself sent Nawaz to London, claims Bilawal

• NAB seems more interested in arresting people than investigating them: IHC

• Pakistan or prisoners: Ghani throws spanner in Afghan peace efforts

• Imran telephones Erdogan, condoles Idlib losses


South Asia

• Want Good Relations with All for Rebuilding Afghanistan:Taliban

• Taliban releases details of 35-minute phone discussion between Trump, Mullah Baradar

• US Peace Deal Leaves Afghans To Determine Post-War Landscape

• Taliban resumes attacks on Afghan forces, 5 policemen die

• Trump talks to Taliban leader for 35 minutes

• UN appeals for $877M for Rohingya, locals in Bangladesh

• Taliban resumes attacks on Afghan forces, Five policemen die


North America

• ‘Relationship with Mullah Is Very Good’, Says Trump after Speaking With Taliban Leader

• 'A Show of Force': Muslim-Americans Plan To Get the Vote Out On Super Tuesday

• Differing US documents helped fuel Afghan prisoner dispute

• US officials signal support for Turkey in Idlib, Syria

• US senator voices gratitude for Turkey's Syria efforts

• US should give Patriots missiles to Ankara: expert

• Turkish defense minister receives US representatives



• Bill to Crack Down On Communal Violence Languished In Parliament for 9 Years

• India defends CAA after UN rights chief approaches Supreme Court

• Delhi Violence Aftermath: Muslims Change Their Names, Avoid Islamic Greetings, Do Away With Hijab to Stay Safe

• Delhi: Riot-Hit Families Line Up Outside Eidgah In Mustafabad, Now A Relief Centre

• India’s Muslims Accuse Police of Targeted Killings

• Centre chides Iran for ‘selective’ characterisation of Delhi violence

• A first: Panj Pyaras with kirpans to lead religious procession to Kartarpur Sahib

• Rajya Sabha adjourned as Oppostion demands Delhi riots discussion on priority

• Strain in ties: Furious Delhi summons Iran envoy, says Zarif’s remarks not on

• Pulwama strike was pushed back a week, JeM man tells NIA



• Iranian Students Asks India to Stop Massacre of Muslims, Calling on the Iranian Foreign Ministry to Adopt an Efficient Measure to Stop the Killing

• Huge Arab Voter Turnout ‘Thwarts Netanyahu’s Bid To Stay In Power’

• Houthi court sentences 35 Yemeni lawmakers to death

• Arab parties set for largest-ever representation in Israeli parliament

• Netanyahu leads in Israel’s third election, but still lacks majority

• 23 Iran MPs have coronavirus: Deputy Speaker

• Coronavirus ‘not that big of deal’: Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

• Iran says 77 dead amid 2,336 cases of new coronavirus

• China to evacuate citizens from coronavirus areas of Iran: Report

• Iran says that ‘CIA spy’ will be executed soon

• Turkey’s pressure on EU by opening borders to Syrian refugees questioned


Southeast Asia

• China Forcing Muslims to Work in Factories for Nike, Apple, Others: Report

• Non-Muslim MPs in ‘Malay’ Ruling Bloc Still Have Concerns after ‘PM For All’ Speech

• Startups Race to Tap Indonesia’s Multi-Billion ‘Sharia Fintech’ Growth

• Muhyiddin off to polarizing start in Malaysia

• Ruth Sitepu’s sister raises spectre of enforced disappearance at Suhakam inquiry

• How the daily lives of Indonesian youth can tell us why they become more conservative



• Somalia: After Taliban, Will Al-Shabaab Negotiate?

• Boko Haram: Details Of Israel, Nigerian Army’s Meeting Emerge

• Libya’s eastern govt opens embassy in Syria, pledges united front against Turkey

• First Jordanian infected with coronavirus says he is recovering, cautions others

• Sudanese lawyers sue UAE firm over deceiving young people, sending them to Libya: Report



• Muslims in NZ on High Alert after Report of Possible Attack against Christchurch Mosque

• New Zealand teen arrested after threat to mosque

• Tajikistan asks Muslims to pray at home to stop coronavirus spread

• UN nuclear watchdog demands ‘clarifications’ on Iran’s nuclear program

• UK to intensify military activity in the Sahel region

• Germany renews call for ‘protected zone’ in NW Syria

• UN refugee body decries agony on Greek-Turkish border

• Turkey, Germany vow continued fight against xenophobia

• EU foreign policy chief due in Turkey for talks

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau




Riyadh to execute 5 teenage activists: Rights group

03 March 2020

A Europe-based organization seeking to promote human rights in Saudi Arabia says the Riyadh regime plans to execute five Shia teenagers arrested on charges of participating in demonstrations in 2011.

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) said the Riyadh regime had arrested the youths during anti-government unrest in the country’s Shia-populated Qatif region in Eastern Province in 2011, Lebanese Al-Mayadeen reported on Tuesday, with the youngest of the group being nine years old at the time of apprehension.

The five individuals were named by the ESOHR as Ahmad Abdel al-Wahid al-Faraj, Ali Mohammad al-Biti, Mohammad Hussain al-Nimr, Ali Hassan al-Faraj, and Mohammad Essam al-Faraj.

The organization said the Saudi public prosecutor had called for the “harshest punishment” against the teenagers.

The young men have been in prison awaiting trial for over two years, with some of them having been held in solitary confinement. Others have been denied legal representation and allegedly subjected to torture.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up politically-motivated arrests and the prosecution of peaceful protesters in the country.

Eastern Province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the oil-rich region.

The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown by the regime.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target political activism.

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of the Riyadh regime. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif, Eastern Province, in 2012.



Research Dispels 'Minority Myths' In Pakistan: Ahmadis, Parsees and Bahais Also Denied Forced Conversion of Their Women

March 4, 2020

A new study is challenging historical stereotypes that religious minorities in Pakistan face widespread poverty and forced conversion to Islam.

In addition to looking at the common challenges of Pakistan’s blasphemy law and stigmatized identity, the study also examined claims made about the issues facing religious minorities. Only Christians and scheduled castes are trained to think they cannot start a business, especially one related to food, the study found.

“Parsees own Avari, one of the most successful hotel chains in the country. They also have the largest share in the liquor brewery industry. Upper-caste Hindus in Sindh province have a remarkable share in industries related to cotton production, pulses and liquor sale. They own many restaurants offering non-vegetarian food,” the report states.

“Bahais do not face the challenge of attacks on worship places because they do not have such a place. Not all minorities were hit by terrorism (not to be confused with mob violence). Christians were hit the most while Parsees, Bahais, Sikhs and Hindus remained safe.”

Ahmadis, Parsees and Bahais also denied forced conversion of their women, the study added.

“No known organization has ever provided data to verify that 1,000 non-Muslim girls are forced to convert every year. A news agency claimed that about 700 Christian and 300 Hindu women were kidnapped and converted, but its report did not mention any names or incidents in support of its claim,” the report stated.

According to Centre for Social Justice Data, only 160 incidents of forced conversion took place from 2013 to 2019.

The Center for Law and Justice, a Lahore-based NGO that that works for the environment and social justice, released “The Index of Religious Diversity and Inclusion in Pakistan” on Feb. 28 at Forman Christian College in Lahore. The research was based on interviews with 100 respondents from non-Muslim communities.

Asif Aqeel, the Christian author of the report, claims his findings make the study the first of its kind.

“Religious minorities are a heterogeneous group. They are diverse in their faith, culture, history, economic status, educational level, racial profiling, level of social acceptance and geographic dispersion, etc. Most one-size-fits-all statements and recommendations on all these communities are often incorrect,” he told UCA News.

“Pakistanis Parsees are not seeking asylum abroad. Most Christians do not vote for their community members contesting elections on general seats. But the situation for upper-caste Hindus in Sindh province is different.”

In 2018, Pakistan Peoples Party's Mahesh Kumar Malani became the first non-Muslim to win a general seat in the National Assembly.

The report concludes with recommendations including legal reforms to discourage mob violence, a ban on mosque loudspeakers, an education quota for minority students, a quota for minority entrepreneurs, revision of government recruitment policies and an increase in minority seats in legislative bodies.

According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, religious minorities account for 3.7 percent of the population of Pakistan, of which 1.5 percent are Christians, 0.22 percent are Ahmadis, 1.6 percent are Hindus and 0.07 percent are people following other faiths.

The annual Human Rights Monitor of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan noted that 16 people were charged under the blasphemy law — nine Christians, two Muslims, four Ahmadis and a Hindu.

NCJP program coordinator Kashif Aslam called for further research on minority issues.

“More work needs to be done to correct misconceptions within minorities. Last year Catholic and Church of Pakistan bishops agreed to form a think tank to lobby for vulnerable groups. Perhaps the solution lies in joint efforts of activists as well as thinkers,” he said.

Intolerance and radicalization

Church leaders have often called for reforms to education policy and textbooks to address the issues of intolerance, radicalization and division along religious, ethnic and sectarian lines.

“The existing system perpetuates division among citizens, and the government is determined to give due regard to inclusion and diversity and eliminate derogatory and hate material from textbooks,” said Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood.

He was speaking on March 3 in a policy dialogue organized by the Centre for Social Justice in Islamabad. Independent education policy experts and government representatives agreed to develop a national curriculum suitable for the inclusion of religious minorities and social acceptance of all religions.

In January, Ejaz Alam Augustine, Punjab’s minister of human rights, minority affairs and interfaith harmony, launched the “Harmonious, Tolerant and Safe Punjab” campaign that involves the formulation of an interfaith harmony policy on promoting diversity in the province, where Christians are the largest non-Muslim minority.

On March 2, Christians from Bhagiana village in Punjab attended a memorial service for 22-year-old Saleem Masih, a Christian farm laborer who died of multiple organ failure after being tortured for washing himself in a well owned by a Muslim farmer.

Last month a mob attacked a church under construction in a village in Sahiwal district. A Christian was left mute and half-paralyzed after being shot in the head while his family tried to prevent the mob from pulling down the wall of the church. Two other Christians were injured.



Want Good Relations with All for Rebuilding Afghanistan:Taliban

Mar 03, 2020

New Delhi

The Taliban wants good relations with all countries, including India, and to work with them for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, a spokesman for the group has said.

In an Interview with Turkey’s Anadolu news agency days after the group and the US signed an agreement that paves the way for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan in the next 14 months, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said his organisation has “no issue with any country”.

Shaheen was responding to a question regarding India, where apprehensions have been raised about the US-Taliban deal.

He said, “We have no issue with any country, neither want to have an issue with anyone, we want to establish good relations with all countries and work with them together in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces.”

Shaheen contended those who didn’t welcome the agreement had “only exposed themselves that they do not want peace in Afghanistan”. He added, “They have to reconsider their policy.”

Experts in India have expressed reservations about the US-Taliban deal, saying Washington has ceded too much ground to the terror group while committing to the withdrawal of US and foreign forces in 14 months, the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners by March 10, and the delisting of UN-sanctioned Taliban leaders by May 29.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar echoed these concerns on Monday, when he said Western powers should ensure the achievements of the past 18 years in Afghanistan aren’t jeopardised while implementing the deal. “There is a lot of interest in various countries that the neighbours of Afghanistan and those who have interests there also play some role,” he said.

In a related development, Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada has spoken of the group’s plans to have “positive bilateral relations” with regional countries.

“The Islamic Emirate believes in maintaining positive bilateral relations with the world and especially with the regional countries and is committed to the principle of good neighbourly relations with its neighbours,” he said in a message posted on the Taliban’s website on February 29.

The reference to “bilateral relations” has raised eyebrows in Delhi. An official, who declined to be named, said: “The intra-Afghan dialogue is yet to start and the Taliban isn’t part of the government in Kabul and they’re already talking of things like ties with other countries.”

The Indian government is yet to frame a policy on engaging the Taliban, though the Indian envoy to Qatar was present at the ceremony in Qatar on Saturday when the Taliban and the US signed the deal.

The Taliban is viewed with deep mistrust in official quarters in New Delhi because of its long-standing ties with Pakistan’s security establishment and its role in facilitating the escape of the Pakistani terrorists who hijacked Indian Airlines flight IC-814 to Kandahar in Afghanistan in December 1999.



‘Relationship with Mullah is very good’, says Trump after speaking with Taliban leader

04 Mar 2020

Official portrait of President Donald J. Trump, Friday, October 6, 2017. (Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

The U.S. President Donald Trump has said he has a very good relation with the Mullah, emphasizing that both the United States and Taliban want an end to ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.

Apparently gesturing to his conversation to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy political chief of Taliban, Trump said he had a ‘very good’ conversation with the Taliban leader on Tuesday.

President Trump made the remarks during a round-table on Coronavirus as he was responding to a question whether it was his first conversation with the leader of the group.

He said “Wehad a very good conversation with the leader of the Taliban today, and they’re looking to get this ended, and we’re looking to get it ended. I think we all have a very common interest.”

“We’ll find out about the country itself. But the country really has to get it ended,” Trump said, adding that We’ve been there for 20 years. Other presidents have tried and they have been unable to get any kind of an agreement.”

He also added “The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah. And we had a good, long conversation today. And, you know, they want to cease the violence. They’d like to cease violence also.”

The Taliban group had earlier confirmed that Mullah Baradar had a 35-minute long conversation with President Trump over the phone on Tuesday.

The conversation took place days after the two sides signed a peace deal after observing a 7-day reduction in violence which followed after 18 months of negotiations in Qatari capital of Doha.



Bill to crack down on communal violence languished in Parliament for 9 years

Saubhadra Chatterji

Mar 04, 2020

A bill to tackle communal violence, the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, languished in Parliament for nine years between 2005 and 2014 before it was withdrawn by the United Progressive Alliance government which wanted a stronger law.

The Union Cabinet did approve one, but the bill, the Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2004, never came to the House for paucity of time. Then the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was voted out.

There’s been no talk of the law since, either by the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, or the UPA, which is in Opposition — something that is significant in light of recent communal riots in Delhi that claimed at least 47 lives.

The withdrawn bill had provisions on speedy investigation and trials, and even provided for rehabilitation of victims.

On Tuesday, both Houses of Parliament faced protests and repeated disruptions, for the second consecutive day, over the recent riots in Delhi.

The Congress, which is in the forefront of the attack against the ruling dispensation over the riots, has demanded home minister Amit Shah’s resignation.

The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 5, 2005, by then home minister Shivraj Patil. It was reviewed by the standing committee on home affairs (then led by Sushma Swaraj), which gave its report in 2006. But the party failed to push for the passage of the bill during the tenure of its two successive governments — despite the law being one of Congress’ s poll promises in 2009 and 2004.

On February 5, 2014, replying to a question in the Upper House, then minister of state for home affairs RPN Singh stated, “The notices were given for consideration and passing of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha on several occasions, last being in February, 2010. However, the bill was not taken up for consideration on these occasions.”

Singh added: “Subsequently, a new bill titled ‘The Prevention of Communal Violence (Access to Justice and Repatriations) Bill, 2014, has been prepared and the same has been approved by the Cabinet. Notices have been given for introduction of said Bill and withdrawal of The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005.”

The alternative bill was drafted after the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council prepared a draft legislation to tackle communal violence in 2011. The BJP, then the principal opposition party, criticised the government for doing this after the first bill was reviewed by the standing committee.

Chaksu Ray of PRS Legislative Research said: “The old bill was withdrawn but the then government couldn’t introduce the new bill in the Rajya Sabha.”

The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill not only gave a wider definition to communal violence, but also aimed for speedy investigation, trials, even provided for rehabilitation of victims. It empowered state governments to declare an area as “communally disturbed” . The bill also provided for stringent punishment and also made officials accountable for such instances. The law also paved the way for setting up a “Communal Disturbance Relief and Rehabilitation Fund” in every state.

The standing committee on home affairs, led by late BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, agreed with the need for the law but proposed many changes. It expanded the bill’s scope to include situations where no death may have occurred, but where many people are grievously hurt. It also suggested that the power to search, detain and seize arms, etc, in communally disturbed areas should be exercised by an officer not below the rank of Inspector of Police.

Senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi said such a bill was desperately needed. “The Congress government had proposed a bill to tackle communal violence even when times were much calmer and blatant state abuse of the kind we see today was out of question. Imagine how much desperately we need this kind of statutory structure now when the government is relentlessly trying to polarise and divide India. The Congress party is certainly not against constructive amendments to any such law, but nobody in the right frame of mind can question the necessity of a dedicated law to tackle communal violence.”

BJP parliamentarian Bhupender Yadav hit back at the Congress, saying the opposition party “follows the policy of communal politics”. He also said the BJP believes in following the rule of law and in peace, unity and harmony. “The riots in Delhi were controlled within 40 hours, taking all agencies on board,” he added.



Iranian Students Asks India to Stop Massacre of Muslims, Calling on the Iranian Foreign Ministry to Adopt an Efficient Measure to Stop the Killing

Mar 03, 2020

The participants in the protest rally carried placards which called on the human rights and international bodies to break their silence on the harassment and violence against Muslims in India.

They also chanted slogans in support of the Indian Muslims and in condemnation of the crimes in India, calling on the Iranian foreign ministry to adopt an efficient measure to stop the killing.

The Iranian students and seminaries carried placards in different languages to deplore the massacre of the Muslims in India, calling on New Delhi to account for the crimes.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday condemned a recent outburst of violence against Indian Muslims, urging New Delhi to protect all of its citizens regardless of their faith and ethnicity.

“Iran condemns the wave of organized violence against Indian Muslims,” Zarif said in a tweet, while highlighting amicable relations between Tehran and New Delhi

“For centuries, Iran has been a friend of India,” he said, adding, “We urge Indian authorities to ensure the wellbeing of ALL Indians & not let senseless thuggery prevail.”

“Path forward lies in peaceful dialogue and rule of law,” Zarif concluded.

Earlier, on Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi voiced his country’s serious concern about the rising atrocities against Muslims in India, adding that Tehran is consistently following up the case.

“We are following the news coming from India with concern,” Mousavi said in his weekly presser.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is following up on the issue through many channels and we have heard that some Muslim countries have had some movements.”

“We know India as a country where all ethnicities and religions live peacefully side by side,” he said, adding, “We hope that violence against Muslims in India would come to an end.”

“Considering the wisdom of Indian authorities that we are aware of, the country will become a peaceful place for all ethnicities,” he said.

The worst anti-Muslim violence by Hindu nationalists began on the eve of a state visit by US President Donald Trump, infamous for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies.

A police statement on Saturday, however, came without elaborating on whether the detainees were perpetrators of deadly violence on mosques and ordinary Muslim residence or Muslims defending their homes against indiscriminate attacks by Hindu nationalists with little intervention by police officers and other government security forces.

Over 40 people were declared killed by Hindu mobs last week, with hundreds more reported injured amid news accounts of largely useless police intervention to end the violence and meager international criticism of New Delhi’s failure to protect its minority Muslim population.

The violence began amid widespread protests across India over a citizenship law that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government introduced in December offering a path to Indian citizenship for six religious groups from neighboring countries, specifically excluding Muslims.

Critics insist the law is discriminatory, coming in the wake of other severe government measures against the country’s Muslim population such as withdrawal of autonomy for Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir province that has intensified discord across India about the future of its 200 million Muslims.



China Forcing Muslims To Work In Factories For Nike, Apple, Others: Report


A disturbing new report claims that between 2017 and 2019, China coerced at least 80,000 Uighur Muslims and others from ethnic minority groups to work in factories across China that supply dozens of popular global brands.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a foreign policy think tank that published its findings Sunday, says the estimated number of people affected is conservative, with the real tally “likely to be far higher.”

The report identified 27 factories that supply 83 well-known global brands, including Nike, Apple, H&M, Sony, Samsung, Dell and other major companies across a range of industries.

One such factory, which employed around 600 ethnic minority workers from China’s western Xinjiang region as of January, produces more than 7 million Nike shoes annually. The workers were sent by local authorities in groups of 50 to work far from home, according to The Washington Post, and they were not allowed to return home for holidays.

Another factory that produces “selfie cameras” for Apple iPhones took in 700 such workers in 2017. The workers “were expected to ‘gradually alter their ideology’ and turn into ‘modern, capable youth’ who ‘understand the Party’s blessing, feel gratitude toward the Party, and contribute to stability,’” the report stated, citing a local newspaper.

China drew international condemnation when the United Nations determined in 2018 that millions of Muslims living in Xinjiang were forced from their homes into extrajudicial detention camps for “reeducation” ― an effort to forcibly assimilate them.

China asserts this is an effort to combat religious extremism.

The ASPI called the factory labor a “new phase” in China’s mass Muslim detention program. The country claimed late last year that its detainees had “graduated.”

