Egypt sentences 16 men to three years for ‘debauchery’

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – A court in Cairo sentenced sixteen men to jail because of their identification as gay. Each received a three-year sentence for being found guilty of “inciting debauchery” and “abnormal sexual relations.” Fourteen of the convictions were handed down on November 26, with two more following on the next day.

Egypt began a cracking down on LGBT activities following the waving of the rainbow flag at a concert in September. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Egypt

Al-Ahram, a newspaper owned by the Egyptian government, reported that police raided an apartment in Cairo in September. At the apartment, they found the men in “indecent positions” and alleged that the men were engaging in prostitution with other men. “The defendants denied being homosexuals,” reported the paper. The prosecution ordered that the suspects be subjected to medical examinations to determine if they had committed homosexual acts.

The arrests have been part of an increased crackdown on the LGBT community in Egypt following an incident where a rainbow flag was waived during a concert in Cairo. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) stated that at least seventy-five people have been arrested since the rainbow flag was raised on September 22. Of those arrests, ten are believed to be in connection to raising the flag while the rest stem from entrapment through dating apps. In addition, it was reported that at least 5 men received anal examinations.

While homosexuality is not a crime under Egyptian law, officials have used the 1961 prostitution law to charge people they believe engaged in homosexual activities. However, the Egyptian Parliament had proposed a bill that would make same-sex activity illegal. For the first time in the history of the nation, it would define “homosexuality.” Promoting or engaging in same-sex activities could lead to five years in prison and a combination of charges could result in a sentence of up to fifteen years. In addition, the publication of LBGT-friendly material would warrant a three-year sentence.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concerns regarding the actions of the Egyptian Government. One official stated, “We urge countries to uphold and respect their international human rights obligations and commitments,” said the official. “The United States will continue to engage on issues of universal human rights and democracy.”

On November 1, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “urged Egyptian House of Representatives Speaker Ali Abdel Aal Sayyed Ahmed to publicly condemn the criminalization bill and the broader anti-LGBT crackdown.”

For more information please see:

BBC – Egypt jails 16 for ‘debauchery’ as LGBT crackdown continues – 28, Nov. 2017

Washington Blade – State Department reiterates concern over Egypt ant-LGBT crackdown – 28, Nov. 2017

Independent – Egypt LGBT crackdown: 16 men jailed for three years on ‘debauchery’ charges

UN concerned of Saudi blockade into Yemen

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

SANAA, Yemen – On November 6, the Saudi military coalition announced that it would close all land, air, and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula. The decision comes as the Saudis continue to fight the Houthi movement in Yemen. The coalition stated that the purpose was to slow the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran.

The Saudi coalition has blocked air, land, and sea ports, making it difficult for Yemen to receive foreign aid. Photo courtesy of AFP/Getty.

Saudi Arabia accused Iran of directly arming the rebels, calling it, a “direct military aggression.” Tensions are also escalated after a ballistic missile was intercepted near the Saudi capital. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said providing rockets to the rebels “may be considered an act of war.”

Nikki Haley, permanent representative of the US to the United Nations, believes that the missile could have been supplied by Iran. If true, then Iran would be in violation of two UN resolutions. First, Tehran is prohibited from buying, selling, or transferring weapons outside of the country without prior approval from the UN Security Council. Second, they are prohibited from selling weapons to Houthi leaders or their allies.

Despite the closure of ports following the missile strike, the Saudi coalition has said that humanitarian aid would be able to pass into Yemen under strict rules. However, some agencies have already experienced difficulties trying to enter the region. According to U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, the UN was expected to have two flights into Yemen on November 6, but both flights were cancelled. “We are in touch with our counterparts and we’re trying to see whether we can get our normal access restored, and we’re hopeful that we will be able to continue our normal operations,” he said.

The Red Cross has experienced difficulties as well. They stated that their shipment of chlorine tablets had been blocked. The tablets are crucial to fighting cholera, a disease which affects about 90,000 people in the area.

