Requiem for a Martyr: The “Blind Sheik”, Omar Abdel Rahman, Innocent Victim of Seditious Conspiracy Trial
“[America’s treatment of me] is a crime that history will never forgive.” – Omar Abdel Rahman
Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheik”, died on the morning of February 18, 2017, near the 24th anniversary of the 1993 WTC bombing. He was an innocent victim of the US agenda to create a new enemy by engineering events that would make terrorism virtually synonymous with “Islamic fundamentalism”.
Sheik Rahman attained national fame in Egypt while he was on trial for inciting the 1981 assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. With a passionate moral integrity, he courageously attacked the government during his two days on the stand; the intensive trial media gave him a national platform that made him famous throughout the Muslim world. His sermons were taped and traded throughout Egypt.
While he was vindicated of the charges against him, President Mubarak’s government ominously refused to give the necessary certification of the verdict and eventually drove Sheik Rahman out of Egypt. The Sheik went to Afghanistan, where he helped the CIA recruit Arab fighters to serve with the US-backed mujahadeen (he would lose at least one of his own sons there), and the Sheik was reportedly on the CIA payroll.
Sheik Rahman came to the US in 1990, hoping to remain until he could safely return to Egypt. According to Benjamin Begin in a 1993 Israel Today newsletter, Rahman’s mosques were infiltrated by FBI and Mossad operatives and would be the source of recruitment for their operations.
The World Trade Center explosion occurred on Friday, February 26th, 1993. The Sheik was soon declared deportable when some of those charged were identified as members of his mosques. The sheik was in the FBI’s crosshairs; the FBI offered Egyptian intelligence agent Emad Salem over one million dollars to entrap him.
The cagey Salem, who had become a trusted member of the Sheik’s inner circle, was aware of the obligation that the Sheik had as spiritual leader to respond to congregants’ needs. Salem blindsided the sheik by going to his home after midnight on a Sunday, pretending to be in a spiritual crisis. He claimed that he felt guilty for his years in the Egyptian military and needed to atone for his actions by attacking a target in the US — such as the United Nations. The sheik tried to fob him off and talked him out of that terrorist target; he suggested that a US military target would be more appropriate, but he told Salem to “slow down” — to cool off. Salem went home happy.
The Joint Anti-Terror Task Force and the Justice Department were allegedly dubious about whether they had evidence that would convict Rahman. The Sheik had repeatedly and publicly denounced the bombing of the WTC and claimed that he had nothing to do with it. Those who heard Emad Salem’s recorded attempt to incriminate the Sheik didn’t think it was persuasive enough to stand up in court. The FBI had tapped the Sheik’s telephones from two weeks before the WTC explosion until June, 1993; there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. The INS said he was complying with the requirements of his deportation appeal. Authorities noted that incarcerating the Sheik would be expensive because of his diabetes. A detention until appeals were completed could have lasted for months — if not for years.
Attorney General Janet Reno, who had publicly been reluctant to charge the Sheik, finally succumbed to the political pressure: pressure that also came from the Egyptian government, which still felt threatened by the Sheik’s popularity. Egyptian officials, afraid that Rahman would be deported to Egypt, wanted him safely incarcerated in the US. On July 1st, 1993, the Justice Department, while avoiding making any criminal charge, decided to take the Sheik into custody – “indefinite administrative detention” — on immigration charges.
The Egyptian conundrum
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was afraid of Rahman’s popularity and influence; he appeared to be worried about suffering the same fate as the Shah of Iran, deposed by a popular religious leader. Mubarak banned tapes of Sheik Rahman’s sermons; those found with copies were subject to up to five years in jail. Three thousand copies of a newspaper Al-Hayat that featured a March interview with Rahman were confiscated, and Rahman’s mosque in Fayoum was empty, guarded by a police agent.
While the Egyptian government had initially asked the Clinton administration to hold the Sheik to make sure he was not deported to Egypt, they changed their minds when they were informed that under the immigration charges, the sheik could accept his deportation voluntarily and go to any country that would take him, which could make him even more of a threat to the Mubarak government. After intense discussions, the US agreed to accept Egypt’s official extradition request, which it claimed would take precedence over the deportation charge. The only hitch was that appeals might take as long as eight years.
