Saudi Arabia ends executions for crimes committed by minors, says commission


Saudi Arabia will no longer impose the death penalty on people who committed crimes while still minors, the country's Human Rights Commission says.
The announcement, citing a royal decree by King Salman, comes two days after the country said it would ban flogging.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - which Riyadh has signed - says capital punishment should not be used for offences carried out by minors.
Activists say Saudi Arabia has one of the world's worst human rights records.
They say freedom of expression is severely curtailed and critics of the government are subject to what they say is arbitrary arrest.
A record 184 people were executed in the kingdom in 2019, according to human rights group Amnesty International. At least one case involved a man convicted of a crime committed when he was a minor, the rights group reported.
In a statement published on Sunday, Awwad Alawwad, president of the state-backed commission, said a royal decree had replaced executions in cases where crimes were committed by minors with a maximum penalty of 10 years in a juvenile detention centre.
"The decree helps us in establishing a more modern penal code," Mr Alawwad said.
It was unclear when the decision - which was not immediately carried on state media - would come into effect.
The kingdom's human rights record has remained under intense scrutiny, despite recent changes, following the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, while many civil rights and women's rights activists remain in prison.
Earlier this week, the most prominent Saudi human rights campaigner died in jail after a stroke which fellow activists say was due to medical neglect by the authorities.


Five things to watch in lockdown


An estimated 1.7 billion people are currently under lockdown around the world as governments take action to curb the spread of COVID-19. If you are one of them and looking for ways to pass the time, here are some of our most powerful and thought-provoking documentaries.

1) Heroin's Children

The United States is going through the worst drug crisis in its history, with heroin overdoses and other opioid abuse taking lives across the country.
In 2017, as US President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a "national emergency", we looked at the "invisible victims" of the epidemic - a generation of children who were being neglected, abandoned or orphaned by parents addicted to heroin.
The resulting film, Heroin's Children, was nominated for three Emmy awards.

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNWU6XSjb-c

2) Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark

In 2011, the world's eyes were trained on revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt when an uprising took place in Bahrain, an island kingdom where the Shia Muslim majority is ruled by a family from the Sunni minority.
As Bahrainis fought for their democratic rights, Al Jazeera was their witness - the only TV journalists who remained to follow their journey of hope to the carnage that followed.
The film, Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark, won seven major journalism and filmmaking awards, including the George Polk Award and the Robert F Kennedy Journalism Awards. 

3) Boko Haram Huntress

Among the thousands of hunters enlisted by the Nigerian army to track and capture Boko Haram fighters, one stands out from the crowd.
Aisha Bakari Gombi is one of the few women to have joined the fight against one of the deadliest armed groups in Africa. 
In Boko Haram Huntress, Aisha takes us into her world - as a commander, a hunter and a wife.

4) India's Offside Girls

Laxmipur, a remote village in India's eastern state of Bihar, is home to one of the country's few girls' football teams.
They train at the Laxmibai Sports Club and are preparing for a match with the local boys' football team.
We meet the girls defying community expectations in this short film, India's Offside Girls.

5) Brides and Brothels: The Rohingya Trade

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya girls and women fled Myanmar to escape a military crackdown.
In Bangladesh's refugee camps, they thought they would be safe. But inside the tents that house almost a million Rohingya refugees, women and girls are being bought, sold and given away.
We look at the dangers still facing Rohingya women and meet the people seeking to exploit them.
The investigation, Brides and Brothels: The Rohingya Trade, won two major journalism awards and was nominated for a Peabody.


