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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The second Iranian Revolution


Thousands of enraged Iranians in a nationwide dissent against the Islamic clergy’s regime are holding demonstrations for justice for the murder of a Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, over the country’s abusive forced hijab dress code for women.

Mahsa Amini, 22, on 16 September was on a family trip to Iran’s capital Tehran from a liberal city of Saqez in Iran’s Kurdistan, where 10 million Kurds live.

She was detained by the notorious Morality Police (Basij para-military force) at a metro station in Tehran for not appropriately wearing a hijab (or chador in Farsi/Persian) and dragged to a centre.

The young woman died as a result of torture inflicted on her at a detention facility and the authority claimed that she died of heart failure, which her family refused to believe.

The so-called Morality Police recruited from rural Iran are Islamic vigilantes to insult to heart their dignity and detain women for violating stringent Shariah laws.

The Basij has a history to have brutally suppressed popular strife. Once again the ruthless armed group has been mobilised to quell the unrest.

In defiance, hundreds of women poured into the streets in Iran are burning their hijab and others removing their chador (headscarf) and waving in the air in busy streets and squares.

Many are cutting their hair in public, in their home and dared to post on social media as a symbol of protest, which never happened before.

The antagonism transgressed to a crossroad where protesters either insulted Iran’s supreme leader and chanted “death to the dictator”.

Nonetheless, the Kurdish woman’s death has reignited popular anger and united the dissidents and people from all walks of society, despite having different opinions.

An irate ‘unnamed woman’ removed her hijab while walking in a street in Iran posted a video on Twitter urging the Basij: “Come and arrest me….and arrest everyone campaigning for peace, freedom and human dignity.”

Iranian women are taking a huge risk and need more than expressions of solidarity, observed Yalda Zarbakhch, Head of the Farsi (Persian) service of the German news organisation Deutsche Welle (DW).

The demonstrators, especially the womenfolk must have calculated the risk factor – arrest, torture, legal harassment and intimidation of their families by the repressive regime.

Amnesty International urged that Mahsa Amini’s death must not go unpunished.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called for an investigation into the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. He also said protesting is allowed in the country but “rioting” will not be tolerated.

Despite assurance for a probe into her death, the street protests besides the demand for justice for the death of Amini are also asking to end the hegemony of the Islamic clerical ruling system.

The crackdown on the demonstrations engulfed like wildfire in more than 40 major cities and towns, including Tehran University – where the official Friday prayers (Jumma) used to be held since the revolution.

Scores of protesters were killed by riot police and hundreds of others were wounded in street battles – the number of casualties is increasing every day. A few thousand protesters were detained from all over the country, according to the rights groups.

Determined, angry and, above all, courageous women in Iran are at the forefront of the current protests and lots of Iranians have rejected the hijab dress code.

On the other hand, a critic of the Mullahs in Iran, a feminist journalist Masih Alinejad in a charged tweet says: “Iranian women [are] removing their hijab, facing guns and bullets alongside men and chanting against [the] Islamic Republic.”

Meanwhile, reformist group the Union of Islamic Iran People’s Party has called for the mandatory dress code to be repealed and appealed to allow “peaceful demonstrations”. The party remains legal but unfortunately is firmly outside the corridors of power.

For the first time, demonstrators are collectively denouncing a religious symbol of the Islamic Republic.

The latest protest coincides with the fading popularity of Ebrahim Raisi’s government which miserably failed to deliver on its promises to citizens, one year after taking office in August 2021.

Amini’s death has unleashed anger over issues including personal freedoms and economic challenges in Iran which pose an existential threat to Iran’s theocratic regime.

A recent situation report by the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah) says, these developments occurred against the backdrop of a tense domestic environment and deteriorating economic and social conditions.

Nonetheless, the recent unrest highlights the growing chasm between the government and its self-proclaimed identity which it is attempting to impose on the people through repression and society.

The ongoing unrest reflects growing popular rage and discontent, as well as a sense of deprivation and injustice, says the Rasanah study. This cycle of discontent is linked to the crisis-ridden political environment as a result of the Raisi government’s failure to deliver on promises made one year ago, both at home and abroad, political observers stated.

Iran’s bleak economic situation, runaway inflation, horrendously high gas prices and social crises explain the popular outrage which is swiftly sparked by the latest public dissent. Moreover, the elimination of subsidies, unemployment, chronic inflation, and the government’s fiscal deficit enraged the general public.