According to the report, however, some of the detainees were transferred directly from their camps to factories. It cited “mounting evidence” that many Uighurs are being forced to work in factories within Xinjiang and in other provinces “under a revived, exploitative government-led labour transfer scheme.”

“It is extremely difficult for Uyghurs to refuse or escape these work assignments,” the report states, using an alternate spelling of Uighur. “In addition to constant surveillance, the threat of arbitrary detention hangs over minority citizens who refuse their government-sponsored work assignments.”

Local governments and “private brokers” are “paid a price per head” for procuring Uighur laborers, the ASPI says.

The Uighurs and Muslim minority workers are forbidden from participating in religious observances, forced to learn Mandarin and undergo “ideological training” outside of their normal work hours, the report states.

“Our report makes it really clear that the dispossession of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang also has a really strong character of economic exploitation,” the report’s co-author Nathan Ruser told the BBC.

He added: “We have this unseen and previously hidden contamination of the global supply chain.”

Nike, Apple, H&M and Samsung did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment. Nike spokeswoman Sandra Carreon-John told The Washington Post that “we respect human rights in our extended value chain, and always strive to conduct business ethically and responsibly.”

“We are committed to upholding international labor standards globally,” she continued in her statement to the paper, adding that suppliers are “strictly prohibited from using any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labor.”

Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock told the Post that “Apple is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in our supply chain is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Dell told HuffPost the company “regularly conducts due diligence of our supply chain,” a process that includes audits based on criteria from the Responsible Business Alliance.

“When there are issues or allegations made, we immediately investigate using all available resources,” a Dell spokeswoman said.

Sony merely responded to say it does not comment on “the specifics of our business transactions.”



Somalia: After Taliban, Will Al-Shabaab Negotiate?

3 MARCH 2020

By Harun Maruf

The Taliban and the United States have reached an unlikely agreement which will allow some U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan, and pave the way for a dialogue with the Afghan government for what could be a historic process to solve the country’s long-running conflict.

In Somalia, some observers wonder: Could this be a model for ending wars waged by jihadist groups like al-Shabab's battle for a strict Islamist state?  Would al-Shabab even be willing to negotiate?

Al-Shabab supports the Taliban and calls its leader the “Amir al-Mu’minin” (Leader of the Faithful). But experts are split on whether the group will follow the Taliban's example and open talks with the African Union, which has troops in Somalia, and AU forces' host, the Somali government.

A leading Salafi scholar who tried to mediate talks between al-Shabab and the Somali government in 2009 says the group is now more extreme than ever before and is unlikely to accept a negotiated settlement.

“No, I don’t expect it,” said Sheikh Ali Warsame, when asked whether al-Shabab will be open to negotiation.

Warsame is not just any negotiator. He is the co-founder and first leader of the now-defunct al-Itihad al-Islam, a Salafi organization that produced many al-Shabab leaders, including the group’s current emir, Ahmed Diriye, also known as Abu Ubaidah.

Warsame told VOA Somali that during his negotiations, the impasse came from two sticking points, one ideological and one political. On the ideological front, many of the group’s leaders were not willing to step back from the Takfir ideology, which drives the group to label everyone in the government and its supporters as having abandoned Islam.

“I don’t think it’s even possible from them. They see all in the government as apostates. It’s not possible,” Warsame said.

On the political front, al-Shabab refused to negotiate unless AU troops leave the country. Warsame and other negotiators rejected this.

“To demand withdrawal of troops before the government stood on its feet was like saying, ‘Let me conquer you,’” said Warsame, who believes al-Shabab is even more hard-line today.

Other scholars argue that the group can be convinced to negotiate.

Afyare Elmi, an associate professor of security studies at Qatar University, believes negotiations with al-Shabab are still possible, despite a missed opportunity in 2009.

“In principle, it’s inevitable to negotiate with al-Shabab,” he said. “The only other option is to defeat them.”

Elmi believes the group accommodates elements with different opinions, and says he does not think all of them have the same ideological position.

"First of all, putting all of al-Shabab into one category and say this is what they all believe, I think they are not all on the same opinion,” he said. “There are many people who do not have that opinion [seeing government supporters as apostates].  Those would be empowered, debated and engaged through dialogue.”

Another scholar, Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, believes al-Shabab is misunderstood. He says al-Shabab is preoccupied with global ambitions, not local problems.

“This is a transnational organization which is a branch of al-Qaida, which wants to solve a global issue,” said Salad, chairman of the Somali Ulema Council. “It’s questionable whether the situation is in their hands because they are directed from outside. The leader of al-Qaida makes the decisions. This is not a Somali issue.”

Other experts believe dialogue can only be one part of a multifaceted approach to solving the challenges jihadism presents to Somalia.

Ibrahim Aden Nadara, a former al-Shabab regional education chief, defected four years ago. Since then, he moved quickly into politics and was a member of the electoral commission for the Jubbaland region last year. He says scenarios that could have forced al-Shabab to negotiate are missing.“

What compels one to negotiate is either reduction in finances, weakness in strength or to realize that it cannot achieve its goals through the barrel,” he said. "These three scenarios don’t apply to them — they are carrying out attacks. They still control areas, and maybe they are amassing more finances than before.”

Al-Shabab has never called for a cease-fire in its entire history. The group also seems to be extremely suspicious about having a dialogue. Only once, in January 2018, did it publicly comment about its position on dialogue. At that time, spokesman Ali Mohamud Dhere said dialogue is “more dangerous than the weapons of mass destruction."

"We heard from the infidels and apostates repeatedly stating that they are open to talks with the mujahedeen," he said. "This is how the infidels use dialogue, as an approach to misguide the Muslims and destroy Muslim causes.”

He said the aim was to divide (the Mujahedeen) into groups, "so that they can support the group they see as moderates."



Muslims in NZ on high alert after report of possible attack against Christchurch mosque

MAR 03, 2020

Ahead of the first anniversary of the Christchurch terrorist attack, New Zealand police said Tuesday that they were investigating a threat made this week against one of the Christchurch mosques where 51 Muslim worshippers were killed in a mass shooting last year.

Amid plans to mark the first anniversary of the March 15 massacre, police said the threat to Christchurch's Al Noor mosque was posted this week on the encrypted messaging app Telegram. Reports said the message showed a man in a balaclava sitting in a car outside the mosque accompanied by a threatening text and a gun emoji.

The Islamic Women's Council national coordinator Anjum Rahman said the threat was the fourth one that she was aware of since the attacks. "We have been talking to authorities for some months, since last year, definitely, about preparations coming into March 15," Rahman said, as reported by Radio New Zealand (RNZ). "Absolutely, we were expecting this and possibly worse things."

Muslim communities across the world have suffered numerous hate attacks over the past years with many blaming the surge of attacks on an anti-Muslim discourse existing in the media and supported by politicians.

Al Noor was one of two mosques targeted by a self-avowed white supremacist last year in what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described as "an unprecedented act of terror (that) shattered our small country."

The timing of the latest threat comes at a sensitive time as planning is underway for a memorial service in Christchurch to mark the anniversary. Details of the service at the city's Hagley Park have not yet been finalized but Ardern is set to attend after gaining international praise for her compassionate handling of the attacks.

Ardern said Tuesday that she found it hard to believe that New Zealand's Muslim community was still being subjected to such hatred.

"I will be amongst many New Zealanders who will be devastated to see that as we head towards the first anniversary of a most horrific terror attack on the Muslim community, that they should then be the target of this kind of activity," she told reporters.

The shooting, which targeted Muslims in their houses of faith, was the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history. Some 51 people at two Christchurch mosques were killed by the self-avowed white supremacist, armed with semi-automatic weapons in an attack broadcasted live on Facebook. It became the biggest example of growing far-right terrorism worldwide.

The alleged mosque attacker Brenton Tarrant, an Australian national, is due to go on trial on June 2 facing terrorism charges plus 51 counts of murder and 40 counts of attempted murder over the killings.



Arab World


Hospitals in Lebanon ready to contain coronavirus: Health minister

4 March 2020

Lebanon’s health minister said on Tuesday hospitals were ready to deal with any further spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, where 13 cases have been recorded with no deaths.

Hamad Hassan said the cases had all either returned from an affected country or were transmitted through “close contact” with a family member or neighbor - not “local transmission.”

All 13 people suffering from the COVID-19 illness are being treated at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri state hospital, where 140 beds have been designated to isolate and monitor suspected cases, he added.

Hassan said measures had also been taken beyond Beirut, naming eight cities across the country where hospital wards had been put aside as Lebanon works to contain the virus nationwide.

“We have designated 20 to 40 beds in each facility to follow any unexpected developments as part of a precautionary plan,” he said.

They include a monitoring area for patients suspected of having caught the coronavirus along with one or two quarantine units, he said.

In what he described as a “positive sign,” Hassan said the country’s first case, a 45-year-old woman who had tested positive for the virus after visiting Qom in virus-hit Iran, had now tested negative.

“A second laboratory test will be conducted tomorrow, and she will be discharged and sent home if the negative result is confirmed,” his ministry said earlier in a statement.

That showed that “there’s no need for hysterical panic,” Hassan said.

On Friday, Lebanon said it would deny entry to non-resident foreigners arriving from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy.

Schools, universities and other educational institutions have been closed until March 8.

Globally, more than 92,000 people have been infected and more than 3,100 killed since the virus first emerged in China’s Hubei province late last year.

Of those, the coronavirus has claimed 77 lives in Iran, where thousands of Lebanese Shiite Muslims head each year to visit religious shrines.



Iraq reports five new coronavirus cases, total up to 31

3 March 2020

Iraq’s health ministry confirmed on Tuesday five new coronavirus cases in the capital Baghdad, Wasit, Najaf, and Karbala.

The new cases raise the total number of infected patients in the country to 31, according to the Iraqi health ministry.

Coronavirus continued to spread across the Middle East and North Africa with over 1,600 infected across the region.

The coronavirus first started spreading from Wuhan, China, earlier this year and has since infected nearly 90,000 people, with over 3,000 dead. The Middle East has been hit particularly hard as cases started spreading across the region as travelers returned from Iran, the second deadliest epicenter for the disease after China, with 66 reported dead.



Qatar open for dialogue with Saudi Arabia even though channels suspended: Foreign Minister

03 March 2020

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani says his country will always remain open to dialog and engagement even though negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar to resolve a bitter regional conflict were suspended in January without tangible progress.

“We will remain hopeful. There were some opening previously in the last couple of months for a dialogue between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Unfortunately, it didn’t result and the channels were suspended. But, Qatar has been always very clear that we are open for dialogue. We are open for engagement as long as it (Saudi Arabia) respects the international law and the sovereignty of each country,” Al Thani said in an exclusive interview with CNN television news network.

The top Qatari diplomat highlighted that Doha wants the best for all of its neighbors in the region.

“We want to be forward-looking, and to (be) looking for a more prosperous future and stability in that region. This cannot happen with a zero-sum game approach. It can only happen by compromising by all the parties and reaching for a settlement that all of us become owner,” he pointed out.

Al Thani highlighted that his country has neither sought to undermine nor to humiliate any country, calling on the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states to be more forward-looking in order to safeguard the regional intergovernmental political and economic union from any future conflict.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017, after officially accusing it of “sponsoring terrorism.”

Libya, the Maldives, Djibouti, Senegal and the Comoros later joined the camp in ending diplomatic ties with Doha. Jordan downgraded its diplomatic relations as well.

Qatar's Foreign Ministry later announced that the decision to cut diplomatic ties was unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions.

On June 9, 2017, Qatar strongly dismissed allegations of supporting terrorism after the Saudi regime and its allies blacklisted dozens of individuals and entities purportedly associated with Doha.

Later that month, Saudi Arabia and its allies released a 13-point list of demands, including the closure of al-Jazeera television network and downgrade of relations with Iran, in return for the normalization of diplomatic relations with Doha.

Full report at:



Russia won’t stop terror fight in Syria to solve EU’s refugee problem: Lavrov

03 March 2020

Russia says it will not stop fighting terrorism in Syria alongside the Damascus government because of European concerns over a new influx of refugees into the continent.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the remarks on Tuesday at a news conference alongside his Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto in Helsinki.

“We understand how serious the problem of refugees and illegal immigration is for the European Union, but we cannot stop the fight against terrorism to solve the problem of refugees,” Lavrov said.

The top Russian diplomat said the solution to the threats of a new refugee crisis in Europe is upholding the agreements reached in 2018 between President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Sochi on demilitarizing Idlib.

The two leaders are slated to meet in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the Idlib situation.

“Unfortunately, these agreements have not yet been completed, but we hope that the next meeting between Putin and Erdogan will find a way to approach that moment,” Lavrov said.

He further expressed hope that the EU “does not forget the terrorist threat, which is growing in the Middle East and the Idlib region.”

Russia has been lending aerial support to Syria’s ground operations against militants and Takfiri terrorists since September 2016. The cooperation together with Iranian military advisory support has turned the tables on the foreign-backed violent factions, which began taking on the Arab country in 2011.

Lavrov’s remarks specifically concerned the backup airpower that Moscow’s provides for the Syrian Army in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, those groups’ last major stronghold in the Arab country.

On Saturday, Turkey, which mans some observation posts in Idlib and backs a number of the militant outfits against Damascus in the province, said it had started letting the refugees that it houses into Europe.

The country took the alleged measure after accusing Europe of not doing enough to help it with the migrants as well as its failing to have Moscow stop Damascus’ advances in Idlib.

The Russian-backed Syrian drive has purportedly killed a number of Turkish forces, who had ventured out of the observation posts and endangered the Ankara-backed militants.

Syria says it will not stop until winning back every inch of the country’s territory.

Turkey — along with Russia and Iran — entered two frameworks of Syria-focused negotiations that resulted into two agreements.

A first deal was signed in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur Sultan, formerly called Astana, arranging for the creation of de-escalation zones across Syria, including in parts of Idlib. The second one that came about in the Russian resort city of Sochi allowed Ankara to bring in a small number of forces to man the observation posts to reinforce de-escalation.

Ankara has, however, been found in default of both the deals by failing to separate terrorists from what it calls “moderate” opposition groups in the Idlib zone and by sending thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into the province in an unprecedented incursion to back the militants.

‘Iran proposes hosting Astana format summit’

Also on Tuesday, Iran’s Ambassador to Moscow Kazem Jalali said President Hassan Rouhani had proposed to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the next meeting within the Astana framework take place in Tehran, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

Jalali, who was meeting with Russia’s Chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, said that during a telephone conversation that had come “several days ago…Rouhani invited President Putin…suggesting that the next summit in the Astana format in the near future should be held in Iran.”

The envoy highlighted that the Astana summit was a success, noting that the parties had to be committed to it and continue cooperation inside its framework, TASS added.

Jalali also laid emphasis on the special role that the Russian-Iranian cooperation has played in the anti-terror fight in Syria.

“Other coalitions were created to fight terrorism. However, none of them were able to successfully fight terrorism and the only coalition that was a success and really combated terrorism was the coalition between Iran and Russia,” he stressed.

A coalition led by the United States invaded Syria in 2014 to allegedly uproot the Takfiri terror group of Daesh.

The joint force was witnessed carrying out wholesale bombings of certain areas to supposedly clear out the terrorists, in what Moscow compared back then to, the US and Britain’s bombing of the German city of Dresden in 1945. The coalition maintains a presence in Syria, although the Arab country and its allies defeated Daesh in late 2017.

Russia rebuffs UN ‘war crime’ claim

Separately on Tuesday, the Kremlin rejected allegations by a United Nations’ commission that Russia might have committed “war crimes” in Syria last year.

The commission has alleged that the Russian air force struck a popular market and a camp for displaced people that killed dozens of civilians in July and August.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the UN investigators were in no position to know what was happening on the ground

Full report at:



Syrian government forces shoot down Turkish drone in Saraqib

03 March 2020

Syrian government forces have intercepted and targeted an unmanned aerial vehicle belonging to Turkish military while flying in the skies over a strategic city in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib.

Syria’s official news agency SANA reported that government air defense forces shot down the drone as it was on a mission over Saraqib, located 27 kilometers (17 miles) north of Ma`arat al-Nu`man city, on Tuesday afternoon.

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#عاجل || #سانا ||

مراسل سانا : وحدات من الجيش تسقط طائرة مسيرة لقوات #النظام_التركي في محيط #سراقب بريف #إدلب الجنوبي الشرقي


5:27 PM - Mar 3, 2020

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The development came only hours after Syria confirmed that one of its military aircraft had been targeted by a missile fired by Turkish military forces as it was carrying out a combat mission against positions of terrorist groups in the area.

An unnamed Syrian military source said in a statement to SANA that the warplane was downed at 11:03 a.m. Damascus time (0903 GMT) on Tuesday northwest of Ma'arat al-Nu'man.

Separately, the Turkish Defense Ministry said in a statement that one of its F-16 fighter jets had downed a Syrian military plane in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, identifying the aircraft as a high-performance Aero L-39 Albatros jet trainer developed in Czechoslovakia.

A day earlier, Syrian government forces, backed by allied fighters from popular defense groups, had managed to retake Saraqib.

SANA reported that Syrian army soldiers and their allies entered the city on Monday after violent clashes with the extremists, and severely hitting their positions and fortification lines.

Saraqib has a strategic significance as it overlooks the 450-kilometer-long M5 highway.

The M5 highway starts in southern Syria, near the border with Jordan, and runs all the way north to the city of Aleppo near the Turkish border.

Since 2012, the M5 had been controlled by various foreign-backed militant groups. Syrian government forces started regaining parts of the highway in 2014, but they were only able to take full control during the latest offensive.

Syrian army troops and their allies established control over the highway on February 10 after dealing heavy blows to Takfiris south and west of Aleppo.

Full report at:



Saudi Arabia, Pakistan discuss ways to enhance defense cooperation


March 03, 2020

ISLAMABAD: During a visit to Islamabad on Monday, Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman discussed with Pakistan’s leaders ways in which strategic cooperation can be strengthened, according to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

“Saudi-Pakistani relations are exemplary,” Qureshi said on Tuesday. “I was present during the meeting of the visiting deputy defense minister with Prime Minister Imran Khan, during which the two sides discussed bilateral and regional issues in detail. We also discussed the way forward in strengthening strategic cooperation between the two countries.”

The minister said Prince Khalid was also taken into confidence on the latest developments in Afghanistan, and the prime minister briefed him on the deteriorating situation in Indian-administered Kashmir.

In a message posted on Twitter after his trip, Prince Khalid wrote: “The visit to Pakistan is an extension of the brotherly relations between the two countries and two brotherly peoples, and a step in the framework of strengthening their strategic cooperation and their pioneering role in the Islamic world and the region.” He added that his trip was an attempt to further consolidate relations between the two countries.

The prime minister’s office on Monday said: “Prime Minister Imran Khan appreciated the growing economic ties between the two countries and the Saudi commitment to investment in diverse sectors. He acknowledged Saudi Arabia’s strong economic support for Pakistan particularly at the time of economic challenges.”

After his meeting with Khan, Prince Khalid met Pakistan Army Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.

Full report at:





Sherry calls out JUI-F leader for opposing Aurat March

Mar 04, 2020

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman on Tuesday lashed out at critics of the Aurat March, saying “march tou zarur hoga!”.

She was responding to a remark by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Senator Molvi Faiz Muhammad who claimed that “mera jism meri marzi azadi nahi, awargi hai” (My body, my choice is not freedom, it is obscenity).

“In a democratic society, asking for your rights is not only valid, but also extremely important,” Sherry Rehman said.

Demanding respect from the parliament members, she stated that shaming and degrading those who leave the comfort of their homes to ask for due rights, is a way for men to disregard the struggles of women.

“I am part of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s party, who struggled, and because of whom we are standing here today.”

She further called out the hypocrisy and double standards of society who do not put men on the same pedestal.

“This will not happen in Pakistan, and People’s Party opposes this!” she concluded, adding “March tou zaroor hoga!” (The March will definitely happen).

Nighat Dad


Senator @sherryrehman’s powerful & strong response against threats to @AuratMarch in Senate today! March to Zaroor hoga!!! Women parliamentarians joined forces to support women marchers.🏾🏾🏾 #AuratMarch2020 @AuratMarchKHI  @AuratAzadiMarch #IWD2020 @BBhuttoZardari @BakhtawarBZ

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20:24 - 2 Mar 2020

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Islamabad hails Tehran for slamming violence against Indian Muslims

March 04, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Iran’s den­unciation of Hindu extremist violence against Muslims in Delhi was on Tuesday welcomed by Pakistan and rejected by India.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Monday condemned the “organised violence” against Muslims in India calling it a “senseless thuggery”.

He asked the Indian government to ensure “wellbeing of all Indians” and “rule of law”, while addressing the situation through “peaceful dialogue”.

