Greater Middle East
Thousands of Turkish lawyers on June 12 joined the ongoing protests in Ankara and Istanbul by marching out of courthouses in black robes. This came as the result of incidents during the protests the previous day, where a number of lawyers were handcuffed and dragged on the ground by police officers. Prosecutors in Istanbul had begun to investigate the use of excessive force by police officers over the course of the protests. On June 11 alone, more than 600 individuals were injured during the protests and tear gas was flooded into Taksim Square by police. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) reports that police action during the protests has reached levels of torture and ill treatment and that it will begin filing criminal complaints against officers who have violated international rights conventions.
A criminal court in Kuwait on June 10 sentenced a woman to 11 years in prison for remarks she made on Twitter. Huda al-Ajmi was found guilty of three violations, including insulting the nation's ruler, Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, calling to overthrow the government and misusing her mobile phone. The 11-year prison term is the harshest sentence yet given to an online activist in Kuwait and will become final if it is not overturned when contested in the court of appeals and cassation court. Huda al-Ajmi, who denies the charges, is not a well-known activist and is not known to have participated in opposition protests.
The usual frustrating mess. The ascendance of Samantha Power, longtime advocate of "humanitarian intervention," as Obama's new UN ambassador (replacing Susan Rice, named for National Security Advisor), is applauded by Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch (NBC)—and, we may be certain, opposed by both the anti-war left and the paleocon right. Google results reveal that the paleocons have beat the lefties to the punch. A Fox News report picked up by World Net Daily taunts: "'Nazi' Problem for Obama's UN pick?"...
A Bahrain court on June 3 issued sentences to three protesters for allegedly taking part in anti-government protests as well as attempting to kill a police officer. The crimes were committed during an attack on police in a Shi'ite village near Manama which has been a hotbed of anti-government protests since 2011. The first accused protester has been sentenced to 15 years for attempted murder and taking part in the protests, while the other two protesters were given lesser sentences of 10 years and five years.
An Egyptian court on June 4 convicted 43 foreign and domestic non-governmental organization (NGO) employees of engaging political activity without proper documentation and of receiving funds from abroad in violation of Egyptian law. Those convicted include Europeans, Egyptians, other Arabs and at least 16 Americans, 15 of whom were convicted in absentia. The court ordered closure of the NGOs after meting out fines and prison sentences to employees ranging from one to five years. Affected NGOs include the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House (FH), the International Center for Journalists and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
Lebanon's hashish heartland of the Bekaa Valley, hit by rocket-fire from Syria on June 1, has become increasingly embroiled in the civil war raging across the border. The fertile valley, which was occupied by Syria from 1976 to 2005, is a patchwork of Sunni and Shi'ite areas, and during Lebanon's civil war in 1980s the hashish and opium trade there funded sectarian militias. There are now ominous signs of a return to this deadly rivalry. In late March, gunmen from the Sunni town of Arsal—a conduit for arms and fighters for the Syrian rebels—kidnapped a member of the powerful Shi'ite Jaafar tribe, who was absconded across the border to the rebel-held Syrian town of Yabroud, north of Damascus. The Jaafars retaliated by kidnapping six Arsal residents—ransoming them to raise the ransom money to free their comrade held in Yabroud. Lebanese security forces helped oversee the hostage exchange, and no charges were brought. Arsal has also been the target of occasional cross-border shelling, presumably by the Syrian military. On May 27, unidentified gunmen attacked a Lebanese border checkpoint near the town, killing three soldiers.
Police in Istanbul on the morning of May 31 raided a protest encampment that had been established in Taksim Gezi Park—one of the few remaining green spots in the city center, which authorities have slated to bulldoze to build a new shopping mall. Police set fire to the tents in which protesters were still sleeping, and used pepper spray and tear-gas. One student had to undergo surgery after injuries to his genitals. Street-fighting in the area continues, and protests have spread to Ankara. Tens of thousands have watched the demonstrations online at lifestream.com/revoltistanbul. The park had been under occupation since May 27, but the issue has gone beyond saving a green space to more generalized opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a "neoliberal Islamist" formation that has been tilting sharply right, establishing alcohol-free zones and advocating restrictions on abortion. Richard Seymour in The Guardian writes that "a struggle over a small park in a congested city centre has become an emergency for the regime, and the basis for a potential Turkish spring." (More coverage at BIANet, NYT, Euronews.)