The hard-line Islamist regime of the conservative Shia Mullahs led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power, after the so-called Islamic Revolution in 1979 which ousted pro-American Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Islamic Republic’s tunnel vision policy is to “control the female body”. Whether they are Muslims or other religious and ethnic communities, the hijab was been made mandatory by the clergies in 1983 for all women.

Well, hijab means ‘curtain’ or to shut out in Arabic. Hijab, is not a religious obligation in the Quran, a divine book for the Muslims, according to verse 24:31 for modesty.

The 21st-century Muslim clergies have falsely branded hijab, niqab, burqa, chador or other headscarves as Islamic traditions and made them compulsory for women.

Renowned Bangladesh-born feminist writer in exile, Taslima Nasrin and an ex-Muslim wrote on the recent unrest in Iran: “If you encourage them not to wear burqa or hijab, and become free women who believe in women’s rights and freedom, if you encourage them to become enlightened, secular, humanist and feminist, you are really well-wishers of Muslims.”

In another development, the intermittent blackouts of the internet followed after the eruption of nationwide protests over Amini’s death.

Unfortunately, there is no private broadcast network in Iran, thus the critical voice on the internet is the “only place” where protesters can make their voices heard on social media.

Earlier, the shutdown of the internet is one of the biggest tools of the Islamist regime and was used when unrest breaks.

Exiled Iranian leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) founded in 1981, in a tweet urged the world [leaders] to condemn the cruel [internet] censorship and provide free access #Internet4Iran.

Political observers predict that the anti-government movement will further escalate after attention has been drawn by international news organisations, Western countries and human rights organisations.

More and more people have turned their backs on the autocratic regime, its ideology and even their theocratic “Islam”.

The Iranian dissident and critics in self-exile and expats are possibly the largest community living abroad and have lent their shoulders to the uprising.

In fact, the rulers cannot and will not make any concessions on the veiling of women — abolishing the obligation to wear the hijab is tantamount to the beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic.

Now that apolitical Mahsa Amini became a symbol of defiance in Iran, the Mullahs in Tehran and Qom (a haven for the Ayatollahs) are feeling the pinch in their shoes as they are facing the worst challenge of their regime. The Islamist leaders are spending sleepless nights in fear of losing their luxurious lifestyle and dominance in the region will extinguish. Despite cruel backlash by the state machinery, the movement went internationally viral.

First published in the International Affairs Review, 28 September 2022

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist and columnist based in Bangladesh, a media rights defender. Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter: @saleemsamad

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Pakistan Drowning in Debts and Floods


Pakistan in the immediate past has experienced three major crises. – two of which were caused by natural hazards — the 2005 earthquake, which impacted 3.5 million people and the 2010 floods which affected more than 20 million people.

Pakistan is at a critical economic juncture. The new coalition regime of the Muslim League and Pakistan Peoples Party which is struggling to stabilize the economy is already facing the daunting task of managing a faltering economy with huge deficits.

After two years of the pandemic, the economy is in the red zone, marked by rising external debt, higher inflation, and large-scale unemployment.

The floods that occurred from the torrential monsoon deluge added fresh challenges to Shahbaz Sharif’s government in the economic crisis, which he inherited from the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who failed the nation.

The floods are not only to be blamed for climate change disaster, but it is a failure of governance on multiple levels, including deliberate neglect of Baloch, Sindhi and other ethnic and linguistic communities in Pakistan.

The devastating floods which engulfed one-third of the country have counted unofficial deaths and missing over 1500, mostly children, caused forced displacement to 33 million, and dented livelihoods.

In addition, the floods eroded a million houses and damaged around 2 million acres of crops (an estimated 45 per cent) of cultivable land in Sindh, South Punjab and Balochistan, triggering alarm bells for looming food shortage.

The floods will leave behind a trail of loss of huge livestock, the output of cotton, rice and maize crops too and also feared that the sowing of sugarcane and wheat will also take a hit.

In fact, Pakistan in the immediate past has experienced three major crises. While the nature and scale of these crises were different, two of them were caused by natural hazards — the 2005 earthquake, which impacted 3.5 million people and the 2010 floods which affected more than 20 million people.

Pakistan produces less than 1 per cent of global carbon emissions and for the past 20 years, it has ranked in the Global Climate Risk Index as among the top ten most vulnerable countries.

It could be argued that the damage caused by both disasters is the outcome of climate change as well as the politically inspired development policies of the regime in Islamabad.

The picture looks dismal of the human development index of 2021, where Pakistan plummeted to 161, which is worse than that of India (132), Bangladesh (129), and Sri Lanka (73).

