Saudi Court Sentences 5 to Death in Khashoggi Murder


Saudi Arabia has been accused of shielding Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who foreign experts suspect was behind the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.


BEIRUT, Lebanon — A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five men to death and three to prison terms over the killing of the Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last year, the kingdom’s public prosecutor said on Monday.
The sentences matched the Saudi argument that the killing was not premeditated or ordered by the royal court, but was instead a last-minute decision by Saudi agents on the ground — a narrative that contradicts ample evidence that the agents came with an intent to kill and the tools to do so.
The verdicts also raise the prospect that Saudi Arabia could behead the men who carried out the killing while shielding those who ordered it. The kingdom continues to deny any involvement by the crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, and his top aides, who foreign analysts say were probably behind the murder.
The killing of Mr. Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi media figure and columnist for The Washington Post, caused international outrage and battered the reputation of Prince Mohammed. The kingdom’s handling of the case has raised further concerns. Turkey has accused Saudi Arabia of not cooperating in the investigation, a failure that a United Nations expert said could amount to obstruction of justice.
The trial, held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was shrouded in secrecy. The kingdom did not reveal the suspects’ names, and foreign diplomats who attended sessions of the trial were sworn to silence.
The verdicts were unlikely to appease critics who say that the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, 59, was representative of Prince Mohammed’s harsh rule and part of a wider campaign to silence critical voices at home and abroad.
Adam Coogle, who researches Saudi Arabia for Human Rights Watch, said that the opaque trial and the kingdom’s overall treatment of the case showed the need for an independent investigation.
“Saudi Arabia’s absolution of its senior leadership of any culpability in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi raises serious concerns over the fairness of the criminal proceedings,” he said. “Saudi Arabia’s handling of the murder, from complete denial to hanging the murder on lower-level operatives in a trial that lacked transparency, demonstrates the need for an independent criminal inquiry.”
Mr. Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to obtain paperwork he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée. Inside, he was confronted by Saudi agents, who killed him and dismembered his body. His remains have yet to be found.
On Monday, a spokesman for the kingdom’s public prosecutor told reporters in Riyadh that no evidence had been found that the killing had been planned ahead of time. Instead, he said, agents had been sent to Istanbul to “negotiate” with Mr. Khashoggi and decided to kill him after that effort failed.
But investigations by the Turkish authorities and a United Nations expert found vast evidence of premeditation, such as the arrival of 15 Saudi agents in Istanbul in the hours before Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. They included a “body double” who sought to leave a false trail of surveillance video indicating that Mr. Khashoggi was still alive, and a forensic doctor who the Turks say arrived with a bone saw that was used to dismember Mr. Khashoggi’s body.