Mubarak was livid. He reminded the U.S. that he had hosted an Arab summit before the 1991 US-led invasion of Iraq which brought most of the Arab world onside, providing important “optics” for the engineered invasion.
Egyptian authorities were also outraged that two employees of the US Embassy had met earlier that year with prominent members of the Islamic Group, which regarded Sheik Rahman as their spiritual leader. The US seemed to be hedging its bets on Egyptian leadership so that it would not be caught out in Egypt as it had been in Iran, when Khomeini was swept into power. To add insult to injury, there was even a Congressional effort to cut back on US aid to Egypt.
President Mubarak then demonstrated to the Clinton administration who was in charge of Egypt. On July 8th, the Egyptian government hanged seven followers of Sheik Rahman for attacks against foreign tourists and for conspiring to overthrow the Mubarak government. It was the largest number of executions for a political crime in more than four decades, and it would be the start of a brutal campaign against dissidents that would last until the 2011 Arab Spring.
After witnessing Mubarak’s treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood, it was evident that Rahman’s supporters were powerless; Rahman was expendable.
US rejects political asylum for Rahman but can’t extradite him to Egypt
Meanwhile there were unforeseen complications with U.S. efforts to extradite Rahman to Egypt. While the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected Rahman’s appeal for political asylum, it appeared that his appeals would eventually reach the Supreme Court. Also, State Department officials realized that the 100-year old extradition treaty between the US and Egypt did not permit extradition based on “any crime or offense of political character.” While one official claimed that US courts were not limited by treaties, another noted that the treaty strengthened Rahman’s case for political asylum.
The Egyptian plan to ensure that Sheik Rahman would be placed under their control hit another challenge at the end of July when Afghanistan’s Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar offered his country as a refuge for the Sheik. The Sheik’s lawyers realized that deportation might be the only way for the sheik to regain his freedom, so they contacted the office of U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to request his deportation.
White’s office sat on the sheik’s deportation request while trying to accommodate Egypt’s demand for permanent control of the sheik. The problem was that those who were deported were free to go to any country that would accept them, but Egypt did not want the sheik in Afghanistan, where he would be free to communicate with his followers.
The “seditious conspiracy” solution
The sheik’s lawyers were still waiting for a response when, a week later, on August 25th, 1993, Attorney General Janet Reno issued an indictment for Sheik Rahman along with 14 others for “seditious conspiracy”, an obscure charge employed against political dissidents.
The 20-count, 27-page indictment claimed that one terrorist organization [which started in 1989, the year before the sheik arrived in the U.S.] was behind all of the plots and that Sheik Rahman, while not directly involved with the acts, was the “mastermind” who explicitly gave the orders. The listed plots included: plans to attack American military installations; plans to murder F.B.I. agents; plans to seize hostages to help release jailed conspirators; the 1990 killing of Rabbi Meir Kahane; the 1991 killing of Alkifah Center President Mustafa Shalabi; the 1993 WTC bombing [ambiguously included, since there was currently a separate trial for that]; the June “landmarks bombing plot”; and the plot to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak. The New York Times featured a map of the presumed terrorist targets; it appeared that New York City was under a Muslim siege.
The “seditious conspiracy” charge, which had been created to target Confederates at the end of the Civil War, was defined as when two or more people “conspire to overthrow, put down, or destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them.” Experts noted that the broad nature of the conspiracy indictment, which did not require connecting a defendant to any specific act of violence and allowed prosecutors to bring in evidence not related to terrorist acts, made it possible to convict people with little proof (let alone evidence) of guilt. Criminal defense experts claimed that the Government was framing the case as much on the defendants’ beliefs as on any acts they may have committed.
Defense lawyers were also disturbed by the Government’s piling up of charges on a socially-isolated and demonized group, especially reviving the Kahane case just two years after El Sayid Nosair had been acquitted. Claiming that the indictment was an attempt to “create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation“, defense lawyer Ronald Kuby noted that, “What they have done is take every allegation, every rumor, every loose end and created a vast mythical Islamic conspiracy. They have created a case that is so big and complicated that it is impossible to defend, impossible to understand, and impossible for any of these defendants to get a fair trial.”