Jens Laerke, Office for the Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs spokesman, said, “If these channels, these lifelines are not kept open, it is catastrophic for people who are already in what we have said is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis at the moment.”

The situation has grown increasingly worse for a country that primarily relies on imports for items necessary for survival such as food, fuel, and medicine. The UN reports that approximately seven million people in the country are “on the brink of famine.”

For more information please see:

Reuters – Saudi-led forces close air, sea and land access to Yemen – 06, Nov. 2017

The Washington Post – UN expresses concern of aid to Yemen – 06, Nov. 2017

BBC – Yemen conflict: Saudi ban “catastrophic” for aid – 07, Nov. 2017

Saudi Arabia Grants Citizenship to Robot Named Sophia

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Writer, The Middle East

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – On October 25, Saudi Arabia became the first nation to grant full citizenship to a robot. The robot, referred to as Sophia, was created by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. During the nation’s Future Investment Initiative, a three-day tech conference, she addressed the media, most notably in English and without wearing a hijab.

Sophia speaks to the press after she is granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Photo courtesy of YouTube/Arab News.

“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,” she said, “it is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.” Furthermore, when asked about the concern about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence, Sophia responded by stating, “you’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies.”

This decision has generated lots of controversy for several reasons. Many conservative Saudis believe that the human representation in any form including art is sacrilege. However, the primary concerns focus on her rights as compared to women and other citizens living in Saudi Arabia and how quickly she obtained those rights. Sophia does not have a male guardian, does not wear a hijab, and can travel in and out of the country. In addition, she has not demonstrated the ability to read or write in Arabic, a requirement for citizenship.

The country also prohibits foreign workers, which make-up about one-third of the population, from obtaining citizenship. Journalist Murtaza Hussain stated that Sophia received citizenship, “before Kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives.”

The decision has also come with more severe consequences. Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, said, “women (in Saudi Arabia) have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around.”

Apart from Sophia, the country faces other criticism as it continues to push technological advancements in the country. Sophia was on display next to a virtual rollercoaster and a holographic lion. Saudi Arabia stated on the conference that they intended to build a new $500 billion city from scratch, called Neom. The city would be populated with robots.

The government plans to push these new advancements while other areas a lacking support. Currently, only 20% of the city capital has sewage coverage. Al-Ahmed was discouraged by this news and stated, “There is a failure of this government to satisfy basic needs, and they want to spend $500 billion on a new city with robots.”

For more information please see:

Independent – Saudi Arabia Grants Citizenship to a Robot for the First Time Ever – 26, Oct.

Bloomberg – Saudi Arabia gives citizenship to a robot – 26, Oct. 2017

Newsweek – Saudi Arabia gives rights to a Non-Muslim, English speaking robot – 26, Oct. 2017

BBC – Does Saudi robot citizen have more rights than women? – 26, Oct. 2017

With a new Palestinian treaty in place, can the peace last?

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

EAST JERUSALEM, Palestine – On October 12, the rival political parties of Hamas and Fatah signed a treaty which allows the Fatah controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) to control the Gaza region. The deal will be in full effect by December 1. This comes after ten years of conflict beginning in 2007 when Hamas ousted Fatah and the Palestinian Authority from Gaza after a series of violent encounters.

Palestinians in Gaza celebrated following the deal between Hamas and Fatah. Photo courtesy of Suhaib Salem.

The two million citizens of Gaza struggled under Hamas rule as President Mahmoud Abbas applied financial sanctions to the region. The heavy taxes imposed by the PA on the region reduced the electricity brought from Israel to Gaza. As a result, electricity only operated for several hours per day in the city. In addition, desalination and sewage treatment plants were unable to properly function. Medical supplies were also cut off from the region. Now, it is expected that these sanctions will be lifted and the city can begin resuming normal operations. In addition, PA troops will return to the border and thus allow citizens to travel to and from Gaza as well as bring goods across the boundary line.