Foreign Minister Zarif’s Twitter comment was about a series of riots and violent incidents that took place in Delhi on the night of Feb 23 in which dozens of people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

Mobs associated with extremist Hindu nationalist groups ransacked properties owned by Muslims and mosques. Copies of the holy Quran were also burnt by vandals.

Foreign Minis­ter Shah Mahmood Qureshi welcomed Iran’s statement.

“Fully share the concerns expressed by my brother @JZarif on safety and well-being of Indian Muslims facing naked violence from RSS mobs. India is in throes of grave communal violence. Their sinister & systematic killing of Muslims is inhuman & dangerous for whole region,” Mr Qureshi tweeted.

It should be recalled that very few countries spoke against the violence perpetrated by Hindu extremists against Muslims with Indian government’s tacit support. Before Iran, only Turkey from among the Muslim countries had vocally condemned the attacks.

Mr Zarif’s tweet, however, irked India.

Iran’s Ambassador to Delhi Mr Ali Chegeni was on Tuesday summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs to receive a protest over Foreign Minister Zarif’s comment on social media.

The Iranian envoy, accor­ding to media reports, was told that Mr Zarif’s comment were “totally uncalled for and unacceptable”.

He was further conveyed that Indian leadership was dismayed and disappointed by Iranian foreign minister’s comments on India’s “internal matters”.

In a statement the Indian ministry said: “It was conveyed that his selective and tendentious characterisation of recent events in Delhi are not acceptable.”

Responding to some of the earlier criticism, it had on Feb 27 told the world not to make “irresponsible comments” at “this sensitive time”.

The Iranian government has in the past mostly avoided comments that could antagonise India because of its strong trade and economic ties, but the situation changed when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei criticised India for repression in Kashmir.

Full report at:



Pakistan seeks ex-premier’s deportation from UK

Aamir Latif 


KARACHI, Pakistan

Pakistan’s government has asked the United Kingdom to deport the country’s three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in London for medical treatment, a minister said on Tuesday.

Shahzad Akbar, the minister for accountability, told reporters in the capital Islamabad the government had dispatched a letter to the British government seeking the deportation of the former premier.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while replying to a reporter’s question at a news conference, confirmed the development without providing further details.

The move came a day after the government of first-time Prime Minister Imran Khan filed a fresh case against Sharif accusing him of illegally keeping the vehicles gifted by foreign states and dignitaries.

Last week, the government had rejected Sharif’s request for extension in his bail period following the recommendations of an official medical board that declared the ex-premier’s medical reports “incomplete” and “unsatisfactory”.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a former Prime Minister, and vice-president of Sharif’s center-right Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), condemned the government’s decision terming it “political victimization”.

Speaking to reporters, Abbasi who served as premier for eight months -- from August 2017 to May 2018 -- said that Sharif had gone abroad for medical treatment after court’s permission.

“The government has no right to [forcibly] bring him back. It will be decided only by the court,” he went on to say.

The government, for its part, argued that Sharif had been in London on bail for over three months but neither he was admitted to any hospital nor did he update the government about his treatment.

Full report at:



Imran himself sent Nawaz to London, claims Bilawal

Mar 04, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Tuesday said that Prime Minister Imran Khan himself sent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif to London and now is telling lies to the people.

Talking to the media in Lahore, he said that the government has adopted a hypocritical behaviour over Nawaz’s health. “How can you say Nawaz is a criminal? If he was a criminal and if [Imran Khan] believes that he is a criminal, then why did he let him escape?” he asked.

The PPP chief said the premier should stop pretending to save the government.

Bilawal also spoke of the ongoing cases of corruption against the opposition politicians. “We know that they are not interested in the corruption cases,” he said, adding that the prime minister’s motive was to continue his “puppet-show rule”.

“Imran’s puppet-show rule sometimes strangles the media and sometimes usurps the civil society’s the freedom of expression,” he noted.

“His system is to defend his puppet-show rule,” the PPP chief said. “When Mian sahab [Nawaz] did not listen to the voice of the parliament, we raised our voices. Mian sahab is not in power now so there is no need to oppose him,” he added.

Bilawal said that his party wants to work with the opposition to put pressure on the government. “PPP is the only party which raised voice for the poor and unemployed in the past. When we were in power, we raised the wages and pensions of the people to enable them to counter economic difficulties,” he said.

He also said that people are currently facing economic difficulties. “We do not want the prime minister to commit suicide for approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but rather we want them to go back to the international lender and strike a better deal in favour of the people of Pakistan,” he added.

He further said that it is unfortunate that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is against the civil society and the national and international NGOs. “These NGOs work for the people of Pakistan like the civil society which works for the education, human rights and similar causes,” he added.

The PPP chief said that the government itself has admitted that inflation has increased during its tenure. “The people can judge themselves whether they are poorer or better during PTI’s tenure,” he said.

He said that the government’s focus should be on improving the lives of the people instead of returning money to the IMF.

Responding to a question, he said that PPP wants the government to take action against terrorist outfits if they operate in the country.

In response to another question, he said that missing persons issue is a problem which needs to be resolved and PPP will play an active role in this regard.

When asked about his father, former president Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal said that he was not treated well during his time in custody but now that he is receiving proper care.

Speaking about the Afghan peace process, he said that he hopes that the neighbouring country soon sees peace. “Peace is impossible unless the process is led by the Afghan people themselves,” he said, adding that if talks are held only between the Taliban and the United States then the Afghan people would be left out.

Full report at:



NAB seems more interested in arresting people than investigating them: IHC

Malik Asad

March 04, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau appears to be more interested in arresting people than investigating their alleged offences, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) observed on Tuesday.

A division bench made up of Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Fiaz Ahmed Anjum Jandran was hearing a petition for pre-arrest bail filed by former Sindh information minister Sharjeel Inam Memon.

The bench pointed out that the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1990 empowers the investigation officer to summon records from any federal or provincial government department.

Justice Minallah added that NAB’s eagerness in arresting Mr Memon “shows that NAB is only interested in arresting people, not investigating them”.

The court made these observations after NAB Deputy Prosecutor General Sardar Muzaffar Abbasi argued that the bureau required custody of Mr Memon because some of the records related to the Roshan Sindh Programme were missing.

The court said the investigation officer could summon the requisite record from the department concerned and has ample power to proceed against the secretary of that department.

Justice Minallah also asked NAB why the investigation officer did not investigate Mr Memon when he was behind bars for almost two years.

The officer replied that he was assigned the inquiry in February 2019, and Mr Memon’s alleged role in it was established in December.

Mr Abbasi claimed that Mr Memon also received Rs70 million in kickbacks from the contractor for awarding a solar lighting project in Sindh. When the court asked if this sum was transferred into Mr Memon’s accounts, he responded that it was transferred to fake accounts.

The court then directed the investigation officer to produce evidence in this regard.

Justice Minallah also asked the prosecution to advance arguments in light of the Supreme Court judgment in the Asfandyar Wali case, which defined the NAB chairman’s powers to issue arrest warrants.

“You should read this judgment first, prepare your arguments and then assist this court,” he told Mr Abbasi.

The court then adjourned further hearing in this matter until next week.

Ex-secretary seeks acquittal

Former federal secretary Ismail Qureshi has petitioned the IHC seeking his acquittal in eight references in which he has been nominated as a co-accused.

Mr Qureshi has argued that under the NAO, a bureaucrat cannot be proceeded against for procedural lapses.

“The essential element which would justify a criminal trial is fulfillment of the condition pertaining to the holder of public office having materially benefitted from such actions by gaining any asset or monetary benefit which is disproportionate of his known source of income or where such benefit cannot be recently accounted for,” his petition stated.

It went on: “There is a further condition that evidence is to be available in the reference to corroborate acquiring of such material benefit. A perusal of the references will show that this condition – precedent for holding of a criminal trial is absent in this case.”

The petition argued that the framing of the charge was unsustainable and void for the purposes of any trial which has yet to take place or has not concluded.

Full report at:



Pakistan or prisoners: Ghani throws spanner in Afghan peace efforts

Mar 04, 2020

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday linked the release of Taliban prisoners with the group first breaking ties with neighbouring Pakistan.

Addressing a public gathering in the eastern Nangarhar province, Ghani said the Afghan Taliban could not justify their insurgency after inking a peace deal with the US.

“You [Taliban leaders] have made peace with the foreigners so what does your jihad mean now … killing of fellow Afghans is a crime,” said Ghani, who has expressed reservations over the peace agreement.

“If the Taliban have set release of their prisoners as a condition for intra-Afghan talks, we also have conditions; they should tell me when are they going to leave [break ties with] Pakistan.”

The landmark deal signed in Doha, Qatar on Feb 29 lays out a timetable for a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan within 14 months.

The agreement is expected to lead to dialogue between the Taliban and the Kabul government, seeking an end to the armed conflict that began in 2001.

The Taliban agreed to halt attacks in the war-torn country in return for a prisoner swap and the US lifting sanctions against them.

Ghani has objected to these arrangements that would see the Afghan government releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a condition for direct talks between the two sides.

The Taliban, meanwhile, announced it was resuming attacks on Afghan forces after implementing a 7-day “Reduction in Violence” pact last week.

Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told Anadolu Agency that the proposed intra-Afghan talks would only begin once their prisoners were freed.

Islamabad, which played a key role in brokering the deal, has urged Kabul and the Afghan Taliban to show flexibility and move forward with the peace deal.


In a statement, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the Afghan president should “ask America for an explanation” of the clause of the deal on the exchange of prisoners.

He said the Afghan leadership had to take the responsibility to create a “favourable environment” to take intra-Afghan talks forward.

“It is the responsibility of the Afghan leadership to create a favourable environment to take the talks forward,” adding: “Pakistan can create a favourable environment, it cannot take [Afghanistan’s] decisions [for her],” he said.

Qureshi added that as far as he was aware, US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad “had been apprising the Afghan leadership regarding negotiations”.

“Exchange of prisoners has happened in the past. When we move from war towards peace, it needs to be done to show a positive intention,” the foreign minister said, adding that the exchange of prisoners was a two-way process.

Qureshi warned things could not move forward if “stubbornness” was exhibited. “This is a logical step that should be taken,” he added.

“Attitudes will have to be corrected along with deals … those who wanted to create obstacles were present before as well; it is a testament to the excellence of the [Afghan] political leadership that they make them unsuccessful.”

Qureshi termed the Doha peace deal an “important development” and urged all stakeholders to not “waste this opportunity”.

“What happened in Doha was the first step, the next step is intra-Afghan talks … President Ghani should move forward keeping his country’s interests foremost and the Taliban should also display generosity.”

The foreign minister said the war was not an option as it was not an “easy process”.

Later in the day, the Afghan Foreign Ministry submitted a formal protest to Pakistan, saying it “strongly condemned” Qureshi’s remarks.

“The Government of Afghanistan believes that relying on policies of good-neighborliness, Pakistan needs to take practical steps towards enhancing bilateral ties in various areas and refrain from making such irresponsible statements regarding the internal affairs of Afghanistan,” it said.


Meanwhile, the Taliban late Tuesday extended a conditional offer to meet the Afghan officials shortly before their chief negotiator, Mullah Baradar Akhund, held a phone call with US President Donald Trump.

In a tweet, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid added that the fighter-turned-negotiator called Trump but did not provide any further details. The development comes a few days after the two sides signed a troop withdrawal agreement in Doha.

“The President of the United States Trump @realDonaldTrump held a phone conversation with the Political Deputy of the Islamic Emirate, the respected Mullah Baradar Akhund,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter.

“Details later,” he noted, adding in an emailed statement later that the call lasted more than 30 minutes.

Confirming the telephonic conversation, Trump said he had held a “very good talk” with the Taliban.

“Actually (I) had a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban,” Trump told reporters at the White House but did not refer by name to Baradar.

Separately, the Taliban’s Doha office spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen, had also tweeted about the phone call.

According to Shaheen, the Taliban’s Doha office spokesperson, Baradar told Trump that for a positive future relationship, the US should not let anyone else keep it involved in the years-long Afghan war. “An arbitrary government is the undisputed right of Afghans,” he said.

Full report at:



Imran telephones Erdogan, condoles Idlib losses

Mar 04, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan via telephone on Tuesday to express grief over the death of several Turkish army men in an attack that took place in Idlib.

“In this time of distress, Pakistan stands with Turkey,” he said, adding that “We stand with you in the war against terrorism.”

Turkey launched Operation Spring Shield in Idlib, the country’s defence minister, Hulusi Akar, announced late Sunday, days after airstrikes killed 33 of its troops in the Syrian city.

Two Syrian Army airplanes were downed during Operation Spring Shield, whereas one of its own drone aircraft was shot, the minister said, adding that the Damascus government forces, as well as their allies, would be targeted.

Talks with Russia were ongoing in this regard, Akar noted, adding that Ankara hoped Moscow would help mount pressure on Syria to stop attacks by its army.

A monitoring group, on the other hand, said the drone attacks had killed 74 Syrian soldiers and 14 of the allied forces.

Full report at:



South Asia


Taliban releases details of 35-minute phone discussion between Trump, Mullah Baradar

04 Mar 2020

The Taliban group released the details of a 35-minute phone discussion between President Donald Trump and the group’s deputy political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the political office of Taliban in Qatar in a statement said Mullah Baradar spoke with President Trump over the phone for 35 minutes Tuesday.

Shaheen further added that Mullah Baradar assured positive bilateral relations with the United States if Washington acted based on the bilateral agreement signed between the two sides.

Mullah Baradar also urged President to act decisively regarding the withdrawal of the foreign forces from Afghanistan and maintaining a positive relation with the Taliban group, Shahee said, adding that Mullah Baradar also urged Trump not to allow anyone to prolong the U.S. involvement in the war.

He also added that Mullah Baradar emphasized on independence of the country and establishment a desired government, calling it a ‘definite right’ of the Afghans, Shaheen added.

Shaheen went on to claim that President Trump acknowledged that the Taliban group fights for its country, calling the 19-year U.S. presence a ‘long period’ while emphasizing on interest of foreign forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan as being fruitful for all parties.

According to Shaheen, President Trump also added that the U.S. State Secretary would soon talk with Kabul to remove barriers on the way for the launch of intra-Afghan talks.

The U.S. and Taliban representatives signed a peace deal last week, seven days after announcing a reduction in violence. The two sides signed the deal after almost 18 months of negotiations in Qatari capital of Doha.



US peace deal leaves Afghans to determine post-war landscape

Mar 3, 2020

KABUL: Now that the U.S. has signed a deal with the Taliban to eventually leave Afghanistan, it will soon be up to Afghans on both sides of the conflict to decide what peace will look like.

The stakes are high.

The big question for many _ and particularly those who remember the religiously repressive Taliban rule that ended with the US invasion in 2001 _ is whether the newly emboldened militants have changed their ideology. Women, especially in the cities, worry that their rights will be bargained away.

The Taliban say they have changed. Girls will be allowed to go to school, and women to work. Women can be judges but not the chief justice; they can participate in politics but not be president, they say.

The Taliban, however, will likely not back down on segregation of the sexes, said Hakim Mujahed, the Taliban's representative at the United Nations during their five-year rule. They will not accept co-education nor will they accept women and men working together, he said.

They also say hijab, or a head covering, will be a must, though they won't insist on the all-enveloping burqa, according to Mujahed. The burqa predated the Taliban by decades, particularly in rural Afghanistan, but became a symbol of their repression of women during their rule. It is still worn in much of rural Afghanistan and is seen even in the capital of Kabul.

``Certainly they are not in favor of co-education. They are not in favor of co-working,'' said Mujahed who quietly returned to Kabul after the Taliban were ousted in 2001 and eventually joined a government peace committee tasked with making peace with the Taliban.

``But they are in favor of providing the conditions for education, for work, for economic and political activities for women ... but within the framework of Islamic teachings,'' said Mujahed who kept his long unkempt beard and wears the turban. Though the turban is common throughout Afghanistan __ not just in Taliban areas _ they made it a signature of their rule, requiring all government employees wear one. They also demanded all men wear beards.

In any negotiations, the two sides are expected to hammer out the form of government and constitution. The current constitution decrees that no laws may contradict Islamic principles _ and trying to define that vague term is where issues of women's rights and broader civil rights are likely to come to the fore.

Activists want negotiators to write in guarantees up front that provisions on Islamic principles can't be used to later violate those rights.

Najiba Ayubi, who is director of an organization devoted to women and media development and a strong proponent of free speech, said Afghan women can't rely on Afghan men to fight for their rights. She said women need strong female representation at the table.

``Otherwise, no men will fight with or for us ... because they are not aware what we are facing, and maybe for some of them it is not important what will happen to women,'' she said.

Afghanistan is a conservative and ``male-dominated, and men always think women are second-class citizens,`` Ayubi said, adding it will take years to change.

Ayubi has good reason to fear the Taliban. When they ruled, she was twice beaten for being improperly covered, even as she walked hidden behind the all encompassing burqa. Her sisters _ one a doctor and the other a judge _ were forced to stay home.

Still, she welcomed the chance to bring to an end 40 years of war and said she was confident the Taliban of today were not the Taliban of 2001.

``The Taliban know that this is another time. This is not the Afghanistan of 20 years back,'' she said.

Today, the country has a thriving social media scene and several media outlets and a data-savvy younger generation that cannot be easily silenced. The Taliban too have a younger generation, who will not be denied their music and their videos, which were banned during their rule.

Still, getting Afghans to agree won't be easy.

Even getting them to the table is proving a formidable task. The deal between the U.S. and Taliban envisioned talks between Afghans on both sides of the conflict starting March 10, most likely in Oslo. But so far there's no confirmation that important next step will take place.

Washington won't likely wait around. Its withdrawal is not tied to Afghanistan's warring sides figuring out how to talk to each other, let alone coming to an agreement on what peace among them will look like.

According to Saturday's deal, all 13,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban meet their obligations to America. Those promises are tied to fighting terrorism, preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, denouncing terrorist groups, severing past links with the likes of al-Qaida and helping fight the Islamic State group affiliate.

The ink had barely dried on the agreement signed Saturday before the sparring began. President Ashraf Ghani seemed to fire the first salvo refusing to release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners which the agreement said would happen before the start of the so-called intra-Afghan negotiations. The Taliban are to release up to 1,000 Afghan government and military captives.

The releases are intended as a good will gesture.

Rehmatullah Nabil, a former head of Afghanistan's spy agency and a candidate in the disputed presidential polls held last September, says there's a lot to do before Afghans from Kabul are ready to sit across the table from the Taliban, and he said the talks should be postponed.

Ghani has yet to unite the country's squabbling politicians under a single banner. Nabil said a unified front is needed to craft an Afghanistan that respects traditions while embracing the young generation, that understands the countryside while encouraging the urban development.

Full report at:



Taliban resumes attacks on Afghan forces, 5 policemen die

Mar 3, 2020

NANGARHAR/KABUL: Five Afghan policemen died in a Taliban attack on a security checkpoint near a copper mine on Tuesday, officials in the region said, a day after the insurgents decided to resume operations against local forces.

A Taliban spokesman did not confirm or deny responsibility for the attack in eastern Afghanistan when contacted by Reuters, saying he was collecting information.

The militants had a reduction of violence arrangement in place before the signing of a troop withdrawal agreement with the United States in Doha on Saturday.

But on Monday they decided to end that for Afghan forces, while still holding back on fighting American and other foreign troops, according to sources.

Tuesday's "heavy clash" killing five Afghan officers took place at a checkpoint at the Mes Aynak copper mine in Logar province, said Deedar Lawang, a spokesman for Logar's provincial governor.

Hasib Stanekzai, head of Logar provincial council, told Reuters the policemen were soft targets during the early morning attack as they had no heavy weapons.

A senior US official said the attack was being investigated.

A spokeswoman for Afghanistan's interior ministry said that in 24 hours, the Taliban carried out 33 attacks against Afghan forces in 16 provinces, killing six civilians. She did not say how many Afghan security force members had died.

"Taliban should give up killing civilians, otherwise (Afghan National Security forces) take action and eliminate them in the defence of our people," said the spokeswoman Marwa Amini.

US-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.

But the nation has been in stalemate since, with Taliban forces controlling some territory but unable to capture major urban centres.

The weekend agreement envisages a full withdrawal of all U.S. and coalition forces within 14 months, dependent on security guarantees by the Taliban.

Full report at:



Trump talks to Taliban leader for 35 minutes

March 04, 2020

KABUL: President Donald Trump spoke by phone to the leader of the Taliban, the militant group and the US leader said on Tuesday, days after Washington signed a historic deal with the militants.

Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said he had “a very good talk with the leader of the Taliban”, without naming him.

The 35-minute call came a day after the militants ended a partial truce and threw into doubt peace talks between Kabul and the militants that are due to begin on March 10, according to the US-Taliban agreement signed on Saturday.

