UN calls on Indonesia to free Christian governor jailed on blasphemy charges

The family of the jailed Christian governor of Jakarta has withdrawn its appeal to have him released. The announcement came as the UN called on the country to do away with its blasphemy laws.

Indonsien Jakarta Gouverneur Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Getty Images/AFP/M. Hayat)

A group of UN experts on Monday released a statement calling for the release of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as “Ahok,” arguing that his arrest violates basic civil liberties.

“Mr. Purnama’s blasphemy conviction and imprisonment will undermine freedom of religion or belief and freedom of speech in Indonesia,” the statement said.

The 50-year-old Purnama was jailed on May 9 for a longer-than-expected two years after being found guilty of insulting the Koran. Purnama was “found guilty to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment,” presiding judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said.

The verdict came as a shock to many, as prosecutors had originally asked for a one-year suspended sentence. One judge on the panel said they handed down a harsher sentence because Purnama “didn’t feel guilt” and that his comments “caused unrest in society and wounded the feelings of Muslims.”

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Ahok verdict highlights Indonesia strife

Outrage from Muslim community

The experts’ statement came the same day Purnama’s family made the unexpected decision to withdraw their appeal of the verdict.

“After a lengthy discussion we the family decided to withdraw the appeal,” said Purnama’s sister Fifi Lety Indra, who is also one of his lawyers. They had submitted the appeal only hours before.

The controversy ignited while Purnama was seeking re-election, when he charged his opponents of lying to the public by saying the Koran prohibited them for voting for someone who wasn’t Muslim. The comments led to calls from the country’s Muslim community for Purnama to be prosecuted.

Christians make up 10 percent of Indonesia’s population, which is predominantly Muslim. There are 250 million people in the country in total.

blc/se (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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Opinion: Yemen needs food, not arms

The world promised Yemen only half the aid it needs. Yet at the same time, arms sales to the warring factions are thriving. What is needed now is an arms embargo, writes Matthias von Hein.

Jemen Von Saudis unterstützte Kämpfer (picture-alliance/dpa)Yemeni government troops are massively supported by Saudi Arabia

Every ten minutes, a child dies in Yemen – of preventable causes. After the Yemen donor conference, no one will be able to claim ignorance in this regard. The meeting in Geneva has, at least for a very brief moment, drawn attention to the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. By the end of the conference, of the aid required by the UN to avert imminent mass starvation this year, almost 50 percent had been pledged. Sure enough, that’s an achievement – previously, the figure had been 15 percent. But even if every dollar, every euro raised for the benefit of those who are suffering in Yemen is important: a “remarkable success” – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ assessment of the donor conference results – would have had to raise all of the required $2.1 billion (1.93 billion euros), and not just half of that amount.

Hunger as a weapon

Primarily, because the worst famine in the world today has been man-made for the most part. It’s because of war that one third of Yemenis are starving and two thirds of the country’s people depend on relief supplies. It is a war that sees hunger used as a weapon. It is a war that, only after the Saudi-led coalition intervened two years ago, escalated ethnic conflicts that had simmered for decades into a disaster.

von Hein Matthias Kommentarbild AppDW’s Matthias von Hein

If nothing else, it is a war which generates huge profits – also for those who pledged relief money in Geneva: In 2015, when the wealthiest country in the Arabian peninsula started to bomb the poorest country in the region back to the stone age, arms worth in excess of 1.8 billion euros ($1.96 billion) were exported from the European Union to Saudi Arabia. In 2016, the German Ministry of Economy issued export licenses for weapons sold to Saudi Arabia worth more than 500 million euros ($544 million). This makes Germany a participant in this very dirty war. Matters are not helped by the fact that Great Britain, France and especially the US are also among those who, acting resourcefully and displaying high levels of entrepreneurial flair, make sure that the Saudi arms, bombs and missile depots remain fully replenished, despite constant deployment on a massive scale.

Truth be told, the coalition of the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is also fighting this war without any regard for the civilian population. However, one of the main causes of Yemen’s famine is the continuing Saudi-led naval blockade of Yemeni ports. The situation could even become dramatically worse because the Saudi-led coalition plans to launch an offensive against Hodeida, a Red Sea port held by the Houthi-Saleh bloc.

