Bahraini torture prince investigated by British police?


This video about London, England is called Bahraini Prince Nasser loses diplomatic immunity over protester torture claims.

By James M. Dorsey, Senior fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore:

Bahrain rattled by UK court’s opening of door to investigation of torture allegations

Posted: 10/21/2014 7:00 am EDT

A failed effort by a public relations company representing Bahrain and a UK law firm acting on behalf of Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, the commander of Bahrain’s Royal Guard and head of its National Olympic Committee, to micromanage media coverage of this month’s lifting of the prince’s immunity by a British court reflects mounting unease in the island state and international sporting associations. The court decision opens the door to a British police investigation into whether or not Prince Nasser was involved in the torture of political detainees that could include three former players for the Bahraini national soccer team.

The five-day long effort by UK-based Bell-Yard Communications Ltd and London law firm Schillings was aimed at forcing this writer as well as The Huffington Post to adopt Bahrain’s narrow and partial interpretation of the court decision. That interpretation involved an inaccurate assertion that no investigation into whether or not Prince Nasser had been involved in torture of detainees could emerge from the court decision, that immunity had not been part of the grounds on which the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had initially refused to investigate, and that soccer players had not[h]ing to do with the investigation.

The lawyers and PR representatives appeared particularly concerned about the assertion that the investigation could involve soccer players presumably because of the implications that could have for Prince Nasser’s Olympic status as well as that of a relative of his, Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and according to the state-run Bahrain News Agency, the prince’s number two at the Bahrain Olympic Committee and the island state’s Supreme Council for Youth and Sport.

The UK High Court lifted Prince Nasser‘s immunity in a case initiated by several Bahrainis who alleged that they were tortured in the aftermath of a popular uprising in Bahrain in 2011 that was brutally squashed by Saudi-backed security forces. The Bahrainis went to court after the CPS had refused to issue an arrest warrant for the prince on the grounds that his status in Bahrain granted him immunity in the UK. The prosecution said further that evidence submitted had been insufficient to justify an investigation. Because Prince Nasser was not a party to the proceedings, he had no opportunity to respond to the allegations in court.

The lawyers and PR representatives sought to have removed any reference in this writer’s article to a potential investigation or that immunity had played a role in the CPS’s thinking despite the fact that the prosecution in a statement to the court agreed to the lifting of Prince Nasser’s immunity in expectation that the Bahraini plaintiffs would submit further evidence. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said after the court hearing that the ruling opened the door to an investigation and that they would be providing additional evidence.

This writer corrected after publication a factual error in the original story. The story originally reported that an investigation had been opened rather than that the court ruling opened the door to an enquiry.

Nonetheless, in attempting to prevent fair and honest reporting, the lawyers and PR agents contradicted themselves. The attempt to force deletions that would have substantially altered the core of the story occurred despite the fact that Bell’s Melanie Riley had provided to this writer the statement of the prosecution to the court.

The prosecution said in the statement that “in the light of the Claimant’s intention to submit further evidence to the police (who are responsible for investigating the allegations), the Crown Prosecution Service has agreed to state to the police its view that immunity should not be a bar to any such investigation on the evidence currently available.”

Bahraini concern that the possible fallout of the court decision could affect not only Prince Nasser but also Sheikh Salman was evident in an email from Ms. Riley assertion that “there is no relevance to the AFC of yesterday’s proceedings.”

Sheikh Salman, according to information submitted to the prosecution, headed a committee established in 2011 by a decree by Prince Nasser to take measures against those guilty of insulting Bahrain and its leadership. Prince Nasser formed the committee after an earlier royal decree had declared a state of emergency. The royal decree allowed the Bahrain military to crackdown on the protests and establish military courts, according to the information provided to the prosecutor.

Sheikh Salman, a former soccer player who also serves as head of the Bahrain Football Association, is running next year in AFC presidential elections, which if he wins would give him an automatic seat on the executive committee of world soccer body FIFA.

The prosecutor was further furnished with a publicly available video clip in which Prince Nasser called for the punishment on television of those including athletes who participated in anti-government demonstrations. More than 150 athletes and sports officials, including the three national soccer players, were arrested or dismissed from their jobs at the time. Many have since been reinstated.

The failed Bahraini effort to micromanage reporting of Prince Nasser’s case, involving insinuations that this writer’s report was defamatory and demands that their unsolicited correspondence to a US publisher not be reported on, reflects greater sensitivity to image and reputation of Gulf states that also include the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, who stand accused of violations of human and labour rights. All three states have been put to varying degrees under the magnifying glass because of their hosting of major events, including the 2022 World Cup, the 2020 World Expo, Formula-1 races and ambitions to host similar events like the Olympic Games as well as their association with prominent educational and cultural institutions such as New York University and the Guggenheim Museum.

