WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Saturday with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud to discuss the imminent expiration of the U.N.-mediated truce in Yemen on Sunday, the State Department said.

"The Secretary welcomed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to extending the truce," the State Department said in a statement after their call.

At least 82 people have been killed by Iranian security forces in the city of Zahedan in the southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province since protests erupted there on September 30, Amnesty International said. 

In a violent crackdown after Friday prayers on September 30, security forces killed at least 66 people, including children, Amnesty said on Thursday.

Since then, 16 people have been killed in an ongoing clampdown on protests, it added, warning the real toll is likely to be even higher.

With Iran already convulsed by protests over the death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested by the Tehran police, the protests in Zahedan were triggered by anger over the reported rape of a teenage girl by a police commander in the region.

Amnesty said that security forces fired "live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas" at protesters, bystanders and worshippers when a group of people gathered for a protest outside a police station after Friday prayers on September 30 in Zahedan.

'Intent to kill or seriously harm'

"Evidence gathered by Amnesty International shows that the majority of victims were shot in the head, heart, neck and torso, revealing a clear intent to kill or seriously harm."

It added that the firing had come from the "police station rooftop". 

At least three children were killed on September 30, it added.

Iranian officials have characterised the unrest as attacks by "extremists" on police stations that left five members of the Revolutionary Guard dead.

But Amnesty said that beyond "a minority" of protesters throwing stones towards the police station, it had found "no evidence" the conduct of protesters posed a serious threat to security forces.

Source: AFP

Myanmar's junta has jailed a Japanese filmmaker for 10 years, more than two months after he was arrested while filming an anti-coup protest, a military spokesperson has said.

The military has clamped down on press freedoms since its coup last year, arresting reporters and photographers as well as revoking broadcasting licences while the country plunged into chaos.

Toru Kubota, 26, was detained near an anti-government rally in commercial hub Yangon in July along with two Myanmar citizens.

He was sentenced on Wednesday to seven years in jail for breaching a law that criminalises spreading information detrimental to state security and peace and tranquility, a junta spokesperson said in a statement.

It added he had also received a three-year sentence for encouraging dissent against the military — a charge that has been widely used in the crackdown.

The sentences would be served concurrently, the junta statement added.

A diplomat at Japan's embassy in Myanmar said Kubota also faces a charge of breaching immigration law, with the next hearing expected on October 12.

Japan's foreign ministry said it had been providing consular support and would "continue to appeal to the Myanmar authorities for the early release of Mr Kubota."

The filmmaker had arrived in Myanmar in July and was filming a "documentary featuring a Myanmar person", his friend Yoshitaka Nitta told a press conference in Tokyo in August.

According to a profile on the FilmFreeway website, Kubota has previously made documentaries on Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority and "refugees and ethnic issues in Myanmar".

'Slap in the face'

Japan is a top donor to Myanmar and has long-standing relations with the country's military.

After the coup, Tokyo announced it would halt all new aid, though it stopped short of imposing individual sanctions on military and police commanders.

Kubota's jailing is a "slap in the face" for Tokyo, said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.

"It's time for Japan to stop playing games, and move to support real international sanctions that will squeeze the junta's revenue sources."

In September, Japan's defence ministry said it would halt a training programme for members of Myanmar's military from next year over the junta's executions of four political prisoners.

The junta's execution of the four in July, in the face of international calls for clemency, was Myanmar's first use of capital punishment in decades and sparked international outrage.

Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained in Myanmar, after US citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan — all of whom were later freed and deported.

Fenster, who was held in May last year as he attempted to leave the country, faced a closed-door trial inside Insein Prison on charges of unlawful association, incitement against the military and breaching visa rules.

He was sentenced to 11 years in prison before being pardoned and deported.

As of March this year, 48 journalists remain in custody across the country, according to the monitoring group Reporting ASEAN.

The military's crackdown on dissent since it ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's government has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.

The junta says blames anti-coup fighters for the deaths of almost 3,900 civilians.

Source: AFP

A former police officer has shot dead at least 37 people, most of them children, after he stormed a nursery in Thailand in one of the kingdom's deadliest mass killings.

Following the attack, gunman Panya Khamrab went home and killed his wife and child before taking his own life, police said on Thursday.

Armed with a shotgun, pistol and knife, Panya opened fire on the childcare centre in northeastern Nong Bua Lam Phu province at about 12:30 pm (0530 GMT). 