Hodeida, the eye of the needle

That port’s capacity has been dramatically reduced already due to Saudi airstrikes. In spite of that, it is still the central hub when it comes to supplying Yemen with food and relief aid. If the port comes under attack, the current mass starvation would turn into a death trap. The coalition’s argument – according to which Hodeida must be seized in order to halt arms supplies to the Houthi-Saleh bloc and force them to the negotiating table – is not convincing: the UN Special Envoy’s recent peace initiative was rejected by the Saudi-backed government of exiled president Hadi. And all ships approaching the port have been inspected by the coalition for quite some time already.

In this war, there can’t be any military victory – this insight was even shared by US Defense Minister James Mattis when he visited Riyadh recently. Those who care about the people of Yemen must, therefore, bring the warring parties to the negotiating table. To this end, pressure must be put on Riyadh, which, thus far, has rejected everything that didn’t amount to a capitulation of the Houthi-Saleh alliance. In this situation, an arms embargo targeting Saudi Arabia could be a start that’s long overdue.

 

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UN urges new efforts to defeat Boko Haram and tackle hunger

2017-04-01 11:32

New York – The UN Security Council called for stepped up efforts on Friday to defeat Boko Haram insurgents and Islamic State extremists in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region and tackle the humanitarian crisis that has left millions facing hunger and possible famine.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the UN’s most powerful body strongly condemned attacks by the militant groups and encouraged greater support to strengthen the capabilities of the multinational force trying to rout them.

It said the force needs logistical, mobility and communications assistance and equipment, and better ways to share information.

It expressed “grave concern at the ongoing terrorist attacks” by Boko Haram and Islamic State militants and at “the dire humanitarian situation across the region caused by the activities of Boko Haram.”

The resolution urged the immediate disbursement of the $458m in humanitarian assistance pledged for the Lake Chad region for 2017 at a donors conference in Oslo and called on those who haven’t donated to contribute urgently.

The Security Council visited the Lake Chad region in early March for a firsthand look at the impact of the extremist attacks and the humanitarian crisis.

Britain’s UN ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said putting a spotlight on Lake Chad Basin isn’t enough.

“We will fail the people of the region if we do not respond to what we saw, if we don’t take tangible actions to bring real relief, real respite to the suffering, the hunger, the instability,” he told the council after the vote.

First and foremost, Rycroft said, the international community and the UN must scale up their response to the looming humanitarian disaster.

“If we act now, famine can be avoided,” he said.

To tackle the crisis, Rycroft said, the root causes must also be addressed including “economic inequalities, countering violent extremism, and empowering women.” And he stressed that humanitarian aid must be accompanied by economic development.

Read more on:    un  |  boko haram  |  nigeria  |  west africa

Gambia’s President Jammeh vows ‘to stay till election ruling’

  • 11 January 2017
  • From the sectionAfrica
Workers remove an electoral poster of Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh, in a street of Bijilo, on 4 December 2016 after he initially accepted defeatImage copyrightAFP
Image captionPresident Jammeh has urged Gambians to await the Supreme Court decision

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has said he will not step down before a Supreme Court decision on disputed elections, a ruling now not expected until May.

In a nationwide TV broadcast, the longstanding ruler also reiterated his concern at “foreign interference”.

Regional mediators, led by Nigeria’s president, are expected in The Gambia on Friday to urge him to accept defeat following December’s election.

President-elect Adama Barrow says he will be inaugurated next week.

Mr Jammeh, who initially accepted defeat in the 1 December poll, lodged a case before the Supreme Court after the electoral commission changed some results.

But the commission insists the outcome was not affected by an initial error and property developer Mr Barrow narrowly won.

Mr Jammeh seized power in the tiny country in 1994 and has been accused of human rights abuses, although he has held regular elections.

The president made his speech on Tuesday evening after it was announced that the Supreme Court hearing would be delayed until May because of a shortage of judges, who mostly come from neighbouring countries.

The chief justice suggested mediation would be the best way forward as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and other West African leaders head to the country in another attempt to end the deadlock.

But Mr Jammeh said his cabinet and the National Assembly would remain in place “to ensure the rule of law is upheld” pending the court’s ruling.

“[Under the constitution], only the Supreme Court can review our challenge and only the Supreme Court can declare anyone president,” he said.

‘Smear campaign’

The president lashed out at the UN, the African Union and the West African regional body Ecowas for their “hasty resolutions” given the peaceful nature of the dispute so far.