Recordings captured by Turkish intelligence inside the consulate before, during and after the killing, and shared with the United Nations investigator, revealed the agents discussing how to fit Mr. Khashoggi’s body into suitcases. When Mr. Khashoggi reached the consulate, one of the agents referred to him as the “sacrificial animal.”
After his death, no effort was made to resuscitate him.
The United Nations expert also reported a vast effort by Saudi officials to cover up the killing, including by forensically cleansing the crime scene before allowing Turkish investigators access to it.
On Twitter, Fahrettin Altun, a spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, wrote that the leaders who had ordered the operation had been “granted immunity.”
“To claim that a handful of intelligence operatives committed this murder is to mock the world’s intelligence — to say the least,” he wrote.
Although no evidence has been made public that directly implicates Prince Mohammed in the killing, an assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency found that he had probably ordered the operation, which employed two private jets, two diplomatic facilities and the team of agents.
Prince Mohammed has said that he played no role in the killing but that he bore some responsibility for it because it happened on his watch.
An investigation by Agnès Callamard, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions for the United Nations human rights agency, concluded that there was “credible evidence, warranting further investigation, of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the crown prince’s.”
On Monday, Ms. Callamard criticized the verdicts, saying on Twitter that the prosecutor had ignored evidence of premeditation and did not treat the killing as sanctioned by the state, which required holding top officials accountable.
“Bottom line: the hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death,” she wrote. “The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. That is the antithesis of justice. It is a mockery.”
The Saudi public prosecutor’s office said Monday that it had examined 31 suspects and arrested 21 of them. Of those, 11 were put on trial. Five men were sentenced to death for their direct involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. Three others were given a total of 24 years in prison for covering up the crime and violating other laws.
On Twitter, one of Mr. Khashoggi’s adult children, Salah Khashoggi, who lives in Saudi Arabia, praised the Saudi judges as fair.
“We confirm our faith in the Saudi judiciary at all levels and in its giving us justice and ensuring fairness,” he wrote.
Months after the killing, he and Mr. Khashoggi’s other children received tens of thousands of dollars and millions in real estate from the government to compensate for their father’s murder.
Turkish officials have identified the men they believe were inside the consulate when Mr. Khashoggi was killed, but it was unclear if they were the same men sentenced on Monday because the Saudis did not release their names. The kingdom did, however, identify three suspects who were not sentenced.
Mohammed al-Otaibi, the Saudi consul in Istanbul who gave reporters a tour of the consulate days after Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, was released without charge. Ahmed Asseri, the deputy head of Saudi intelligence, who Saudi officials initially said had overseen the operation, was also released.
And Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Mohammed, was not put on trial because the prosecutor’s office said there was a lack of evidence against him. Mr. al-Qahtani’s exoneration is likely to rankle the United States, which imposed sanctions on him for what it said was his role in overseeing the team that carried out the killing.
On Monday, Saudi Twitter accounts published what appeared to be coordinated posts voicing the Saudi people’s trust in Mr. Asseri and Mr. al-Qahtani.

The sentences announced Monday were preliminary and are subject to appeal. Death sentences in Saudi Arabia are usually carried out by beheading in public squares.


Yemeni forces down Saudi Apache helicopter using 'new technology', images available: Spokesman


Friday, 29 November 2019

Yemen's Armed Forces have downed a Saudi Apache helicopter using "new technology" and have filmed the operation, the force's spokesman has said.
"Yemen's air defenses have managed to down a Saudi Apache helicopter with a surface-to-air missile using new technology which we will unveil in the near future," Brigadier General Yahya Saree announced on Friday.
"It was shot down this morning in the Majaza area facing [Saudi Arabia's] Asir while carrying out hostile operations," Saree said.
The spokesman added that the helicopter had been fully destroyed and that its two Saudi crew members had been killed.
"The Armed Forces will counter all hostile attempts until complete coverage for Yemen's airspace can be provided," he said.
The development comes against the backdrop of a string of major Yemeni military victories in the past months.
Earlier this week, Yemeni forces claimed to have successfully carried out a major drone and ballistic missile attack targeting Mukha port in Yemen’s southern province of Ta'izz.
Some 350 Saudi-led forces were either killed or wounded during the attack, Saree said at the time.
Late September, Yemeni forces declared the conclusion of a major military offensive targeting Saudi-led forces in the kingdom’s southern border region of Najran, killing at least 200 enemy troops and capturing another 2,000, according to officials.
Two weeks earlier, Yemeni forces bypassed the oil-rich kingdom's foreign supplied air defenses and launched a highly successful attack on two Saudi oil facilities, temporarily halting more than half of the country's oil production.
Reports have since emerged showing that Riyadh has been seeking to negotiate an end to what has turned into a “quagmire” for the kingdom.
The US has also been reportedly reaching out to Yemen's Houthi Ansarullah Movement in a bid to assist Riyadh and work a way out of the conflict.
Earlier this month, Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs for the United Arab Emirates which has been Saudi Arabia's top ally in the war in Yemen, said that the Houthis "will have a role in the future of Yemen".
The developments mark a major reversal on the four-year-long Saudi-led mission which was launched in a bid to crush the Houthi movement and install a pro-Saudi government in Sana'a.
The UAE has effectively withdrawn a large bulk of its troops from Yemen.
Last week, United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths claimed that Saudi airstrikes in Yemen had dramatically decreased by 80 percent.
He said that the decrease came after Yemen voluntarily pledged to cease drone and missile attacks against the Saudi kingdom following the successful September oilfield attack.
The claim, however, has been disputed by Yemeni officials who say Riyadh continues with the airstrikes despite Yemen's voluntary measure.