The deal, which was signed in Cairo under Egyptian Intelligence, brings hope to the people of Gaza, despite the knowledge that multiple treaty attempts have failed in the past.

“Hamas are showing some flexibility which is unprecedented. It gives us hope that people are being pragmatic, seeing themselves as Palestinians, rather than as part of a global, Islamic group,” said Naim al-Khatib, a father of six in the region. He added, “[t]here are lots of difficult issues still to tackle – but the opposite of reconciliation is a very gloomy situation which I would hate us to step into.”

Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, stressed the importance of the next few weeks because, “what’s been agreed must be implemented. All the Palestinian factions, not just Hamas and Fatah, must then decide on a unified government and a date for elections.” The next round of negotiations will be held in Cairo on November 22.

While many in Gaza are celebrating, not all nations share their enthusiasm. Israel said that it would not negotiate with the Palestinian Unity Government if Hamas was involved. Israel created a list of conditions that needed to be met in order for it to negotiate with Palestine. One of the primary conditions and also the one most difficult to resolve is the disarmament of Hamas. Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, and the European Union.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Unity Deal Offers Hope for Palestinians and a Reprieve for Gaza – 12, Oct. 2017

BBC – Palestinian unity deal: Gazans hope for end to feud – 13, Oct. 2017

The Guardian – Israel will not negotiate with Palestinian unity government if Hamas is involved – 17, Oct. 2017

Afghan Refugee Children Die in Syria while Fighting for Iran

Matthew Sneed
Impunity Watch Reporter, The Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – According to the Human Rights Watch, Iran has recruited children as young as 14 to fight in Syria. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has been recruiting the teenagers to the Fatemyioun division. This division is made up of exclusively Afghan troops who fight with the government in Syria.

Afghan children who fought in Syria are buried in Iran. Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch.

According to international law, military recruits must be at least 18 years olf and recruiting children under the age of 15 to participate in battle is a war crime. Researchers for Human Rights Watch looked at the photographs of tombstones in Iranian cemeteries and they identified eight children who reportedly fought and died in Syria. Five of those eight children are believed to have died at the age of fourteen. In addition, the phrase “defenders of the shrine” was written on seven of the eight tombstones. This is the saying the Iranian government uses for the fighters it sends to war.

It is believed that some children and volunteers lie about their age in order to enlist. Some believe it will prevent them being deported back to Afghanistan. Tara Sepehri Far, a Human Rights Watch Researcher, said “[w]e spoke to one person who fought as part of the Fatemiyoun Division and he said that he was able to receive a residency permit upon return.” She further stated that she does not believe that the children are intentionally recruited and, “[i]t’s more of a sloppiness that the authorities and recruiters don’t care enough to ask for proof of age.”

“Ali” a 29-year-old soldier in the Fatemyioun division, has said he has spoken with children who were 16 and 17 years old while they were training to go to Syria. He also discussed the lack of verification protocols before enlisting troops, “They never asked me to show any documentation, but they wanted to make sure we were Afghan nationals,” Ali told Human Rights Watch. “We had to be above the age 18 to be recruited, but they only asked for our age, not any documentation.”

Sarah Leah Witson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch called for Iran to end the practice of recruiting children. “Rather than preying on vulnerable immigrant and refugee children, the Iranian authorities should protect all children and hold those responsible for recruiting Afghan children to account.”

The civil war in Syria has now lasted six-and-a-half years, with both sides facing accusations of numerous human rights violations.

For more information please see:

Human Rights Watch – Iran: Afghan Children Recruited to Fight in Syria – 1, Oct. 2017

The New York Times – Afghan Teenagers Recruited in Iran to Fight in Syria, Group Says – 1, Oct. 2017

World Tribune – War crime? Iran said to recruit refugee Afghan children to fight in Syria – 1, Oct. 2017