Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Indonesian Islamists rally over Internet porn


JAKARTA - Hundreds of Indonesian Islamists rallied in central Jakarta on Tuesday to demand the stoning to death and public caning of celebrities who allegedly appear in homemade sex videos circulating online.

About 1,000 protesters led by radical group Hizbut Tahrir shouted "Allahu akbar" (God is greater) and brandished black flags and banners with slogans such as "Arrest those who commit promiscuous sex".

The protest came hours after the rock star suspected of making the videos of himself having sex with two celebrity girlfriends surrendered to police.

Hizbut Tahrir spokesman Mohammed Ismail Yusanto said the Internet was a threat to Islamic values in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country.

He said Islamic or sharia law should be applied across the archipelago of some 240 million people, including the stoning to death of adulterers.

"The widespread circulation of the celebrity sex videos shows the bad side of uncontrolled information technology, which will surely become one of the most terrible destroyers of morality," he said in a statement.

"Based on sharia law... those who are married should be stoned to death and the unmarried should be caned 100 times in public.

"With that kind of punishment it is guaranteed promiscuous sex won't spread wildly like it is now."
Radical groups like Hizbut Tahrir have little popular support in Indonesia, which is constitutionally secular and culturally moderate.

But sharia bylaws are in place in many local jurisdictions and Islamist vigilante groups have repeatedly attacked minorities and liberals, often under the noses of police.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has backed calls for tighter controls on the Internet in response to the sex video furore. Last week he warned that the nation risked being "crushed" by the information technology "frenzy".

Singer Nazril Ariel, 28, surrendered to police early Tuesday and faces charges relating to the videos, which appear to show him having sex with television celebrities Luna Maya, 26, and Cut Tari, 32.

The celebrities deny uploading the clips but could still face up to 12 years in jail under a controversial 2008 anti-pornography law.

Tari is married and also could face up to nine months in prison for adultery.

Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia coordinator Fadilah Karimah, 32, said she would like to see adulterers buried up to their necks in public places and pelted with stones until dead.

"Those people who have sex before marriage should be caned with a stick 100 times in public. Adulterers should be half-buried and stoned to death," she told AFP at the rally.

"This is appropriate punishment as what they did was dirty, shameful and despicable. They should be prepared for such a punishment if they want to earn a place in heaven.

"The more people who see it the better."

BNP lecturer behind Muslim heroin leaflet cleared of inciting religious hatred

A politics lecturer who wrote and distributed leaflets which blamed Muslims collectively for the heroin trade was yesterday cleared of intending to incite religious hatred.

Anthony Bamber, 54, a BNP activist, told a jury his intention was to create a debate about the ''crime against humanity'' that was the flow of the drug on to Britain's streets.

He was responsible for heading a campaign which sent up to 30,000 of the leaflets by hand or post to targeted areas and individuals throughout the north of England over a 12-month period.

Entitled The Heroin Trade, the leaflet claimed: ''Before the Islamic invasion it was impossible to find heroin in our land. Muslims are almost exclusively responsible for its production, transportation and sale.

''It is a crime against humanity because it has caused far more suffering than slavery ever did. It has led to millions of premature deaths.''

Taxpayers were also victims due to the cost of policing and rehabilitation for which Muslims must compensate, the leaflet added.

Muslims should be held to account with condemnation heaped upon them so that it would lead to the abolition of the trade, it concluded.

Bamber, of Greenbank Street, Preston, Lancashire, pleaded not guilty to seven counts of distributing threatening written material intended to stir up religious hatred between March and November 2008.

He was cleared by a jury at Preston Crown Court of all seven counts.

Representing himself, Bamber said there had been ''no unpleasant incidents or social unrest'' following the sending of the leaflets.

Giving evidence last week, he explained they were targeted at educated professionals such as teachers, doctors, lawyers and clerics who were unlikely to take physical retribution against Muslims upon reading the literature.

His aim was to create curiosity and interest which would then lead to a debate, he said.

''If I wanted to stir up religious hatred I would have aimed at a different group,'' said the former part-time lecturer of politics and economics at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston.

He said: ''It was a desire to protest at what I say is a monstrous abomination. I believe I have the right to protest about the heroin trade.

''There are 400,000 heroin users in this country which is the equivalent of the size of a city like Liverpool. Half of these people are going to die.