Emad Salem’s tapes
Defense lawyers claimed that Emad Salem entrapped their clients by hiring them for his plots, then taped them making incriminating statements. Salem’s tapes, on which most of this trial would be based, would also include two FBI admissions of overseeing the provision of the WTC explosives. Ron Kuby requested that all of Salem’s tapes collected as evidence (which also showed the FBI’s unsavory ways of doing business) be released in their entirety to the public to expose the case as a conspiracy to frame the defendants. Judge Michael B. Mukasey, (who would be named Attorney General in 2007), refused to allow the tapes to be made public.
The seditious conspiracy trial would be delayed until January, 1995, and corresponded in time to the televised O.J. Simpson trial, which contributed to its lack of media coverage, despite being touted as the terror trial of the century. The year and a half between the defendants’ arrests and their trial gave the Government and courts time to strip the sheik and other defendants of Constitutional rights, including the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, the Fourth Amendment right against unwarranted search and seizure, and other basic freedoms. The homes of two of Rahman’s paralegals would be raided for information against him, and dissident reading material found in defendants’ homes that was deemed “anti-American” or showed “hatred of Jews” could be used as evidence against them.
The seditious conspiracy trial
As with the first World Trade bombing trial, there would be no change of venue, the jury would be unsequestered and — supposedly to protect them from Muslim terror threats — would be identified only by number; their names would never be made public. None of the jury was Muslim.
The media during the entirety of this trial would be filled with various terror stories. The seditious conspiracy trial had barely started when the “mastermind” of the WTC bombing, Ramzi Yousef, arrived in New York with huge media fanfare. Mukasey asked the jury on the day after Yousef’s arrival if their opinions were changed by this media coverage. He immediately determined that they weren’t, but ignored the subsequent barrage of prejudicial media exposure that lasted throughout this trial. Some of Yousef’s publicity should have helped the defendants because Yousef, who didn’t know sheik Rahman, made statements that should have exonerated Rahman and others. Unfortunately Yousef refused to testify at this trial and Judge Mukasey would not permit the defense counsel access to Yousef’s documents that the FBI had taken.
The Oklahoma City bombing, which occurred six weeks later in mid-April, was initially claimed to be similar to the WTC bomb, and due to Muslim terrorism. Mukasey “assumed” that the jury would not be affected by the anti-Muslim media, although the defendants received heightened physical protection in their detention center.
That June, the actual driver of the bomb-laden Ryder van came to media attention and in August, there was media fanfare with his extradition to the U.S.
Sheik Rahman’s (nonexistent) Constitutional rights
Prosecution attention turned to the Sheik’s sermons to show his attitude towards the U.S. as well as his leadership in the Muslim community. Many of the Sheik’s sermons, which encouraged the devout to fight enemies of Islam and God, were read out in an effort to criminalize what should have been his freedoms of speech and belief.
Mukasey barred witnesses that would have shown the role of politics behind the arrest of Sheik Rahman, that would have testified that Rahman was not the radical that the media had described, and that would have provided a clearer understanding of Muslim terms (such as jihad and fatwa) that were being used against the defendants. Mukasey’s rulings were devastating to the Sheik’s defense.
The defense lawyers tried to introduce sealed material from the previous WTC trial that would show the lengths to which the FBI had gone to implicate as well as convict the previous defendants in the World Trade Center trial. Although that material was not produced, FBI scientist Fredrick Whitehurst’s subsequent testimony about the FBI’s incompetence, perjury and obstruction of justice that facilitated the convictions of the four charged in the WTC bombing did tell part of that story.
The Government’s desperation to find damaging information on Sheik Rahman was evident in the arrest of his paralegal at the end of April. The authorities’ claim that Nasser Ahmed’s overstay on a student visa “just came to our attention”, was contradicted by an FBI agent’s message to Ahmed that if he did not cooperate with the FBI, he would be deported to Egypt. After being charged with “secret evidence” and spending three years in solitary confinement, Ahmed would not be released until 1999.