The various states have used different strategies to counter allegations of violations of human and labour rights. While Qatar has by and large engaged with its critics, Bahrain and the UAE have sought to prevent negative reporting by barring critical journalists and academics from entering their country.

Qatar, despite its engagement with human rights groups and trade unions, has not been immune to such tactics. Saleem Ali, a former visiting fellow at the Qatar-funded Brookings Doha Center, told The New York Times that he was advised during his job interview that he could not take positions critical of the Qatari government. At the same time, Qatar has sought to win hearts and minds in the United States with the establishment of Al Jazeera America, part of its global television network, and the expansion in the US of its belN sports television franchise.

Qatar’s strategy backfired when Britain’s Channel Four disclosed that the Gulf state had hired Portland Communications founded by Tony Allen, a former adviser to Tony Blair when he was prime minister, to create a soccer blog that wrongly claimed to be “truly independent” and represent “a random bunch of football fans, determined to spark debate,” but in fact served to attack its detractors.

For its part, the UAE has spent lavishly on public relations engaging, according to The Intercept, a US firm to demonize Qatar because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. The UAE is also suspected of supporting a network of Norway and France-based human rights groups that sought to project the Emirates as a champion of human rights despite crackdowns that have involved political trials denounced by international human rights groups and derided Qatar’s record.

Disclosing the UAE’s efforts to shape reporting in the US media, The Intercept noted that “the point here is not that Qatar is innocent of supporting extremists… The point is that this coordinated media attack on Qatar – using highly paid former U.S. officials and their media allies – is simply a weapon used by the Emirates, Israel, the Saudis and others to advance their agendas.”

Bahrain: The verdict on Nabeel Rajab‘s trial expected on October 29: here.

New toad species discovery on Jersey


This is a Western Common Toad video from France.

From Wildlife Extra:

New toad species identified in the UK

Toads on the island of Jersey have been found to be an entirely different species to toads found in the rest of the UK.

The Western Common Toad (Bufo spinosus) – which is also found in western France, Iberia and North Africa – is more genetically different from the Common Toad than humans are from gorillas or chimpanzees. In the UK they are found only in Jersey, which is the only location in the Channel Islands to have toads.

As a new species, the toads will need a tailored conservation programme in place in order to ensure their future survival in Jersey.

“We always suspected there was something special about the toads of Jersey,” said Dr John Wilkinson, Science Programme Manager at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC). “They grow larger, breed earlier and use different habitats than English toads. Now we know they are a new species, we can ensure efforts for their conservation are directed to their specific needs.”

Conservationists in the UK, the Netherlands and Portugal collaborated in order to correctly identify the toad. Fieldwork was carried out by Wilkinson along with researchers from Jersey Environment Department, and genetic studies were conducted by Dr Jan Arntzen at the Netherlands’ Naturalis Biodiversity Centre, and Dr Inigo Martinez-Solano at CIBIO in Portugal.

John Pinel, Jersey’s Principal Ecologist, commented on the discovery: “Conservation of biodiversity in Jersey has always had a high priority; this news will help ensure that toads continue to receive the positive action they deserve.”

‘Ukrainian government used banned cluster bombs’


This Human Rights Watch video says about itself:

Ukraine: Widespread Use of Cluster Munitions

20 October 2014

Ukrainian government forces used cluster munitions in populated areas in Donetsk city in early October 2014. The use of cluster munitions in populated areas violates the laws of war due to the indiscriminate nature of the weapon and may amount to war crimes.

From the New York Times in the USA:

Ukraine Used Cluster Bombs, Evidence Indicates

By ANDREW ROTH

OCTOBER 20, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — The Ukrainian Army appears to have fired cluster munitions on several occasions into the heart of Donetsk, unleashing a weapon banned in much of the world into a rebel-held city with a peacetime population of more than one million, according to physical evidence and interviews with witnesses and victims.

Sites where rockets fell in the city on Oct. 2 and Oct. 5 showed clear signs that cluster munitions had been fired from the direction of army-held territory, where misfired artillery rockets still containing cluster bomblets were found by villagers in farm fields.

The two attacks wounded at least six people and killed a Swiss employee of the International Red Cross based in Donetsk.

If confirmed, the use of cluster bombs by the pro-Western government could complicate efforts to reunite the country, as residents of the east have grown increasingly bitter over the Ukrainian Army’s tactics to oust pro-Russian rebels.

Further, in a report released late Monday, Human Rights Watch says the rebels have most likely used cluster weapons in the conflict as well, a detail that The New York Times could not independently verify.