Bahrain: Free Imprisoned Rights Defenders and Activists


Extend Releases to Those at Special Risk of COVID-19
April 6, 2020- Amid the global threat posed by COVID-19, Bahraini authorities should release human rights defenders, opposition activists, journalists and all others imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, a coalition of 21 rights groups said today.
For PDF statement here
On March 17, 2020, Bahrain completed the release of 1,486 prisoners, 901 of whom received royal pardons on “humanitarian grounds.” The remaining 585 were given non-custodial sentences. While this is a positive step, the releases so far have excluded opposition leaders, activists, journalists and human rights defenders – many of whom are older and/or suffer from underlying medical conditions. Such prisoners are at high risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19, and thus ought to be prioritized for release.
 Bahrain’s significant release of prisoners is certainly a welcome relief as concerns around the spread of COVID-19 continue to rise. Authorities must now speedily release those who never should have been in jail in the first place, namely all prisoners of conscience who remain detained solely for exercising their right to peaceful expression”, said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of research. “We also urge the authorities to step up measures to ensure full respect for the human rights of all those deprived of their liberty.”
Opposition leaders imprisoned for their roles in the 2011 protest movement remain behind bars. These include Hassan Mushaima, the head of the unlicensed opposition group Al-Haq; Abdulwahab Hussain, an opposition leader; Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, a prominent human rights defender; and Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, the spokesman for Al-Haq.;
Other prominent opposition figures, including Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary general of the dissolved Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society (Al-Wefaq), also remain imprisoned. Sayed Nizar Alwadaei, who was deemedarbitrarily detained by the United Nations in “reprisal” for the activism of his brother-in-law, the exiled activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei; and human rights defenders Nabeel Rajab and Naji Fateel, have not been released either. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights has documented that a total of 394 detainees of the 1,486 released were imprisoned on political charges. According to Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, another Bahraini nongovernmental group, 57 of the 901 prisoners who received a royal pardon were imprisoned for their political activities, while the rest were given non-custodial sentences. Since the Bahraini government has not made available any information on the charges for which those ordered released had been convicted the exact figures cannot be verified. However, it is clear that people imprisoned for nonviolent political activity are in the minority of those released.
Scores of prisoners convicted following unfair trials under Bahrain’s overly broad counter-terrorism law have been overlooked and denied early release or alternative penalties, even though other inmates serving considerably longer sentences were freed. This includes Zakiya Al Barboori and Ali Al Hajee, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD).
Conditions in Bahrain’s overcrowded prisons compound the risk of COVID-19 spreading. The lack of adequate sanitation led to a scabies outbreak in Jau Prison – Bahrain’s largest prison – and Dry Dock Detention Centerin December 2019 and January 2020. Almost half of the Dry Dock Detention Center’s prison population was infected. In 2016 a governmental Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission found buildings at Jau Prison to suffer from “bad hygiene,” “insect infestation” and “broken toilets.”
Furthermore, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations have expressed their concern over the authorities’ persistent  failure to provide adequate medical care in Bahrain’s prisons. This has endangered the health of some unjustly imprisoned persons with chronic medical conditions, such as Hassan Mushaima and Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, who may now be at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.
Hassan Mushaima, 72, has diabetes, gout, heart and prostate problems, and is also in remission for cancer. Prison authorities have routinely failed to take him to appointments due to his refusal to submit to wearing humiliating shackles during transfers to his appointments. International human rights mechanisms have said that the use of restraints on elderly or infirm prisoners who do not pose an escape risk can constitute ill-treatment.
Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, 57, has post-polio syndrome and uses a wheelchair. Prison authorities have also refused to transport him to his medical appointments due to his refusal to wear shackles.
“As the world faces the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, it is more important than ever that the international community work together to contain its spread and ensure that the health and rights of the vulnerable are protected,” said Husain Abdullah, executive director at ADHRB. “Bahrain’s allies, in particular the UK and US, should explicitly call on Bahrain to secure the release of all those solely imprisoned for their peaceful opposition to the government.”
States have an obligation to ensure medical care for all those in their custody at least equivalent to that available to the general population and must not deny or limit detainees equal access to preventive, curative or palliative health care. Given that conditions in detention centers pose a heightened public health risk to the spread of COVID-19, and the persistent failure to provide an adequate level of care to those in their custody,  there are grave concerns about whether prison authorities could effectively control the spread of COVID-19 and care for prisoners if there is an outbreak inside Bahrain’s prisons.
The Bahraini authorities should seize the opportunity to immediately and unconditionally release everyone imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to free expression, including Hassan Mushaima, Dr Abdel-Jalil al-Singace, Abdulahdi Al-Khawaja, Abdulwahab Hussain, Nabeel Rajab, Naji Fateel, and Sheikh Ali Salman. The convictions of those imprisoned following unfair trials – including Sayed Nizar Alwadaei – should be quashed, or at the very least they should be released pending fair re-trial.
The risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to those in detention should be a strong factor weighing toward the reduction of the prison population through the release of pre-trial detainees, particularly given the poor, unsanitary conditions in Bahrain’s prisons and the inadequate provision of medical care.  In addition, prisoners who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, such as those with underlying medical conditions and the elderly, should be considered for early release, parole, or alternative non-custodial measures as a means to further reduce the prison population and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In any event, the authorities should ensure that anyone who remains in custody has access to disease prevention and treatment services, including ensuring physical distancing of prisoners at all times, including in housing and eating and social areas. Prison authorities should screen all guards to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into prisons and provide appropriate information on hygiene and supplies and ensure that all areas accessible to prisoners, prison staff, and visitors are disinfected regularly. They should develop plans for housing people exposed to or infected with the virus in quarantine or isolation and ensure that necessary medical care is available.
“Bahrain’s first wave of prison releases was positive, but insufficient,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should further reduce the prison population by releasing those who are imprisoned solely for their political beliefs or for exercising their right to free speech and peaceful assembly.  Meanwhile, the authorities should ramp up efforts to ensure that the remaining prison population has access to the medical care, is protected from transmission and is provided the information that they need to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”


As Iran struggles to fund virus fight, US keeps squeezing economy


Calls are mounting for Washington to ease sanctions on Iran as it seeks IMF help to fund coronavirus medical response.