Since this trial showed that there was little evidence that any of the defendants were guilty of any untried crime that had taken place, the prosecution tried to criminalize Islam; it described the defendants as a frightening “jihad army”: foreigners of a mysterious, militant culture. Judge Mukasey assured the jurors they could find that there was a single conspiracy despite the differing defendants and plots, “so long as you find that some of the conspirators continued for the entire duration of the conspiracy to act for the purposes charged in the indictment.”
After deliberating for seven days, the jury returned on October 1, 1995 with guilty verdicts for 48 out of the 50 charges. Sheik Rahman’s lawyer Lynne Stewart broke down and cried.
The defense cries “foul” and calls for a mistrial
The defense counsel immediately called for a mistrial because they believed that the problems with the trial were so egregious. It was clear that the FBI made use of Egypt’s intelligence agent as an agent provocateur to carry out its own agenda. Some defendants claimed that exculpatory conversations were missing from the tapes; the FBI admitted that they had “briefly” returned the tapes to Salem after they had been entered as evidence.
Judge Mukasey told the defense lawyers that he would consider their request to hold a post-trial hearing on the issue of whether he should overturn the convictions. But on January 10, 1996, he rejected the defense motion to throw out the convictions of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and nine others, claiming that there was no proof that the evidence that Salem had destroyed would have helped exonerate the defendants. Mukasey ignored Salem’s obvious motive for destroying evidence and the FBI’s interest in wanting him to do it.
Mukasey was determined to make an example of these “terror” defendants. While the sentence for seditious conspiracy was 20 years, Mukasey used that as a starting point, and added the other charges on top of that. He used his discretionary powers to make each part of the sentences sequential rather than concurrent; the sentences ranged from 30 years to life.
Sheik Rahman was sentenced to life. Worse, the government silenced Rahman even further by new “Special Administration Measures” which allowed them to essentially isolate him totally. To facilitate that agenda, it taped what were supposed to be his private conversations with his lawyer Lynne Stewart, and would imprison her for trying to circumvent the restrictions.
The obscure conspiracy law came into its own
The prosecution congratulated itself on its use of the seditious conspiracy charge. The verdict showed that the conspiracy law provided them with an easy venue to obtain verdicts with little evidence and for which no crimes had occurred. The conspiracy charge would become the mechanism to convict Muslims in future terror trials because of the low standards required of any individual’s involvement.
This trial demonstrated how the efforts of the government, the courts and the media — particularly the New York Times — ensured that the Muslim defendants could not obtain a fair trial. The New York Times enabled convictions in all of these related trials by maligning the defendants with anonymous government leaks, generally using biased and inflammatory language to describe them, and invariably assuming their guilt.
The injustice of these convictions and the fruitless appeals have been clear to those following the cases. While few Americans seem to be aware of the injustice, it has not been lost on the worldwide Muslim community. There were various actions designed to free Sheik Rahman, including the 2005 kidnapping of the four Christian Peacemaker Team members in Iraq: Tom Fox (who died), James Loney, Norman Kember and Harmeet Singh Sooden.
The world lost a passionate voice for moral integrity with the silencing of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, and his death before attaining justice was tragic. His passing should provide Americans the opportunity to understand how FBI-monitored acts were used to eliminate Constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of belief, the right against unreasonable search and seizure, the right to counsel, and protection from cruel and unusual punishment. By ignoring the elimination of Muslim rights, Americans are laying the groundwork for the elimination of their own.
Karin Brothers is a freelance writer.
Copyright © Karin Brothers, Global Research, 2017
Residents of one neighborhood in Sanaa say it has been hit by 37 bombs and rockets from the Saudi-led coalition since Riyadh began intervening in Yemen. They have nobody to help them in the dire situation, they told Ruptly news agency.
“Our homes were destroyed because of the aggression and we didn’t receive help from anyone, no one provided us with mattresses, blankets or food. We have absolutely nothing left inside our houses. All this because of the aggression,” one resident said.