The army’s use of cluster munitions, which shower small bomblets around a large area, could also add credibility to Moscow’s version of the conflict, which is that the Ukrainian national government is engaged in a punitive war against its own citizens. The two October strikes occurred nearly a month after President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine signed a cease-fire agreement with rebel representatives.

“It’s pretty clear that cluster munitions are being used indiscriminately in populated areas, particularly in attacks in early October in Donetsk city,” said Mark Hiznay, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, in emailed comments after the report was completed. “The military logic behind these attacks is not apparent, and these attacks should stop, because they put too many civilians at risk.”

Press officers for the Ukrainian military denied that their troops had used cluster weapons during the conflict and said that the rocket strikes against Donetsk in early October should be investigated once it was safe to do so. They also said that rebels in the area had access to powerful rocket systems from Russia that could fire cluster munitions.

However, munition fragments found in and around Donetsk and interviews with witnesses indicate that the cluster munitions that struck Oct. 2 and Oct. 5 were most likely fired by Ukrainian troops stationed southwest of the city, according to Human Rights Watch and a review by The Times. Witnesses there reported seeing rocket launches from those troops’ positions toward the city at times that coincide with the strikes.

Human Rights Watch says in its report that cluster weapons have been used against population centers in eastern Ukraine at least 12 times, including the strikes on Donetsk, during the conflict, and possibly many more. The report said that both sides were probably culpable, in attacks that “may amount to war crimes” in a grinding conflict that has claimed at least 3,700 lives, including those of many civilians.

The report, which included incidents uncovered by The Times, says there is “particularly strong evidence” that Ukrainian government troops carried out the two October attacks against Donetsk.

An August cluster-munitions attack on the village of Starobesheve, which was in Ukrainian Army hands, was probably carried out either by pro-Russian rebels or by Russian troops, the report says.

Beginning in October, a series of strikes against Donetsk using certain cluster weapons fired from Uragan rockets came from the southwest of the city. The timing of at least two rocket launches from the same location corresponded to cluster munition strikes that hit Donetsk from a southwesterly trajectory, according to Human Rights Watch and The Times.

Shelling of cities has been common in the conflict, and the cease-fire agreement has not ended the violence. A chemical plant on the outskirts of Donetsk was struck Monday, and the resulting shock wave shattered windows for miles around.

On the morning of Oct. 5, Boris V. Melikhov, 37, was chopping wood outside his house in the Gladkovka neighborhood of Donetsk when he heard the loud clap of an explosion from the street.

His first sensation was “a strong push in the back,” and he sprawled onto the grass. More explosions followed, showering Mr. Melikhov with dust and dirt. Unable to stand, he crawled toward a spigot in the garden, bleeding profusely and desperate for water.

“I felt the blood running down my back, down my leg,” he recalled in an interview last week from his bed in a hospital, where his uncle took him after the attack. Doctors there found several identical metal fragments in his leg, chest, shoulder and hand.

Hundreds of such fragments, each about the size of a thumbtack, were sprayed out by at least 11 cluster bomblets that exploded on Mr. Melikhov’s street that morning. The 9N210 bomblets are carried in surface-to-surface Uragan (Hurricane) rockets that are fired from the backs of trucks and have a range of roughly 22 miles.

Part of one of the rockets smashed into a street a few blocks away, and the impact crater indicated it had come from the southwest.

The same morning, sunflower farmers near Novomikhailovka, a small village about 20 miles southwest of Mr. Melikhov’s house, saw rockets sailing almost directly overhead toward Donetsk. Local people said in interviews that the army had been launching Uragan rockets from there for more than a week.

“Trust me, when it is day after day after day, you get to know your Grad launches from your Uragan launches,” said one farmer, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution for discussing Ukrainian military positions. Grads are another kind of rocket used by both sides.

Villagers said they had also seen rockets with cluster bomblets up close. They said several of the rockets misfired on Oct. 3 and landed in the sunflower fields south of the village with their payloads intact.

A reporter photographed three malfunctioned rockets there, and two of them contained submunitions like those that injured Mr. Melikhov. The same type of weapon struck the Donetsk headquarters of the Red Cross on Oct. 2 in an attack that killed an administrator, Laurent DuPasquier, 38.

Uragan rockets can carry 30 of the submunitions, which look like metal cans with fins. Those bomblets in turn hold small pieces of chopped steel rod. The rocket releases the bomblets over a wide area, and the bomblets either explode on impact, flinging out lethal steel fragments, or land unexploded and effectively become land mines. Children often mistake them for toys.