(L-R) President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari, President of Liberia Ellen Muhammadu Buhari, President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh, President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma and outgoing President of Ghana John Dramani Mahama, during talks at the State House in Banjul, Gambia - 13 December 2016Image copyrightEPA
Image captionWest African leaders met President Jammeh (C) in December are due back again on Friday

“Our review and investigation have revealed an unprecedented level of foreign interference in our elections and internal affairs. And also, a sustained smear campaign, propaganda and misinformation,” he said.

The Gambia would not allow any organisation, treaty or law to supersede its constitution, he added.

The 51-year-old leader also appointed a national mediator to meet “all parties to resolve any mistrust and issues” and draft an amnesty bill to ensure there was “no witch-hunt so that we can restore a climate of confidence and security”.

The Gambia, a popular tourist destination, has not had a smooth transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1965.


Table of results

According to the electoral commission’s final count:

  • Mr Barrow won 222,708 votes (43.3%)
  • President Jammeh took 208,487 (39.6%)
  • A third-party candidate, Mama Kandeh, won 89,768 (17.1%)

Results were revised by the electoral commission on 5 December, when it emerged that the ballots for one area had been added incorrectly.

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Palmyra: ‘Chemical gas attack’ hits IS-held Syrian area

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Palmyra's ancient ruinsImage copyrightREUTERS

Dozens of people have been killed in air strikes and a suspected gas attack near the Syrian city of Palmyra, monitoring groups say.

The targeted area is controlled by the so-called Islamic State group and has been under heavy bombardment from government-aligned forces.

Dozens of people are said to have been killed during the combined assaults.

IS members recaptured the city on Sunday, hours after Russian air strikes appeared to have driven them back.

Sources in Hama province reported seeing dead bodies with no visible injuries, according to the UK-based group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The death toll was put at at least 40 by one citizens’ group in Hama province.

The Syrian government and its Russian backers have previously denied using chemical weapons.

IS was previously driven out of the ancient desert city of Palmyra in March with the support of Russian air strikes, but the jihadist group seized it again in a sudden assault that started last week.

The surprise setback for Syrian government forces came as they and their allies turned their attention to fighting local opposition forces in Aleppo and Damascus.

IS destroyed a number of monuments and beheaded the archaeological director during its 10-month occupation of the Unesco World Heritage site and the adjacent city of Tadmur.

Two 2,000-year-old temples, an arch and funerary towers were left in ruins.

The jihadist group, which has also demolished several pre-Islamic sites in neighbouring Iraq, believes that such structures are idolatrous.

Palmyra sites graphic

Aleppo battle: Calls to spare lives as fighting nears end

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A man carries a child with an IV drip as he flees deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria December 12, 2016.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThere are very few medical facilities for people in the rebel-held area

The UN and Red Cross have appealed for civilians to be protected, as fighting in Syria’s Aleppo nears its end.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said people had “literally nowhere safe to run”.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced alarm “over reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians”.

Thousands of people are trapped in just a handful of rebel-held districts, which are facing intense bombardment as government troops advance.

What is the situation in rebel areas?

It is hard to know exactly how many people are trapped in the besieged areas, although one US official with knowledge of efforts to secure safe passage for people in the city told the BBC that there were around 50,000 people.

Some residents have sent out messages saying they are crowded into abandoned apartments and rainy streets, unable to take shelter from the bombing, the New York Times reports.

Media captionAbdul Kafi Alhamado, an English teacher, says it is “Doomsday” in rebel-held Aleppo

Teacher Abdul Kafi Alhamado described on Monday how his district was densely packed with people who had arrived from other areas, and “bombs are like rain”, so there are “huge numbers of casualties”.

“People are running, they don’t know where, just running. People are injured in the streets, no-one can go to help them. Some other people are under the rubble, no-one can help them,” he told the BBC.

Many are said to be fearful about what will happen to them after the city falls, particularly after allegations by opposition activists that Syrian government forces have been carrying summary killings of rebels in neighbourhoods that were captured on Monday.

These claims appear to be backed up by the UN’s humanitarian adviser on Syria, Jan Egeland, who said they had received “detailed reports of massacres of unarmed civilians, of young men, of women, children, health workers”.