Another said their home was destroyed by three rockets during a raid.
“Once we were hit by the rockets we started running away and everything was destroyed. There was fire and then we were homeless and lost everything and it started raining. We lost everything because of this aggression,” she said. “What did we do to deserve this, to be shelled? They destroyed our homes and injured our kids.”
One man said almost three dozen houses have been destroyed by the coalition in the Al-Masanie neighborhood, and many survivors have nowhere to live now.
“Some people rented other houses and some other living in tents. Their situation is so bad especially since there is no income anymore. Those families’ situation is miserable,” he said.
“The situation in this neighborhood is very bad,” another person said. “For more than a year they were targeted by rockets launched by fighter jets, which belongs to the alliance, the Saudi-American alliance. The houses were destroyed and people are living in a miserable situation.”
Since March 2015, when Riyadh sent its troops to prop up a pro-Saudi president ousted by rebel forces, an estimated 10,200 people have been killed in Yemen fighting. Up to three million were displaced, bringing the already-destitute Arab country to the brink of a humanitarian disaster.
Civilians in Yemen are suffering from a lack of basic supplies, including food, medicine, and fuel, partially due to a Saudi naval and air blockade. Civil rights groups say the Saudi intervention in the country may amount to war crimes.
Reckless US Russia bashing is reminiscent of US propaganda preceding all its wars, vilifying targeted countries and their leaders before attacking them.
The possibility of the world’s dominant nuclear powers clashing militarily should terrify everyone. Nuclear armageddon could follow.
Permanent wars reflect longstanding US policy. The Russian Federation never attacked another nation, fostering world peace and stability instead, threatening no other countries, despite Big Lies claiming otherwise.
Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, is a distinguished diplomat, not an intelligence agent. He joined the Soviet Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1977, serving in many positions – most recently as Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister from 2003 – 2008, since then as envoy to America.
Yet CNN outrageously called him “one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington” – a disgraceful fake news accusation, related to its coverage of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, having spoken to Kislyak one or more times while serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
CNN’s alleged sources: the usual unnamed US officials, past and present, reporting no evidence, the aim part of a diabolical anti-Russia, anti-Trump plot.
The stakes are huge. If officials close to him are eliminated, he’ll be too weak to govern effectively, perhaps more vulnerable to impeachment and removal from office than already.
If he goes, the last vestiges of a free society will go with him, coup d’etat dictatorship replacing him.
If Russia bashing passes a threshold of no return, war between the world’s dominant nuclear powers could follow.
Most Americans are mindless about what’s going on, manipulated by relentless fake news, failing to distinguish between fact and fiction.
Most oppose Trump, according to polls. Most nonsensically believe Russia threatens America. The notion is pounded into the public mind constantly, in NYT and other broadsheet feature stories, round-the-clock on cable television.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blasted accusations about Kislyak, saying “(y)ou and I have not heard a single statement by the US special services about our ambassador” – just “bogus media speculations that keep fanning tensions,” adding:
“The only piece of advice that I can give is that in a situation like this, avoid reacting to all such anonymous, baseless fake news stories and rely only on official statements by genuine officials.”
If Americans don’t awaken to the clear and present dangers they face and resist, the price for their indifference will be full-blown tyranny – perhaps nuclear war to follow, the ultimate nightmare.
Bahrain has approved trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide.
The Consultative Council, the upper house of the Bahraini parliament, voted for the measure Sunday, less than two weeks after it was approved by the Council of Representatives, the lower house.
The move saw Manama manipulating part of its constitution, which defines the identities of those who can stand trial at such courts.
Neighboring Saudi Arabia, whose influence radically sways Bahrain, has likewise redefined its anti-terror laws to expand the powers of its security forces in the face of political dissent.
Bahrain has been witnessing peaceful anti-regime protests since 2011. High-handed suppression of the rallies has led to widespread imprisonments and scores of deaths.
Hundreds of the detainees have already faced summary proceedings at military courts.
Britain’s multi-million pound trade and aid strategy for programs in Bahrain needs exposed as the tiny gulf kingdom continues its chain of tyranny and torture against the Shia majority.