Decades of neglect of Sindh and Balochistan for their defiance against Rawalpindi GHQ have irked the regime in reasonable allocation for comprehensive infrastructure development and holistic human development projects, such as investing in primary education and healthcare.

As many as 10 million Pakistanis have been pushed into poverty. An estimated 46 per cent of the population (over 80 million) was already below the poverty line, which is likely to increase due to adverse impacts of the pandemic.

The colossal loss to the economy due to devastating floods has been estimated at US$10 billion. The country’s external debts and payments make it impossible for the cash-starved government to focus on relief and rehabilitation of its affected people.

Islamabad in rapid damage control efforts, to recover from the looming economic crisis increased the prices of oil, gas, and electricity tariff. The worst scenario is drastic cuts in social expenditures have pushed millions of working-class millions into yet another struggle for survival.

In an attempt to further save from drowning, the government imposed budget cuts, withdrawal of subsidies from food, fertilisers and fuel; wage bill cuts and at a crucial moment when disadvantaged populations are in greater need of public support.

Pakistan is among the 52 countries facing a severe debt crisis. The most critical problem faced by the country’s economy is repayment and servicing of its external debt, around $38 billion to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other international financial institutions.

Well, the IMF has projected Pakistan’s external debt to reach $138.568 billion in 2022-23 up from $129.574 billion in 2021-22.

Central bank foreign currency reserves have fallen to nearly $10 billion, barely enough to cover a few weeks of imports.

The trajectory of debt is expected to continue to decline to 70.4 per cent of GDP by the end-fiscal year 2026, supported by a favourable interest rate-growth differential outlook, and fiscal adjustment efforts in the context of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF), a lending facility of the Fund of the IMF.

After weeks of negotiations with Islamabad in August, IMF has agreed to revive a bailout package for Pakistan to about $4.2 billion, which will relieve from the brink of a payment crisis.

Let’s not forget that Pakistan needs at least $41 billion in the next 12 months to repay debt and fund imports, according to a Bloomberg news agency report. It includes payments for $19.4 billion to the IMF, the World Bank, ADB and China.

Analysts saw the deal as crucial for Sharif’s coalition government, which came to power in April at a crucial juncture of two years of standstill during the pandemic, writes Ayaz Gul for Voice of America (VOA).

“The Agreement with the Fund [IMF] has set the stage to bring the country out of economic difficulties,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif wrote in a tweet.

Earlier, in April 2020, the IMF had approved $1.4 billion in emergency financing for Pakistan under the Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) to help the country deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite an appeal by the prime minister of Pakistan to the international community for comprehensive debt relief, Unfortunately, Pakistan obtained temporary debt relief worth $1.8 billion from the members of G-20 nations.

Several international anti-debt groups recommended immediate cancellation of the debt as a minimum demand since Pakistan is unable to repay its loans and these floods have worsened the condition of the country’s economy.

This demand has a legitimate legal argument based on international law, which calls for debt payment suspension on the grounds of necessity and fundamental change of circumstances, says the anti-debt groups.

First published in International Affairs Review portal, 20 September 2022

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist and columnist based in Bangladesh, a media rights defender. Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter: @saleemsamad

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Sheikh Hasina’s “Jamdani” diplomacy

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with her counterpart Indian PM Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House, New Delhi


After last week’s official visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi the officials of both sides described the visit as having further strengthened relations between the two neighbouring countries, despite there being several political hiccups according to political observers.

Well, the prime ministers of Bangladesh and India have met 12 times since 2015. Each parley held has added feathers to the hats, except the recent one.

The most significant achievement was the long-standing border demarcation which was finally resolved, pending as it had been since the partition in 1947. The beleaguered citizens of the enclaves were rehabilitated, resettled, and compensated.

Road and railroad connectivity have appreciably improved and are expected to progress further. The transit through Bangladesh to the northeast Indian states is in function.

However, several crucial issues were not discussed or any consensus reached regarding them, which include river water sharing, climate change, border killings, Rohingya refugees, lopsided trade gap, energy and other pending issues.

Meanwhile, the head of German state media Deutsche Welle (DW) Bangla service Khaled Muhiuddin, not an apologetic political analyst, describes the trip as an “election campaign” for Sheikh Hasina’s upcoming national election scheduled at end of 2023.

None of the bilateral agreements – the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in Delhi comply with the state visit protocol, said the Bangladesh-born broadcaster in DW.