"I'm a journalist," he told Guardian Australia in 2015 from his prison. "I'm still a journalist, despite being in this place. This is my job, this is my duty.

by Adriana Fara

Immigrazione australiana significa centinaia di persone chiuse in un’area che non è carcere, ma senza la libertà di potersene andare. Talora è solo una questione amministrativa, di visto o di permesso a svolgere la tua professione: come nel caso di Behrouz Boochani. Giornalista, scrittore curdo iraniano, attivista politico per i diritti umani, Boochani è “trattenuto” dal 2013 nell’isola di Manus, in Papua Nuova Guinea. Oggi, finalmente, è libero in Nuova Zelanda.
Behrouz ha 36 anni e cittadinanza iraniana; quando la polizia ha chiuso il suo quotidiano, nel 2013, decide di lasciare l’Iran. Dopo arresti e intimidazioni a giornalisti iraniani che sostenevano, come lui, l’indipendenza curda, fugge e raggiunge clandestinamente l’Indonesia e, da lì, l’Australia, dove vuole chiedere lo status di rifugiato politico. Viene fermato dalla guardia costiera di Canberra, che lo trasferisce nel centro di immigrazione e detenzione di Manus. Lì è iniziato il suo viaggio, quello di giornalista e scrittore.

Da lì ha preso a raccontare al mondo cosa accade in questi luoghi presi “in affitto” dall’Australia per rinchiudere i migranti che cercano di raggiungere le sue coste. Su Twitter, Facebook e sul web Behrouz Boochani documenta abusi e sofferenze: è una dura campagna di denuncia della politica anti-migratoria e delle umiliazioni cui vengono sottoposti i rifugiati. I suoi articoli escono sui giornali di tutto il mondo e con uno smartphone, unico oggetto che a volte filtra all’interno dei centri d’immigrazione, ha girato il documentario “Chauka, please tell us the time” (2017), proiettato il 5 ottobre del 2018 al “Festival di Internazionale di Ferrara” dove ha ricevuto il premio “Anna Politkovskaja” per la libertà di stampa.
Premio ritirato da Omid Tofighian, traduttore del suo libro “No friend but the mountains” 2018 (Pan Macmillan-Picador), edito in Italia da Add. Si è sempre considerato un prigioniero politico. Ha dichiarato al The Guardian, giornale per il quale ha scritto per alcuni anni prima di Manus: “Ci sono 46 uomini detenuti in isolamento, nella prigione di Bomana a Port Moresby. Ho visto gli amici uccisi, pugnalati, assassinati da guardie sull’isola di Manus, ha visto altri morire per negligenza medica o per suicidio”.
Boochani è stato torturato due volte per diversi giorni nel famigerato blocco di isolamento Chauka, nel centro di detenzione, ora demolito, ed è stato incarcerato per otto giorni per aver denunciato uno sciopero della fame, che è stato represso con la forza dalla polizia del PNG. Boochani ha lasciato l’isola mercoledì 13 novembre 2019 e ha raggiunto la Nuova Zelanda, dove apparirà ad un festival letterario a Christchurch. Ha un visto di soli 30 giorni in Nuova Zelanda. Gli Stati Uniti sono disponibili a dargli il visto in base all’accordo sullo “scambio di rifugiati” in Australia stipulato tra Malcolm Turnbull e Barack Obama. “Sono un giornalista”, ha detto a Guardian Australia nel 2015 dalla sua prigione. “Sono ancora un giornalista, nonostante stia in questo posto. Questo è il mio lavoro, questo è il mio dovere. ”
– dal discorso tenuto da Boochani per il Australia Victorian Prize 2019 “Questo Premio prova che le parole ancora hanno il potere di sfidare i sistemi e le organizzazioni disumane, che la letteratura ha il potenziale per provocare cambiamenti e per sfidare le strutture del potere. La letteratura ha il potere di darci la libertà. … Questo premio è una vittoria non solo per noi (prigionieri), ma per la letteratura e l’arte. Soprattutto è una vittoria per l’umanità, per gli esseri umani, per la dignità umana”.
Vincitore nel 2007 del premio di Amnesty International Australia, attribuito a giornalisti e mezzi di comunicazione australiani che si sono distinti nel trattare i temi legati ai diritti umani Vincitore del Victorian Prize 2019, il più prestigioso premio letterario australiano Vincitore NSW Premier’s Award 2019 Vincitore Asia General Non Fiction Book 2019 Vincitore National Biography Award 2019.