The British government’s unreserved condemnation of torture and inhumane treatment and punishment seems to vanish when it comes to making more money. As kidnaps, imprisonments and political executions are on the rise in Bahrain, activists and Bahraini opposition figures are troubled by the fact that the UK government is spending taxpayers’ money on these trade and aid programs, especially given the clear risk of complicity in abuse.
Habib Mohamed Habib is the latest Bahraini civilian to be kidnapped from his home the morning of Friday March 3rd 2017 as security forces deployed armored vehicles in and around Diraz, in a continuation of the Al Khalifa Monarchy’s oppression against the Shiite Friday prayers as part of their uninterrupted crackdown on civilians since 2011 in the Bahraini capital Manama.
As Habib’s family struggle to know the whereabouts of their son, traveling in and around Diraz is nothing less than a nightmare with traffic jams at every entry point of the town, which is witnessing an increase in tightened security at its checkpoints.
Meanwhile, since last June the citizens of Diraz have been experiencing an internet blockade every day between 7pm and 1am as a result of a service restriction order from the Bahraini authorities. The citizens of Diraz are increasingly being cut off from the outside world. They cannot even contact emergency services, and if somebody is caught aiding a fellow citizen he/she will disappear like Habib and hundreds of others like him.
Last week alone, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights BHRC documented a total of 17 arbitrary arrests, among whom were six children. In the same week, 129 marches took place in 40 villages in Bahrain to denounce the chain of repressions and kidnappings targeting peaceful protestors and Friday prayers’ attendees. BHRC reported that 26 marches during the same week were attacked by the Bahraini riot police and a total of 19 persons were judged in 6 politically motivated cases.
It is an open secret in Bahrain that after 6 years of constant crackdowns on millions of protestors who clamored for social justice and political self-determination, the ruling Al Khalifa regime has managed to get away with brutalizing, imprisoning, torturing and killing their own civilians under nonsensical pretexts. Although the monarchy has often expressed its desire to negotiate a political solution, promises of change have translated on the ground to a systematic crackdown.
The Al Khalifa regime has utterly failed to bear its responsibility in creating a space of dialogue in order to foster harmony, cohesion and tolerance. Instead of pushing for respect of cultural diversities amongst its citizens as a fundamental basis of democracy and peace-building, the authorities have politicized freedom of religion and successfully used it as a pretext for the incitement of hatred, violence and racial discrimination against groups of individuals and religious minorities.
International community’s deafening silence
Despite the fact that the Bahraini authorities have been only tightening restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association and continuing to curtail the right to peaceful assembly while detaining and charging several human rights defenders, banning others from traveling abroad, dissolving the main opposition group and stripping more than 80 people of their Bahraini citizenship, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has largely remained silent on the situation in Bahrain.
According to a joint NGO letter to Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council, Bahrain’s courts continued to play a key role last year in issuing repressive orders and granting the authorities broad discretionary powers to revoke Bahrainis’ citizenship, in some cases leaving them stateless.
The ultimate repressive order was issued on January 9, 2017 by Bahrain’s Court of Cassation upheld death sentences against three protestors convicted of killing police including three police officers in a bomb attack.
Sami Mushaima (42), Ali Al-Singace (21) and Abbas Al-Samea (27), who were executed on the morning of January 15, 2017 by firing squad, were reported by Bahrain Center for Human Rights BHRC to have been tortured during interrogation to force them to confess to the bomb attack. According to the BHRC, the lawyers of the executed men were not given access to all the hearings against the defendants, nor allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses during court hearings.
The shocking part about the atrocities inflicting the Bahrainis is no longer the blatant violations of the Al Khalifa monarchy as much as it is the international community turning a blind eye to the Bahraini people’s legitimate struggle for democratic rights.
UK government complicit in oppression
The US and the UK are two major western states supposedly committed to supporting human rights, democratic values, free speech and political self-determination, while, at the same time, are flagrantly partnering with dictatorships like that of the Bahraini Monarchy to advance their foreign agenda.