Bangladesh and India share 54 international rivers including the Ganges and the Brahmaputra being major rivers. The legendary rivers are linked to the livelihood of people belonging to both countries.

Presently the two countries have water-sharing agreements with only two – the Ganges in 1996 and the Feni River in 2019. The Ganges water treaty was hailed as historic.

India and Bangladesh last week inked an interim water sharing agreement for the third river Kushiyara (flowing from Assam hills) after 25 years.

Hasina at Hyderabad House in Delhi expressed her dissatisfaction over the pressing Teesta water sharing that has been hanging in balance for over a decade due to opposition from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Banerjee argues that the water level in the Teesta has drastically reduced over the years and therefore there is very little water for West Bengal to offer to Bangladesh.

She (Banerjee) instead was pressing for an alternative proposal to link other rivers to augment the water flow in Teesta during the dry season, but Bangladesh turned down the proposal.

Earlier, an arrangement was made in 1983 that gave 39 per cent of water to India and 36 per cent to Bangladesh. The two sides agreed on another interim arrangement in 2011 that would give India 42.5 per cent and Bangladesh 37.5 per cent of the water from the Teesta for 15 years.

Banerjee deliberately poured cold water over the deal, which angered Hasina. New Delhi is equally feeling discomfited about Banerjee’s closing rooms for holding dialogue with hydrology and river-morphology experts from India and Bangladesh.

Joint River Commission (JRC) member K M Anwar Hossain said Pakistan and north-west India are being irrigated by water from the Indus river basin and most of the water canals were in Indian territory. Whereas, the two arch enemies struck the Indus basin water sharing agreement in 1950 when tensions between the two countries were at their peak.

The Hasina-Modi talks failed to reach a meaningful point on two major security concerns of Bangladesh: repatriation of Rohingya refugees and border killings, writes Shamsuddoza Sajen, an analyst in the independent newspaper The Daily Star.

The article states that when the Director-General of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) justified the border killings by Indian border guards during a meeting in Bangladesh on July 21, 2022, had described that all Bangladeshis killed on the border were “criminals”, the Bangladesh counterpart Border Guards Bangladesh (BFB) conspicuously remained silent.

Bangladesh and India share a 4,096 kilometre border, despite India raised barbed wire fences. There are several porous points in otherwise strict border management by both sides.

Intermittent deaths along the Bangladesh–India border occur around the year. The shoot and kill policy of BSF of people illegally crossing into India from Bangladesh, cross border crimes including gun running, drug trade and cattle smuggling.

To prevent smuggling and illegal migration from Bangladesh, BSF exercises its controversial “Shoot-on-Sight” policy, which empowers border guards to shoot any person with or without cause. A large portion of the victim is cattle traders and farmers with agricultural lands near the border.

Rights organisation Odhikar’s report indicates that between 2000 and 2021 at least 1,253 were killed and another 1,156 were wounded in BSF firing.

Earlier, according to several MoUs and related treaties signed between India and Bangladesh, if citizens of the two countries illegally cross the border, it would be considered trespassing. As per law, those suspects would be handed over to the civilian authority.

From January to September 2022, six Bangladesh nationals were killed, four injured and seven abducted allegedly by Indian border guards, according to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a legal aid and human rights organisation.

However, it has been observed that India has been violating treaties, shooting at anyone seen near the border or anyone trying to cross the border, which is a clear violation of international law and human rights, says Odhikar.

Hasina, nevertheless, was assured in Delhi that the border killings will be reduced and the border chiefs of both sides have agreed to stop the killings, which is embarrassing for both Dhaka and Delhi.

Critics, dissidents, opposition and media in Bangladesh are frustrated with the slow progress of signing water-sharing agreements for more than 50 rivers. Hasina’s government came under fire by media and opposition for failing to get a “single drop” of water for Teesta.

What Bangladesh received and what Bangladesh offered to India is surely important. In between parleys and visits outside her hotel, Hasina has been able to draw the attention of the Indian media, Indian top officials and the business community to her century-old traditional handloom ‘Jamdani’ saree she wore during her four-day visit. Some media dubbed her clad in a gorgeous saree as “Jamdani diplomacy”.

First published in the International Affairs Review, 10 September 2022

Saleem Samad, is a Dhaka-based independent journalist, a media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Why Islamic World Is Silent On The Persecution Of Uyghur Muslims?


The United Nations (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) softly blames “China may have committed crimes against humanity in Xinjiang (former Turkestan province).

The human rights office releases a long-awaited report last week to expose China’s treatment of ethnic Uyghur Muslims and says ‘serious human rights violations have been committed in Xinjiang, home of 10 million Uyghurs.

