India Bans Islamic Group for Alleged Terrorist Involvement  

India has banned an Islamic organization, accusing it of involvement in terrorism and calling it a threat to the country’s security.

The ban on the Popular Front of India was announced Wednesday following a countrywide crackdown that saw over 250 of its members arrested in recent days. The ban includes the group’s affiliates and will remain in place for five years.

A day before the group was outlawed, it had denied accusations of anti-national activities and called the action against its members a “witch hunt.”

Its political arm, the Social Democratic Party of India, has denounced the action, calling it “a direct blow on democracy and the rights of the people.”

The government has listed a series of charges against the Popular Front of India, which was formed about 15 years ago.

It said that the group and its associates have been involved in “serious offenses including terrorism and its financing, gruesome targeted killings, disregarding the constitutional set up of the country.”

The Home Ministry said that the Popular Front of India had links with global terrorist groups and some of its members had joined Islamic State and participated in terror activities in Syria and Iraq.

The government said the group has “been pursuing a secret agenda to radicalize a particular section of the society” while ostensibly operating as a socio-economic, educational and political organization.

The group first came drew attention after a court convicted several of its members for cutting off the hand of a college professor accused by some Muslim groups of asking derogatory questions about the Prophet Muhammad in an examination.

Although largely confined to a handful of southern Indian states for years, its influence had spread to other regions since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government came to power eight years ago.

Calls for a ban on the group grew after its role in fueling anti-government protests came to light in recent years.

Earlier this year, authorities in southern Karnataka state accused the Popular Front of India of supporting protests that erupted after a school banned female students from wearing hijabs. The group also supported demonstrations against a citizenship law that India enacted in 2019 that critics said discriminates against Muslims.

Senior ministers in the government welcomed the ban. Junior Foreign Minister V. Muraleedharan said that it showed that the Modi government “acts tough” with forces aiming to disrupt peace and stability.

The move comes at a time when critics have accused the government of discrimination against Muslims, who make up about 13 percent of the country’s population.

“Freedom of speech, protests and organizations have been ruthlessly suppressed by the regime against the basic principles of the Indian constitution,” the Social Democratic Party of India said in a statement. It accused the government of misusing investigation agencies to “silence the opposition.”

Pointing out that the ban comes at a time “when there is a tendency of radicalization,” political analyst Rasheed Kidwai said “in that context if the assessment of the government is that this organization was becoming a threat to society and civil order, it is within its rights to impose a ban.”

But he added that there needs to be “an objective assessment” of the situation by intelligence agencies. “We know the tendency to move right is not confined to one social group, caste or region in the country. So, there is a need to keep a strict vigil on all,” according to Kidwai.

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UN Questions Taliban Claims of Good Security, Governance in Afghanistan

The United Nations warned Tuesday that de facto Taliban authorities are failing in their claims of security and good governance in Afghanistan as terrorist groups like Islamic State are increasingly conducting attacks across the country.  

 

“Some of the Taliban’s claimed and acknowledged achievements are eroding,” Potzel Markus, deputy head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, told the Security Council on Tuesday.  

 

“In the past months, there has been a steady rise in security incidents monitored by UNAMA, both armed clashes and criminality, as well as high profile, deadly terrorist attacks.”  

 

Claiming victory over foreign occupation, the Taliban say they have restored peace and tranquility in war-torn Afghanistan by reestablishing a purely Islamic emirate.  

 

The U.N. has now challenged such Taliban claims by warning the security situation in the country is actually deteriorating.  

“Our earlier warnings by the capabilities of the Islamic State Khorasan Province ISKP were dismissed by the Taliban, but ISKP has demonstrated in the last few months alone that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attacks against foreign embassies, as well as fire rockets across Afghanistan’s border to attack its neighbors, all while maintaining its long-standing sectarian campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities,” said Markus.  

 

Earlier, UNAMA had reported a significant reduction in Afghan civilian casualties of war since the Taliban seized power. From mid-August 2021 to mid-June 2022, at least 700 civilians were killed and more than 1,400 were wounded in the country, mostly in attacks perpetuated by the ISKP – a marked reduction from 2020, when UNAMA reported 3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries.  

 

No Taliban representative was present at the Security Council’s meeting, but a diplomat from the former Afghan government and a Taliban opposition activist were invited. The U.N. has refused repeated calls from the Taliban to accredit their diplomats at the world body.  