For instance, the government of the United Kingdom signed what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) called a “landmark defense agreement” with the Gulf island kingdom of Bahrain in 2014. Clearly ongoing human rights abuses committed by those partners on their own citizens are not considered a shared strategic and regional threat especially when Bahrain is home to a major Royal Navy base. The multi-million-pound Royal Navy facility in Bahrain, which was founded in November 2016 housing up to 600 UK military personnel, became the staging-post for Britain in the Middle East and is designed to assert influence over the Gulf. Bahrain has paid most of the £30million-plus cost, with the UK contributing around £7.5million.
During the opening of the new Naval Support Facility (NSF) in Manama, Britain’s first permanent military base in the region since 1971, the Telegraph published an OpEd by Fawaz bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s Ambassador to London, who claimed that King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa outlined the Gulf Cooperation Council’s interest in a free trade agreement between the UK and the GCC, which would significantly increase the UK’s access to the GCC’s £1.3 trillion market; a market estimated to grow by a further £400 billion by 2020.
Relative to its size, Bahrain already hosts a large number of British companies. The Bahraini Ambassador to London put the figures at “500 British brands, 90 British company branches, and 350 Bahraini-British business partnerships”. These businesses operate in some of Bahrain’s key sectors, including banking, accounting, law and industry. Meanwhile bilateral trade between Bahrain and the UK generated a staggering £432 million in 2015 alone, which would simply explain why the UK would choose to remain silent on all the human rights violations in the tiny gulf kingdom.
These bilateral relations are signed and sealed with Bahraini blood, says Ali Alaswad, former Bahraini Member of Parliament who was elected in October 2010, but resigned in February 2011 in response to the Governments’ crackdown on peaceful democracy protesters.
After his home was targeted by security forces, AlAswad left Bahrain and now resides in London where he continues his political work to achieve a democratic Bahrain. As I spoke with MP AlAswad, he emphasized that the UK’s current disappointing stance towards ignoring the human rights violations in Bahrain provides “a green light to the Bahraini government to abuse the basic human rights of the civilians which permits it to become more violent against the Shia majority and the Bahraini opposition.”
AlAswad told me “it doesn’t matter who you are in Bahrain, if you dare to demand for your basic rights then you will be in grave danger, which is why if the UK government as a strategic ally to the Bahraini government doesn’t use its ties as a strong card to support the oppressed Bahraini people to at least secure their basic human rights as enlisted in the declaration of human rights, then the UK is whitewashing the Bahraini authorities’ shocking human rights record by deliberately blocking official criticism of the Kingdom especially at international forums like the UN”.
The UK government is now seen by human rights activists and Bahraini opposition figures as a complicit in the tiny gulf kingdom’s tyranny against the outcry of the legitimate and basic demands of the Bahraini civilians until an official statement is issued from the UK government to condemn the acts of oppression of the Bahraini monarchy against its people.
“How do you expect the majority of the population to react when they see their leaders and clerics being detained, unlawfully imprisoned and even sometimes deported from their own country?” asks MP AlAswad.
Sheikh Ali Salman, a Shiite cleric and head of the Al-Wefaq opposition party, is now sentenced to serve nine years in jail for allegedly inciting hatred and calling for regime change by force.
The Bahraini authorities then went overboard when they stripped the highest religious authority in the country Sheikh Isa Qassim, a 79-year-old cleric, of his citizenship in June 2016 over accusations that he used his position to serve foreign interests and promote sectarianism and violence. This happened a week after the government of Bahrain suspended the Shia opposition group al-Wefaq.
The implications of this arrest is sending shockwaves on the streets of Manama, Diraz, Sanabes, Karbabad, Karzakan and Barbar with protestors refusing to back down. This resistance is prompting even more oppression and kidnapping from the Bahraini authorities.
Earlier this week, Al-Wefaq Deputy Secretary General, Sheikh Hussein al-Daihi, said through his twitter account, that targeting Ayatollah Qassim is triggered by his brave and firm stances, to demand legitimate rights for the oppressed Bahraini people. The deputy SG also stressed that Ayatollah Qassim is a red line, and the repercussions of crossing that line would go beyond the country’s borders.