A transcript of the phone call released by the Taliban quoted fighter-turned-negotiator Mullah Baradar urging Trump to “take determined actions in regard to the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan”.

Under the terms of the US-Taliban agreement, foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge by the insurgents to hold talks with Kabul.

Taliban attack Afghan army bases, throwing peace talks into doubt

But a dispute over a prisoner swap has raised questions about whether the negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban will go ahead.

The agreement includes a commitment to exchange 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government in return for 1,000 captives — something the militants have cited as a prerequisite for talks but which President Ashraf Ghani has refused to do before negotiations start.

Baradar called on Trump to “not allow anyone to take actions that violate the terms of the agreement thus embroiling you even further in this prolonged war”, according to the Taliban transcript.

Apparent differences between the Doha agreement and a joint US-Afghan declaration released in Afghanistan underline the obstacles facing negotiators.

The US-Taliban deal committed to the release of prisoners while the Kabul document only required both sides to determine “the feasibility of releasing” captives.

Since the deal signing, the Taliban have been publicly claiming “victory” over the US.

Taliban attacks

The Taliban carried out dozens of attacks on Afghan army bases, officials said on Tuesday, hours after ending a partial truce and throwing into doubt peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In the last 24 hours the Taliban conducted 33 attacks in 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.

“As a result, six civilians were killed and 14 wounded. Eight enemy were also killed, 15 wounded,” he said on Twitter.

Two soldiers were killed in one of the attacks in southern Kandahar province, a government statement said.

An attack in Logar province near Kabul killed five security forces, the provincial governor’s spokesman Didar Lawang said.

The halt to the limited truce, which began on February 22, ends what was a welcome reprieve for ordinary Afghans who have borne the brunt of the deadly violence. But experts said the move was unsurprising as both sides seek to exploit whatever leverage they hold to force the other’s hand.

“Of course violence will go up, was bound to happen. No surprise Ghani balking on prisoner release: one of his few levers,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tweeted. Kabul-based analyst Ahmad Saeedi said the uptick in attacks reflected the insurgents’ belief that “they have to keep the battlefield hot to be able to win on the negotiating table, as they did with the Americans”.

Full report at:



UN appeals for $877M for Rohingya, locals in Bangladesh

Md. Kamruzzaman  


DHAKA, Bangladesh

UN agencies and their partners on Tuesday launched the 2020 Joint Response Plan for Rohingya humanitarian crisis, with an appeal aiming to raise $877 million for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and other vulnerable communities there.   

“Building on the efforts and success of previous years, the appeal aims to raise $877 million to respond to the needs of approximately 855,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and over 444,000 vulnerable Bangladeshis in the communities generously hosting them”, said a statement issued by UNHCR on Tuesday.

The statement said that urgent funding is needed to meet the fundamental needs of the refugees -- such as access to food, shelter, clean water and sanitation -- and that 55% of the overall appeal would be spend here.

The UN also expressed concerns as “health, protection, education, site management, energy and environment [at Rohingya refugee camps] continue to be critical to ensuring the safety and dignity of Rohingya refugees, and the well-being of local Bangladeshis,” it added.

Until peaceful and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya could be done, the world must stand by the persecuted people as well as the government and people of Bangladesh who continue to host them, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

“Most important will be engaging refugees and hearing their voices and understanding their hopes and vision for the future,” he added.

Terming Bangladesh’s long annual monsoon and cyclone seasons as risks for Rohingya refugees living in squalid makeshift camps, the statement said the UN aid agencies were working tirelessly for them since the beginning of the Rohingya influx in 2017.

“An important achievement in 2019 was the biometric registration of all Rohingya refugees living in the camps, with those over the age of 12 receiving individual identity documents. This secures their identities, enhances their protection and lays the foundations for an even more targeted, effective and efficient humanitarian response going forward,” it said.

The statement termed the minimization of deforestation at Bangladesh’s southern hill areas, where the Rohingya refugee camps are located, a great achievement.

“All Rohingya refugee households now use Liquefied Petroleum Gas for cooking, which has led to a staggering 80 percent drop in demand for firewood. Some 30,000 local Bangladeshi families are also now included in the initiative,” it added.

Referring to one of the most crying needs of Rohingya, education, the statement said: “A pilot phase will get underway shortly, targeting 10,000 children in grades 6 to 9, with plans to scale up currently under development.”

In January this year, the Bangladesh government allowed Rohingya children living in refugee camps to access formal education under Myanmar's curriculum so that they could continue their education in Myanmar after repatriation in future. 

Persecuted people

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."

Full report at:



Taliban resumes attacks on Afghan forces, Five policemen die

3 March 2020

Five Afghan policemen died in a Taliban attack on a security checkpoint near a copper mine on Tuesday, officials in the region said, a day after the insurgents decided to resume operations against local forces.

A Taliban spokesman did not confirm or deny responsibility for the attack in eastern Afghanistan when contacted by Reuters, saying he was collecting information.

The militants had a reduction of violence arrangement in place before the signing of a troop withdrawal agreement with the United States in Doha on Saturday.

But on Monday they decided to end that for Afghan forces, while still holding back on fighting American and other foreign troops, according to sources.

Tuesday’s “heavy clash” killing five Afghan officers took place at a checkpoint at the Mes Aynak copper mine in Logar province, said Deedar Lawang, a spokesman for Logar’s provincial governor.

Hasib Stanekzai, head of Logar provincial council, told Reuters the policemen were soft targets during the early morning attack as they had no heavy weapons.

A senior US official said the attack was being investigated.

A spokeswoman for Afghanistan’s interior ministry said that in 24 hours, the Taliban carried out 33 attacks against Afghan forces in 16 provinces, killing six civilians. She did not say how many Afghan security force members had died.

“Taliban should give up killing civilians, otherwise (Afghan National Security forces) take action and eliminate them in the defense of our people,” said the spokeswoman Marwa Amini.

US-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.

But the nation has been in stalemate since, with Taliban forces controlling some territory but unable to capture major urban centers.

The weekend agreement envisages a full withdrawal of all US and coalition forces within 14 months, dependent on security guarantees by the Taliban.

Full report at:



North America


'A show of force': Muslim-Americans plan to get the vote out on Super Tuesday

By Umar A Farooq

3 March 2020

Data on Muslim-American voters is scarce and their voting patterns have hardly been studied, but according to a leading political action group, the Muslim vote could make a major difference on Super Tuesday.

Voters in 14 US states and one US territory will head to the polls on Tuesday, the largest day of voting in the primary season.

Voting will take place in heavily-populated states such as California and Texas, as well as key swing states such as Colorado, Minnesota, and Virginia.

Among them, California, Texas and Virginia have sizeable Muslim populations. Emgage PAC, an organisation that encourages political participation from Muslims, says followers of the faith could play a decisive role.

In Virginia, there are 214,000 registered Muslim voters - 80 percent of whom reside in Northern Virginia. In the 2016 election, the state was decided by just 212,000 votes.

"If our voter turnout is high, we could easily carry the winner for the nominee in regards to Virginia," Mohamed Gula, Emgage's Virginia executive director, told Middle East Eye.

'We are united'

While Muslims make up a small percentage of the overall US population, just over one percent, there has been a steady rise in political engagement over the past few years.

Voter registration jumped by 13 percent between 2016 and 2019, standing at 73 percent last year.

"I think this is going to be the first year ever that we as a community, in regards to organisation, come together to make sure that we are united and that our community gets out the vote," Gula said.

"We're making sure that we as a community are coming out and that there will be a show of force - that's one of the most important things for us moving forward into 2020."

Efforts to get the vote out on Tuesday are being overseen by a number of different Muslim groups, including Emgage PAC, Jetpac, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and MPowerChange.

"I saw what it looked like for our community to retreat, to try to go into isolation to figure out how to lay low and really survive in this country," Linda Sarsour, activist and co-founder of MPowerChange, said in a nationwide call last week.

"Just watching what we've been able to accomplish in the last 20 years, going from a place of fear and a place of isolation, to really being at the highest echelons of politics," Sarsour said.

Abdul El-Sayed, an Egyptian American who ran for the Michigan governship in 2018, said on Tuesday that the Arabic word for voting translates to "using your voice", encouraging everyone to participate in the election.

"We have a real responsibility to step up because this is a make or break, frankly, America defining election in 2020," he said in a conference call hosted by MPowerChange last week.

Abdul El-Sayed


In Arabic the word for “vote” comes from the word “voice.”

The word for “voting” translates roughly into “using your voice.”

Today, don’t forget to use your voice. In the end, it’s all we have. #yallavote #supertuesday2020


8:35 PM - Mar 3, 2020

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'This election is going to be about us'

Despite constant demonisation from right-wing media and conservative politicians, Muslims have made strides in politics since the 9/11 attacks.

Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman, was elected in 2007 and served Minnesota's 5th district until 2019 when he pivoted and was elected as the state's attorney general.

And last year, the first two Muslim congresswomen were sworn into office - Ilhan Omar, who succeeded Ellison in Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who was elected in Michigan.

And then there's the current wave of Muslim candidates running for Congress.

Still, Sarsour said there is a lot more work to be done, and that the rhetoric of "radical Islam" used in the 2016 election cycle has damaged a lot of the community's political engagement since 9/11.

"One of the things I really committed to in 2020 is that we will no longer have conversations about us without us," she said.

"This conversation, this election, is going to be about us. And it's going to be with our voices and we're going to use our voices."

Bernie inspires us

Ahead of Super Tuesday, several Muslim groups have endorsed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is currently leading in the latest polls.

Sanders has received endorsements from prominent Muslim-American figures, including Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib, and several Muslim rights groups.

Abrar Omeish, Sanders' co-chair for Virginia and a school board member in Fairfax County, said the reason many Muslims were supporting Sanders' campaign was because they were "tired of hypocrisy and special interests from those in power".

"Muslims, like all Americans, want to be heard and represented. They want to know that their president cares and is responsive to their needs," Omeish told MEE.

"Bernie's campaign has been about an inclusive movement that will fight for every one of us, and his integrity has stood the test of time. He inspires us toward an elevated sense of citizenship."

According to data published by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), since President Donald Trump was elected to office, Muslims' satisfaction with the country has tanked.

"We know that since 2016, American Muslims' satisfaction with the direction of the country has declined from 63 percent in 2016 to 33 percent in 2019," Erum Ikramullah, ISPU's Research Project Manager, told MEE.

Ikramullah said that this may be why "American Muslims are seeking to take an active role in bringing about a country they are satisfied with."



Differing US documents helped fuel Afghan prisoner dispute

March 04, 2020

WASHINGTON: The United States helped fuel a dispute between the Taliban and the Afghan government over prisoner releases that threaten US peace efforts by using different language in documents it agreed with each side, sources familiar with the matter said on Monday.

The US-Taliban deal says the Afghan government will free up to 5,000 Taliban detainees by March 10, while the US-Afghan declaration commits the Kabul government only to taking part in US-brokered talks on the “feasibility” of such a release.

The issue has emerged as a fresh impediment to peace talks between the insurgents and a yet-to-be-named Kabul delegation that are to begin on March 10 under the US-Taliban agreement for a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan signed on Saturday.

The Taliban on Monday said they would not participate in the so-called intra-Afghan peace talks until Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government releases about 5,000 military and political prisoners.

Ghani on Sunday said the issue cannot be a precondition to the peace talks and will have to be worked out in negotiations. “It is not in the authority of United States to decide, they are only a facilitator,” he said.

Sources familiar with the matter identified the discrepancy as a significant potential obstacle to the talks and, by extension, to US President Donald Trump’s desire to pull US forces out of Afghanistan.

“There is going to have to be a compromise,” said a former senior US official familiar with the issue who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The question is whether [the Afghan sides] can do it themselves or America has to play the heavy.”

Asked about the discrepancy, a second source familiar with the matter said: “It’s clearly a problem. I am sympathetic to Ghani. This is his leverage in the negotiation. For the US to negotiate away his leverage before they even get to the negotiating table I imagine was somewhat galling.”

The Kabul government’s stance appears to be supported by the joint declaration Ghani and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper issued in Kabul shortly before Saturday’s signing of the US-Taliban accord in the Qatari capital Doha.

That statement said the Afghan government will take part in a “US-facilitated discussion with Taliban representatives on confidence-building, to include determining the feasibility of releasing significant numbers of prisoners on both sides.”

In contrast, the US-Taliban agreement appears to commit Kabul to releasing up to 5,000 prisoners even though the Ghani government was excluded from the negotiations with the Taliban led by Zalmay Khalilzad, chief US negotiator.

“Up to five thousand prisoners of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be released,” while the insurgents would free up to 1,000 prisoners, the document says.

Full report at:



US officials signal support for Turkey in Idlib, Syria

Omer Tugrul Cam 


The U.S. could support Turkey’s efforts in Syria with military, diplomatic, and humanitarian aid, and could also offer military equipment, including perhaps Patriot missiles, said three key U.S. diplomats Tuesday visiting southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border.

U.S. Ambassador to UN Kelly Craft said Syrians whom she saw are grateful to the U.S. and Turkey, upon visiting the Altinozu refugee camp in Hatay, southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border.

“I will give the following message when I go back to the UN Security Council: This is enough. A permanent cease-fire has to be achieved [in Syria],” said Craft. She said the Assad regime cannot go on in Syria.

Craft touched on her visit to the White Helmets civil defense team in Syria, and teams working to educate Syrian children, and thanked Turkey for organizing the visits.

"The most important thing I will emphasize in the Security Council is this: We have to keep the borders open, we need to make sure humanitarian aid reaches to all who are in Syria or Turkey, displaced from their homes. That is why negotiations should start right away."

Citing UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for a new border passage, Craft said maybe there should even be a third border point for the flow of humanitarian aid.

"Turkey is a NATO country and uses our equipment in its army to a great extent. If they need, we would like this equipment to be ready," James Jeffrey, the U.S. Syria envoy and former ambassador to Turkey, told reporters while visiting camps housing refugees from Assad regime attacks.

He added, "Turkey is one of the most important counterparts of the U.S. defense industry. As President Trump said, we will support Turkey," he said, emphasizing that the U.S. exchanges intelligence with Turkey and supports it diplomatically.

On Turkey possibly buying the Patriot missile defense from the Washington., U.S. Ambassador to Ankara David Satterfield, who accompanied Jeffrey, said: "We understand Turkey's air defense wishes. This is under evaluation. We do everything we can to support Turkey both in Brussels and in NATO.''

Jeffrey also stated: "We evaluate support for Turkey in terms of military, intelligence, diplomacy, humanitarian aid."

"We will be closely watching presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Putin's meeting in Moscow [set for Thursday]. Right now we're focused on humanitarian aid and supporting Turkey diplomatically. I spoke to a high-level Russian official yesterday, I emphasized that Turkey wants a real cease-fire."

Blasting the Assad regime attacks in Idlib as "vile," Jeffrey added: "The Assad regime is conducting an immoral policy, trying to push millions out of Idlib. On the other hand, Turkey and Syrian opposition are fighting to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

"What Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies want is more refugees. The Turkish army and the Syrian opposition are acting in line with UN Resolution 2254, for a peaceful and political solution. Kelly Craft is working hard at the UN Security Council in order to make sure this happens."

On U.S. sanctions, Jeffrey said: "We are working on additional sanctions on the Assad regime and some parties from Russia."

Idlib, just across Turkey’s southern border, falls within a de-escalation zone laid out in a deal between Turkey and Russia in late 2018.

But the Syrian regime and its allies have consistently broken the terms of the agreement, launching frequent attacks inside the territory, where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

Turkey launched Operation Spring Shield on Sunday after at least 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred in an Assad regime airstrike in Idlib.

Under the 2018 deal with Russia, Turkish troops were in Idlib to protect civilians from attacks by the Assad regime and its allies.

Full report at:



US senator voices gratitude for Turkey's Syria efforts

Michael Hernandez  



U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham voiced strong appreciation Tuesday for Turkey's efforts to thwart a Syrian regime offensive in northwestern Syria propped up by Russia and Iran.

"Very much appreciate what Turkey is doing to stand with the people of Idlib, Syria," Graham said on Twitter after more than 50 Turkish troops martyred in regime attacks in February. "It is time for the world, including the United States, to declare a no-fly zone over Idlib before the humanitarian crisis escalates."

Lindsey Graham


Very much appreciate what Turkey is doing to stand with the people of Idlib, Syria. It is time for the world, including the United States, to declare a no-fly zone over Idlib before the humanitarian crisis escalates.


9:55 PM - Mar 3, 2020

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On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump said Washington is in talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about a request from Ankara for the deployment of the Patriot missile system along its southern border.

"We are speaking to President Erdogan a lot. We are talking to him about" the request, Trump told reporters at the White House.

Currently, Patriots from Spain are deployed in southern Adana province.

Ankara on Sunday launched Operation Spring Shield after 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred in Idlib, the last stronghold of opposition forces in Syria.

The Syrian regime backed by Russian air support and Iranian-supported fighters launched a campaign to capture Syria's Idlib province from rebel groups in December. The UN estimates 900,000 people have been displaced in the time since open hostilities began.

In recent months, nearly 1.7 million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to intense attacks by forces of the Assad regime and its allies.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression were expressly prohibited.

But since then, more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in airstrikes and shelling by the regime and its allies.

Full report at:



US should give Patriots missiles to Ankara: expert

Beyza Binnur Donmez 


An American foreign policy expert on Tuesday urged the U.S. to provide patriots to Turkey amid escalation in Idlib, Syria.

Michael Doran, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute think tank, welcomed U.S. special envoy for Syria James Jeffrey's efforts to send additional military equipment to help Turkey fight Russian-backed Syrian government forces, by retweeting a report on the Politico news website, in which four anonymous sources familiar with the matter said Jeffrey is lobbying the Pentagon to provide Turkey with additional military equipment to help Turkey fight Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

"Jeffrey is right. The job of the US -- and NATO -- is to counterbalance the Russians. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin supports his ally, Assad, with troops on the ground," Doran said in a tweet.

"Can we at least provide Patriots to Turkey?" he asked.

Doran, who specializes in the Middle East, shared a viral video Monday showing Assad regime soldiers moving in an ambulance in northwestern Syria to avoid Turkish drone strikes.

"Assad's soldiers now move around in ambulances in order to camouflage themselves from the Turks, who have achieved total air superiority in Idlib," he noted above the video. "We learn from this, obviously, that the Turks refrain from attacking ambulances."

On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump said Washington is in talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about a request from Ankara for the deployment of the Patriot missile system on its southern border.

"We are speaking to President Erdogan a lot. We are talking to him about" the request, Trump told reporters at the White House.

Currently, Patriots from Spain are deployed in southern Adana province.

In recent weeks, Syrian regime forces stepped up attacks on Turkish troops in Idlib province.

Ankara on Sunday launched Operation Spring Shield after 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred in Idlib, the last stronghold of opposition forces in Syria.

Syria has been mired in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to UN figures.

Idlib, in northwestern Syria, is currently home to 4 million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces throughout the war-torn country.

In recent months, nearly 1.7 million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to intense attacks by forces of the Assad regime and its allies.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression were expressly prohibited.

Full report at:



Turkish defense minister receives US representatives

Hamdi Celikbas  


Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar received a high-ranking U.S. official and the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

In a statement, the ministry said a meeting was held late Monday between delegations under the co-chairmanship of Turkey’s Deputy Minister of National Defense Yunus Emre Karaosmanoglu and U.S. Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey.

Bilateral and regional defense and security issues were discussed, especially the crisis in Idlib, Syria.

The ministry said that after the meeting, Jeffrey and U.S. ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield were received by Akar.

Idlib is home to four million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces throughout the war-torn country.

In recent months, nearly 1.7 million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to intense attacks by forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime and its allies.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression were expressly prohibited.

But since then, more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in airstrikes and shelling by the regime and its allies.

On Sunday, Turkey announced a new offensive, Operation Spring Shield, in northwestern Syria to protect civilians from regime attacks.

It came after at least 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred and dozens injured in an Assad regime airstrike on Feb. 27 in the de-escalation zone just across Turkey’s southern border.

Full report at:





India defends CAA after UN rights chief approaches Supreme Court

by Bilal Kuchay

Mar 04, 2020

New Delhi, India - India has defended its controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as an internal issue after the United Nations rights body approached the country's top court challenging the legislation.

On Monday, UN Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHRC) Michelle Bachelet informed India that her office has filed an application urging the Supreme Court to make the UN body a third party in a petition filed by a former civil servant against the law.

"Our permanent mission in Geneva was informed yesterday [Monday] evening by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that her office had filed an intervention application in the Supreme Court of India in respect to the 2019 CAA," India's Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The CAA is an internal matter of India and concerns the sovereign right of the Indian Parliament to make laws. We strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi [rights] on issues pertaining to India's sovereignty," said Kumar.