 

Undemocratic governance  

 

Members of the Security Council also have condemned the Taliban for the group’s undemocratic and often repressive governance style.  

 

“On a daily basis, we hear reports from Afghanistan of Taliban repression, of night raids, extrajudicial killings and torture. Human rights defenders, journalists and media workers are being deliberately targeted,” said Fergal Mythen, Ireland’s representative to the U.N.  

 

Since seizing power, the Taliban have dissolved Afghanistan’s parliament and election bodies, and they have appointed a male-only cabinet made of Islamic clerics.  

“Most Afghans do not see themselves represented at all levels of governance. There are no consistent mechanisms for citizens to provide feedback to the authorities and little indication that the Taliban wish to even hear,” said Markus.  

 

The U.N. has warned that the Taliban would push Afghanistan further into international isolation, poverty and internal strife unless the group fundamentally changes its governance.  

 

“Leaders who oppose half of the country’s population [women] will not gain legitimacy, not from the Afghan people and not from the international community,” said Mona Juul, Norway’s representative at the U.N. 

 

Taliban leaders have defended their governance, asserting the U.N. and other rights groups often present inaccurate and biased statements about the situation in Afghanistan. 

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As Ebola Spreads, Ugandan Medical Interns Strike Over Safety

As Uganda reports more deaths from the latest Ebola outbreak in the country, medical interns at the hospital handling most of the cases have gone on strike. The interns say they are not being provided with adequate personal protective equipment against the deadly virus, which causes a hemorrhagic fever. Uganda’s health ministry has so far confirmed five deaths and 18 probable fatalities out of 36 cases.

Ugandan Health officials say they are holding talks with striking interns at central Mubende district’s hospital, which is handling most of the country’s spreading Ebola outbreak.

President for the Federation for Uganda Medical Interns, Dr. Musa Lumumba, says there is not enough personal protective gear for the interns at the hospital.

Speaking to VOA by phone, he called on Uganda’s Ministry of Health to urgently address the issue to protect doctors-in-training. 

“The issue of not having accommodation, so they stay in communities, which communities have got cases of Ebola,” Lumumba said. Protection of those at the frontline. And those at the frontline are the health care workers.”

Uganda Medical Association President, Dr. Samuel Oledo, told VOA one intern, three staff, and a medical student have been confirmed for exposure to the virus and at least three senior health officers (SHO) are showing symptoms.  

“We have 34 interns in Mubende.  And we have less than 12 doctors employed on the ground,” Oledo said. “If you have interns and they are pulling out at once, it’s catastrophic.  And the justifications are clear, honestly.  Results have come out today and one of the SHOs who actually performed surgeries with one of the interns on one case has become positive of Ebola.”

Oledo said they suspect as many as 104 medical students in Mubende hospital have been exposed to the virus.   

Uganda’s Ministry of Health has yet to confirm the exposures and infections of students and staff at the hospital.   

Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyoona denied there is a lack of protective equipment there to guard against Ebola.  

“All the protective gear to safeguard their life is available,” Ainebyoona said. “But like [with] any other infectious disease, fear will be expected. But we are working to ensure that we engage and counsel.  And ensure that there are teams to respond.”

Despite the spreading virus, Uganda’s Health Ministry said the situation is under control but acknowledged that three people suspected of being infected with the virus fled Mubende’s isolation unit on Monday.

Officials say security has been beefed up since to avoid a repeat. 

Uganda’s Ebola outbreak was first detected last week in Mubende, a central district, but has since spread to neighboring districts Kyegegwa and Kasanda.  

Some schools in Kyegegwa have shut down for two weeks to protect students.

First reports of a possible Ebola outbreak came from Kyegegwa’s Kyaka 11 refugee camp, raising alarm bells of a possible quick spread in the packed camp.  

But testing ruled out an outbreak in the camp.  

After Mubende’s cases were confirmed, the U.N.’s Refugee Agency UNHCR said it added controlled entry measures at refugee settlements.

“We are stepping up some assistance programs that had been curtailed due to lack of funding since July,” said Matthew Crentsil, the UNHCR Uganda representative. “That is procurement of soap. You would agree with me, this is fundamental in curbing the spread of Ebola.”

Uganda has yet to identify the source of the Ebola outbreak, which is the Sudan strain of the virus.  