At the Red Cross headquarters in Donetsk, Human Rights Watch researchers accompanied by a Times reporter documented 19 distinct impacts of cluster submunitions from the Oct. 2 attack. Judging by impact craters from rockets fired in the same salvo, the researchers said, the strike came from the southwest.

A witness to the Oct. 2 launch in Novomikhailovka told the reporter about the malfunctioning rockets in the fields. Other witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch on the evening of Oct. 2 confirmed that rockets had been fired from just south of the village toward Donetsk.

An advocacy group called the Cluster Munitions Coalition has been pressing Ukraine to join the international convention banning the stockpiling or use of the weapons. (Russia and the United States have not joined it, either.) The group’s director, Sarah Blakemore, wrote to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry in July after images were published appearing to show the use of cluster munitions against rebel positions in the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk.

She said in a telephone interview that she had received no reply. “When I say they neither confirmed or denied, I mean they really just did not do anything,” Ms. Blakemore said.

More than a month after heavy fighting in the village of Ilovaysk, rebel soldiers continued going door to door last week, searching for unexploded shells and bomblets. At Tatyana Lashunova’s house, they found a Smerch (Tornado) rocket lodged in the shed where she keeps her preserves and gardening tools. It was not clear which side had fired the rocket, which can carry conventional warheads or cluster munitions.

Valery, one of the rebels, said his men would fan out and search a nearby field of tall, yellow grass where bomblets from the rocket probably landed.

“We haven’t got a mine detector or any other equipment,” he said. “They’ve promised something soon, but I don’t know whether to expect it.”

In Donetsk, doctors in a city hospital and morgue said they had found cluster-munitions fragments in several patients, including Mr. Melikhov, whose spine was nicked by one on Oct. 5. He was lucky not to have been paralyzed, but the injury made it very painful to sit, stand or lie flat, he said.

“I see it as the senseless destruction of the southeast,” he said of the attack. “There’s something wrong in their head.”

See also here.

Malalai Joya, anti-Afghan war, anti-ISIS


Malalai Joya with solidarity sign for Syrian Kurds

Malalai Joya is a well-known Afghan feminist who has resisted the Taliban and the United States-led occupation of her country.

From the site of the Defense Committe for Malalai Joya:

Fiery salutations to the brave women of Kobani

Malalai Joya, October 12, 2014

These days the bravery and resilience of the women of Kobani has amazed people around the world. To defend their soil from the criminal ISIS murderers, they are neither looking at the US and NATO’s support, nor appoint the west and US to defend their homeland from terrorists and foreigners, like a handful of mercenary analysts in Afghanistan. The noble men and women of Kobani selflessly defend their honor, freedom, and homeland with their own hands and have accepted to make all kinds of sacrifices for this purpose.

Heroines of Kobani,

I deeply support your inspiring resistance against the criminals of ISIS and humbly learn from your patriotism and pride. You are the unconquerable pinnacle of honor and courage. You have turned to symbols of humanity and freedom-fighting by your unrelenting fight against these ignorant criminals.

You are not alone in this glorious struggle. All the freedom-loving and progressive people of the world are with you. With your fight against oppression, you women are a kick in the gut of ISIS and all medieval-minded fundamentalists who see women as half of men and as objects to satisfy their animal-like lust. You have shown that women are capable of standing next to their brothers with guns in the toughest and most dreadful circumstances to defend freedom and justice, and strike enemies who are armed to the teeth.

The oppressed people of Afghanistan have been suffering under the domination of the dark-minded and notorious fundamentalist brothers of ISIS for the past few decades. Our people are inspired by your fearless struggle and will rub the snouts of the Taliban and Jehadi terrorists, these cruel heinous creations of the US, in dust to stand by you.

A nation whose courageous women take to guns next to the men to fight against oppression and colonization will never be defeated. Victory is yours! You previously crushed and humiliated the ISIS brutes and all the progressive people of the world admire you for that.

On behalf of the freedom-seeking women and men of Afghanistan, I send my warm salutations and offer my whole-hearted solidarity to each and everyone one of you dear people, and shake your strong hands warmly.

We will be, without a doubt, victorious against the barbarous fundamentalists and their western masters!

Malalai Joya

Here’s why Turkey will work with the Iraqi Kurds, but not Turkish Kurds. This is what the battle for Kobani looks like via satellite. ISIS’s far-reaching “sway” has begun to creep into Lebanon. ISIS forces are also approaching Mount Sinjar. The dangers of revolting against the Islamic State were made clear in a underreported Syrian massacre. And women fighting ISIS on the ground “share their battlefield stories.” [NYT]

Hedgehog on camera intended for weasels


Johann Prescher, maker of this video in the Netherlands, writes about it (translated):

October 20th 2014

Special guest in the Mostela that I had prepared in Veenwouden. A hedgehog was able to crawl through the 8cm diameter tube. The Mostela is an invention for the identification of small mustelids (Mustelidae) named after the inventor Jeroen Mos. I have provided the Mostela with an attractant which attracts the animals. Looks like it was well worth the effort for the hedgehog as well, as it crawled into the Mostela.