Behrouz Boochani, voice of Manus Island refugees, is free in New Zealand


View image on Twitter

Kurdish Iranian refugee and journalist – a multiple award-winner for documenting life in Australia’s offshore detention system – has left Papua New Guinea

Behrouz Boochani, the Kurdish Iranian refugee and journalist who became the voice of those incarcerated on Manus Island, has landed in New Zealand and says he will never return to Papua New Guinea or Australia’s immigration regime.
“I will never go back to that place,” he told the Guardian, shortly after leaving PNG. “I just want to be free of the system, of the process. I just want to be somewhere where I am a person, not just a number, not just a label ‘refugee’.”
Over the course of six years forcibly held by Australia’s offshore processing regime in PNG, Boochani emerged as the voice of the Manus Island detention centre anda tireless campaigner for the rights of those detained by Australia. He has written extensively for the Guardian on life in detention and won Australia’s richest literary prize for his book, No Friend But the Mountains.
His arrival in New Zealand will be of acute political sensitivity in Australia. The Australian government has consistently refused overtures from New Zealand to resettle refugees held in offshore detention, arguing it would undermine Australia’s hardline policies towards boat arrivals.
Boochani told the Guardian he was elated to be free and was trying to adjust to a still-indeterminate liberty.
“After more than six years, I am very, very tired,” he said. “But I am glad to be away from that place.
“Everyone in Manus carries so many painful memories, we can never leave them on that island … but I am happy in my heart: I feel free.”
About three-quarters of the refugees and asylum seekers sent to PNG by Australia from 2012 onwards have left, either to Australia, to the US, or to other countries, Boochani said. Seven have died. But Boochani said he was distraught that some remained trapped there, in particular 46 men who are being held, essentially incommunicado, in Bomana prison in Port Moresby.
Over the six years he was held on Manus Island and in Port Moresby, Boochani witnessed friends shot, stabbed and murdered by guards on Manus Island, saw others die through medical neglect, and watched others descend into mental anguish and suicide.
He was twice tortured for several days in the notorious Chauka solitary confinement block, in the now-demolished Manus detention centre. He was jailed for eight days for reporting on a hunger strike in the centre, which was put down by force by PNG police.
But throughout he maintained a role as a working journalist on the island, the most prominent – and, initially, the sole – voice from within the secretive regime.
“I am a journalist,” he told Guardian Australia in 2015. “I am still a journalist in this place. This is my work, my duty.”
He became a regular correspondent for the Guardian and other news outlets, leading detailed investigations based on eyewitness accounts, interviews inside detention and leaked documents.
And, famously, he wrote a book documenting detention via WhatsApp message, painstakingly transmitted sentence by sentence, and translated in Australia.
No Friend But the Mountains – the title is drawn from an old Kurdish proverb –won the Victorian premier’s prize for literature. From detention, he filmed – again using a mobile phone kept hidden from authorities – a documentary of life inside the Manus centre. Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time was screened at festivals across Australia, and in London and Berlin.
A Kurdish investigative journalist in his homeland, Iran, Boochani was persecuted for his reporting and his support for Kurdish independence, and fled for Australia in 2013. He arrived by boat on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, in July 2013. He was transferred to Manus Island on 27 August 2013.
He spent 2,269 days held by Australia’s offshore processing regime.
Boochani left PNG on Wednesday, travelling a circuitous route to reach New Zealand, where he will appear at a literary festival in Christchurch.
He has a one-month visa to stay in New Zealand. He is still hopeful he can resettle in the US – which has accepted him as part of Australia’s “refugee swap” deal struck between Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama.
But if that was denied because he is now in New Zealand, Boochani said: “I will look at possibilities”.
“The process for America,” he told the Guardian, “it was too long, I didn’t know. I needed to get out, to be free. I will never go back to PNG or Australian immigration detention.”
Since 2013 New Zealand has offered to accept 150 refugees each year from Australia’s offshore processing centres on Manus and Nauru. Australia has rebuffed this, arguing that refugees could, if they eventually became New Zealand citizens, ultimately travel to Australia (even though Australia regularly restricts some New Zealand citizens from travelling to Australia).
But New Zealand and Australia relations have strained more broadly over immigration. In addition to Australia’s refusal to entertain New Zealand’s offer to help in ending offshore detention, Canberra’s hardline attitude in deporting New Zealand citizens who receive criminal convictions, even if they have no family or connection to New Zealand beyond being born there, has deeply offended Wellington.