The Sudan strain is less common than the Zaire strain and has no current, effective vaccine.

Uganda’s last Ebola outbreak in 2019 was the Zaire strain.  It last reported a Sudan strain outbreak in 2012.

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Kenyan Lawyer Charged With Bribing Witnesses in President’s ICC Case Found Dead

A Kenyan lawyer who was charged with bribing and threatening witnesses who were to testify against the country’s current president, William Ruto, has been found dead.

Kenyan police and family members of Paul Gicheru confirmed his death Monday night to local media.

It was not immediately clear what caused the 50-year-old lawyer’s death, and a police spokesman did not answer our calls.

The Kenyan Human Rights Commission told VOA news Gicheru’s death while he faced a trial before the International Criminal Court for alleged witness tampering is quite unfortunate. Senior program advisor Martin Mavenjina.

“It’s unfortunate that he has passed on under mysterious circumstances. As we speak right now there have not been conclusive investigations surrounding the circumstances of his death,” Mavenjina said.

Mavenjina says that he’s been keeping up on Gicheru for a long time and death is a big surprise. 

“I have been keenly following Paul Gicheru since he surrendered to the ICC,” Mavenjina said. “At no point in time have we been informed that Paul Gicheru had any health conditions or underlying health conditions or was sick at any point in time. We received this news in shock yesterday because the way it was reported you know he was found dead at his house with foam coming out of his mouth.”

Gicheru was facing charges of bribing and threatening witnesses in a case against Kenya’s newly-elected president, William Ruto, and broadcaster Joshua Sang.

Ruto and Sang were among several Kenyans, including former president Uhuru Kenyatta, who were charged with prompting violence in the 2007 disputed election.

Street clashes over the election left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The ICC declared a mistrial in 2016, citing witness tampering, and a trial against Gicheru and Sang began in February with Gicheru pleading not guilty.

ICC spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah told VOA he could not comment on Gicheru’s case until the confirmation of Gicheru’s death was submitted by Kenyan authorities to the trial chamber. 

A statement issued by the Law Society of Kenya urged the inspector general of the National Police Service to ensure that thorough investigations are conducted. It goes on to say that it’s in the public domain that several witnesses in the ICC cases have either disappeared or died, therefore there is significant public interest in knowing what caused Gicheru’s death. 

The group also wished a speedy recovery to Gicheru’s son, who was reportedly in the same house with his father at the time of his death and has been admitted to the hospital in critical condition. 

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Top Afghan Taliban Official Urges Reopening Girls’ Schools

A senior Taliban official Tuesday called on his men-only government in Afghanistan to reopen all secondary schools to girls without further delay, saying there is no Islamic restriction on female education.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban deputy foreign minister, made the rare appeal in a televised speech to a gathering of top Taliban officials and leaders in the capital, Kabul.

Since seizing power more than a year ago, the former Islamist insurgent group stopped girls beyond the sixth grade from returning to classrooms, portraying the move as based on religious principles.

“Education is obligatory on both men and women, without any discrimination. None of the religious scholars present here can deny this obligation. No one can offer a justification based on [Islamic] Sharia for opposing [women’s right to education],” Stanikzai said.

“It is the duty of the Islamic Emirate to set the stage for reopening doors of education to all Afghans as soon as possible because the delay is increasing gap between us [the government] and the nation on this particular issue,” he warned. The Taliban call their government the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The United Nations estimates the education ban has barred nearly one million girls from attending secondary in Afghanistan.

“If [the] Taliban continue failing to uphold the rights of all Afghans and to engage constructively with [the] international community, Afghanistan’s future is uncertain: fragmentation, isolation, poverty and internal conflict are likely scenarios,” Potzel Markus, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan told a U.N. Security Council meeting Tuesday.

In the run-up to the session, 10 elected and five incoming UNSC members urged the Taliban to allow girls to return to secondary schools, noting that September 18 marked one year since the radical group banned girls’ education.

“We are calling on the Taliban to immediately reverse this decision,” Norway’s ambassador, Mona Juul, read in a joint statement to reporters in New York. “The Taliban have made Afghanistan the only country in the entire world where girls are banned from attending secondary school,” she added.

 

“The increased risks associated with disruption of education, particularly for girls, makes them more vulnerable to child labor and forced marriages. It impacts their future economic opportunities and results in long-term obstacles for durable peace, security and development,” Juul said.