The war against the coronavirus pandemic is literally a life and death fight for nations. But Iran is waging it with an economy badly crippled by United States sanctions that have Tehran bereft of financial resources to mount an effective public health response.
Mahsa is a 28-year-old nurse in Mazandaran, a northern province in Iran that has been hard hit by the virus.
"Ventilators are very crucial for treatment of COVID-19 patients, but officials tell us that because of the sanctions, they have not been able to order enough of them from abroad," she told Al Jazeera. "Medical goods are supposed to increase in accordance with the number of admitted patients, but these goods are very hard to find these days."
More than 3,000 people in Iran have lost their lives to COVID-19, and the number of confirmed cases in the country has surpassed 47,500, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Mahsa, who asked Al Jazeera to withhold her surname, described the harrowing conditions facing front-line health workers.
"There have been times that we had to order masks or gowns from Tehran ourselves. Our staff at the labs who are conducting the tests are supposed to be working with N95 masks, but they are working with the simple three-layer masks instead. There have been shifts in which I had to be exposed to infected patients without having the protective gown. This is exactly why a number of our colleagues have died in recent weeks," she said.
Dozens of health workers across Iran have lost their lives to COVID-19, according to the country's health ministry. And it pins the blame on Washington.
"Everyone knows that the United States, through its abusive and unilateral acts against humanity and inhumane measures against the people of Iran [sanctions], has led to these events," said health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur, IRNA news agency reported.
But many also fault Iran's leadership for acting too slowly to contain the virus. 
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been a particularly vocal critic, tweeting last month: "The Iranian regime ignored repeated warnings from its own health officials," adding that throughout February, Iran's Mahan Air "continued to fly at least 55 times between Tehran and China". 
On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described such charges as "political war", and said that he had to weigh efforts to contain COVID-19 against the blow it would deliver to the country's already ravaged economy.
Ventilators are very crucial for treatment of COVID-19 patients, but officials tell us that because of the sanctions they have not been able to order enough of them from abroad.

Turning to the IMF

Since the administration of US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal with world powers in 2018, Iran has been relentlessly punished with successive rounds of US economic sanctions that have starved the country of its main source of revenue - oil sales - and isolated it from the global financial system. 
Though humanitarian goods such as medicines are technically exempt from US sanctions - a caveat often reiterated by Trump administration officials - a report by Human Rights Watch in October found that "broad restrictions on financial transactions, coupled with aggressive rhetoric from US officials, have drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment".
On Tuesday, the German foreign ministry confirmedthat Iran had received medical supplies in the first transaction under the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) special-purpose vehicle set up by nuclear-deal signatories the United Kingdom, France and Germany to bypass US sanctions.
Qatar, Kuwait, Japan, China and the European Union have also either sent medical supplies to Iran or pledged to do so.
The dire conditions facing Iran were underscored last month, when the government took the unusual step of requesting $5bn in emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help combat the pandemic. The request marked the first time since 1960 that Tehran has sought assistance from the international lender.
"While the amount is too small to completely address the needs of the country right now, it reflects Iran's openness at this critical time to international aid from one of the leading US-backed international financial institutions," Sina Toossi, a senior research analyst at the National Iranian American Council in Washington, DC told Al Jazeera.
While the EU has said it will support Iran's request for help from the IMF, the US is the Fund's largest shareholder, which effectively gives Washington veto power over any lending decisions.
"My understanding is that the US is obliged to vote against it because Iran is on the State Department's list of terrorism sponsors and US legislation requires that the US oppose lending from international bodies to such states," Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington, told Al Jazeera.
But there could be a loophole, says Slavin.
"If the other important members of the IMF board such as China vote in favour [of lending to Iran], the US might not be able to block the loan," she said. "This would be an important confidence-building measure and obviously very helpful to Iran in these difficult circumstances."
If the other important members of the IMF board such as China vote in favor [of lending to Iran], the US might not be able to block the loan.