Ms. Marwa Osman. PhD Candidate located in Beirut, Lebanon. University Lecturer at the Lebanese International University and Maaref University. Political writer/commentator on Middle East issues with many international and regional media outlets.
Earlier, Macron’s ally Richard Ferrand claimed that RT and Sputnik were publishing false rumors about the candidate and favoring other participants of the presidential race.
Macron’s advisor Munir Manzhubi also accused the media outlets of spreading false information, however, without providing any evidence to support his allegations.
“We are flattered that Macron’s team continues to build its election campaign solely on lies about RT and Sputnik. Not comme il faut, but quite funny,” Simonyan said, commenting on the issue.
Following the allegations, Sputnik’s press service released a statement, saying that the statements made by Macron’s team are another attempt to manipulate public opinion. Sputnik stressed that it always covers facts and real opinions expressed by people involved in election campaigns regardless of whether anyone finds them unacceptable.
Earlier, French lawmaker and member of the Republican party Nicolas Dhuicq told Sputnik that, in his opinion, journalists of Sputnik news agency and the RT broadcaster are often more professional than their western colleagues when it comes to the fair transmission of speakers’ comments and news.
“Personally, I have no difficulties with RT or Sputnik. When I am interviewed by those two broadcasters in French or in English, I am asked a variety of questions and always have the time to express my ideas and my words, most of the time, are faithfully transmitted. In a contrary, when I recently encountered French TV teams, I had an experience when out of 30 minutes-long interview only seconds were taken and, of course, the parts which were taken had no links to the context or the rest of my speech,” Dhuicq told Sputnik on Friday.
Sputnik and RT have repeatedly become subjects of criticism among European politicians for allegedly producing fake news and spreading propaganda. At the same time, many European residents and experts view the media outlets as alternative sources of information and classify the West’s attempts to undermine their credibility as censorship and crackdown on the freedom of speech.
Facebook has begun rolling out its much hyped ‘fake news’ crackdown initiative, launching its ‘disputed’ news tag on stories deemed false by fact checking organisations working with the social media giant.
The tool appears to have been unveiled without fanfare in the US, but some users have shared screenshots of it in action on Twitter.
Facebook has added a question to its help center page entitled “How is news marked as disputed on Facebook?.” The section notes, however, that this feature is not yet available to everyone. It is unclear how many people currently have access to the ‘fake news’ debunking feature.
Facebook introduced their solution to false stories last December amid outcries that so-called fake news influenced the outcome of the US presidential election. These unproven claims have been disputed by a Stanford University/NYU study.
As part of the plan, the tech giant partnered with fact checkers that are signatories of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles. These include ABC News, FactCheck.org, the Associated Press, Snopes and Politifact.
Stories flagged by Facebook users as ‘fake news’ are passed on to these fact checkers for verification. If the fact-checkers agree that the story is misleading, it will appear in News Feeds with a “disputed” tag, along with a link to a corresponding article explaining why it might be false.
These posts then appear lower in the news feed and users will receive a warning before sharing the story.
Similar efforts are planned in Europe amid threats from the EU to clamp down on the spread of misinformation. Facebook recently revealed fact checking partnerships in Germany and France ahead of respective elections in each country.
Concerns have been raised, however, over the implications of such practices on freedom of speech.
Project Censored, a non-profit that aims to fight censorship through promoting media literacy, views Facebook’s fake news crackdown as “problematic.”
“What Facebook, and the Washington Post’s ill advised list of fake news sites, has attempted to do is make lists of news outlets that are “fake,” Nolan Higdon, faculty advisor at Project Censored told RT.
“However, this is problematic because some news sites have both journalists doing credible work and those disseminating propaganda. While some consumers may be swayed by the digestible notion of “these sites good, these sites bad” lists; it does not solve the problem of people consuming propaganda, “ he added.
The key is education, Higdon insisted, explaining the importance of teaching individuals to examine a media outlet critically.
“Simply creating an arbitrary list of whose websites can and cannot be viewed on Facebook or considered ‘news’ is normalizing censorship instead of informing individuals.”