The Taliban have also instructed women to cover their faces in public and told many female public sector employees to stay home since returning to power in August 2021, when the United States and NATO troops withdrew from the country.

Stanikzai, a rare moderate voice among senior Taliban figures, led the Taliban’s team in months of negotiations with the United States that resulted in the February 2020 agreement between the two rivals and set the stage for all foreign troops to leave the country after almost two decades.

Other Taliban officials have privately also advocated for reopening the schools to teenage girls, but critics say none of them can dare challenge the group’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, and a couple of his associates who are apparently behind the school closure and curbs on women.

Veil restrictions on women and banning them from long road travel without a male relative as well as other curbs on civil liberties are among key concerns deterring foreign governments from recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan prompted Western countries to stop their financial assistance, worsening an already bad humanitarian crisis and pushing the national economy to the brink of collapse, with millions of Afghans facing acute hunger.

Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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Cameroon’s Anglophone Hospital Workers Say They’re Victims of Both Military and Separatist Brutality

Separatists in Cameroon have abducted five hospital staffers in the western town of Kumbo. The rebels say they were retaliating after Cameroon’s military entered the hospital and arrested or killed some of their fighters. Hospital workers tell VOA both military troops and rebels abused them.

Cameroon’s Bui Unity Warriors separatists say they abducted five health workers from Banso Baptist Hospital, BBH, Sunday. Bui is an administrative unit in Cameroon’s English speaking Northwest region.

In videos circulating on social media, including WhatsApp and Facebook, the separatists say hospital workers were abducted in retaliation after the military entered the hospital, killing one fighter and arresting three other fighters.

The fighters were hospital patients who had been wounded in battles with the military last week.

In another video circulating online, fighters claiming to be members of the Bui Unity Warriors present a man they say collaborated with government troops, who attacked fighters inside BBH.

The Roman Catholic Church in Cameroon identifies the man as Shiyntum Sergius, a priest at the parish in Vekovi, an English-speaking village in Bui, who had also been abducted.

The Roman Catholic Church in Cameroon, The Cameroon Baptist Convention that owns BBH, and the Presbyterian Church all confirm that troops attacked BBH, killed a fighter and arrested three other fighters. The churches say in retaliation, armed separatists abducted five medical staff members from the hospital and the priest, who is accused of collaborating with the rebels.

Joseph Sahfe is a patient who says other patients are scared that the hospital may stop rendering services to the sick.  He spoke via the messaging app WhatsApp from the town of Kumbo, where BBH is located.

“What will become of the patients who depend on this lone institution for survival? To the best of my knowledge, a hospital treats patients without inquiring who you are,” said Sahfe. “It is a neutral ground in the midst of a crisis like the one we are experiencing. Where will the patients go if she [Baptist Hospital] has to close her doors as Doctors Without Borders did?”

In a release Monday, the hospital dismissed rumors that disgruntled staff are planning to stop working. The hospital management said it will continue saving lives despite the challenges.

The military says its troops organized raids on separatist camps in Bui last week and killed at least 7 fighters, including two self-proclaimed generals. The military said troops were searching for wounded fighters hiding in the community but did not comment on if government troops invaded the hospital.

Nick Ngwanyam is a member of the Cameroon medical council, an association of Cameroon medical doctors. Ngwanyam says it is unfortunate that both government troops and rebels are invading hospitals, which are out to save lives and reduce suffering.

“We are pushing those institutions to shut down because hospital staff [workers] feel unsafe working under those conditions and therefore, we are putting the lives of the communities in danger and peril, and we are doing ourselves a lot of harm,” said Ngwanyam. “It doesn’t matter what the reasons are, be it by the military or the boys who are fighting, we are hurting ourselves, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and the government needs to take its responsibility and stop this war [crisis].”

The Banso Baptist Hospital says it receives several hundred patients each day. Most are victims of the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions.

Cameroonian authorities have always accused aid groups of helping separatists in the country’s English-speaking western regions, a charge the hospital has strongly denied, saying its mission is only to save lives.

In August 2021, the international aid group Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, announced that it had withdrawn emergency health care services amid the separatist crisis. The military accused MSF of, among other charges, aiding separatist fighters in the medical aid group’s hospitals.

MSF denied the accusation and said its only goal is to save lives irrespective of whose life it is.

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