Well, the bigwigs of the Chinese Communist Party in the capital Beijing calls the report ‘completely illegal and void’. China has forcefully denied any maltreatment in Xinjiang and issued a 131-page (nearly three times the length) in response to the 48-page UN report in which decried the findings as “based on the disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces.”

Outgoing UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who is former President of Chile says, China’s “arbitrary and discriminatory detention” of Uyghurs and other Muslims in its Xinjiang in the north-western region of China “may constitute crimes against humanity”.

The report came four years after the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) revealed that more than one million Uyghurs were being held in visible network of detention centres across Xinjiang.

Widespread persecution, discrimination and forcible confinement have occurred in Xinjiang. Besides Uyghurs, other ethnic Hui (Chinese Muslims), Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Tatars, Tahurs and Russians are also locked up in internment centres, while the world remains quiet.

In the internment camps, they face appalling human rights abuses from forced labour, coerced sterilisation, and the destruction of their culture and religious identity. It’s indeed a humanitarian crisis!

Throughout persecution since 2017, the international organisations within the UN have done little or less regarding the allegations of human rights abuses in China.

The Islamic world including the influential Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and powerful countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan remains conspicuously silent.

Except for European nations, Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia, the apologetic Muslim countries instead of rebuking the Chinese for the crime against humanity are the main beneficiaries of the Road and Belt Initiative (BRI) mega projects to keep them in good humour.

The Islamic countries and Muslim-majority nations deliberately do not wish to embarrass China for their appalling human rights abuse.

Apologetic media, international organisations and Muslim countries explain that it’s a “domestic issue”, their “internal affairs” and are “combating terrorism”.

Nevertheless, China extends its “golden heart” to the Muslim countries – also to the hard-line Islamic countries like Iran, Pakistan and Arab states.

In fact, all Muslim countries have a similar problem with their human rights record in compliance with the UN Charter of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the 1971 blood war of liberation in Bangladesh, no Muslim country, Muslim leader or any Muslim aid agency helped the plight, agony and sufferings of the 10 million refugees. They either supported the marauding Pakistan military junta. Nor did they raise their hand while the military committed war crimes, genocide and rape as a weapon of war.

Similarly, the same Muslim community did not urge international bodies to protest the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina by warlord General Radovan Karadzic under the command of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

After the military intervention of NATO, the civil war ceased. International Court of Justice indicts 161 individuals, including the warlords for crimes against humanity. No jubilation in any city in a Muslim country. No statement by Muslim leaders appreciating the initiative of The Hague verdict.

Leaked official documents in Chinese reveal for the first time the systematic use by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to justify the indefinite detention on trivial grounds of millions of citizens in heavily fortified internment centres across the province.

The leak exposes what appears to be a detailed and far-reaching system of state surveillance in Xinjiang, run by the provincial local government enables to target the Uyghurs, apparently Chinese citizens to the peaceful practice of their culture or religion.

Chinese official records, verified by a team of experts commissioned by rights groups and international media, show people are transported to detention facilities for simply “wearing a veil”, growing “a long beard” or performing “Muslim prayer”.

The Chinese government admits to locking up several million Uyghurs in “vocational education and training centres”, a mass “deradicalisation programme” targeting “potential extremists”.

Thousands of siblings, parents and kith and kin were victims of arbitrary detention after their relatives living in exile slammed Chinese authorities for human rights abuse and persecution of their loved ones.

Interestingly, Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, formerly known as Dihua, has the world’s best-sophisticated surveillance system. Each person is under the authority’s radar 24/7 with a hi-tech CCTV network with audio equipment to spy on what they discuss on the street corners and hangouts.

The OHCHR said that “serious human rights violations have been committed” in Xinjiang in the context of the government’s application of “counter-terrorism and counter-‘extremism’ strategies”.

“There are credible indications of violations of reproductive rights through the coercive enforcement of family planning policies since 2017,” the OHCHR report said.

The punitive actions by the Chinese against the Uyghur “may constitute international crimes, in particular, crimes against humanity”.

The report recommended the Chinese government take prompt steps to release all those detained in training centres, prisons or detention facilities.

It is expected that the international community must take action or be ‘wilfully complicit’.

Several exiled Uyghur leaders, however, lamented that the report was the “bare minimum” which could be expected from the international community.

“The report will do little for the people (Uyghur),” a survivor of the internment camps in exile observed.

First published in The News Times, 3 September 2022

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad