Iranian women face 10 years for sharing videos of hijab removal


Iranian officials have warned that posting video footage of women removing their mandatory headscarves in public could lead to up 10 years imprisonment, according to media reports yesterday. 

The announcement specifically named the US-based social media platform of Masih Alinejad, which since 2014 has been inviting Iranian women to post pictures of themselves without the hijab.

Ms Alinejad has been accused by the Iranian regime of working as an agent of the US government over the website, known as My Stealthy Freedom. 

“As Masih Alinejad has a contract with the Americans, all those women who send the video footages of removing their hijab to her will be sentenced between one to 10 years of jail according to the article 508 of the Islamic Criminal Justice Act,” the head of Tehran’s Court of Revolution cleric Mousa Ghazanfarabadi told Fars news.

Earlier this year Ms Alinejad met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who “thanked her for her bravery and continued dedication to the cause of freedom for Iranian women”. 

In recent days the morality police in Iran has reacted to a number of incidents in which its vigilantees have been attacked in Tehran metro while “advising” women not to remove their hijab. She has denied working for any foreign governments. 

Asked by the Fars news agency if sending video clips to an individual in US amounts to a criminal act, Mr Ghazanfarabadi has said: “My understanding of the law is that three types of video recordings are criminal acts; to film our military installations; to record private life of another citizen and the third case is to record a film with the aim of working with an enemy government”.

In 2015, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy gave Alinejad its women’s rights award for “giving a voice to the voiceless and stirring the conscience of humanity to support the struggle of Iranian women for basic human rights, freedom, and equality”.

The hijab mandatory in public for all women in Iran with punishment for violations usually two months imprisonment and a £20 fine. 

Taliban reject direct talks with Afghan govt


An Afghan official on Sunday said the government would hold its first-ever direct talks with the Taliban within two weeks, but the latter quickly denied any such meeting was planned and reiterated their opposition to negotiating with the government representatives.

The Taliban have been holding peace talks with the US for nearly a year but have refused to recognise the Kabul government, viewing it as an American puppet. Abdul Salam Rahimi, Afghanistan’s state minister for peace affairs, said a 15-member government delegation will meet with the Taliban in Europe, without elaborating.

The Taliban, however, rejected direct peace talks with the Afghan government and reiterated their demand of complete US forces’ pullout from the war-battered Afghanistan for intra-Afghan talks.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said there had been no agreement on such a meeting and that had not been coordinated with Taliban.

He said once they reach an agreement with the US, they would be open to intra-Afghan talks, but any government representatives would have to participate in a personal capacity.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said talks with Kabul would only come after the departure of US forces under a deal.

Khalilzad said on Twitter that after the US concludes its agreements, intra-Afghan negotiations would take place between the Taliban and “an inclusive and effective national negotiating team consisting of senior government officials, key political party representatives, civil society and women”.

He said it would include the Taliban and “an inclusive and effective national negotiating team consisting of senior government officials, key political party representatives, civil society and women.”

Khalilzad has held several rounds of direct talks with the Taliban in Qatar since late last year with the focus on a Taliban demand for withdrawal of US and other foreign forces and a US demand the Taliban guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for terrorism.

Two other main issues in the peace process are a ceasefire and Taliban’s talks with the Afghan government. But the Taliban have refused to talk to the Afghan government, terming it a US puppet.

There are reports that the US and Taliban are going to sign an MoU this week to firm up a plan for withdrawal of foreign troops.

On Sunday, Taliban guerrillas destroyed police checkpoints killing at least seven policemen and civilians in an attempt to seize control of a district in Ghazni.

India Demands Action After Imran Admits Pak Has 30-40k Terrorists


“It is a glaring admission by the Pakistani leadership”: External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

India, on Thursday, 25 July, termed Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s comments that his country had 30,000 to 40,000 terrorists who fought in Kashmir and Afghanistan as a “glaring admission”, and asked him to take “credible and irreversible” action against the terror networks.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said it was not the first time that Pakistan and its leadership owned up to the presence of terrorists in that country who are sent to India to carry out attacks.

Addressing a think-tank in Washington on Tuesday, Khan said about 30,000 to 40,000 terrorists who had trained and fought in “some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir” were in his country.

