Greater Middle East

Bahrain files suit to suspend opposition group

Bahrain's Ministry of Justice on July 20 filed a lawsuit seeking to suspend all activities of the main Shi'ite opposition group for three months. The move comes after leaders of the Al-Wefaq party were charged recently with holding an illegal meeting with a US diplomat from the State Department. The lawsuit, however, does not mention the meeting, but rather seeks to suspend the party for violating quorum and transparency requirements. Al-Wefaq leader Ali Salman said his party plans to challenge the move.

Gaza and Aleppo: fearful symmetry

Residents of Aleppo, the northern Syrian city under siege and bombardment by regime forces for months now, held a candle-light ceremony July 14 expressing their support for the residents of Gaza, now under Israeli bombardment and invasion. (PMOI, July 15) The Assad regime's "barrel bombs"—oil drums packed with hundreds of kilograms of explosives and metal fragments—have killed thousands in Aleppo and other rebel-held areas of Syria this year. Fears of the city's fall to regime forces have risen after the army made gains in the last two weeks, taking the Sheikh Naijar industrial zone in the northeast—seen by some as a "turning point" in the war. (DW, July 15) The same claims were heard when Homs was surrendered to regime forces two months ago.

Egypt overturns ban on Mubarak party members

The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters on July 14 overturned a May decision that banned former leaders of the National Democratic Party (NDP) from running in the country's parliamentary elections. An Urgent Matters Court in May accused  the now-dissolved NDP of overseeing corrupt governments, stating that allowing a political return for the former ruling party would bring danger to Egypt. The NDP was disbanded and ordered to liquidate its assets by the Supreme Administrative Court in April 2011, following longtime president and NDP party chairman Hosni Mubarak's fall from power. Many party leaders formed new parties or attached themselves to existing ones. Although the committee that drafted the country's new constitution in 2012 attempted to include an article that would ban NDP leaders from participating in politics for 10 years, the article was dropped after former president Mohammed Morsi was ousted (and another new constitution approved). In its decision, the appeals court said that the lower court lacked the proper jurisdiction to rule on the matter, the plaintiff had failed to present any evidence of corruption that incriminated the leaders, and the prior ruling violated the leaders' constitutional right to political participation. 

Jordan acquits radical cleric of terrorism charges

A three-man civilian panel in the Jordanian State Security Court on June 26 declared radical preacher Abu Qatada (ABBC profile) not guilty of terrorism offences relating to an alleged plot in 1998 on the American school in Amman. The court ruled there was insufficient evidence to find Qatada guilty of terrorism charges for the 1998 plot, but he will remain imprisoned in Jordan for his alleged role in an attempted attack on tourists during the Jordanian New Year celebration of the year 2000. That hearing is scheduled for September and it extends the 20-year timeline of involvement with al-Qaeda in Jordan and the UK. In December Qatada's defense argued the presence of a military judge in the three-judge panel of the State Security Court violated the deportation agreement between the Jordanian and UK governments to provide Qatada with a fair trial, which was established as part of his deportation from Britain last July. Qatada was tried by a three-judge panel of civilians on Thursday, and the composition of the judicial panel of the State Security Court in September may be a point of contention because of its vague and controversial nature as a quasi-military judicial body with civilian judges.

Egypt: court confirms mass death sentence for 183

Judge Said Youssef of the Minya Criminal Court of Egypt on June 20 confirmed the death sentence of 183 Muslim Brotherhood members while simultaneously acquitting over 400 in the death of police officers over a year ago. Only 110 of the accused were present in a holding area outside of the court during the determination, while the remainder were tried in absentia. According to Egyptian law, each absentee will be retried upon apprehension. This marks a slight reversal of the initial mass death sentence of 683 members of the Brotherhood after a review of the mass trial by the Grand Mufti, the spiritual leader of Egypt. Multiple human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have critiqued the mass trial for lack of due process, as neither the defendants nor their attorneys were permitted to appear before the court. This is the second death sentence against former leaders in two days.

UN report: Syria conflict threatens whole region

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria on June 17 warned the UN Human Rights Council that the continuing civil war in Syria has "reached a tipping point, threatening the entire region." The Commission was established by the UN Human Rights Council in August 2011 to investigate and record all violations of international human rights law during the Syria conflict. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, chair of the Commission, condemned the international response to the conflict in Syria, stating:

Top Kuwait court jails activist over Twitter posts

Kuwait's Supreme Court on June 15 upheld the two-year jail sentence of an opposition online activist for writing tweets found to be offensive to the country's Emir. After the ruling, activist Hejab al-Hajeri said on his Twitter account that his "determination is bigger than their jail." Al-Hajeri, a law student in his early 20s, was sentenced by the emirate's lower court last April after it found that comments he made on his Twitter account were critical of the emir, Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. The appeals court upheld the sentence six months later. Al-Hajeri has been out on bail, but now must serve the jail term, as the high court's verdicts are final. Criticizing the emir is illegal in Kuwait, and carries a jail term of up to five years.

Egypt: activist sentenced to 15 years in prison

An Egyptian court on June 11 sentenced a prominent activist from the 2011 revolution to 15 years in prison for organizing an unsanctioned protest and assaulting a police officer last year. Activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was forced to wait outside of a courtroom at Cairo's Torah Prison while he was tried in absentia inside. Abdel Fattah, who was released on bail in March, was charged along with 23 other co-defendants for a protest in Cairo that occurred in November of last year. The men were protesting provisions in a new constitution that would allow civilians to be tried in military courts, breaching a law banning all but police-sanctioned protests. The defendants were additionally fined LE 100,000 ($14,000) each and will be placed on five years probation after the completion of their sentences. The conviction is the first of a leading activist since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi took the office of the presidency on Sunday. Abdel-Fattah is expected to be granted a retrial.

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