Greater Middle East

Peshmerga come to aid of Kobani: strings attached?

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga troops have entered the battle for the ISIS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobani in northern Syria, after having been allowed to pass through Turkish territory to approach the town from the north—the only remaining access. The sound of heavy weaponry the Peshmerga fighters brought with them from Iraq echoed across the Syrian-Turkish border, according to a team from the independent Kurdish news agency Rudaw on the Turkish side. And US-led coalition planes coninued to strike ISIS positions outside Kobani in the most intense bombing in weeks, with local witnesses counting between five and seven air-strikes overnight. Peshmerga forces are now fighting alongside the PKK-aligned People's Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia that has been leading the defense of Kobani.

Saudi women's rights campaigner arrested: report

Saudi Arabian rights activists on Nov. 1 said that authorities had arrested Suad al-Shamari, a prominent women's rights advocate, for insulting Islam. The arrest, they said, was part of an effort to eliminate dissent. Suad al-Shamari is a founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, a liberal human rights group. Last month, in a reference to religious or tribal leaders, Shamari posted on Twitter that she had been called "immoral and an infidel" for her criticisms of "their sheiks." Another founder of the rights group, Raef Badawi, was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam, a conviction upheld by an appellate court in September. His wife said Oct. 31 on Twitter that Shamari is in Jeddah prison for the same charge. One of the activists reporting her arrest, who wished to remain unnamed, stated that this charge is commonly used against those who work to defend human rights.

Egypt: court convicts eight in same-sex marriage

An Egyptian court on Nov. 1 convicted and sentenced eight men to three years in prison following their participation in an alleged same-sex wedding party. The men denied the charges. The men were referred to trial for "inciting debauchery" after appearing in a video of what is said to be the country's first same-sex marriage. The men were arrested for the video after it went viral on the Internet. Although homosexuality is not explicitly outlawed  by Egyptian law, it can be punished under several of the country's morality statutes. In the past Egyptian homosexuals have faced a wide range of charges, including "scorning religion" and "sexual practices contrary to Islam." It is unclear if the men plan to appeal the court's ruling.

Global mobilization for Kobani

Via Facebook, Oct. 31:

Global Rally Against ISIS — For Kobanê — For Humanity
ISIS [has] launched a major multi-front military campaign against the Kurdish region of Kobanê in northern Syria. This is the third ISIS onslaught on Kobanê since March 2014. As the ISIS was unsuccessful on the two previous occasions, they are attacking with larger forces and want to take Kobanê.

Bahrain court suspends main opposition group

A Bahrain court on Oct. 28 ordered the country's main Shi'ite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, to suspend all activities. Bahrain's Ministry of Justice filed the lawsuit in July. The ruling means that Al-Wefaq cannot operate for three months in the Gulf island kingdom. The group cannot organize rallies or press conferences, issue statements or use its offices. Earlier this month Al-Wefaq announced it would boycott Nov. 22 elections because it felt that the government did not genuinely engage in reconciliations efforts following protests to the Sunni monarchy in 2011. The group plans to appeal the decision.

Saudi court sentences lawyers for public criticisms

A court in Saudi Arabia on Oct. 27 sentenced three lawyers to between five and eight years in prison for criticizing the justice system on the social networking website Twitter by accusing authorities of carrying out arbitrary detentions. The Saudi Press Agency  reported that the lawyers were each convicted of different crimes, including using the social media outlet to propagate against the Saudi judiciary, criticize Islamic Sharia law and interfere in the independence of the judiciary. The lawyers are also banned from using social media and traveling. The court also warned other social media users that they could face similar punishment for similar offenses and that they were being monitored.

Egyptian court sentences 23 protesters to prison

An Egyptian court on Oct. 26 sentenced 23 activists to three years in prison for protesting without a permit, an act that violates a law enacted in November 2013. The men were arrested in June while protesting the restrictive protest law that requires demonstrators to obtain permission from authorities one week in advance of gathering in public, grants the interior ministry the right to reject requests and imposes severe fines for violations. In addition to violating the protest law, the men were also convicted of blocking off a road during the demonstration, damaging public property and using violence "with the aim of terrorizing citizens." Rights groups have constantly voiced concern over the law, suggesting that it is being used to scare citizens into not opposing the government. In October of last year Human Rights Watch condemned the law, saying that it falls short of the obligation to respect freedom of assembly. It also expressed concern over the scope of the law's application, vague language, and its broad restrictions and discretionary powers.

Clashes in Egypt's Sinai; militants attack Israel

Two attacks in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula killed at least 30 troops Oct. 24. At least 27 people died in the first attack, a car-bomb blast at a checkpoint in the al-Kharouba area northwest of al-Arish, near the border with the Gaza Strip. Hours later, a gun-battle then broke out in al-Arish town, leaving another three dead. (Reuters, BBC News, Oct. 24) One day earlier, attackers inside Egypt fired an anti-tank missile and automatic rifles at a military vehicle in Israel, wounding two soldiers. The Israeli military has asked residents in the area to remain in their homes while an investigation is underway, and suggested the skirmish came as troops foiled a "violent drug smuggling attempt." (Al Jazeera, Oct. 23)