“It is a glaring admission by the Pakistani leadership…. This is not the first time that Pakistan and Pakistani leadership owned up to the presence of terror training camps and terrorists in Pakistan…. It is also in public knowledge and international community knows about it,” Kumar said.

He said as Khan acknowledged the presence of terrorist training camps in his country, “it is time for them to take credible and irreversible action against the terror camps.”

“They should make sure that the safe havens and sanctuaries in Pakistan should be neutralised. We feel that half-hearted measures to please the international community won’t do.”

                   – Raveesh Kumar

India and Afghanistan have been accusing Pakistan of providing safe haven to the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant groups.

Khan, who was on a three-day official visit to the US, also admitted to American lawmakers that successive governments in Pakistan did not tell the truth to the United States, in particular in the last 15 years, that there were 40 different militant groups operating in his country.

“Until we came into power, the governments did not have the political will, because when you talk about militant groups, we still have about 30,000-40,000 armed people who have been trained and fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir,” Khan said at the US Institute of Peace.

“We are the first government that has started disarming militant groups. This is the first time it’s happening. We’ve taken over their institutes, their seminaries. We have administrators there,” said the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party which formed its first federal government in August last year.

India has been making diplomatic efforts to corner Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. It has not been engaging with Pakistan since early 2016 following a terror attack on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot in January that year, maintaining that talks and terror cannot go together.

Fast Bowler Mohammad Amir seeks British citizenship

Pakistan left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir is planning to obtain a British passport in a bid to permanently settle down in England in future.

According to details, Amir married a British citizen Nargis Malik in September, 2016 and has already applied for a “spouse visa”, which allows him to stay in England for 30 months.

In the case of obtaining a “spouse visa”, the 27-year-old will be able to work and take advantage of various other perks that comes along with it.

Left-arm pacer is also looking to purchase a house in London.

It is not yet clear whether Amir has already obtained the “spouse visa” or not, as he has previously spent jail time in the United Kingdom for his role in the spot-fixing scandal.

However, Amir has since then travelled to England numerous times with the Pakistan team and for county cricket.

After getting permanent residency, the pacer will also be able to apply for a British passport.

Amir on Friday announced his retirement from Test cricket with immediate effect, but reaffirmed his commitment to playing white ball cricket for Pakistan.

Amir’s teammates in the Pakistan team have been aware of the fact that the pacer is not interested in playing for the Men in Green anymore and wants to play T20 leagues in England and around the world.

However, Amir didn’t inform any of his teammates about his intention to retire from Test cricket immediately after the World Cup.

Pakistan is likely to play their next Test series against Sri Lanka in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to sources, Amir was aware that the pitches in the UAE will not support fast-bowlers, hence he decided to walk away from Test cricket before the series.


Karachi to Balochistan, Pakistanis battle state as they wait for ‘missing’ family members

 Karachi to Balochistan, Pakistanis battle state as they wait for ‘missing’ family members.

The June heat was menacing but Shazia Chandio and her mother sat outside the Karachi Press Club for hours. They came from Larkana, travelling a distance of over 400 km, in search of answers about Aqib Chandio — Shazia’s 18-year-old brother who went missing after he was allegedly abducted by uniformed men on 30 May last year. Aqib’s family is still clueless on his whereabouts even as the government refuses to give an answer.

Aqib isn’t alone. He is one among 41 Sindhi activists, over 135 Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) members, 8,000 Pashtuns and over 20,000 from the Baloch community who have mysteriously disappeared in recent years. Not to forget the Pakistani Shias who have gone missing.

“We have no idea where he is being kept and under what circumstances. How can they take away a teenager like this? We have met former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar three times but to little avail. He only sympathised with us,” said Shazia, who is part of a group called Voice of Missing Persons-Sindh (VMP-S) that has been protesting against the disappearance of Sindhis.

“Aqib is a very sensitive boy. He was moved by the plight of families of missing persons and would take part in protests,” said Sorath Lohar, 26, also a member of VMP-S.

Sorath’s father, Hidayat Lohar, too had gone “missing” — for nearly 26 months — but was recovered in June this year. VMP-S has a list of missing persons that include names of at least 41 activists.