The CAA makes it easier for religious minorities from three neighbouring Muslim-majority countries who came to India before 2015 to get Indian citizenship - but not if they are Muslim.

Coupled with the ongoing National Population Register (NPR) and a proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), India's Muslims, who form nearly 15 percent of the country's 1.3 billion population, fear the steps are aimed at marginalising them.

Nearly 140 petitions have been filed by Muslim groups, opposition parties and activists, who say the law violates India's secular constitution. The Supreme Court is due to hear the pleas next week.

Academic and legal expert Faizan Mustafa told Al Jazeera the Supreme Court may end up hearing the UNHRC application.

"As a UN member, we are bound by our pledge under Article 56 of the UN charter to uphold fundamental freedoms of all people. We cannot discriminate on the basis of religion," he said, adding that the UNHRC move may "damage India's reputation".

Javad Zarif


Iran condemns the wave of organized violence against Indian Muslims.

For centuries, Iran has been a friend of India. We urge Indian authorities to ensure the wellbeing of ALL Indians & not let senseless thuggery prevail.

Path forward lies in peaceful dialogue and rule of law.


10:13 PM - Mar 2, 2020

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The UNHRC application also came as India on Tuesday summoned the Iranian envoy in New Delhi over tweets by Iran's Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, condemning the "wave of organised violence against Indian Muslims".

Kumar said a "strong protest was lodged against the unwarranted remarks" by Tehran, adding that they were "not acceptable".

UN application after Delhi violence

Since the passage of the CAA on December 11, hundreds of thousands of people across India, led mainly by Muslims and students, have been protesting against the legislation.

So far, the violence against the law has killed more than 75 people across the country.

Last week, in the worst communal violence in decades in the national capital, at least 47 people were killed and more than a 100 wounded as groups chanting Hindu nationalist slogans torched mosques and dozens of Muslim houses.

Many Muslims abandoned their homes in the areas hit by the violence and took refuge in shelters set up by voluntary relief workers or moved to their relatives' houses.

The violence took place after a series of hate speeches were made by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, some of whom warned Muslims to wind down peaceful sit-ins or face consequences.

Videos shared on social media showed Delhi Police officials forcing injured Muslim men to sing the national anthem, and in some cases, smashing CCTV cameras in violence-affected areas.

Unfazed by criticism, India's Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month said his government stands by its CAA decision "despite all the pressure".



Delhi violence aftermath: Muslims change their names, avoid Islamic greetings, do away with hijab to stay safe

Mar 03, 2020

At around 11 pm last Sunday on the Delhi Metro going from Botanical Garden towards Shaheen Bagh, a man of about 50, confused, asked a young man- "Is this metro going towards Shaheen Bagh?" The young man, Shahbaz Rizwi, responded, "Yes, it is just three stations away."

Shahbaz noticed that the man was uneasy and had a scared look on his face throughout the journey. This made him interested in knowing why. He didn't ask — but soon understood the reason. When the man got out of the train at the Jasola Vihar-Shaheen Bagh station, he took out a skull cap from the pocket of his jeans, which had been neatly folded up, and wore it on his head.

That Sunday (23 February) was the first day of major violence in northeastern Delhi.

Recalling the interaction with the man in the metro train, Rizwi said, "I felt pained to see that. Here was this old man, a practicing Muslim in all probability, who had to remove a part of himself to avoid any trouble. The environment in Delhi has become so hostile towards Muslims, and the recent Delhi riots have scared the community very much.” He also said that the reason for the fear among the Muslim community is also owing to the communalisation of the Shaheen Bagh protests and the threats it has been receiving from radical Hindu organisations. "It has scared not just our elders, but also the youth," he added.

Rizwi used to be a teacher of Physics at a coaching centre in the Jamia Nagar locality. Since the ‘crackdown’ on students of the Jamia Milia Islamia university by the Delhi Police on 15 December, 2019, he hasn't been teaching his students. He says, "Most of my students are enrolled in Jamia University. I didn't have the heart to face them."

‘Don’t dress like a Muslim, don’t talk like a Muslim’

But not all Muslims have the privilege of putting away a noticeable part of their religious identity into their pockets. Khansa Fahad, a Jamia student, is a hijab-wearing practicing Muslim. She said, "People like me, who are visibly Muslim, have to either stay home or accept the risk that we face while stepping out." She has been avoiding getting out of her house since the riots broke out in Delhi.

However, Khansa has felt the fear of facing prejudice due to her identity earlier as well. She recalled, "While applying for internships, I was worried that I will get rejected if I put my photo in my resume. Although I had worked with Rohingya refugees, I only mentioned social work with ‘underprivileged people’ in the CV. I'm always afraid of being labelled as an extremist, not just by those from the right wing, but also by the people of my own community."

The recent riots have been an eye opener for her. She adds, "Earlier, I was never bothered about these things. I have become more conscious of my identity and the systematic oppression that we had been facing for so many years."

Mehreen Fatima is a Muslim PhD scholar in the Delhi University who travels daily. She says that she has often stopped herself from saying “Allah Hafiz” or “Salaam” in public when she heard people around making anti-Muslim comments. She said, "Since I do not fit in people's typical stereotypical image of Muslim women, I have often overheard conversations in which people were spewing venom against Muslims right in front of me. This made me stop saying ‘Salam’ or ‘Allah Hafiz’ on a call while I'm out, for fear of inviting any unwanted trouble for myself."

In the past few days, she, too, has become more conscious of her identity. She said, "Of late, I have not even been opening WhatsApp while traveling outside, as most names on the contact list are those of Muslim relatives.”

She added, "Every time I mention my name to anyone, I fear that their attitude towards me will change. While it doesn’t always happen, I'm apprehensive about mentioning my name now. If it is not too necessary, I at least avoid mentioning my surname, as it is an obviously Muslim one. That is what these riots have done to us."

Recalling a recent incident from a cinema hall, she said, "We all stood up for the national anthem, and once it was over, a gang sitting in the row behind mine shouted loudly "Jai Shree Ram" and everyone was just fine with it. Is this really a secular country, where I feel unsafe saying ‘Salam’ on call, and these people openly shouted religious slogans without any fear? But then I realise, we're on the verge of becoming a Hindu Rashtra and this veil of pseudo-secularism has already fallen."

‘Metro ka naam Anjali, ghar ka naam Adeeba’

Saima Rehman, a resident of Subhadra Colony in Delhi, recalls an incident which she termed as "scarring". Her sister, Adeeba, a school student, whispered into her ears while travelling in the Metro- "Baaji, mera Metro ka naam Anjali hai, aur ghar ka naam Adeeba." (Baaji, my ‘name’ in the Metro is Anjali, and at home, it is Adeeba.)

Saima further said, “On one occasion, Adeeba even said while responding to a call, ‘Jai Shree Ram…main metro mein hoon (I am in the Metro.)"

Saima said, "We have faced Islamophobia since we were kids, in school. But to see your younger ones erase parts of their identity to safeguard themselves, that too at such a young age, is so painful. My brother, who has been an agnostic for years, prayed to Allah after the riots happened for peace."

Saima lives in a Hindu dominated area, and her father had kept the house locked for three days since the riots started. She said, "My father always used to believe that being in a mixed population was best for kids. But now his faith in his neighbours, who he has known for fifteen years, is wavering. He is finally thinking of paying heed to the suggestions of his friends and family- to move into a Muslim ghetto."

Hakim Afzal, a Kashmiri based in Delhi, said that many Muslims have, out of fear, not only changed their appearance, but also the way they speak. Afzal is a personal historian and had completed his post-graduation in political science from Jamia Milia Islamia in 2017.

He said, "Sometimes, while speaking, people avoid greetings like ‘Salam’ or ‘Khuda Hafiz’. These days, I also have to be careful about the books I read in the Metro or other public places. I have read literature on Pakistan, but imagine what might happen if I start reading that in public - even if it is a part of my curriculum. Symbolic and pictorial representations that identify a person as belonging to a minority group become a source of threat that community in a situation of conflict. I might even have to be fearful of sneezing in public, because inadvertently what comes out of my mouth after I sneeze is ‘Alhamdulillah’."

Talking about the need to change appearances, he added, "It is all about ‘not appearing like a Muslim’ in the present context. Recently, I got a phone call from my family back in Kashmir. They asked me to get a clean shave so that people don't identify me as a Muslim in general and a Kashmiri Muslim in particular. As it is, there are layers to the threat we all face and right now. Being a Kashmiri Muslim in Delhi is not the most ideal of things."

Hamza Syed, a researcher with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, a global research centre, says that he doesn't tell his name to people unless he is specially asked to. "My work requires me to travel to a lot of places and interact with a lot of government officials as well as farmers, etc. There is a clear change in their tone once they find out that I'm a Muslim, so I tend to avoid that as far as possible. If I'm getting a call from home or from a relative in a public place, I normally try to get out of the place I am in before I pick it up. Sometimes, I don't pick up the call so I don't have to greet them with a ‘salaam’," he says.

Cab drivers refuse Muslim customers

Abu Sufiyan, founder of Purani Dilliwaalon ki baatein, a collective that tells stories of residents of Delhi, says, "I have made some major changes in my Uber app since the riots. Firstly, I have changed my name on the app and put the name of my company. Since I have done that, my rides don't usually get cancelled. Secondly, I have started to put in the pick and drop location as Kasturba Gandhi hospital in Daryaganj instead of Jama Masjid. Even though they are just next to each other, Jama Masjid rides get cancelled while Kasturba Gandhi hospital ones get accepted."

Sufiyan lives in the interiors of Old Delhi. He says he changed his name on Uber because he once booked a cab and told the driver to go to Jama Masjid, but the driver refused. After a verbal spat, Sufiyan had to cancel the ride and take another cab. He recalls, “The driver was paranoid about going into a Muslim-dominated area. These people are made to believe that such localities are prone to riots and thefts, although nothing of the sort happens.”

Asia Ikram, a Jamia student also spoke about the difficulty of finding cabs during anti-CAA protests in Jamia. She said, “It's nearly impossible to get a cab back to Jamia from literally anywhere in Delhi. Even when I did get it once, the cab driver went on talking about the ‘gundas’ in the area, and that he is armed to take care of them. He had a baseball bat. I had to nod along till I reached. It was really scary."

But some people have worked out ways around this issue. Daud Arif is an activist who works in GTB Nagar, close to the riot-affected areas in North East Delhi. His name on Uber, however, is Ankit Singh. He justifies it by saying, "Since the time that we have been working near GTB Nagar, we have changed our names on Uber, so that our identity is hidden when we move to and fro. It's scary."

The recent riots in Delhi and the demonisation of a certain community has resulted in a nationwide sentiment of hatred towards Muslims. An engineer based in Bangalore, has made a list of things which he calls "An Essential Guide to Surviving in India as a Muslim." Among the pieces of advice in the list are — "Never participate in political discussions in office or add people from your office to your Facebook list. When in north India, think twice before telling your name to anyone. Drop the habit of enthusiastically getting in a conversation with the cab or auto driver — just put on your earphones. Be careful in sharing things on Facebook, because school and college friends will unfriend and block you for your political opinions."

He said, "It is extremely common to approach a group or people discussing politics and see them change the topic once you get there. Either their volume goes completely down or they change the topic immediately."

Journalists, activists recount challenges

Ruba Ansari, a reporter at Hind News, a Hindi news portal, said, "On the night of 23 February, I received news that Muslims had been specifically targeted in the riots. At that time, I didn't pay heed to it and I thought it was an exaggeration. But once I actually went there to report and saw the hostile environment there, I realised that it was true. I was not allowed to use my camera. People were openly chanting ‘Mullon ko kaata jayega’ (Kill the mullahs), even in front of the police." According to her, her cameraperson, a man named Aamir Tyagi told people in the area that his name was Amit Tyagi to avoid being attacked. "As for me, I was anyway wearing a bindi, due to which people assumed I'm a Hindu," she remarked.

Sabika Abbas Naqvi, a poet as well as a social activist, has been active in relief work in the riot-affected areas of northeast Delhi. She said, "While going to Maujpur for relief-related work, I wore a bindi." But she didn't wear the bindi as part of dressing up. She explains, "A bindi is something I wear only when I dress up. On this occasion, I wore it to hide my identity."

Being atheist doesn’t help

Wamique Gajdhar, an AIIMS doctor says, "I am a staunch atheist, but I've faced a lot of hostility just for having a Muslim name. Even my good friends always take my views with a caveat, as they think I have sympathies for fundamentalists." Talking about issues while house-hunting, he said, "Recently, I was searching for a home, and the broker told me not many people are willing to give homes for rent to Muslims."

Concerns about mental well-being

Afiya Mohommad, a therapist, said, "The most important bit in cases of human-made disasters such as riots is to secure people's health and wealth. Once immediate physical safety is secured, crisis intervention should be given to them immediately." According to her, Muslim clients mostly have issues of security. She says, "My Muslim clients have a tendency of being insecure and have a constant fear of being attacked."

Talking about the clients she is dealing with currently, she said, "Most of my patients have been volunteers who have been working on ground during the Delhi riots. They absorb all the grief around them. So, the major problems they face are grief and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

Full report at:



Delhi: Riot-Hit Families Line Up Outside Eidgah In Mustafabad, Now A Relief Centre

By Jignasa Sinha

March 4, 2020

A day after an Eidgah in Mustafabad was converted into a relief camp for those affected by the riots in Northeast Delhi, hundreds of families seeking shelter lined up outside the gates. Among them were 28-year-old Kadijah Khan and her five children, whose house in Shiv Vihar was among the many that were burnt down during the violence.

Holding her one-year-old baby, who suffered burn injuries on his leg, she said: “We were sitting inside our house when I saw a mob throwing petrol bombs and lighting cylinders. I was horrified, my husband wasn’t home. I took my five children and rushed to the terrace. We waited for them to leave but they kept throwing petrol bombs, one of them hit Shazdah on his left leg. Our neighbours helped us and we managed to escape to Chaman Park. A doctor treated Shazdah there. He has a fever and he hardly sleeps. My husband is still staying at his friend’s place. We have nothing left.”

While her daughters picked up new clothes from a pile kept outside tents set up by volunteers, Khan tried to get her baby to sleep. Others in the camp who came from Shiv Vihar and Chaman Park had similar stories to share.

Shiba (28), a resident of Chaman Park, sat with her sisters-in-law and children on a mat and waited for lunch. Her mother-in-law Sahiba (60) was talking to her three sons. The family of 12 had to flee after a mob burnt down their shop and home.

“On February 25, my husband rushed home at 8 pm and told us that a mob shouting slogans was outside. Soon, we saw our shop being set on fire. We were scared and tried to hide in a room but the men had set our house on fire as well. We ran through the back door… I was right behind my sister-in-law Reshma when a man caught hold of my hair and pulled me. Another joined him and they threatened to kill me. I cried and begged for my life, I told them I have two children and that I am not part of any movement or protest. After some time, they let me go, but I was hit with stones and bricks. I joined my family, who were waiting outside the lane. We then went to Reshma’s house in Sangam Vihar and stayed there for four days,” said Shiba. She said that though the camp has all the facilities, she misses home.

While the government has set up camps in Shahdara and other areas, several riot-affected people stayed with their friends or families in Chaman Park, Mustafabad and other areas before they found out about the relief centres.

The Eidgah camp was set up by the Waqf Board in association with the Delhi government. The government said more than a thousand people have been accommodated so far in 24 hours.

Multiple tents have been set up under which carpets and mattresses are laid out. Outside the tents, a space has been demarcated for people to sit and eat. Food is cooked by a few volunteers and groceries are sent by a few NGOs and donors.

The area is divided into three parts — one for men, second for women and the third for doctors and volunteers. Doctors from Holy Family Hospital and different welfare associations have set up mini-camps inside the Eidgah to give out medicines and treat the injured. Around 50 metres outside the camp are portable toilets for men and women.

On Tuesday, people brought trucks filled with food, groceries, water, toiletries and clothes, which were checked by volunteers before being distributed.

Full report at:



India’s Muslims Accuse Police of Targeted Killings


MARCH 3, 2020

MEERUT, India—Every evening before dark, Mohammad Asif returned to his parents’ house after a day’s work ferrying commuters on his electric rickshaw. But on Dec. 20, 2019, night had fallen, Asif still wasn’t home, and his parents were very worried. That day in Meerut, the city in northern India where they lived, hundreds of their fellow Muslims had been protesting against India’s new citizenship law—which curtails some Muslims’ access to citizenship—and were clashing with police. Around 10 p.m. that night, someone forwarded Asif’s parents a photo of their son that had been circulating on WhatsApp—dead, face upturned, and mouth still open, a gaping red hole in his chest. He had been shot and died on the spot. “The man who brought him to the hospital said he saw a policeman shoot my son,” Asif’s father told Foreign Policy.

Aleem Ansari was Asif’s neighbor. When he wasn’t taking care of his elderly parents, Ansari worked in a restaurant baking chapatis in a tandoori oven. As the protests were picking up that day, the restaurant’s owner shut down early and sent Ansari home. On his way there, he was shot in the head. “The bullet pierced his skull and came out the other side,” said his brother, Sallauddin. In a video he showed Foreign Policy, a bystander in a black leather jacket holds up Ansari’s hand and says, “The police killed this man, he has just died.” In another clip seen by Foreign Policy, Ansari’s brain is spilled on the pavement. He was just 21 and had recently gotten married.

Asif and Ansari were among more than 20 Muslims whose families say were killed by mainly Hindu police officers that day in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Meerut is located. Thousands more were arrested. Since then, protests against the new citizenship law have continued across India, many of them drawing not just Muslims but Indians of various backgrounds who oppose their country’s first-ever law imposing limits on civil rights based solely on religion. Lately, however, the protests have turned into deadly sectarian clashes. Last week in New Delhi, 34 people were killed as mainly Hindu mobs swept through the city.

If the accounts of witnesses and civil rights activists are true, then the police in Meerut and other cities of Uttar Pradesh played a crucial role in instigating and escalating the violence, drawing increasing numbers of Indians onto the streets, and setting Muslims and Hindus against each other. Since then, civil rights activists say, police elsewhere have often stood by during violence—or actively sided with Hindus.

That the initial bout of police violence took place in Uttar Pradesh carries special significance for Indians. As India’s most populous state, it is a bastion of political power whose affairs echo far beyond its borders. It is also home to India’s largest Muslim population—about one-fifth of the state’s 200 million inhabitants—outside disputed Jammu and Kashmir. In Meerut, almost 40 percent of the city’s 1.2 million inhabitants are Muslim, including many Dalit Muslims, whose ancestors converted from Hinduism to Islam to escape oppression as so-called untouchables under the Hindu caste system. As part of India’s complex fabric of religions and ethnicities, the communities have lived largely at peace since Partition in 1947. While that peace has sometimes been punctuated by flares of communal violence, the events in Meerut on Dec. 20 had a different quality, because they did not involve a clash with the Hindu majority. If the allegations are true, Muslims were deliberately targeted by police.

The protests and clashes go back to early December, when the Indian parliament passed a new nationality law that many Muslims see as a threat to their status as equal citizens. The law gives a special track to Indian citizenship to immigrants from surrounding countries—but only if the applicants are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, Jain, or Christian. Critics say that the law is a blatant attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to implement his vision of a Hindu-dominated state, shore up support among the non-Muslim majority, and whip up sectarian tensions. Critics also say that Modi is using the law—and the conflict it has unleashed—to distract from other issues, including a worsening economy that grew at the slowest pace in more than six years during the final quarter of 2019.

Indian Muslims have always been terrified of Modi’s politics. He was in power in the state of Gujarat in 2002, when about 1,000 Muslims were killed in a pogrom. He was accused of condoning the massacre and not doing enough to stop the killings. In 2005, the U.S. government denied him a diplomatic visa for his suspected role in the riots.

Several politicians in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have publicly approved of the deaths in Uttar Pradesh. Dilip Ghosh, the leader of the BJP in the state of West Bengal, said the victims had been “shot like dogs”—and that “given a chance, we will do the same here.” A firebrand BJP politician in Delhi, Kapil Mishra, called on his supporters to “shoot the traitors.” Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a saffron-robed Hindu nationalist monk, swore “revenge” if any protesters were caught breaking the law, which most of his audience took to apply mainly to Muslims.

Critics blame BJP politicians for condoning and even encouraging police violence aimed at Muslims. Their comments “indicate an absolute carte blanche given to policemen to silence protests by gunning down people in the vicinity,” said Sanjay Hegde, a prominent civil rights lawyer who has brought cases before India’s Supreme Court. “The messaging seems to be that policemen will not be called to account,” he said. Kavita Krishnan, the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association and member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India, told Foreign Policy that most victims were shot above the chest, which to her suggests that the perpetrators’ intention was not to contain the crowd, but to kill.