In western Aleppo, which is under government control, Syrian state TV showed footage of people celebrating at the prospect of an imminent victory.

Syrians celebrate in a government-held part of Aleppo on 12 December 2016Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThere were scenes of celebration in western Aleppo

How much of Aleppo remains in rebel hands?

Again, it is not entirely clear. Russia’s military, allied to the Syrian government forces, says 98% of the city is now back in government hands.

According to the AFP news agency, the rebels have control of just a handful of neighbourhoods, including Sukkari and Mashhad.

The Syrian army’s Lt Gen Zaid al-Saleh said on Monday that the battle “should end quickly”, telling the rebels they “either have to surrender or die”.

The British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR), has also said the battle for Aleppo “had reached its end”, with “just a matter of a small period of time” before “it’s a total collapse”.

Media captionDrone footage reveals the extent of the devastation in eastern Aleppo

What has been the reaction?

Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said “the secretary-general is alarmed over reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children, in recent hours in Aleppo”.

“While stressing that the United Nations is not able to independently verify these reports,” he said, the secretary-general had “instructed his special envoy for Syria to follow up urgently with the parties concerned”.

Meanwhile, the ICRC said a deepening humanitarian crisis could only be averted if basic rules of war and humanity were respected, warning “this may be the last chance to save lives”.

Homage to Aleppo

Assad’s fragmenting military

Mr Egeland tweeted that the governments of Syria and Russia were “accountable for any and all atrocities that the victorious militias in Aleppo are now committing”.

What do Syria and Russia say?

The Kremlin has hit back at Mr Egeland’s allegations, saying the atrocities “are actually being committed by terrorist groups”, by which it means the rebels.

“The fact here is he doesn’t talk about these atrocities, which shows that unfortunately he doesn’t have any information about the reality of the situation in Syria and Aleppo,” said President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

The US said on Monday that Russia had rejected the idea of a pause in the bombing to allow people to leave.

The Russian Centre for Reconciliation of the Opposing Sides says it has helped 7,796 civilians leave rebel-held areas in the past 24 hours.

Map showing control of Aleppo (12 December 2016)

For much of the past four years, the city has been divided roughly in two, with the government controlling the western half and rebels the east.

Syrian troops finally broke the deadlock with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air strikes, reinstating a siege on the east in early September and launching an all-out assault weeks later.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that at least 415 civilians and 364 rebel fighters have been killed in rebel-held areas since 15 November and another 130 civilians have died in rebel rocket and mortar attacks on the government-controlled west.

Analysts say the fall of Aleppo would be a big blow to the opposition, as it would leave the government in control of Syria’s four largest cities.

Mosul Iraq battle: ‘Tens of thousands of civilians’ used as IS human shields

A newly displaced woman holds her sons in a truck at check point in Qayyara, east of Mosul on 26 OctoberImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionSo far, only “modest” numbers of people have fled Mosul, the UN says

Islamic State (IS) militants have abducted tens of thousands of civilians from around the Iraqi city of Mosul to use as human shields, the UN says.

The group also killed some 190 former members of Iraq’s security services and 42 civilians, apparently for refusing to obey its orders, the UN adds.

Iraqi, Kurdish and allied forces have advanced on their push to retake Mosul, IS’s de facto capital in Iraq.

As many as 1.5 million people are believed to remain there.

There are fears IS could use them to defend itself as the operation gets closer to the centre of the city.

“Credible reports” suggested that civilians in sub-districts around Mosul had been forced from their homes and relocated inside the city since the offensive began earlier this month, UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.

Media captionBattle for Mosul: Inside the Kurdish advance on the last IS stronghold
Media captionResidents of Mosul tell an Iraqi radio station of the fear of living in the city held by the IS group

Men, women and children from 6,000 families were abducted in areas including Shura, she added.

“Isil’s depraved cowardly strategy is to attempt to use the presence of civilian hostages to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations, effectively using tens of thousands of women, men and children as human shields,” Ms Shamdasani added, using an acronym for IS.

She said the allegations had been corroborated by the UN but added that the true number might be greater.

Map of Mosul and surrounding area

The UN said last week so-called Islamic State was apparently not allowing families to flee for territory held by the Iraqi army outside Mosul and that civilians suspected of being disloyal to the group appeared to had been targeted.

The organisation added that only “modest” numbers of people had so far fled Mosul.