Did Russia drive hero British aid boss to his death? Wife says former army officer who fell from Istanbul balcony was under 'intense stress' following year-long Moscow smear campaign branding him a spy



  • James Le Mesurier OBE was a former army officer who founded Mayday Rescue
  • Good Samaritan was found dead outside his flat in Beyoglu district, Istanbul 
  • He had been taking medicine to treat 'intense stress' at the time, his wife said
  • But, suspicions have also been raised that he was murdered 'by a state actor' 

The British co-founder of Syria's White Helmets who fell to his death from his Istanbul balcony was under 'intense stress' and had suffered a years-long Russian smear campaign against him. 
James Le Mesurier, who set up the volunteer-led group that enters bombed areas in opposition-held parts of the country to help civilians, died outside his home at dawn after suffering fractures to his head and legs in the Beyoglu district of Turkey's largest city.   
His death is being treated as suspected suicide, Turkish security sources have said, but there are claims it was a state-sponsored hit. 
Just three days ago the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had accused Mr Le Mesurier of being a 'former agent of Britain's MI6' and working for the agency in the Balkans, Middle East and Kosovo.
His wife has told police that he had been taking medication because he was under 'intense stress' and that the pair moved to the area to be near a medical centre, Anadolu reported.
The White Helmets have been a favourite target of pro-Syrian and pro-Russian groups who have accused the group of supporting terrorists in Syria and doctoring footage of atrocities committed by regime forces - claims strongly denied by its supporters.
Mr Le Mesurier had also been a key target of propaganda released by pro-Assad activists and Russian diplomats for years, which had branded him as an MI6 spy working for al-Qaeda, reports The Times. 
Karen Pierce, the UK's representative to the United Nations, called Mr Le Mesurier a 'true hero' and 'real humanitarian', adding that claims he was a spy were 'categorically untrue'. 
She said: 'The causes of death at the moment are unclear. We will be looking very closely to see how the investigation goes. I hope the Turkish authorities will be able to investigate thoroughly, and I'm sure we'll want to give them any assistance they might require.
'I do just want to take the opportunity though to say on the record that the Russian charges against him, that came out of the Foreign Ministry that he was a spy, are categorically untrue.'  
BBC journalist Mark Urban reported that there was a 'good level' of suspicion that his death may be 'murder by a state actor' - but he added that others had suggested he may have taken his own life. 
Mr Le Mesurier, who was also a British Army officer and established Mayday Rescue that helped train the White Helmets in 2013, was honoured by the Queen with an OBE in 2016. 
His body was found at 4.30am local time (1.30am GMT) on the street in front of an office building used by Mayday Rescue that also doubles-up as his home.
The humanitarian's wife has told police that he had been taking medicine to treat 'intense stress' and that they moved to the area to be near the health centre, Anadolu reported.
It has also been alleged that these were anti-depressant pills, according to Turkey's DHA news agency.
Mr Le Mesurier took the pills before going to bed, reports German publication Bild.
His wife, who has not been named, said they had been up until 4am (1am GMT). 
After going to bed, she said she was woken by a doorbell and saw her husband's body from the open window of their third floor apartment. 
Their home is only accessible by fingerprint identification, reports Middle East Eye, and only Mr Le Mesurier and his wife were in at the time according to Turkish police.
They have also established that no one had entered or left his home at the time of his death, Anadolu reported. 
The Istanbul governor's office has launched a 'comprehensive administrative and judicial investigation' into Mr Le Mesurier's death, as his body waits for an autopsy.  
Amnesty International UK's Syrian Campaign Manager has called for a 'proper investigation' into the tragic circumstances of the campaigner's death.
'In helping to found the White Helmets, Le Mesurier was instrumental in saving the lives of thousands of Syrian civilians.
'The brave men and women of the White Helmets have repeatedly risked their own lives to dig people out of the rubble after devastating Syrian Government and Russian airstrikes on homes, market-places and hospitals.' 