Muslims are aware that the road to justice will be tedious. Sallauddin, the brother of one of the Meerut victims, said there were more than 10 witnesses of his brother’s death, but none is willing to come forward because they fear reprisal. He said the family has been looking for the eyewitness speaking in the video, but they have been told he’s left town. Police have arrested hundreds of people for throwing stones and other forms of violence, and they continue to add names to the list of suspects. Many young men have fled their homes in Muslim-dominated neighborhoods in Meerut and other cities in Uttar Pradesh—not because of any wrongdoing, but because they fear they may be the next to be arrested.

Uttar Pradesh authorities say police were only responsible for two of the deaths on Dec. 20—two protesters in the town of Bijnor, allegedly shot in self-defense. In Meerut, police said protesters accidentally shot each other or that the victims were killed somewhere else. But videos of the clashes show police firing at the protesters in plain sight. Ali Zaidi, a Delhi-based lawyer representing Ansari’s family, said police claims that Ansari died elsewhere before being anonymously dropped at the hospital are untrue. In a video he shared with Foreign Policy, police officers can be seen carrying Ansari’s body to a black car. “The police are trying to cover their tracks,” Zaidi said.

Many Muslims in India suspect their government is working to deny them their place in Indian society—and that the new law is just the first step. Civil rights activists accuse the Modi government of deliberately instilling fear among Muslims in order to pressure them to start leaving the country. In Uttar Pradesh, Hindu police ransacking some Muslims’ homes told them that “their property and their homes would soon belong to [the Hindus],” Krishnan said.

Full report at:



Centre chides Iran for ‘selective’ characterisation of Delhi violence

Mar 4, 2020

NEW DELHI: The Delhi riots seem to have caused a fullblown diplomatic crisis between India and Iran with the government summoning Iran’s ambassador to India Ali Chegeni and lodging a strong protest against remarks made by Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif on the violence.

The government conveyed to him that Zarif’s “selective and tendentious’’ characterisation of recent events in Delhi was not acceptable. “We don’t expect such comments from a country like Iran,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said. Chegeni was also told that the minister had chosen to comment on a matter which was entirely internal to India.

The government seems to have been taken aback by what it saw as harsh and uncalled for condemnation of riots in Delhi which left 46 dead. Zarif had said in a tweet that Iran condemned the wave of “organised violence’’ against Indian Muslims. He had urged Indian authorities to ensure the wellbeing of ALL (in all caps) Indians and to not let “senseless thuggery prevail”.

Full report at:



A first: Panj Pyaras with kirpans to lead religious procession to Kartarpur Sahib

by Kamaldeep Singh Brar

March 4, 2020

In a first, a religious procession will go to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib via the newly constructed corridor by India and Pakistan.

The Indian government has allowed the procession to take along with it the Guru Granth Sahib. Panj Pyaras, carrying kirpans (swords) and Sikh flag Nishan Sahib, will be leading the procession.

Nirol Seva Sanstha, an NGO, had started the religious procession from Gurdwara Ber Sahib in Sultanpur Lodhi in Punjab on February 21. It will Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib in Pakistan on March 7. The procession will travel through Punjab before reaching its destination.

“We have registered more than 500 devotees for this religious procession. All the devotees will cross over to Pakistan in the form of a religious procession. It will be the first time that a religious procession will cross over to Pakistan via Kartarpur Corridor. We have taken all required permissions from the Government of India,” said Jagdeep Singh Sodhi, head of the Nirol Seva Sanstha.

The Internal Security Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, in its letter dated February 4, stated that the religious procession will be carrying, Guru Granth Sahib, five Kirpans, five Nishan Sahib, a Chaur Sahib and one Palki Sahib.

The Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) had also planned a religious procession from Nankana Sahib in Pakistan to Sultanpur Lodhi in India. However, only Guru Granth Sahib had crossed over the border.

“I held meeting with custom officials at Dera Baba Nanak today. They have already received instructions and they have told me that there will not be any problem. I have also informed the Pakistan Sikh Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee via mail about our visit,” said Jagdeep Singh.

“We have been getting huge response from Sangat on the way. People want to go to Kartarpur Sahib. Many don’t have passport. Others don’t know how to apply. We are hopeful that this religious procession will not only educate people about how to go Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib but also respective governments on how Sikh Sangat be facilitated in a better way to visit the historic gurdwara,” said Jagdeep Singh.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on November 9 last year inaugurated the Kartarpur Corridor that links Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan, the final resting place of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev, to Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Gurdaspur district of Punjab.

Free bus service for Kartarpur Corridor

The SGPC launched a free bus service from Golden Temple Amritsar to Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on Tuesday.

The bus will leave from Heritage Street Amritsar at around 8 am and return in the evening. Pilgrims will be able to use the bus free of cost.

Full report at:



Rajya Sabha adjourned as Oppostion demands Delhi riots discussion on priority

March 4, 2020

The government on Tuesday agreed to the Opposition’s demand for a discussion on the Delhi riots in Rajya Sabha. The House, however, had to be adjourned with the Opposition insisting on having the discussion on priority.

Leader of the House and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot assured the Opposition of a discussion right after Rajya Sabha proceedings resumed at 2 pm. Earlier, the House was adjourned once after Opposition MPs demanded action against Union Minister Anurag Thakur for his alleged hate speech.

“There is peace in Delhi for the last four days. The Opposition wants a discussion on this topic. The government is ready. Whenever the Chairman decides, we can discuss that day,” Gehlot said in the afternoon after Opposition MPs did not let the House to take up the discussion on the Central Sanskrit Universities Bill.

Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad pressed for a discussion on priority. The House was adjourned for the second time as interruptions continued while Azad was speaking. Thereafter Azad and Gehlot went to the Chairman’s room for a meeting.

When the House resumed at 3 pm, Deputy Chairman Harivansh defended his decision to adjourn the House while Azad was speaking. “This House has had a very old and a very proud tradition that when the Leaders of the House and the Opposition speak, no one interrupts them. You can check the record to see that when Azad was speaking there was noise. We are discussing a very important issue… I request him (Azad) to finish what he was saying,” he said. Azad then appealed to the Chair and the government to discuss the Delhi riots before taking up any other business. “This is being discussed across the world. If we shy away from a discussion in India, then it will seem strange. The world will say that they are willing to talk about it but not the Indian Parliament,” Azad said. “We are already late in discussing this issue. We should have done this the first thing yesterday. If we come to it a week later, then it will be a non-issue…We shouldn’t run away from our responsibility,” he said.

To this, Gehlot said the government is aware of its responsibility and is ready for the discussion on a day decided by the Chairman.

But as Harivansh tried to take up the discussion on the Central Sanskrit Universities Bill, Congress MP Anand Sharma objected and said the Delhi riots should be the House’s priority.

Full report at:



Strain in ties: Furious Delhi summons Iran envoy, says Zarif’s remarks not on

by Shubhajit Roy

March 4, 2020

A DAY AFTER Iran became the fourth Muslim-majority country to officially react to the riots in Delhi, India on Tuesday summoned Iranian Ambassador in New Delhi Ali Chegeni and lodged a strong protest against, what it called, “unwarranted” remarks by Iranian Foreign minister Javad Zarif.

A diplomat-minister known for his careful choice of words, Zarif had tweeted Monday night: “Iran condemns the wave of organised violence against Indian Muslims. For centuries, Iran has been a friend of India. We urge Indian authorities to ensure the wellbeing of ALL Indians & not let senseless thuggery prevail. Path forward lies in peaceful dialogue and rule of law.”

Responding to this, Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “The Iranian Ambassador to India Mr Ali Chegeni was summoned and a strong protest was lodged against the unwarranted remarks made by the Iranian Foreign Minister. It was conveyed that his selective and tendentious characterisation of recent events in Delhi are not acceptable. We do not expect such comments from a country like Iran.”


High stakes for both sides

MUCH is at stake on the strategic front for India in its bilateral ties with Iran, particularly with the US signing a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran is critical for two specific reasons: it meets part of New Delhi’s energy needs, and also lends access to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port.

Tehran had last criticised India after the 2002 Gujarat riots and a decade earlier after the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. New Delhi had earlier rejected comments from Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan which had spoken out against the riots over the last week. Malaysia and Bangladesh too had earlier criticised the citizenship law and the proposed National Register of Citizens.

The recent comments have come after six years of Modi government’s outreach to the Islamic world and building diplomatic relationships, especially in West Asia.

Javad Zarif


Iran condemns the wave of organized violence against Indian Muslims.

For centuries, Iran has been a friend of India. We urge Indian authorities to ensure the wellbeing of ALL Indians & not let senseless thuggery prevail.

Path forward lies in peaceful dialogue and rule of law.


10:13 PM - Mar 2, 2020

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Iran has been one of the countries with which New Delhi has proactively engaged in the last few years.

New Delhi and Tehran have maintained close bilateral relationship, which has been strained after India decided to stop buying oil under threat of US sanctions. It has, however, moved ahead with the development plan of the strategically important Chabahar port, having received a waiver from the US. The two sides have also maintained bilateral contact through diplomatic visits.

In 2018-19, India-Iran bilateral trade jumped 23.8 per cent to USD 17.03 billion compared with the previous year. India’s exports to Iran stood at USD 3.5 billion in 2018-19, and imports from Iran were USD 13.5 billion.

Full report at:



Pulwama strike was pushed back a week, JeM man tells NIA

Neeraj Chauhan

Mar 04, 2020

The February 14, 2019, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) strike on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama, which led to India retaliating with an attack on a terror camp in Balakot later that month and the subsequent dogfight between the air forces of India and Pakistan, was originally set to be carried out in the first week of February.

All the preparations were made, the explosives were procured and armed, but weather conditions forced a suspension of the convoy movements, and JeM terrorists had to wait until the next CRPF convoy passed on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.

This revelation is part of the new information that has been gleaned by sleuths from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) while interrogating Shakir Bashir Magrey, the first person to be arrested last Friday in connection with the deadly terror attack that claimed 40 lives, according to two senior officials who spoke to HT on condition of anonymity.

“The disclosures made by Shakir Magrey are important as he is the first person to be arrested who knew everything from planning to execution, including arranging the bomb, helping in fitting it and sheltering the bomber, Adeel Ahmad Dar. This also clearly shows how the Pakistan-based terror group was specifically targeting convoys. We will now be able to file a charge sheet in the Pulwama attack,” one of the officials said.

The bomber who carried out the attack, Adeel Ahmad Dar, was killed in the suicide attack, and the NIA on Tuesday arrested two other people in connection with the case — the father-daughter duo of Tariq Ahmad Shah (50) and Insha Jan (23) — who allegedly sheltered the JeM terrorists and their local contacts. They will be interrogated over the next few days, the officials cited above said.

According to the officials, Magrey has told the NIA interrogators that the attack on a convoy on Jammu-Srinagar highway was first discussed in June 2018, and its actual preparation began in October that year when, upon receiving directions from Pakistan, JeM leadership started collecting the material needed for the operation.

They added that a Pakistani terrorist, Mohammad Umar Farooq (killed in an encounter in Tralon March 29, 2019, along with IED expert Kamran), was given the responsibility to execute the attack while JeM’s area commander Mudassir Khan (killed in Pinglishon March 11, 2019) supervised the overall planning.

Out of three volunteers from the Valley who were ready to blow themselves up in the attack, 20-year-old Dar, a resident of Gundibagh village in Pulwama, was found to be most dedicated and motivated towards JeM’s ideology, Magrey told the sleuths.

Throughout January 2019, 22-year-old Magrey, a resident of Kakapora in Pulwama, monitored the convoys passing through the national highway from his small sawmill located on Lethpora bridge, just 200 metres from the blast site.

“It was decided that suicide bombing will be carried out at this spot as the highway becomes a little steep from here causing CRPF convoys to reduce their speed. February first week was decided as the time for it,” said one official aware of the details of Magrey’s interrogation.

According to Magrey, the officer added, a powerful IED with approximately 50kg of explosive — including RDX, ammonium nitrate and nitroglycerin — was readied and fitted in a Maruti Eeco car in the first week of February by Umar Farooq, Kamran, Dar and him.

Magrey was the one who modified the car for the bomb and changed its number plates. The explosive material was arranged by JeM leaders from Pakistan, while gloves, battery and ammonium powder were ordered off the internet.

“He says they were waiting for convoys to pass. However, the weather in February was very bad and CRPF cancelled its convoy movement,” said a second officer aware of the matter.

The first convoy to pass that month was on February 14. Magrey saw the road opening party (ROP) that was being deployed to assist the convoy and they decided to carry out the attack.

Magrey drove the car till 500-600 metres of the attack site before handing it over to Dar. “Magrey has disclosed the IED was connected with the electrical system of the car and trigger button was put in Adil Dar’s hand. He (Adil) was asked to first ram the car in CRPF bus and then press the button, which he did,” said the second officer.

The suicide bomber, Dar, entered the national highway though a by-lane near Latoo Mode, smashing the explosive laden car into the fifth bus among 78 vehicles in the CRPF convoy.

The NIA officials said it appears Magrey didn’t leave Pulwama after the attack, and continued to work normally in his sawmill. They did not disclose how he was eventually apprehended.

One of the officials said the case was cracked by a team led by IG Anil Shukla. “The agency worked on technical details of all suspects for over a year. Enough forensic evidence has been gathered,” the officer added.

The father-daughter duo that NIA arrested on Tuesday allegedly harboured the Pulwama attackers, including Dar, Pakistani terrorists Umar Farooq and Kamran, and two others, JeM member Sameer Ahmed Dar and Pakistani national Mohammad Ismail.

Full report at:





Huge Arab voter turnout ‘thwarts Netanyahu’s bid to stay in power’

March 04, 2020

AMMAN: A massive Arab vote in Israel’s parliamentary election appeared on Tuesday to have thwarted attempts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stay in power and avoid prosecution for fraud and corruption.

Arab voter turnout hit an unprecedented 66 percent, compared with less than 60 percent at the last election in September, and the Arab Joint List is expected to increase its number of parliamentary seats from 13 to 15.

With almost all votes counted on Tuesday, Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc was heading for 59 seats — two short of the 61 required for a majority in the Knesset. Opposition leader Benny Gantz refused to concede defeat, and said the election could result in another deadlock.

“The results of the Joint List are great, and we are hoping it will spoil Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government,” Nazareth lawyer Boutros Mansour told Arab News. “But regardless, it is a great victory for Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

Netanyahu is due in court on March 17 on charges of fraud, corruption and abuse of power.

He requires a majority in the Knesset to pass legislation granting him immunity, which now looks increasingly unlikely.

Netanyahu’s Likud party will struggle to cobble together a working coalition, Wadi Abunassar, director of the International Center for Consultation, told Arab News. “Despite doing well, Netanyahu has an uphill battle,” he said.

“His limited options include trying to chisel two or three members from the other bloc to join him.”

Netanyahu is thought to be wooing Moshe Ya’alon, a member of Gantz’s opposition Blue and White Party and a former defense minister under Netanyahu; and Orly Levy-Abekasis, a former member of Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu who now represents her own independent Gesher party in the Labor/Meretz coalition.

Levy-Abekasis has ambitions to be a minister and could be persuaded to flip but Ya’alon will not, said

Boutros Mansour, who has been closely following the Israeli political scene for decades. “There is a lot of hatred now against Netanyahu and it is highly unlikely for this to work,” he said.



Houthi court sentences 35 Yemeni lawmakers to death


March 04, 2020

AL-MUKALLA: A court controlled by Iran-backed Houthis on Tuesday sentenced 35 pro-government parliamentarians to death and confiscated their properties, a local lawyer who attended the trial said.

Abdul Basit Ghazi said on Facebook that the Specialized Criminal Court in Sanaa handed down the verdicts on members of the Yemeni Parliament charged with treason for supporting the internationally recognized government and military operations by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Convicted lawmakers included Sultan Al-Barakani, the parliamentary leader and his deputy Abdul Aziz Jubari; Ameen Al-Okaimi, governor of Jawf; Ali Amrani, Yemen’s envoy to Jordan, and several former ministers, tribal leaders and businessmen.

In February, Al-Barakani complained to Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy to Yemen, that Houthis had confiscated the property of 35 Yemeni MPs who supported the internationally recognized government.

Houthi extremists have stepped up their legal attacks on lawmakers since early last year when MPs met in Seiyun in Yemen’s Hadramout province for the first session of the Parliament since the beginning of the war.

Dozens of legislators in Houthi-controlled areas, including the current Parliament’s head, have switched sides and joined the internationally recognized government since December 2017 when militants killed former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Pro-government lawmakers who fled Sanaa say Houthis barred their peers from leaving the capital and forced them to attend the rebel-controlled Parliament. Houthi-controlled courts previously sentenced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, his deputy Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmer and the Prime Minister Maeen Saeed and other ministers to death for treason.

After the trial, armed Houthi fighters stormed the properties of the sentenced men and ordered local banks to freeze their accounts.

Political analysts say that Houthis are targeting opponents to justify confiscating properties and intimidate those who might consider fleeing areas under rebel control.

“They seek to accelerate looting properties of lawmakers, including houses and other properties in their areas. They also want to terrorize politicians and other lawmakers in Sanaa who plan to sneak out to government-controlled areas or outside the country,” Saleh Al-Baydhani told Arab News.

On the battlefields, fighting continues between government troops and Houthis in the province of Jawf and Nehim district, near Houthi-controlled Sanaa.

Government officials say that militants executed several opponents shortly after seizing control of Hazem on Sunday.

Yahyia Qoma, director of the Ministry of Information’s office in Jawf, said that Houthi militants killed several people on Tuesday and stormed opponents’ houses in Hazem. Houthis have made major gains in the northern province of Jawf after seizing control of Hazem, the capital of Jawf and Ghyal district.

Full report at:



Arab parties set for largest-ever representation in Israeli parliament

3 March 2020

Israel’s Arab parties looked poised on Tuesday for their largest-ever representation in parliament.

The Joint List coalition of Arab factions looked set to take 15 of parliament’s 120 seats with more than 90 percent of the vote counted, a two-seat boost for representatives of the 21 percent Arab minority.

Arab voter turnout surged to 64.7 percent, its highest in 20 years, according to Arik Rudnitzky, a researcher with the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI).

Politicians and analysts said the strong showing helped limit gains by Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and its partners, which appeared to fall just short of a governing majority after Monday’s vote.

Full report at:



Netanyahu leads in Israel’s third election, but still lacks majority

3 March 2020

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led on Tuesday in Israel’s third national election in less than a year but was short of a governing majority, nearly complete results showed.

Netanyahu claimed victory in Monday’s vote over his main challenger, former armed forces chief Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, after exit polls projected the right-wing leader’s Likud party had come out on top.

“We turned lemons into lemonade,” he told a cheering crowd at Likud’s election headquarters as exit polls were released.

But Gantz stopped short of conceding defeat, saying the election could result in another deadlock and he understood and shared his supporters’ “feeling of disappointment and pain.”

With some 90 percent of the votes counted, Netanyahu, who has the pledged support of right-wing and religious parties for a coalition government, appeared to control 59 seats in parliament, two short of a ruling majority.

The gap made former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party a potential kingmaker after remaining on the sidelines in inconclusive ballots in April and September.

A win for Netanyahu, 70, would be testament to the political durability of Israel’s longest-serving leader, who fought the latest campaign under the shadow of a looming corruption trial.

It would also pave the way for Netanyahu to make good on his pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the region’s Jordan Valley, under a peace plan presented by US President Donald Trump.

Palestinians have rejected the proposal, saying it would kill their dream of establishing a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Picking sides

Likud led Blue and White by 36 seats to 32, and Lieberman’s party, with seven, could tip the balance in complicated coalition building. A Likud spokesman said he expected Netanyahu to get lawmakers from the opposing camp to cross sides.

Lieberman said he would convene his party on Thursday afternoon to choose who to back.

“As we promised voters, we will do everything to prevent a fourth election and we intend to take decisive action, one way or another,” Lieberman told Israeli Channel 12 TV.

Critical of control Orthodox rabbis have over aspects of life in Israel and of military conscription exemptions granted to Jewish seminary students, he has balked at joining a Likud-led coalition with religious parties.

Lieberman also has pledged not to partner with any Blue and White-led coalition dependent on the support of Arab parties.

In the previous election, in September, Blue and White edged past Likud, taking 33 seats to its rival’s 32, but Gantz, like Netanyahu, was unable to put together a ruling coalition.

The mostly Arab Joint List party again emerged as the third-largest, growing to 15 seats from 13 in the last election.