''I wanted to scream out, I wanted society to pay much more attention to the heroin trade. It is ignored.''

He added: ''I do not want religious war, I do not want people to hate.

''I intended to do something about the heroin trade. I was not a monster stirring up religious hatred.
''I think it should be discussed and debated, and it will come (round) to my opinion that it is a crime against humanity.

''I believe I was doing a good thing.''

Following the verdict, Detective Supt Neil Hunter, of Lancashire Constabulary's Force Major Investigation Team, said: ''While we are disappointed with today's decision, we accept the decision of the court.

''We have worked very closely with the Crown Prosecution Service throughout this inquiry and careful consideration was given before any decision to charge was made.

''That decision was based upon both the nature of the leaflets and the persistent nature of their distribution."

Israel gripped by identity of 'Prisoner X'

Israel has been gripped by a guessing game over the identity of a mysterious prisoner being held in such secrecy that even his guards do not know his name.

By Richard Spencer and Adrian Blomfield

The elusive "Mr X" is being held for unspecified crimes and confined in total seclusion within a private wing of the maximum-security Ayalon prison.

No one knew of his existence until the shroud of secrecy was briefly lifted after a story appeared on the website of Israel's leading Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Ahronot.

Quoting unidentified officials within the Israeli penitentiary service, it disclosed that Mr X was being held in Unit 15, a wing of Ayalon prison that contains a single cell.

He is not though to receive any visitors and his wing is cut off from the rest of the prison by double iron doors. So hermetic are the conditions in which he is held that other prisoners can neither see nor hear him.

"He is simply a person without a name and without an identity who has been placed in total and utter isolation from the outside world," a prison official was quoted as saying.

Within hours, the story had vanished from the newspaper's website, allegedly after Israel's domestic intelligence service won a gagging order banning all media coverage of the case.

The attempt to redraw the veil has had only limited success, however, with the disappearance of the story serving only to whet the interests of human rights activists in Israel, who have now launched a campaign to force the state to unmask Mr X and disclose his crimes.

Dan Yakir, chief legal counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the country's oldest human rights group, said: "There is no information on whether this person has been charged, whether he has been tried or whether he has been convicted."

In a letter to the Israeli attorney general last week which has yet to receive a response, Mr Yakir protested the secrecy surrounding Mr X's detention.

"It is insupportable that, in a democratic country, authorities can arrest people in complete secrecy and disappear them from public view without the public even knowing such an arrest took place," he wrote.

Amid the intrigue and the silence of the domestic press, Mr X's cause has also been taken up by influential Jewish bloggers, most notably Richard Silverstein, a US-based commentator who has played a leading role in forcing Israel to drop gagging orders in recent months.

While there has been little but speculation as to what Mr X may have done, there can be little doubt about the importance attached to him by the state for he is being held in the cell specially built to house Yigal Amir, the Israeli extremist who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, the former prime minister, in 1995.

But one Israeli security expert said that the secrecy suggested espionage rather than terrorism is likely to lie at the heart of the mystery.

In 1983, Marcus Klingberg, a leading Israeli scientist, was jailed for 20 years for passing secrets about the country's biological warfare programme to the Soviets. But it was only after he had been in prison for a decade that Israelis heard for the first time about Klingberg's existence, arrest and conviction.

Mr X is being held in the same prison as Mordechai Vanunu, the whistle-blower who revealed Israeli nuclear secrets before he was lured out of Britain by a Mossad honeytrap in 1986 and jailed for 18 years.

Vanunu was sent back to prison last month for talking to foreigners, in violation of his parole.

Israel's prison service has declined to confirm or deny the existence of Mr X on security grounds.

US supreme court: Nonviolent aid to banned groups tantamount to 'terrorism'

Decision means people could be prosecuted for offering assistance of any kind to terrorist organisations

Chris McGreal in Washington

The US supreme court has upheld a broad-ranging law that allows Americans who offer advice to banned organisations, including legal assistance and information on conflict resolution, to be prosecuted as terrorists.

The case arose out of human rights advice given by a California group to Kurdish and Tamil organisations that are listed as terrorist groups in the US.

The supreme court upheld the Obama administration's argument that even advice intended to be used for peaceful purposes amounted to "material support" for terrorism.

That includes a lawyer submitting a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a banned group or helping a proscribed organisation to petition international bodies to bring an end to a violent conflict.