Mr Le Mesurier had set up volunteer led organisations the White Helmets and Mayday Rescue, which had more than 3,000 members and worked to rescue and administer medical assistance to civilians in areas that had been bombed by the Assad regime and its Russian backers.
The humanitarian shared tweets online of bombed out hospitals and overturned ambulances which were alleged to have been hit by Russian and Syrian Regime forces.
He has also received funding from the British Foreign Office along with other western governments including Norway and the Netherlands for his work.
And he has campaigned for the UN to investigate the Human Rights situation in Syria, which the UN General Assembly voted to allow last week.  
The White Helmets expressed their 'deepest condolences and 'sorrow' to his family, as well as their 'solidarity' in a post on Twitter this morning. 
'We have learned with shock and sadness the news of the death of James Le Mesurier, founder and director of the humanitarian organisation Mayday Rescue, early on Monday at his home in Tophane in Istanbul, Turkey', they said on Twitter.
'The Syrian Civil Defense family extends its deepest condolences to the James family, and we express our deepest sorrow and solidarity with his family.
'As we also must commend his humanitarian efforts which Syrians will always remember.'
The Mayday Rescue team, which was headed by Le Mesurier as its CEO, said it was 'heartbroken' to confirm that its founder had died and called for 'restraint' in speculation as to the cause of his death.
'Please give James's family, friends, colleagues time and space to grieve the terrible loss to his family, Mayday and the world,' they said. 
'Remember James as the great leader, visionary, friend, father, husband and son that he was.'
The head of the White Helmets, Raed al-Salah told The Independent that the group is 'devastated' by his death and heralded Le Mesurier as a 'close friend to us and to the Syrian people'.
'We were informed by his family that he had died', said al-Salah.
'As of now, the police are investigating the case and have drawn no conclusions yet. We are waiting for the police report.'  
The Director of Doctors Under Fire campaign group and personal friend, Hamish de Bretton-Fordon, told the BBC that his death is 'absolutely tragic' as he is 'one of the few people who have made a humanitarian footprint in Syria'.
On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: 'The White Helmets' co-founder, James Le Mesurier, is a former agent of Britain's MI6, who has been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the MiddleEast. 
'His connections to terrorist groups were reported back during his mission in Kosovo.'
The humanitarian was reportedly 48 years old and had moved to Turkey with his wife four years ago. 
He was honoured by the Queen with an OBE in 2016 for 'services to the Syria Civil Defence group and the protection of civilians in Syria'.
He formed the voluntary search-and-rescue group called the White Helmets, which says it has rescued more than 100,000 civilians during Syria's brutal civil war.
Known officially as the Syria Civil Defence, the group numbering more than 3,000 sends volunteers into bombed areas to help rescue trapped civilians and administer medical treatment.
It has lost 252 volunteers to date and more than 500 have been wounded. 
The group was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 and received the Right Livelihood Award in recognition of 'outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians'.
Le Mesurier told Al Jazeera in 2015 that he had begun training and supporting the organisation in early 2013 alongside Turkish rescue experts, starting with 'a single team of 20 people'.
'I was working in Istanbul... and got together with a group of Turkish earthquake rescue volunteers,' he said. 
The White Helmets quickly expanded, and are credited with saving tens of thousands of lives during Syria's conflict.
A documentary about the group won an Academy Award in 2017.
The White Helmets have become a favourite target of pro-Syrian and pro-Russian groups. 
They have accused the group of supporting terrorists in Syria and doctoring footage of atrocities committed by regime forces - claims strongly denied by its supporters. 
On Friday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted: 'The White Helmets' co-founder, James Le Mesurier, is a former agent of Britain's MI6, who has been spotted all around the world, including in the Balkans and the MiddleEast. 
'His connections to terrorist groups were reported back during his mission in Kosovo.'