Acrimonious Campaign

Israel’s economy has weathered the political stalemate, with growth strong and the labour market tight. The main issue has been no budget since the 2019 one was passed two years ago.

During an acrimonious race focused more on character than on policy, Netanyahu campaigned vigorously on his strongman “security-first” platform, familiar to voters over decades.

His loyal, blue-collar base has stood firmly behind him throughout, seemingly unfazed by his imminent trial.

During the campaign, Gantz ruled out teaming up with Likud in a “unity government” because of the criminal indictments against the prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing.

Full report at:



23 Iran MPs have coronavirus: Deputy Speaker

3 March 2020

Twenty-three Iranian MPs have so far tested positive for coronavirus, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Abdolreza Mesri said on Tuesday, while state media reported the death of a senior judiciary official due to the virus.

Mesri did not name the MPs.

Ahmad Toyserkani, an adviser to the head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi has died from coronavirus, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, 77 in the country have died from the virus and there are 2,336 confirmed cases.

Several officials have contracted the virus in Iran, which has the highest death toll in the world outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Senior Iranian politician and former adviser to current Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Hossein Sheikholeslam, has reportedly been infected with coronavirus.

Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi died from coronavirus, state media reported on Monday.

Iran's Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi was reported as having coronavirus by the semi-official news agency ILNA on February 25.

On Thursday, former Justice Minister and Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi was hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms.

Full report at:



Coronavirus ‘not that big of deal’: Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

3 March 2020

The coronavirus outbreak in Iran is "not that big of a deal,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday, urging citizens to pray against the virus.

“This calamity is not that big of a deal, and that there have been bigger ones in the past,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency on Tuesday.

Khamenei called on Iranians to pray against the virus “as prayer can solve many problems.”

“I do not want to underestimate this issue of course, but let us not overestimate it either,” he said.

“[The coronavirus outbreak] will affect our country for a while and then will be over,” added Khamenei.

Al Arabiya English


“This calamity is not that big of a deal in our view. There have been bigger ones in the past and we have had such cases in this country,” #Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei says on the #coronavirus outbreak as Tehran says its death toll jumps to 77. …

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7:10 PM - Mar 3, 2020

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As of Tuesday, 77 in the country have died from the virus and there are 2,336 confirmed cases.

Khamenei also urged citizens to follow the health authorities’ instructions.

Khamenei also praised Iranian authorities for their honesty and transparency.

Full report at:



Iran says 77 dead amid 2,336 cases of new coronavirus

3 March 2020

Iran says there are 77 dead amid 2,336 cases of the new coronavirus in the Islamic Republic.

That’s according to Ali Reza Raisi, a Health Ministry official, who gave a news conference Tuesday in Tehran.

Iran’s supreme leader earlier on Tuesday ordered the Islamic Republic’s armed forces to assist its Health Ministry in combating the spread of the new coronavirus.

The decision by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comes as Iran has the highest death toll from the new virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes outside of China, the epicenter of the virus.

Full report at:



China to evacuate citizens from coronavirus areas of Iran: Report

3 March 2020

China will send a chartered plane to Iran on the evening of March 3 to pick up its citizens from areas struck by the coronavirus, according to a report by Global Times, which is run by the official People's Daily newspaper.

Outside China, where the COVID-19 coronavirus first emerged, Iran is one of the countries that is worst affected by the epidemic. On Monday, Iran had reported 66 dead amid 1,501 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the Islamic Republic.

Other countries have also evacuated their citizens from Iran and banned travel to and from the country.

The United Arab Emirates evacuated on Monday its citizens from Iran as part of the country's efforts to confront the spread of the coronavirus, state news agency WAM reported.

Full report at:



Iran says that ‘CIA spy’ will be executed soon

3 March 2020

A website linked to Iran’s judiciary carried a statement on Tuesday saying a man convicted of reportedly spying for the CIA would be executed soon.

The video statement from spokesman Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, marked “live” on the screen, was similar to a statement he gave on February 4.

It was not clear if Esmaili would address the topic at a press conference on Tuesday.



Turkey’s pressure on EU by opening borders to Syrian refugees questioned

March 03, 2020

LONDON: Turkey’s opening of its borders so Syrian refugees can enter Europe is an attempt to pressure the EU into support for its offensive in Syria, but the strategy is likely to backfire, experts say.

The border opening has coincided with a serious escalation in fighting in Syria’s Idlib province, where Turkish and Syrian regime forces have entered into direct conflict.

This spike in violence is why Turkey chose to open its borders now, said Francesco Milan, associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“By pressuring the EU through the flow of refugees, (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan hopes to re-establish a degree of support for his actions in Syria — not through the EU itself, but through European members of NATO, blackmailing them into taking action alongside Turkey in the unfolding crisis,” Milan told Arab News.

However, “the EU is unlikely to capitulate to Turkey’s requests as this would … give Turkey additional leverage toward the EU,” he said. “This is likely to become another major crisis between the two sides.”

Already home to 3.7 million Syrian refugees, Turkey says it can no longer handle the number of people fleeing the Syrian war.

Ankara has abandoned a 2016 deal with the EU to prevent refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers from entering the bloc in exchange for billions of euros in aid.

Turkey has requested more financial assistance from the EU. But Mehmet Kurt, Marie Curie global fellow at Yale University, told Arab News that financial support “isn’t their only motivation — it’s the political support they want, and if they manage it, military support.”

He said: “The refugee issue is the only card that Turkey has against the EU to achieve this — they see it as the weakest point of the EU.”

Kurt added: “The EU won’t tolerate this — they’ll put their own measures and other mechanisms to control migration. This might not work well for Turkey in the long run, because now they’ve used the only card they have against the EU: Migration.”

While leaders argue over borders and financial aid, the human dimension of the crisis is too readily overlooked, said Reşat Kasaba, director of the Henry Jackson School of International Studies. “Tens of thousands of people are being used as mere pawns,” he told Arab News.

As for the fate of refugees who have made their way to the Greek border, Kasaba is not optimistic: “For them, it looks very bleak.”

Thousands of people have already traveled to the Turkish-Greek border to try to reach the EU, and Erdogan has warned that millions more may come.

Greece has since blocked all new asylum applications, and has deployed the army and riot police to protect the border.

Full report at:



Southeast Asia


Non-Muslim MPs in ‘Malay’ ruling bloc still have concerns after ‘PM for all’ speech

Minderjeet Kaur

March 3, 2020

PETALING JAYA: The handful of non-Muslim MPs in Perikatan Nasional still have concerns about whether their views carry weight in the overwhelmingly Malay Muslim-majority coalition, despite Muhyiddin Yassin’s assurance that he will be a prime minister for all races.

Two non-Muslim MPs from the new ruling bloc told FMT that such fear persists despite reassurances to them by “Muhyiddin’s people”.

“We want our voices to be heard,” one of them said. “The majority of MPs backing Muhyiddin are Malays, including those from PAS.”

He said the Chinese, Indians as well as non-Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak might feel unrepresented in the present government.

“There are some reservations, but during our conversations with Muhyiddin’s circles, we were assured that the non-Muslims will be looked after. We were told he would not sideline us.”

Muhyiddin came to power with the backing of PPBM MPs as well as Barisan Nasional dominated by Umno, along with PAS and GPS. There are fewer than a dozen non-Muslim MPs in the bloc.

The non-Muslims include MPs from Keningau, Beluran, Puncak Borneo, Saratok, Baram, Bintulu, Ayer Hitam, Tanjung Piai, Segamat and Tapah. Negotiations are ongoing with other non-Muslim MPs from Sabah and Sarawak.

Last night, in his first televised address after being sworn in, Muhyiddin vowed to be a prime minister for all Malaysians.

“I am a brother to the Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, the Sikhs, the Ibans, the Kadazans, the Dusun, the Murut and those of various ethnicities.

“I am your prime minister. Even if you are a farmer, a fisherman, a trader, a civil servant or a private sector employer, I am your prime minister,” he said.

One non-Muslim MP said among the assurances given to them was on PAS’ “new face”.

“We were told that the public would see a new face to PAS, so that everyone will be comfortable with them,” he added.

The MP said PAS is not what worries the non-Muslim MPs in the new coalition.

“In some ways, as we get to know PAS MPs, they seem okay. Perhaps more progressive than Amanah. But we will wait and see.”

Another MP who supported Muhyiddin as prime minister spoke of concerns about issues like controversial Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik, the Islamisation of national schools, and the possibility of stricter shariah laws in the country.

He said with Malays forming the bulk of MPs, the current government could do “what Pakatan Harapan could not do”.

Even if the coalition decides to deport Naik, who is wanted in India on charges of money laundering, he said there would be less resistance from the Malay community.

“We will have to talk things out,” he said. “But what we want is for our voices to be heard.”



Startups race to tap Indonesia’s multi-billion ‘Sharia fintech’ growth

March 3, 2020

JAKARTA: Like millions of other Indonesians, Gandi Iswara had for years carried a wad of currency notes for dropping into donation boxes after prayers at mosques in suburban Jakarta.

From late last year, though, the 35-year-old engineer switched to a more convenient option: whipping out his mobile phone, firing up a digital payment app from Google-backed GoPay and tapping the QR code stickers that are now affixed to the boxes.

His digital conversion took some time, as Iswara initially held the view that all rewards and discounts offered by e-wallets conflicted with Islam.

“At first, I thought e-wallets resulted in usury, which is forbidden by Islam. But after a while I found them convenient in daily life,” he said.

Winning over conservative Muslims like Iswara in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country is both a challenge and multi-billion dollar opportunity for fintech firms that are riding its mobile internet boom and aim to sell financial services.

Of Indonesia’s 270 million population, half lacks bank accounts but most now have mobile phones.

Questions about compliance with Islamic law are a significant hurdle for the adoption of digital payments and other fintech services, industry executives say.

Known as Sharia, the law strictly prohibits charging interest, or “riba”, and clerics in Indonesia disagree on whether the popular cashback rebates and discounts given by digital wallets qualify.

Social media videos in Indonesia on whether e-wallets are “haram” — prohibited by Islam — or incorporate “riba” rack up hundreds of thousands of views.

Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body has even issued an edict deeming virtual money acceptable, as long it met specific conditions.

To showcase the compliance of their services with Islam, fintech firms are organising forums with Islamic scholars and sponsoring religious festivals. Newer startups are tailoring services for Indonesia’s growing body of “born-again” Muslims, known as the “hijrah” movement at home.

GoPay, which is part of ride-hailing firm Gojek, has partnered with the Indonesian Mosque Council since November to enable digital donations, including “zakat”, or compulsory alms giving, in its 800,000 mosques, CEO Aldi Haryopratomo said. “Zakat” alone amounts to over US$500 million annually in Indonesia.

“It has made it much easier for people to pay alms,” said Budi, chief administrator of Jakarta’s Istiqlal mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia, referring to digital payments services.

Rival LinkAja, which was formed by a consortium of Indonesia’s top state-owned firms, has launched similar donation efforts. It is now readying LinkAja Sharia, which will offer a range of financial services specifically targeted at conservative Muslims and only accept money from Islamic banks.

Backed by companies including telco Telkomsel and Bank Mandiri, LinkAja is currently seeking to raise US$200 million in outside financing, sources told Reuters. The company declined to comment on its funding.

Broadening appeal

The scale of ‘sharia-fintech’ in Indonesia is small, so far, with Islamic fintech startups disbursing about US$73.15 million in sharia-compliant loans in 2019, a four-fold increase from 2018, according to the Indonesia Sharia Fintech Association.

But with all forms of Islamic banking accounting for only 6% of Indonesia’s US$580 billion in banking assets, there is room for growth.

The sector is also getting a policy push. The country’s vice-president, cleric Ma’ruf Amin, took over Indonesia’s National Islamic Finance Committee in January and has cited the growth of Islamic fintech as a key national priority.

Some of the startups say they are finding their appeal extends beyond Muslims.

One of them is peer-to-peer lender Alami, created by three ex-bankers, which has disbursed over US$7.5 million in sharia-compliant financing to small and medium enterprises since May, and plans to become a digital bank.

CEO Dima Djani said that although conservative Muslims are its main target, others also are choosing it as an ethical banking option.

“They see the fact we are focused on sharia principles as a sign of integrity,” he told Reuters.

Muhamad Fajrin Rasyid, president of Bukalapak, one of Indonesia’s top e-commerce companies which offers a sharia-compliant investing service, concurs.

Full report at:



Muhyiddin off to polarizing start in Malaysia


MARCH 3, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR – “I am not a traitor,” declared new Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in his first televised address since his March 1 inauguration.

The newly appointed leader was addressing criticism from his immediate predecessor, elder statesmen Mahathir Mohamad, who in recent days has accused him of “betrayal.”

Mahathir, 94, resigned last week in the midst of a political crisis that shattered his Pakatan Harapan (PH) governing coalition, with Muhyiddin, his home minister, filling the vacuum after being appointed by the nation’s constitutional monarch.

That, however, hasn’t stopped the wily nonagenarian from challenging the legal standing of Muhyiddin’s days-old premiership.  

Mahathir’s PH coalition, which he claims has support of at least 112 of Parliament’s 222 lawmakers, the minimum needed to form a simple majority government, has promised to launch a no-confidence debate against Muhyiddin at the legislature’s next sitting.

Analysts expect Muhyiddin to delay a scheduled March 9 session of Parliament to bide time to win support from East Malaysian lawmakers whose backing would numerically give him a clear and comfortable majority.

Muhyiddin could legally delay Parliament’s convening until May at the latest, giving his coalition ample time to lure on-the-fence parliamentarians to his side of the political divide.

With Mahathir still in alliance with his twice-jailed former protégé Anwar Ibrahim, 72, both veteran politicians again find themselves in the opposition with common cause to unseat an incumbent.

“Never count Anwar out, that’s Rule Number 2 in Malaysian politics. Rule Number 1 is to never count Mahathir out,” said Tom Pepinsky, associate professor at Cornell University’s Southeast Asia Program.

“They could return to power if they manage to push through a no-confidence vote, and even if not, they will be shaping the debate in anticipation of the next round of elections, which isn’t too far off in any case.”

General elections must be called by 2023 under local law. “That very fact will put pressure on Muhyiddin’s government to ‘perform’ in order to shore up popular support for their government which, it must be remembered, has no electoral mandate,” said the academic.

Analysts see Muhyiddin’s first priorities, beyond seeing down the no-confidence motion, as shoring up public confidence in his unelected administration and stabilizing his Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition in a fluid and uncertain political climate.

His political party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), or Bersatu, was initially formed to end abuses of power by the previous long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

But after last week’s shock political realignment, PPBM is now in coalition with BN and its lynchpin party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), whose current and former leaders, including disgraced ex-premier Najib Razak, are on trial for money laundering and massive corruption.

Muhyiddin had served as Najib’s deputy premier but was unceremoniously sacked in 2015 after criticizing his handling of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, after which he joined forces with Mahathir to form PPBM.

The party had been part of PH until Muhyiddin, PPBM’s president, withdrew it last week.

Despite a clean record and reputation for integrity, Muhyiddin’s perceived betrayal of his PH coalition partners in favor of leading a new “backdoor” coalition government with the tainted UMNO and Islamist party Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) is already raising questions about his commitment to justice and reform.

“One sticking point in the public domain now is a fear that the ongoing corruption trials against key UMNO leaders would be dropped. Muhyiddin may well be motivated to stay clear from interfering in the judiciary process,” said Saleena Saleem, a PhD candidate in sociology and teaching fellow at the University of Liverpool.

“A key early indicator on this new government’s commitment to rule of law measures would be to see who Muhyiddin appoints as the new attorney general,” she told Asia Times. “We can expect the new PN government to tread very carefully over the next few weeks in order to consolidate its position.”

In his March 2 national address, Muhyiddin claimed he did not previously aspire to become prime minister, but rose to the occasion to “save the country from a continued crisis.”

Malaysians want “a government that is clean, with integrity and free of corruption,” he added while promising to elect members who fulfill those criteria to his Cabinet.

He also appealed to Malaysians across ethno-religious and class lines in a bid to allay concerns that his new Malay-centric coalition will prioritize ethnic Malay Muslims, who account for around 60% of the population and are granted special status as bumiputera, or “sons of the soil.” 

Muhyiddin, in a widely quoted remark made in 2010, controversially claimed to be “a Malay first” in a multiethnic country which has sizable Chinese and Indian minorities, most of whom are non-Muslim.

Though long-standing pro-Malay affirmative action policies were not dismantled under the PH government, then-opposition UMNO and PAS accused it of diminishing Malay Muslim rights.

Analysts believe Muhyiddin’s government could aim to court ethnic Malays with generous cash handouts and subsidies, as well as changes to ethnic quotas and licensing rules, in a bid to shore up Malay majority support ahead of the next election.

“Policy-wise, it will be a lot more Malay-centric,” said James Chin, director of the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute. “UMNO itself will try to take revenge against the non-Malays because they blame the Chinese primarily for their defeat in 2018,” he believes. “They can restrict business licenses, setup new quotas and what have you.”

Pepinsky foresees narratives shifting alongside policies. “I anticipate that we’ll see a more public show of aligning the Malay and Muslim identities as part of Perikatan’s basic messaging strategy. Malay-first policies are bound to be both substantive and symbolic.

“As far as governing goes, gaining public confidence could mean one of two things: doubling down on Malay-first policies, or continuing the reform efforts that had gotten underway – if haltingly – under Mahathir. It is hard to see both of those happening at the same time, because they appeal to two entirely different constituencies,” he said.

The addition of conservative PAS to the governing coalition, the first time it has held federal power since 1974, means that there will be “renewed pushes for religious legislation,” Pepinsky added.

For decades, PAS has sought to implement harsher sharia criminal laws and turn Malaysia into an Islamic state.

“Watch carefully what the Islamic party does. They say they want to make Malaysia an Islamic state, so they will try to control the religious ministry and the education ministry to that end,” Chin said.

Analysts say Muhyiddin will need to act quickly and boldly to boost public and investor confidence. That, some say, will be difficult considering that many at home and abroad already regard Muhyiddin’s PN coalition as a “putsch” regime.

Polarizing politicking over race and religion over the last year has, moreover, severely affected inter-ethnic relations in the country, Seleena remarked.

“While this new government is supported by a fairly significant segment of the Malay population, it lacks ethnic minority representation, which will further fuel ethnic minority distrust.”

She said Muhyiddin’s fragile coalition “is in a precarious position” facing “public outrage that is particularly pronounced in the urban areas” and “challenges” from politicians in PPBM still aligned to Mahathir and PH’s component parties.

Despite leading “a Barisan Nasional reincarnate,” academic and political analyst Mustafa Izzuddin believes Muhyiddin could turn out to be an efficient and capable premier.

“He is a steady and experienced steward and safe pair of hands who avoids histrionics and focuses on deliverables,” he told Asia Times.

“Muhyiddin’s most urgent priority as prime minister is to get the government up and running by choosing a Cabinet that comprises ministers who are able to rise above party interests.”

Another will be to shore up the economy, which is growing at its slowest pace in a decade and faces further downside risks as the Covid-19 outbreak disrupts travel and business.

Some 43.4 billion ringgit (US$10.3 billion) was wiped off the local bourse amid last week’s political turmoil. While investors appeared to react more positively to Muhyiddin’s maiden speech as premier, local markets opened at their lowest levels since November 2011 on Monday.

Investors are clearly wary of the potential for more political instability in the weeks and months ahead.

“Uncertainties surrounding the make-up of the new government and its future policies only serve to further cloud Malaysia’s outlook, which has already been dulled by pandemic fears in global markets,” Han Tan, a market analyst at forex broker FXTM, told Asia Times.

Full report at:



Ruth Sitepu’s sister raises spectre of enforced disappearance at Suhakam inquiry

Sean Augustin and Mohamed Fadli

March 4, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: The younger sister of Ruth Sitepu, who went missing together with her husband Joshua Hilmy in 2016, told a Suhakam inquiry today that she believed it was a case of enforced disappearance.

Ram Ram Elisabeth Sitepu, 48, said she was convinced that her sister had been forcibly taken as they normally kept in touch through the phone.

“Even if she went anywhere, she would always call us to ask about us,” she said when testifying at the inquiry into the duo’s disappearance.

She also dismissed the suggestion by a police officer when lodging a report on her sister’s disappearance in 2018 that Ruth had intentionally gone missing.

She said Ruth’s fridge in her home in Kampung Tunku, Petaling Jaya, had been filled with food when she visited on Feb 28, 2018. She noted however that the food “was not fresh”.

“If she wanted to disappear, she wouldn’t leave food in the fridge.

“So we thought it could be enforced disappearance,” she said, adding that the Christmas decorations had still been up as well.

Ram Ram, the sixth witness to be called, broke down as she recalled the moment she was informed that her sister and brother-in-law were missing.