Turkish government’s road to dictatorship


This video is called Turkey: Watch police unleash water cannon on anti-Islamic State protesters.

By Jean Shaoul:

Turkish government seeks new police state powers

21 October 2014

The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is intent on giving sweeping new powers to Turkish security forces to clamp down on the pro-Kurdish protests sparked by its blockade of the Syrian border city of Kobani during its month-long siege by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In so doing, Erdogan has strengthened the security and military establishment whose power he has sought to curtail during the 12 years in office of his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

In addition, he has jeopardised relations with Turkey’s Kurdish community, who form 20 percent of the population, 19 months after initiating talks aimed at resolving the decades-long conflict. This is threatening Turkey’s domestic stability just as economic growth is grinding to a halt and unemployment is rising.

In 2013, the imprisoned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan called for an end to the three decades-long civil war, abandoned his demand of Kurdish independence in favour of greater autonomy, and announced a ceasefire agreement with the government. But Öcalan has declared that the talks would be over without some progress in the negotiations by October 15 and if Kobani fell to ISIS.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, a proposed Homeland Security Reform Bill would “give the upper hand to the police” in the face of “widespread violence”, and “more space to resort to new tools and measures.” There will be harsher punishment for offenders damaging public property and demonstrators wearing masks to conceal their identities.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the new law treats the throwing of Molotov cocktails as a crime on a par with throwing bombs, since such weapons have been used to set ambulances and public buildings afire. He warned protesters against destroying water cannon trucks, a favourite tool of Turkish police in dispersing protests, saying, “We will buy five or 10 TOMAs [the Turkish acronym for water cannon trucks] for each TOMA destroyed.”

Opposition legislators denounced the new measures, saying they would turn Turkey into a police state. Pro-Kurdish MP Idris Baluken of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said, “This is like throwing gasoline on a fire… at a time when so many children are being killed by police on the streets.”

He added, “From now on, the police will resort to not only using shields but also guns, with an authority to kill.”

The new measures come in the wake of a week of nationwide “solidarity” protests by Turkey’s Kurdish population–called by the HDP and the PKK via social media–in which at least 35 people were killed and 360 wounded. … More than 1,000 people have been detained and curfews imposed in several cities.

While it was at first thought that protestors had died as a result of the security forces’ actions, it now appears that at least some of the deaths followed clashes between secular Kurds and the Sunni Islamist Kurdish group, Huda-Par, the successor organisation to Hezbollah (no relation to the Lebanese Hezbollah). Hezbollah was widely believed to have been trained and armed by the Turkish state, which unleashed them against the Kurds in south eastern Turkey, and to have been responsible for the unsolved murders of 500 Kurdish activists, writers, journalists and intellectuals in the 1990s.

Davutoglu said that Turkey will not allow its citizens to fight in Kobani whether they are pro-ISIS, supporters of the Syrian opposition, or pro-Kurdish groups. He attacked Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the HDP, for saying that “tens of thousands Kurdish youth” were ready to take on ISIS if the Turkish-Syrian border gates into Kobani were opened.

The fall of Kobani to ISIS would threaten the survival of the Syrian Kurdish autonomous region known as Rojava in the north and east of Syria, as it is located between two geographically isolated Kurdish areas along an east-west axis. The two remaining enclaves would find it difficult to resist ISIS, which would free up the Islamists to take the region north of Aleppo.

Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the YPG, which control Rojava, as an offshoot of the PKK. Having fought a 30 year war with the PKK over its demands for Kurdish independence, it fears that the PYD/YPG’s control of a relatively autonomous Syrian Kurdish region sets an example for the much larger Kurdish population in south eastern Turkey.

The AKP government had refused to relieve the blockade unless the PYD dissolves its self-ruling local governments in northern Syria, joins the largely ineffectual Free Syrian Army which has opposed minority rights in Syria and is under Turkish control, distances itself from the PKK, and becomes part of Turkey’s “buffer zone project” along the Syrian border.

The Davutoglu government now classifies both the PKK/YPG and ISIS as “terrorists,” after a recent shift, but it is, in effect, using ISIS against the Kurds. Indeed, one reason for Turkey’s previous sponsorship of ISIS as part of the military campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad was to counter Rojava and Kurdish aspirations in Syria.