National Police Chief Damrongsak Kittiprapat told a news conference the gunman killed 37 people, including 23 children and his own family, and wounded 12 others. 

Nanthicha Punchum, acting chief of the nursery, described harrowing scenes as the attacker barged into the building.

"There were some staff eating lunch outside the nursery and the attacker parked his car and shot four of them dead," she told AFP news agency. 

"The shooter smashed down the door with his leg and then came inside and started slashing the children's heads with a knife." 

Footage after the incident showed distraught parents weeping in a shelter outside the nursery, a yellow single-storey building set in a garden.

The 34-year-old gunman was a former police sergeant suspended in January and sacked in June for drug use, Damrongsak told reporters.

Trafficking hotspot

Thailand forms part of Southeast Asia's so-called Golden Triangle which has long been an infamous hotspot for the trafficking and abuse of drugs. 

Surging supplies of methamphetamine have sent street prices crashing in Thailand to all-time lows, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The mass killing comes less than a month after a serving army officer shot dead two colleagues at a military training base in the capital Bangkok.

While Thailand has high rates of gun ownership, mass shootings are extremely rare. But in the past year, there have been at least two other cases of shooting murders by serving soldiers, according to the Bangkok Post.

In 2020, in one of the kingdom's deadliest incidents in recent years, a soldier gunned down 29 people in a 17-hour rampage and wounded scores more before he was shot dead by commandos.

That mass shooting, linked to a debt dispute between gunman Sergeant-Major Jakrapanth Thomma and a senior officer, triggered public anger against the military.

The soldier was able to steal assault rifles from an army depot before embarking on his killing spree, posting live updates on social media as he did so.

Military top brass were at pains to portray the killer as a rogue soldier.

Source: agencies

The UN Human Rights Council has voted against debating alleged abuses in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in a heavy setback for Western nations.

In a moment of knife-edge drama on Thursday, countries on the 47-member council in Geneva voted 19-17 against holding a debate on human rights in Xinjiang, with 11 nations abstaining.

"This is a victory for developing countries and a victory for truth and justice," tweeted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying.

The United States and its allies last month brought a draft decision targeting Beijing to the UN's top rights body, seeking as a bare minimum a discussion on Xinjiang.

The move came after former UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet released her long-delayed report, citing possible crimes against humanity against Uighurs, an ethnic Turkic nation, and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region.

"The United States condemns today's vote preventing a discussion about Xinjiang," US ambassador to the council Michele Taylor tweeted.

Inaction "shamefully suggests some countries are free from scrutiny and allowed to violate human rights with impunity".

Amnesty International branded Thursday's vote farcical, while Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it betrayed abuse victims.

China says 'Western plot failed'

Washington and some Western countries have used Xinjiang "to spread rumours and cause trouble, engaging in political manipulation under the guise of human rights, attempting to smear China's image," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

"The plot by the US and some Western countries has once again failed.

"Xinjiang-related issues are fundamentally not human rights issues, but are counter-terrorism, deradicalisation and anti-separatism issues."

The nations voting against a debate were Bolivia, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Brazil, The Gambia, India, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico and Ukraine abstained.

The draft decision was put forward by the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Türkiye, among others.

One Western diplomat stressed that regardless of the outcome, "the number one objective has been fulfilled" in putting Xinjiang in the spotlight.

Source: AFP

Lama Fakih*

Member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) face a moment of truth as the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Council nears its conclusion in Geneva: Will they support a discussion of the recent report by the former UN high commissioner for human rights exposing the Chinese government’s systematic targeting and repression of Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China, or will they remain conspicuously silent?

The report details Chinese authorities’ religious profiling of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as “extremists,” based on criteria such as “wearing hijabs,” “‘abnormal’ beards,” “closing restaurants during Ramadan,” “giving one’s child a Muslim name,” and other conduct that the high commissioner described as “nothing more or less than personal choice in the practice of Islamic religious beliefs and/or legitimate expression of opinion.”

The report also highlights a broader program to suppress Uyghur language, culture, religion and identity, noting that “alongside the increasing restrictions on expressions of Muslim religious practice are recurring reports of the destruction of Islamic religious sites, such as mosques, shrines and cemeteries.” It concludes that the extent of these and other violations may constitute international crimes, “in particular crimes against humanity.”

Under the OIC Charter, all member states shall “safeguard the rights, dignity and religious and cultural identity of Muslim communities and minorities in non-Member States.” The OIC and its members have rightly defended the rights of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, condemned apartheid against Palestinians by Israeli authorities, and denounced acts of Islamophobia in Western countries.