She said she was informed of this by a friend of Ruth’s, known only as Imelda.

“We were sad, and we cried because we didn’t know anyone in Malaysia and we didn’t know who to ask for help.”

Ruth and her husband Joshua, a Malay Muslim who converted to Christianity, have been missing for over three years. They were last seen on Nov 30, 2016.

Ram Ram, who is a Muslim convert, said the family knew that Joshua was a Muslim who had converted to Christianity.

“He told us he was a Muslim but became a Christian before he married Ruth,” she said, adding that Joshua had also told them that he was a pastor.

When asked her opinion of the investigations into her sister’s disappearance, Ram Ram said she was disappointed as she had yet to receive any updates.

She pleaded for Ruth’s return, bursting into tears once more.

“I hope that we can find Ruth. We want to know of her condition. We want to meet her. We are worried.

“We are family. We miss Ruth. We love her. For those who know where they are, please return her to us. Her family is waiting for her.”

She also said she did not know if Ruth or Joshua had been threatened.

Full report at:



How the daily lives of Indonesian youth can tell us why they become more conservative

Ben K. C. Laksana

March 3, 2020 

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim population, is still often promoted as an example of a modern and moderate Islamic democracy.

However, various reports have indicated growing levels of Muslim conservatism.

Among them is last year’s Indonesian Muslim Report by research firm Alvara.

Based on interviews with 1,567 respondents in 34 provinces, the report suggests the country’s young generation is becoming more conservative. The report indicates that both generation Z (aged between 14 and 21 years old) and young millennial (22-29) respondents dominate within those who identify as “puritan & ultra-conservative”, accounting for almost 60 percent.

Those are significant figures as Indonesia’s young generation accounts for almost a quarter of the country’s population, or around 63.8 million individuals.

While these reports give cause for great concern, the numbers reveal little about how young people navigate daily encounters with religious difference.

My research on the everyday lives of Indonesian young people and their religious interactions may help shed light on why they are becoming more conservative.

Everyday practices

In 2013, I interviewed 20 people between the ages of 16 and 19 from three different high schools in the nation’s capital, Jakarta: a private, public and a public-run Islamic high school. These three schools use the national curriculum, but the Islamic school has an additional curriculum on Islam.

I also conducted focus group discussions with these young people.

I found these youth do not simply learn about tolerance from grand concepts taught in class. They also learn from their direct experiences with religious diversity.

This is contrary to what the government believes.

The government believes a tolerant society comes from decades-long teaching of tolerance from the New Order regime. This teaching forbids debates on religions, races and tribes among its citizens to avoid conflicts.

Yet although young people are conditioned to avoid discussing religions in public, my research shows everyday experiences of religious diversity influence their views.

One of my respondents, a 16-year-old from an Islamic high school, shared that he came to an understanding about tolerance and how to practice it from his daily experience with non-Muslim friends in his neighborhood.

This not only confirms the importance of the everyday experience for learning tolerance, but my interviews also show young people need access to spaces and opportunities that encourage inter-religious relationships in their everyday lives.

In the above case, my respondent has access to building amicable, close and daily relationships with his non-Muslim neighbors.

But now we see the mushrooming of exclusively Muslim housing complexes such as in Yogyakarta.

These exclusive spaces are the result of a combination of growing conservatism, capitalist interests and the lack of an inclusive vision of the city’s spatial planning.

This may result in young people having more limited access to others from different religious backgrounds, further generating their conservative views.

This does not mean the existence of Muslims-only housing becomes the only factor behind the rising conservatism among youths.

But it does suggest it’s important to understand and acknowledge that day-to-day experiences influence young people’s lives and views.

The need for further studies

By focusing on young people’s everyday interactions, my research aims to help us understand the social contexts shaping their attitudes and values, including their religious views.

Social contexts play a significant role in providing spaces and opportunities for promoting tolerance in the lives of Indonesian youths.

An analysis of social, political, economic and cultural structures will give us a bigger picture. This will avoid simplifying the issue by putting the blame on the youth alone.

However, this kind of research is still limited.

Full report at:





Boko Haram: Details of Israel, Nigerian Army’s meeting emerge

March 3, 2020

By Wale Odunsi

The Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, Shimon Ben-Shoshan, says his country was prepared to cooperate with Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram and terrorism.

Ben-Shoshan said this when he visited the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, on Tuesday in Abuja.

He disclosed that Israel and Nigeria had maintained a cordial diplomatic relationship for 60 years.

“We are willing to cooperate in any field. As you already know, there have been fantastic cooperation during the previous administration in fighting Boko Haram terrorists.

“I can assure you that you are in good hands,” Ben-Shoshan said.

The envoy stated that Israel had fought many wars over the years, adding that the country was desirous of achieving peace with all its neighbours.

On peace with other nations, Ben-Shoshan said: “We are praying three times a day, we are asking for peace. I think it is better if we can solve the problem without using force which is the best thing to be done to save lives,” he said.

Ben-Shoshan also expressed the desire of Israeli top government functionaries to visit Nigeria during the year, adding that no top official of government had paid official visit in a long time.

In his remarks, Buratai said issue of security requires not only internal resources or internal forces.

“We have had external supports in terms of training, provision of intelligence, which Israel has the strength.

“Israel is highly sophisticated in information technology as well as cyber warfare and cyber intelligence which I believe Israel will use to support our armed forces.”



Libya’s eastern govt opens embassy in Syria, pledges united front against Turkey

3 March 2020

Libya’s eastern-based government linked to the Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Hahftar has opened an embassy in Syria on Tuesday and called for the two countries to unite in their common fight against Turkey-backed militant groups.

Libya has not had any representation in Damascus since 2012, following the fall and killing of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising.

The opening of the embassy comes as tensions spiral between the Syrian regime and Turkish forces in northwestern Syria, where bombardment has killed dozens of troops on each side.

Libya has two governments, the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli, and another based in Benghazi, east of the country.

The eastern commander Haftar who leads the LNA forces launched an assault to capture Tripoli months earlier, and is fighting forces aligned with the government there which are backed militarily by Turkey.

“Terrorism will kill any Arab country if it’s permitted and if the criminal (President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is permitted to win this fight,” Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said at a ceremony to open the embassy.

President Bashar al-Assad has looked to shed his country’s pariah status and regain Arab support. In December 2018, the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy, followed by Bahrain.

Libya’s diplomatic missions are generally aligned with the government based in Tripoli, but diplomats in some foreign capitals have supported the rival government based in the east.

Haftar, backed by the Syrian regime’s main ally Russia, vowed to end the rule of militias that include hardline groups linked to al-Qaeda and others. General Haftar has reportedly received support from international allies opposed to extremism and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Full report at:



First Jordanian infected with coronavirus says he is recovering, cautions others

4 March 2020

Jordanian citizen Mohammed al-Hyari, who was recently confirmed as the first person in Jordan infected with the coronavirus after returning from Italy, said he is in good health after initially suffering from extreme fatigue and intermittent fever.

“I’m not suffering from any major problems at the moment. The coronavirus affected me for two days and the symptoms were showing at the time. I then overcame the difficult phase of the virus and did another test, and thank God, I am now doing much better,” al-Hyari told Al Arabiya’s sister channel Al Hadath over the phone from Amman.

Al-Hyari had flown back nearly two weeks ago on a plane with around 100 passengers, health minister Saad Jaber confirmed earlier on Monday. The Jordanian citizen said he had returned to Amman on February 15 from Italy, before any cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in the European country at the time.

“I decided to go and declare myself at the health ministry as soon as I felt that I have the symptoms. At first, I felt fatigued and tired. The second symptom I experienced was having a fever, it would come and go, and the third symptom I felt was difficulty in breathing,” al-Hyari said from his quarantine room at one of the hospitals in Amman.

The World Health Organization has classified the coronavirus outbreak as an international health emergency, with the virus spreading to at least 70 countries.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday “we are in uncharted territory.”

More than 90,000 people worldwide have been infected by the virus and 3,100 have died. But the numbers may be wrong due to incomplete data and undiagnosed cases, according to Dr. Kaveh Khoshnood, professor of epidemiology at Yale University’s School of Public Health.

“What we don’t know is if the data being reported is an actual reflection of the reality out there,” said Dr. Khoshnood in an interview with Al Arabiya English, adding that the international community relies on numbers reported by each country’s government.

Secondly, the majority of those infected by coronavirus have mild symptoms, and therefore do not get tested, according to Dr. Khoshnood.

“They don’t see any reason to get tested and they are walking around undiagnosed but infectious to others,” he said.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a list of symptoms for the virus, known scientifically as COVID-19, that include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

According to Dr. Khoshnood, there will “hopefully” be a vaccine for the coronavirus out in less than a year.

Al-Hyari said that he had traveled with another friend, who is also his coworker, to Italy and that they were together for most of the trip. His companion on the trip did not have any symptoms of the coronavirus.

“I want to add that infecting others with the coronavirus is very difficult as I had traveled with my friend, who is also my coworker, to Italy and we were together most of the time and thank God he hasn’t contracted the coronavirus,” the Jordanian said.

The Jordanian said he is expected to make a full recovery from the coronavirus and that authorities do not believe he has infected anyone else for the time being. Jordanian authorities had disinfected his house and car and tested his immediate family members as well, all of whom have not shown signs of the coronavirus.

Full report at:



Sudanese lawyers sue UAE firm over deceiving young people, sending them to Libya: Report

03 March 2020

A group of Sudanese lawyers have reportedly taken legal measures against a number of travel agencies purportedly collaborating with a security firm based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in “deception of the Sudanese youth and their transfer to Libya.”

“We have adopted legal actions against those travel agencies in Khartoum. We have requested the Chief Justice of Sudan (Nemat Abdullah Khair) to pursue the Emirati firm Black Shield in accordance with the international law,” Arabic-language Sudan Tribune newspaper quoted Sulaiman al-Jadi, the representative of the lawyers, as saying at a news conference.

Jadi further noted that the tragedy, which young Sudanese men are experiencing, falls within the scope of cross-border crimes.

In late January, a Sudanese man called on the country's transitional government to intervene after his brother was allegedly lured to the UAE and forced into a military training camp.

Abdullah al-Tayeb Yusuf told Arabic-language and Qatar-based al-Jazeera Mubasher television network that his brother travelled to the UAE after responding to a job advertisement for security guards in the country in October last year.

Upon his arrival in the country, however, Yusuf's brother was apparently forced into a military training camp alongside around 150 others.

“My brother told me that he was trained in the UAE to handle heavy weapons, and he was given the option to either go to Yemen or Libya after they offered him a large sum of money,” Yusuf said.

Back in October last year, a United Nations report revealed the presence of a thousand Sudanese militiamen in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

According to the report, the Sudanese paramilitaries were sent in July in order to protect oil infrastructure there, while the main bulk of forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar continued their assault on the capital Tripoli.

Sudanese digital media platform Wakeep later shared images of what it said were samples of contracts offered to young Sudanese men to work as security guards in the UAE by the Black Shield Security Services.

The documents, which could not be independently verified, appear to have been stamped by the Emirati embassy in Khartoum.

After being lured to the UAE on false pretenses, the Sudanese men have their phones confiscated before being sent to the al-Ghayathi training camp, Wakeep claimed.

Moreover, The Guardian published a report last December, disclosing the growing presence of Sudanese mercenaries fighting for both warring parties in Libya. The report put the figure present as at least 3,000.

Libya plunged into chaos in 2011, when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi and his execution by unruly fighters.

The North African country has since been split between two rival administrations based in the east and west amid a conflict drawing increasing involvement from foreign powers.

Full report at:,-sending-them-to-Libya%E2%80%9D





New Zealand teen arrested after threat to mosque

March 4, 2020

WELLINGTON: New Zealand police arrested a 19-year-old man over an “abhorrent” threat made this week against one of the Christchurch mosques targeted in a mass shooting last year.

As New Zealand prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of the massacre by a self-avowed white supremacist that killed 51 Muslim worshippers, police condemned the threat and increased patrols at two mosques that were attacked.

The intimidating message made on an encrypted messaging app reportedly showed a man in a balaclava sitting in a car outside the Al Noor mosque accompanied by threatening text and a gun emoji.

“This type of imagery has no place in Aotearoa New Zealand – it is abhorrent and will not be tolerated,” Canterbury police commander superintendent John Price said in a statement, referring to the country by both its Maori and English names.

He said the man, who has not been named, was arrested after police executed a search warrant at a Christchurch address and located several items, including a vehicle.

Price said the man had been charged on an unrelated matter, which was not disclosed, and police were still gathering evidence over the mosque threat.

He said police had also increased patrols around the Al Noor and Linwood mosques and would be maintaining “a visible presence” as the March 15 anniversary approaches.

“The safety of the community is our utmost priority,” he said.

Price praised members of the public who reported the threatening image and warned against sharing it online.

He said the image had been referred to New Zealand’s chief censor David Shanks to see if it should be classified as objectionable material, which would make sharing it a crime punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

Shanks last year outlawed video livestreamed on social media during the shooting and a Christchurch man who later shared it was jailed for six months.

The alleged mosque attacker Brenton Tarrant, an Australian national, is due to go on trial on June 2 facing terrorism charges plus 51 counts of murder and 40 of attempted murder over the killings.--AFP



Tajikistan asks Muslims to pray at home to stop coronavirus spread

4 March 2020

The government of mostly Muslim Tajikistan on Wednesday asked its citizens to avoid going to mosques for Friday prayers as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, though the Central Asian nation has not reported any cases so far.

A spokesman for the state committee on religious affairs wrote on Facebook that there was no outright ban on mosque attendance, but such a measure was on the table after several imams asked for it.

The nation of 9 million people bordering China and Afghanistan has shut its border to citizens from both neighbours as well as South Korea, Iran and Italy.



UN nuclear watchdog demands ‘clarifications’ on Iran’s nuclear program

3 March 2020

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog on Tuesday sounded the alarm on Iran’s nuclear program and demanded “clarifications” over an undeclared site in Tehran where uranium particles were found late last year.

Rafael Grossi, the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who was in Paris to meet President Emmanuel Macron, told AFP: “Iran must decide to cooperate in a clearer manner with the agency to give the necessary clarifications.”



UK to intensify military activity in the Sahel region

03 March 2020

The UK is set to step up military activities in West Africa, ostensibly to combat a jihadist insurgency in the region.

According to reports, 250 British soldiers are set to join a United Nations (UN) missions in Mali later this year.

The proposed deployment is in addition to the 30 British soldiers and Royal Marines currently deployed in Senegal.

The British forces in Senegal are seconded to a US-led so-called counter-terrorism exercise providing training to Special Forces from several West African nations.

Major John House, who is the commander of British forces in Senegal, has strongly backed the decision to send more troops to the region under the guise of counter-terrorism.

 “If we don’t act we may find the problems getting closer to our door”, Major House told the BBC.

The additional British forces being sent to Mali may be part of a UN mission, but there appears to be implicit recognition by all key stakeholders that the British – in tandem with their American allies – will be operating independently of UN command.

As part of the deployment, British forces are expected to conduct long-range reconnaissance patrols into hostile territory.

Britain’s eagerness to be more deeply involved in the region, despite the risks, has inevitably given rise to suspicions that the real motive behind the deployment is more about influence projection than counter-terrorism.

This latest proposed deployment comes in the wake of the unprecedented dispatch of 30 Royal Marines to Belarus for training purposes.

Full report at:



Germany renews call for ‘protected zone’ in NW Syria

Ayhan Şimşek 



Germany on Wednesday renewed its call for the establishment of a “protected zone” in northwestern Syria for millions of civilians fleeing the attacks of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told German news agency DPA that the European states should take stronger responsibility to de-escalate tensions and pave the way for a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

“It is good that Chancellor Merkel remains in contact with French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on whether a protected zone would be helpful to ensure the urgently needed humanitarian assistance for the people in the region,” she said.

Kramp-Karrenbauer sharply criticized Russia’s support for the Bashar al-Assad regime, and voiced skepticism about Moscow’s commitment to the 2018 Sochi deal with Ankara to de-escalate tensions in northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.

She argued that unlike Russia “the EU and NATO are reliable partners of Turkey.”

Germany’s defense minister called on the U.S. and European partners to further increase their pressure on Russia after escalating tensions in northwestern Syria.

“I believe that the EU and the U.S. must now simultaneously put more pressure on [Russian President Vladimir Putin] and Assad to pave the way for a political settlement to the Syria war,” she said.

Nearly 4 million civilians have been trapped in the last opposition stronghold of Idlib due the recent military offensive by the Assad regime, with the support of Russia and Iranian-backed forces in the region.

Turkey launched Operation Spring Shield on Sunday after 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred in an Assad regime airstrike in Idlib. They were stationed there as part of the 2018 Sochi deal with Russia to protect the civilian population and counter-terrorist groups.

In 2018, Turkey and Russia had agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression were expressly prohibited.

But the regime and its allies, including the Iranian-backed forces, have consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire, launching frequent attacks inside the territory.

Full report at:



UN refugee body decries agony on Greek-Turkish border

Peter Kenny 



The UN refugee agency on Tuesday “deplored” incidents on the Greek border that included the deaths of two people, while the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warned of using the issue as “a political tool.”

“We deplore the incidents that are happening right now because these are inflicting only more suffering to the people who have been through a lot,” said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic at a UN press briefing.

He was responding to a question on incidents after Greek security forces on Monday intervened to prevent the passage of migrants gathered at the border.

“We have been monitoring these developments in Turkey and in Greece, and we are offering our support to both countries,” said Mahecic.

“As in all such situations, it is important that the authorities refrain from any measures that might increase the suffering of the vulnerable people,” he added.

Earlier Tuesday, the Geneva-based IFRC warned that women, children, and men caught up in the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the land border between Greece and Turkey, in the Greek islands and the Aegean Sea, must not be “used as a political tool.”

In a statement on the deteriorating humanitarian situation, IFRC President Francesco Rocca said: “It is unacceptable that children and families are exposed to tear gas and violence or have to risk their lives in the Aegean Sea.

“We will not be silent in the face of this dire humanitarian situation, which may become even worse in the next hours and days,” Rocca said.

He said that EU member states need to respond in a spirit of solidarity to the recent increase in numbers of people seeking refuge at the EU’s external borders.

At the UN press briefing, International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesman Leonard Doyle spoke of the needs for basic needs of the migrants such as blankets, thermal blankets, food, and water.

“The most important thing for us is that there is an extremely serious situation for migrants and refugees, some of whom are living out in the open and who don’t have sufficient aid.

“It is not the numbers, but the vulnerable women and children who are out on the side of hills,” said the IOM spokesman.

Full report at:



Turkey, Germany vow continued fight against xenophobia

Ali Murat Alhas 


The Interior Ministries of Turkey and Germany on Tuesday issued a joint statement, condemning motives of the last month’s deadly xenophobic and islamophobia terror attacks in the German city of Hanau.

The statement said Ankara and Berlin were shocked by the incident that left 10 people dead and five others injured, adding both countries did their best to support the victims of the incident.

Noting that over the past few months, it was the third act of terrorism affiliated with the far-right in Germany in which multiple Turks were victimized, both sides said they were determined to continue to fight extreme political views and xenophobia.

It said the perpetrators of the attack sought to plant seeds of hatred among the public; however, Germany and Turkey would never allow this to happen and the restrained reaction of the people affected was an encouraging factor.

“We are aware that the best way to thwart a conflict among different religions and world views relies on cooperation,” the statement said, adding the path to peace would be in line with learning more about the diversity of others.

Full report at:



EU foreign policy chief due in Turkey for talks

Faruk Zorlu  


The EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, along with the EU commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic will pay a two-day visit to Turkey, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

In a statement, the ministry said the officials will discuss Turkey-EU relations, migration crisis and developments regarding Idlib during the visit on March 3-4.

Idlib is home to four million civilians, including hundreds of thousands displaced in recent years by regime forces throughout the war-torn country.

In recent months, nearly 1.7 million Syrians have moved near the Turkish border due to intense attacks by forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime and its allies.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression were expressly prohibited.

But since then, more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in airstrikes and shelling by the regime and its allies.

Turkish soldiers are working to protect local civilians under the 2018 deal with Russia which prohibits acts of aggression in the region.

Migrant influx to Europe

Thousands of migrants flocked to Turkey's Pazarkule border crossing to Greece after Turkish officials announced last week they would no longer try to stop irregular migrants from reaching Europe.

It followed an attack by Syrian regime forces on Turkish troops in Idlib, which martyred at least 34 soldiers last week.

On Sunday, Turkey announced a new offensive, Operation Spring Shield, in northwestern Syria to protect civilians from regime attacks.

Turkey already hosts some 3.7 million migrants from Syria alone, more than any other country in the world.

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