Rights groups slam Bahrain over detention of female activists


Recent report finds nine women were arrested without search warrants and were subjected to physical and sexual assaults.


Washington, DC - Rights groups on Tuesday slammed the Bahraini government for what they say is the systematic targeting of female political activists and their mistreatment in prisons.
A recent report titled, Breaking the Silence: Bahraini Women Political Prisoners Expose Systemic Abuses, outlines the cases of nine former and current female prisoners in Bahrain throughout the process of their arrests and trials, as well as the conditions of their detentions. The report was formally launched last month, and was the subject of a Washington, DC, event on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. 


The report, conducted by the London based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) found that the women were arrested without search warrants and were subjected to physical, psychological and sexual assaults during interrogation. Coerced confessions were used as evidence to convict them.
The 138-page report found that six of the women were convicted under terrorism-related charges. Bridget Quitter, Legal Officer at ADHRB said the women were targeted as part of a concerted state effort to crack down on free speech.
"These women were targeted for their opinions or those of their relatives," Bridget Quitter said during the panel event in Washington, DC.
"And they were subjected to rights violations from the moment of their arrest, through their interrogation and torture, unfair trials and detention in conditions which fail to meet international standards," Quitter said.
Of the nine women, three - Hajer Mansoor, Medina Alia and Zakeya AlBarboori - are still detained in Isa Town women's prison, where, according to the report, they continue to be subjected to punitive measures, including lack of access to medical care. The other six women have been released after serving prison sentences.
In 2011, a Shia-led opposition staged an uprising across the country demanding reforms in the Sunni-led kingdom. But the ruling Al Khalifa family has responded by cracking down dissent and sought the help of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which sent troops to help crush the unrest. 
The country of 1.5 million, headquarters of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, continued to see sporadic clashes between protesters and security forces. Hundreds have been imprisoned, including politicians and rights activists. Many have fled abroad.
In July, Bahrain executed two activists on terrorism charges - despite pleas by International rights groups and a UN human rights expert who had urged the state not to execute the men, on the grounds that their confessions were obtained through torture, including the use of electric shock and beatings.
Authorities have denied targeting the opposition and say they are protecting national security. Bahrain has also accused Iran of stoking the unrest in the country, an accusation Iran denies.
Quitter said all nine women were threatened with rape and death if they did not provide confessions to the charges against them.
Zainab Marhoom and Ameera Al Qashami said that they were forced to listen to the torture of a relative, and two women, Ebtisam al-Sayegh and Najah Yusuf reported being sexually assaulted by officers, according to the report. 
The rights groups called on the government of Bahrain to release the three remaining female prisoners and urged the US to halt arms sales and security cooperation with units involved in the arrest or abuse of activists and human rights defenders, until the country holds an independent and thorough investigation into the allegations of human rights violations.
"The responses we obtained demonstrated that Bahrain has created a system which whitewashes and conceals human rights abuses," Quitter said.
"The ill-treatment and torture, coercive interrogation tactics, unfair trial, substandard conditions of detention are not merely coincidental, but part of a systematic repression of the Bahraini population."