During a racism debate at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan, as OIC coordinator, noted that “the OIC is gravely concerned over systematic targeting of individuals on the basis of their religion or belief, especially against Muslim individuals or communities.” Pakistan deplored anti-Islamic conduct in countries including France, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway, but said nothing about the Chinese authorities’ targeting of Muslims in Xinjiang.

Some OIC countries, such as Turkey and Albania, have commendably cosponsored the draft decision calling for a debate on the high commissioner’s report. Others should follow their lead. Failure to support even a discussion of the report would severely undermine the credibility of the OIC to address Islamophobia elsewhere in the world./HRW


*Director, Middle East and North Africa Division

Muslims in multiple areas of India are facing arrests, demolitions, and even floggings for allegedly disrupting Navratri celebrations, according to Indian media reports.

A report by New Delhi-based Maktoob Media on Tuesday said that the houses of three Muslims accused of disrupting Navratri celebrations in Madhya Pradesh’s Surjani village were demolished.

“The Mandsaur district administration and police demolished the houses of three persons accused of throwing stones on a garba pandal (Hindu traditional dancing event) and attacking organisers with a sharp-edged weapon over the weekend,” the report quoted Madhya Pradesh police as saying.

A first information report (FIR) was registered against 19 people of Surjani village and 11 have been arrested so far, the report added.

Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday that at least 14 Muslim men had been arrested in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore city over the past week after “vigilantes” from Bajrang Dal — a Hindu nationalist organisation — handed them over to police for allegedly entering garba venues.

The report quoted police as claiming that the arrested men “were clicking pictures and disturbing the peace”.

The men taken into custody, the report said, were booked under Section 151 (knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace) of the Indian Penal Code.

Separately, NDTV reported on Tuesday that several Muslim men, arrested for allegedly throwing stones at a Navratri garba event, were tied to a pole and flogged by police by Gujarat’s Kheda district.

According to the report, which said the publication could not independently verify the footage, said crowds were seen cheering as officers watched plainclothes cops hit the men.

Local news outlet VTV Gujarati News also shared the video and said “10-11 heretics were brought to the village, where the police taught them a lesson in public” in Undhela village, the report said./dawn

Anti-Muslim attitudes are widespread in Germany, according to a recent study conducted by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration (SVR). 

Nearly 48% of respondents said they believe “Islam is not compatible with the German society,” while 29% suggested restricting practice of Islam in the country.

“Negative attitudes towards Islam are widespread in all groups examined – people with and without a migration background,” the researchers said in their report.

Nearly 44% of Germans surveyed argued that Muslim organizations should be monitored by the state’s security agencies, while only 16% opposed such a move. 

Anti-Islamic attitudes were slightly more common among migrants who arrived in Germany from non-Muslim countries. People who had social contacts with Muslims, however, were less inclined to hold anti-Islamic attitudes, according to the report. 

The SVR’s study also analyzed anti-Semitic attitudes in Germany and concluded that anti-Semitism was widespread both among Germans and migrant communities in the country. 

“Negative attitudes towards people of the Muslim and Jewish faiths are divisive and undermine social cohesion. However, attitudes of this kind are not only held by people without a migration background, but also by people with a history of migration,” the report said. 

The SVR called for stronger action to counter anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic attitudes in all population groups, by promoting intercultural contacts and anti-discrimination work.

Among other things, religious communities need to be more closely involved, interfaith dialogue and related forms of interaction can also contribute to reducing prejudice, the group said.

A country of over 84 million people, Germany has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. It is home to around 4.7 million Muslims, according to the official figures. 

The country has witnessed growing racism and Islamophobia in recent years, fueled by the propaganda of far-right groups and parties, which have exploited the refugee crisis and attempted to stoke fear of immigrants. 

German authorities registered at least 662 Islamophobic hate crimes in 2021. More than 46 mosques were attacked between January and December last year, and at least 17 people suffered injuries due to the anti-Muslim violence.


RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that Sangh will continue its outreach programme to the Muslim community. Addressing the annual Vijaya Dashami event in Nagpur, he said the Muslims face no danger and Hindutva organisations will continue to assuage their fears.

RSS Chief held meetings in September month with several Muslim clerics and also visited a mosque and a madrasa in Delhi as part of his outreach programme. Mr. Bhagwat said, there is scare-mongering among so-called minorities, which needs to be countered. He said, neither Sangh Parivar, nor Hindus are against the Muslims.