‘Voluntary disappearances’

Pakistan’s history of ‘enforced disappearances’ originated during the tenure of military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. Nearly 4,000 Pakistanis who were reported to have gone missing from 2002 to 2008 were allegedly handed over to foreign countries, especially the US.

The country has refused to sign the United Nations’ International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance despite several promises made by the government over the years.

The impunity with which the government has reportedly been carrying out these forced disappearances can be gauged by a reply that it gave to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission office, Geneva, on 12 July, 2017.

When asked about enforced disappearances, the state representatives had then said those reported missing have “disappeared voluntarily“.

On 5 July, Pakistan Army spokesperson Asif Ghafoor tweeted saying: “Not every person missing is attributable to state”. He, however, failed to inform under what law can a citizen be kept in custody for years without any trial.

Political commentator Ayesha Siddiqa said, “Disappearances are an expression of unmitigated power of law enforcement and security agencies to generate fear in the society. Victims are picked up on the basis of unsubstantiated and unanalysed intelligence and subjected to torture.”

But given international pressure, will the state ever think of changing its policy? “There is no formidable pressure. If the government manages to improve relations with the US, only God can help us,” Siddiqa added.

Missing MQM members

Fauzia Mushtaq’s husband Mushtaq aka Adil Bara, 30, was similarly picked up on 29 July, 2015 from Karachi’s Garden area. She has not heard from him since.

“I have visited every state office to find my husband. A year ago, I even went to the DG Rangers office and slashed my wrists in protest. I am helpless and have threatened to kill myself along with my two daughters if my husband is not found,” said 28-year-old Fauzia.

Her husband Adil was once part of the Karachi-based MQM against which the state had started a massive crackdown in 2015.

When Adil was arrested, some local channels ran the news that an MQM member was held by paramilitary forces. But officials continue to reiterate that Adil is not in their custody.

The MQM, meanwhile, is in a shambles and till 2016 the outfit’s missing persons’ list included names of 135 members.

MQM convener Nadeem Ehsan, who is currently in London, shared with ThePrint how crackdown against party workers still continue even as several reports about human rights violation has been sent to the UN. “We are awaiting some action by the UN against the state for unabated oppression against MQM workers,” he said.

Disappearing Pashtuns

Miles away, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province of Pakistan, 30-year-old Ihsan Gul faces a similar ordeal. His father Khan e Mullah, 63, was taken away by “men in civil clothes” on 29 July, 2016 from their home in Jamrud tehsil and hasn’t returned since.

 “People of my age are busy looking for jobs and getting settled but all I am able to do is spent hours every day looking for my father. At times, nothing makes sense and I just want to end my life,” said Ihsan, who is doing his M.Phil in Sociology.

Ihsan is also concerned about his father’s health since he is diabetic and has a history of cardiovascular disease. “I had given those men, who took my father away, his medicines. But I don’t know if he is fine and still given those pills,” he said.

It was only after Pashtun Tahfuz Movement (PTM) — an outfit fighting for the rights of the Pashtun community — rose to prominence in 2018 that state oppression in K-P started making news. But the government went after PTM too, arresting several of its workers and organisers under draconian laws.

In the beginning of this year, PTM activist Alamzeb Mehsud, the man in-charge of collecting data about missing Pashtuns, was taken into custody.

Farid Asghar, another PTM activist from Waziristan, has now taken charge of collecting information about ‘enforced disappearances’. Speaking to The Print, Asghar said that according to data collected so far as many as 8,000 Pashtun people were reported missing from K-P.

Decade-long strike by Baloch activists

Baloch activists, on the other hand, are barred from even protesting against disappearances. Mama Qadeer, the lone warrior from Balochistan, gets up every day and reaches the strike camp in Quetta which has been there for 10 years now to demand recovery of missing Baloch persons.

Last week, BBC Urdu had reported that authorities have asked Qadeer to get a no-objection certificate to continue the protest. “I will continue this fight no matter what,” said Qadeer, after the camp was set ablaze a few days ago.

Baloch activists estimate that over 20,000 people are missing from the province.