News in brief

Je suis Joman

On 19 January, Israeli police Monday arrested pregnant journalist Joman Abu Arafeh as she was leaving the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, according to the Palestine News & Information Agency (WAFA).

Earlier, on 14 January, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) launched ‘The Media in Gaza: Caught in the Crossfire’, a report on Israeli media violations during the July-August 2014 attack on Gaza.

MADA’s director general, Mousa Rimawi said: ‘We would like to see the unprecedented solidarity with Charlie Hebdo’s victims being expanded to include solidarity with the Palestinian journalists and journalists from all over the world. 2014 witnessed major violations against media freedoms, with the killing of 100 journalists, 17 of whom [died] in the Gaza Strip.’

During the August 2014 Israeli onslaught, according to MADA, Israeli attacks on Palestinian media freedom included: ‘killing, destroying media headquarters, damaging journalists’ houses, injuring journalists by bullets and bombing, arresting, preventing free movement, threatening and preventing coverage, detention, interrogation, and beating.’

For example, Israeli forces ‘destroyed Al Wataniya media agency headquarters while 35 journalists and staff were inside the building’.

Nepal crisis

Nepal has missed another crucial deadline. Since the civil war ended in 2006, the Himalayan republic has managed to keep its peace process staggering along, chasing a new federal constitution as the bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow, always just out of reach.

The interim constitution adopted in 2007 was meant to be replaced by a proper new constitution in May 2010. The elected constituent assembly extended the period to May 2011. Despite a supreme court ruling that such extensions were illegal (no power of extension had been written into any of the agreements), the constituent assembly kept extending the life of the interim constitution by a few months at a time.

New elections were held in November 2013 and Nepal’s political leaders promised to draft a new constitution within a year – a date that ended up being
22 January 2015.

Instead of agreeing a constitution by midnight on that date, Nepal’s parliamentarians ended up having a brawl, throwing shoes and microphones, after the Maoist-led opposition stormed the constituent assembly chamber to prevent a vote being taken. (Chairs were thrown in an earlier scuffle.) Outside, the opposition mounted a general strike, and burned vehicles.

The Maoists, and many minority ethnic groups, want the number, names and boundaries of the provinces in a new (federal) state to be agreed by consensus, as originally planned.

The larger parties, who have the two-thirds of votes in the constituent assembly needed to pass the new constitution, wanted to stick to the deadline and vote in their less-ethnically-based proposals for a unitary state.

Western Sahara

On 19 December, Kosmos Energy of the US and Cairn Energy of Scotland became the first companies ever to drill for oil in Western Sahara, a territory illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975.

‘I have seen that they [Kosmos executives] think their actions are in conformity with my legal opinion, and my determined opinion is that they are not’, ambassador Hans Corell, author of a crucial 2002 UN legal opinion, told MEED weekly on 8 January.

Corell was head of the UN secretariat office of legal affairs when he ruled that oil exploration or exploitation would violate international law if it was not in accordance with the wishes and the interests of the people of Western Sahara.

Corell added: ‘Signing an agreement in which Morocco refers to Western Sahara as the southern provinces of the Kingdom of Morocco is at variance with corporate social responsibility and the principles to protect, respect and remedy.’

Love your neighbour

On 29 December, 10 peace activists were arrested at the Pentagon in Washington DC, USA, during a nonviolent witness by over 50 people from the Atlantic and Southern Life Communities.

Commemorating the feast of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, the group held a procession to the Pentagon. One banner read:
‘Love Your Neighbor Means Don’t Bomb, Occupy and Kill Them!’

After political and religious speeches, the 10 were arrested for refusing a police request to enter a designated ‘protest’ area. All were released and scheduled to appear on 19 March at the district court in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Atlantic and Southern Life Communities have brought together faith-based direct action peace activists since the 1970s.

Love your surveillor

On 1 December, US whistleblower Edward Snowden addressed the Swedish parliament by video from Russia as he was given the Right Livelihood award for his exposure of NSA spying on an industrial scale.

No one collected the award on his behalf, as his family and supporters said they hoped that one day Snowden might be able to receive it in person – he is wanted for ‘espionage’ by the US government.

The awards jury said Snowden was honoured ‘for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights’.

Love your trader

‘Arming All Sides’ is an excellent new online First World War resource initiated by Campaign Against Arms Trade.

The website questions what role the arms trade played before, during and after the war, what opposition was mounted to the trade, and how the war affected what people thought about making and selling armaments.

Love your saviour

As PN went to press, the Green Party was reporting that its UK-wide membership had doubled in the past year, and was approaching 48,000 – more than UKIP (42,000) or the Liberal Democrats (45,000).

This figure includes membership of the Scottish Green Party, which has gone up five-fold, from 1,700 in September to around 9,000 at the time of writing.

Other parties committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament are also doing well.

Scottish National Party membership has more than tripled, going from 25,000 to 93,000 since the independence referendum, making the SNP the third-largest party by membership in the UK.

On the other hand, the Conservatives say they have 224,000 members (up 30% in a year), and Labour claims 190,000.

Je suis Nabeel

Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison on 20 January, for insulting the government of Bahrain on Twitter. He was arrested in October and detained for a month, after tweeting about reports that members of Bahrain’s security forces had joined Islamic State in Iraq. Rajab is free on bail as he appeals.

Rajab said that human rights defenders across the Gulf region ‘are not only the victims of the repression of our own governments but also the victims of the silence, hypocrisy and double standards of the international community.’

Je suis Mohamed

As PN went to press, hopes were rising that Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy might be pardoned by the Egyptian president, general Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The Egyptian-Canadian journalist has spent a year in prison along with his Al Jazeera colleagues Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed after being convicted of spreading false news and collaborating with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

After Egypt’s supreme court ruled on 1 January that the three should face a retrial – which could take up to a year – Fahmy and Greste, who is from Australia, applied for deportation.

Fahmy and Greste are serving seven-year sentences, while Egyptian Mohamed is serving a 10-year sentence.