International outcry to ease sanctions

Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged countries to ease sanctions against nations such as Iran to enable medical systems to fight the pandemic and curb its spread.
"At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended," she said.
Beyond the difficulties of paying for medical supplies, analysts say Iran's fragile economy also undermines containment efforts because the financially-strapped population cannot afford not to work.
"Enforcing needed quarantine measures necessitates shutting down large parts of the economy, denying an already struggling population sources of income," said Toossi. "In this case, as we see unfolding in other countries, the government will have to distribute aid and direct cash payments to meet the subsistence needs of the people."
Washington has faced withering criticism for continuing to target Iran's economy with sanctions even after Tehran confirmed the first two cases of coronavirus in the country on February 19.
But on Tuesday, Pompeo appeared to soften that hard line. When asked if the US might reevaluate its position on easing sanctions on Iran, Pompeo told reporters, "We evaluate all of our policies constantly, so the answer is - would we ever rethink? - Of course."
But Slavin does not see a policy change in the cards. "Secretary of State Pompeo continues to insist that the US is willing to provide humanitarian assistance to Iran, although he has yet to provide details," she noted. "It is hard for me to envision a change in the US position, no matter how counterproductive it has turned out to be."
For front-line health worker Mahsa, who puts her own life at risk to save the lives of her fellow citizens, the memory of the human toll of the crisis, and Washington's intransigence, will linger long after the crisis has passed.
"We will get over these hard days in the end, but we won't forget how US officials imposed a direct war against ordinary people by their sanctions," she said.


Coronavirus: How Britain forgot Brexit and found its NHS heroes


by David Hearst

Covid-19 has revealed an unspoken truth about Brexit Britain which the vast majority of mainstream politicians will do anything but address.

For as many years now as anyone can remember, the national debate has been dominated by two thoughts: Britain is drowning in low skilled immigrants and Britain cannot afford to fund the National Health Service (NHS), which like any other public service has to live with the times.
Hence the creeping privatisation of the means of delivery, hospital closuresjunior doctor strikes, and up until last November, 44,000 nursing vacancies.
Covid 19, a tiny molecule from a bat in faraway China, has destroyed this debate, on which so much of what was said and practiced in domestics politics hinged.

Total amnesia

As if one of the early symptoms of the virus is sudden and total amnesia, we now forget that Jeremy Hunt, as health secretary, rammed home a new contract for junior doctors scrapping overtime rates. 
Hunt puffed himself up with his victory over the junior doctors, who werevilified by the right. His victory over the junior doctors wascompared to Margaret Thatcher's over the miners. It was his springboard to a leadership bid for the party, a bid which failed, but did him no harm. 
All this has now been swept under the carpet. 
For these are the same junior doctors who are risking their lives today in emergency rooms up and down the country with inadequate face masks and surgical gowns. And it is the same Jeremy Hunt taking British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to task over the absent antigen tests, gowns, masks and ventilators, as if he were some authority on the subject. 
What good read could you take with you as you wait in hospital for the results of your Covid-19 test? Why, the policy pamphlet Hunt co-authored in 2005, calling for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance system.

True heroes

We are similarly being asked to wipe the collective hard drive clean of all traces of a four-year debate on Brexit which hinged on the issue of too many low-skilled workers entering the country and which resulted in Home Secretary Priti Patel’spoints-based system being launched as recently as February this year. 
How many of these low-skilled workers are now travelling to work on public transport, exposing themselves to the virus as they do so? How many of them are driving lorries, delivering food, or at the supermarket checkout taking abuse from hysterical shoppers, or manning food banks and soup kitchens, or performing many of the essential non-medical duties which keep Britain running during the lockdown?
Just how much does locked-down Britain depend on them? I would imagine quite a lot. One minute they are treated as a bad smell, the next they are being clapped and lauded as national heroes? Which is it? 
Three doctors have now paid with their lives for the service they have given. They are Dr Habib Zaidi, 76, a GP from Leigh on Sea. Dr Zaidi has four children, who are a consultant haemotologist, a trainee surgeon, a dentist and a GP. The next victims were Adil El Tayar, 63, an organ transplant specialist who spent his last days volunteering in an A&E department in the Midlands, and Amged El-Hawrani, 55, an ENT specialist, both of whom come from Sudan.
From one generation to the next, these true heroes are part of a large cohort of immigrants from Asia, the Middle East and Africa on which the NHS depends for its medical staff.
How large exactly?