Mr. Bhagwat stressed the need for a comprehensive population policy applicable to all social groups equally. Flagging the issue of demographic imbalance, he stressed the need to ensure that India’s ethnic profile remains undisturbed.

The RSS chief emphasised the need to use one’s mother tongue. He said the English language is not important for building a career.

Mr. Bhagwat also batted for women’s equality at the function, where mountaineer Santosh Yadav was the first woman to be invited to the RSS foundation day event as its chief guest.

Times of India

A video that shows policemen in plain clothes flogging Muslim men tied to a pole while onlookers cheer has triggered outrage in India, where many see it as another attack on the minority community.

The video clip is believed to have been recorded on Tuesday in western Gujarat’s Kheda district and appeared on social media soon after.

It shows at least four or five men, in turn, tied to an electricity pole as a group of policemen in civilian clothing beat them with sticks. One of them is carrying a pistol in a holster, a common practice for policemen in India.

The men can be seen asking for forgiveness as a cheering crowd screams “maro, maro” or "beat them". A group of policemen in uniform are seen standing near a police van.

The incident occurred after a mob, allegedly from the Muslim community, threw stones at a Garba event in Undhela village in the district on Monday.

Garba is a traditional dance form from Gujarat that is performed during the nine-day Navaratri festival by Hindus to celebrate goddess Durga’s victory over Mahisasur, a half-man, half-buffalo demon.

Police arrested a dozen people and cases were registered against 150 people, including women.

The district’s top police officer, VR Bajpayee, said that a group of Muslim youth tried to halt Garba because the event venue was near a mosque and a temple.

The video triggered anger on social media where many have called the summary punishment an attack on the rule of law.

“No context justifies such cruel and humiliating punishment as it attacks the very Rule of Law. These people are alleged to have pelted stones at a Garba function. The local police have arranged a public punishment for the accused,” Sanjoy Ghose, a lawyer, tweeted.

Every year, huge Garba events are organised in parks and community halls across Gujarat, and in other parts of the country where people dress up in traditional attire and dance in big circles.

While traditionally the event is open to people from all castes and communities ― Muslim artists have historically sung devotional songs at the Garba events ― Hindu right-wing groups in recent years called for a ban on the participation of Muslim youth in the event, citing Love Jihad.

Love Jihad is a conspiracy theory peddled by right-wing groups that wrongly asserts Muslim men maliciously lure women, particularly from the Hindu community, into relationships to convert them to Islam.

Even leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have warned Muslim men from participating in the events because they believe the men hide their identity and attend the events to lure Hindu girls.

“In a bid to maintain peace and harmony on such a holy occasion, the organisers have been instructed to provide an entry in the Garba events only after checking the ID cards,” said Narottam Mishra, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister.

Several instances of Muslim men being held or beaten up have been reported this year in states like Gujarat and neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.

Authorities in Indore in central Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday reportedly razed the houses of three Muslim youth who were arrested for allegedly being involved in a scuffle with a Hindu man at a Garba event.

Police in the state arrested 14 Muslim men after Bajrang Dal, a right-wing group, handed them over to the police for entering the Garba venues in separate incidents.

Three Muslim youth were thrashed in Ujjain by members of the group for allegedly making videos of women at the venue.

In Maharashtra, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an ultra-right-wing Hindu group, made identity cards mandatory for entry into the venues in a bid to stop Love Jihad.

“Why should Muslim men come alone to these events? They come with malafide intentions, hiding their identity and changing their names. Why don’t they come with their sisters and wives if they want to enjoy our culture?” Surendra Gupta, General Secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Delhi unit, told The National.

"Their presence should be made a criminal offence,” he said.

But opposition leaders and political activists are calling the attacks an attempt to undermine the country's diversity and stoke communal hatred.

Shahid Siddiqui, a former politician and a leading Muslim commentator, said that the images of policemen beating the accused Muslims to cheers from the public are "horrifying and shameful".

"This kind of public display of beating up of men and people surrounding shouting and celebrating, this is beyond our imagination. This is terrible. The way politics has taken command on religion, it is going to damage the Indian ethos," Mr Siddique told The National.

"It is a continuity of an attitude where Muslims are being told that they are not equal citizens, and the system, the police or administration treating them as if laws are not for them, just point at them, their house will be razed and they can be beaten up," he said.

The National