NHS workforce

British nationals make up 88 percent of the NHS workforce and non-British nationals make up 12 percent – 6 percent were EU nationals and 6 percent non-EU nationals. But this varies regionally. London has the highest proportion of non-British staff with 23 percent.
Analyse NHS staff by ethnicity rather than nationality and the importance of Asian, Black, Chinese and other ethnicities grows. Out of staff whose ethnicity was known, whites make up 79.9 per cent of the NHS workforce, when medical and non-medical are combined.
But when you divide the NHS into medical and non-medical staff, the importance of non-white staff becomes even clearer. 
White staff made up only 55.6 per cent of the medical staff, while Asians make up 29 per cent, a much higher percentage than non-medical staff (at 8 percent). Staff from the Chinese, mixed, and other ethnic groups also make up a higher percentage of medical staff than non-medical staff.
Add to that one in five GPs qualified and permanent in England in March 2019 gained their qualification outside of the UK – the majority in non-EU countries (16 per cent – mostly South Asia and Africa) and 4 per cent in the EU. The first of what could be many medical victims of the fight against the coronavirus were all Muslim, of Asian or African origin or citizenship. 
The Sun gave one victim a token pen portrait on its front page but other than that none of them made the front pages of the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph. Which is curious, because when a Muslim is a terrorist, they have no such difficulty.
Even now, even today, The Sun is banging on about letting the elderly die, as there are more and more cases of "ventilator triage", pulling the elderly off ventilators and letting them die to free up the scarce machines for younger lives. Its long-time political editor Trevor Kavanagh expounded the virtues of getting the economy back on its feet, arguing more will die from a collapsed economy than from the virus.

Exposing the truth

This virus has exposed an unspoken truth about Brexit Britain which the vast majority of mainstream politicians will do anything but address. There are two visions for this country: is Britain the collective creation of its people wherever they come from and whenever they arrive and settle? Or is the capital of this country its wealth and its wealthy?
Are we equal before a ventilator or are the elderly less of a priority in times of shortage and emergency? What sort of society are we trying to preserve? And whom do we need to defend us? 
The NHS  - not The Sun, nor Hunt, nor Johnson - is our protector from the most destructive agent to hit our economy since the Second World War. When we read The Sun, can we at least be aware of its notorious editorial which proclaimed on 24 March 2016; "Sack the Docs"?
A tiny virus against which we have no immunity has proved more destructive to our way of life than all the traditional enemies of Britain combined. It's an unknown virus - not Iran, nor Putin, nor the Islamic State group, nor the bureaucrats of Brussels, nor refugees bobbing up and down in the Mediterranean, which has brought Britain to a standstill.  
And it's a virus which has taught us to value our immigrants and their children, to value the low paid, and to appreciate the folly of trying to hide behind walls in an interconnected world, where what happens in Wuhan one day, happens on your street corner the next. 

Day of reckoning 

This is nothing new. Britain has leant heavily on non-British nationals in times of national emergency in earlier crises: 574 pilots from countries other than the UK flew alongside 2,353 British pilots in the Battle of Britain. They came from Poland, New Zealand, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Australia, South Africa. How easily are they forgotten.
Only months ago at the height of the election campaign, no-one - not even large segments of the Labour Party - wanted to campaign against the dark side of modern Britain which the virus has now exposed: the instability of workers on zero-hour contracts and in the gig economy, child hunger during holiday periods, nurses leaving the NHS in droves. 
These are now at the forefront of everyone’s attention, but they were not then.
Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn had a very clear message about Brexit Britain. It will be difficult to explain to historians how one man can be so right about the issues that were to come so dramatically to centre stage in the very week in which he was replaced as leader. 
He is now treated by his peers as an embarrassment, the worst leader since Michael Foot, yet had Britain listened to him about understaffing in the NHS, about the low skilled and low paid, about the gig economy, we would now not be in the mess we are in.
The people who should be embarrassed are those - not least in his own party - who queued up to plant a knife in his back. This virus will not let us forgive or forget.
Thousands will die needlessly before this crisis is over and then there will be a reckoning. One day.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
David Hearst
David Hearst is the editor in chief of Middle East Eye. He left The Guardian as its chief foreign leader writer. In a career spanning 29 years, he covered the Brighton bomb, the miner's strike, the loyalist backlash in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in Northern Ireland, the first conflicts in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in Slovenia and Croatia, the end of the Soviet Union, Chechnya, and the bushfire wars that accompanied it. He charted Boris Yeltsin's moral and physical decline and the conditions which created the rise of Putin. After Ireland, he was appointed Europe correspondent for Guardian Europe, then joined the Moscow bureau in 1992, before becoming bureau chief in 1994. He left Russia in 1997 to join the foreign desk, became European editor and then associate foreign editor. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he worked as education correspondent.