"The supreme court has ruled that human rights advocates, providing training and assistance in the nonviolent resolution of disputes, can be prosecuted as terrorists," said David Cole, a Georgetown university law professor who argued the case before the court.

"In the name of fighting terrorism, the court has said that the first amendment [on free speech] permits congress to make it a crime to work for peace and human rights. That is wrong."

The ruling is likely to further complicate the work of activists in support of controversial causes that has already seen highly contentious prosecutions over other forms of support, such as fundraising.

Palestinian activists have been prosecuted and jailed for raising cash for social groups dealing with issues such as housing and welfare that have ties to Hamas, which governs Gaza.

Individuals and groups offering legal or other specialist advice to such groups are also now open to prosecution.

The ruling involved the Humanitarian Law Project in Los Angeles, which provided human rights training to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

It argued that the assistance was nonviolent and did not promote the goals of the PKK.

One of the plaintiffs, Ralph Fertig, is a retired lawyer who had sought to help the PKK bring attention to the rights of Kurds at international bodies.

The US government said it regarded that as support for terrorism. It argued that Fertig was free to speak in support of the PKK's aims but that he could not provide it with advice.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party is one of about 30 organisations listed as terrorist organisations by the US government. The others include Hamas, Hezbollah and the Khmer Rouge.

A lower court had struck down the law as unconditionally vague.

But by a majority of 6-3, the supreme court ruled that the government has the right "to prohibit providing material support in the form of training, expert advice, personnel, and services to foreign terrorist groups, even if the supporters meant to promote only the groups' non-violent ends".

The chief justice, John Roberts, said: "At bottom, plaintiffs simply disagree with the considered judgment of congress and the executive that providing material support to a designated foreign terrorist organisation - even seemingly benign support - bolsters the terrorist activities of that organisation."

The dissenting judges said that the decision "deprives the individuals before us of the protection the first amendment demands".

In hearing the case, the justices discussed what amounts to specialist advice and whether it is a crime to teach a terrorist to play the harmonica.

The government's case was argued in February by Elena Kagan, who is now the Obama administration's nominee to the supreme court.

"Hezbollah builds bombs. Hezbollah also builds homes. What Congress decided was when you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs. That's the entire theory behind the statute," she told the court.

Pakistan says will abide by US sanctions on Iran

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will abide by any US sanctions on Iran, which Washington has warned could hit Pakistani companies involved in a $7.6 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline deal, the prime minister said on Monday.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's remarks came the day after US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke warned Islamabad against becoming too committed to the project because of the expected sanctions' effects.

"If the US imposes sanctions, they will have international implications and Pakistan as a member of the international community will follow them," he told reporters at a press conference in the southern Sindh province.

The US Congress is finalising legislation tightening sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, which Washington believes is being used to develop weapons. Tehran denies that.

Holbrooke urged Pakistan to wait and see the final legislation before moving ahead on the deal, signed in March.

Pakistan is desperate for new energy sources, saddled with expensive power generation and a daily shortage of as much as 5,000 megawatts. Frequent power outages hamper industry and have sparked street protests against President Asif Ali Zardari's government.

Washington has not criticised the gas pipeline project too loudly, forced to balance its need to back Pakistan, a crucial ally in the global war against al Qaeda, against its goal of isolating Iran.

The UN Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran on June 9 over its nuclear programme, which Washington believes is being used to develop weapons. Iran denies trying to develop a nuclear arsenal.

The pipeline, expected to be completed by 2015, originally would have terminated in India. However, New Delhi has been reluctant to join given its long-running rivalry with Pakistan.-Reuters

UK special envoy to Afghanistan who called for talks with Taliban quits

Exclusive: Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles on 'extended leave' after rocky relationship with Nato and US over tactics in conflict

Declan Walsh in Islamabad and Jon Boone in Kabul

Britain's special envoy to Afghanistan, known for his scepticism about the western war effort and his support for peace talks with the Taliban, has stepped down just a month before a critical international conference in Kabul.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles has taken "extended leave", a spokesman for the British high commission in Islamabad said today. He has been replaced on a temporary basis by Karen Pierce, the Foreign Office director for South Asia and Afghanistan.

News of his sudden departure comes as the Ministry of Defence confirmed the 300th British fatality in Afghanistan, a widely anticipated yet grim milestone in the nine-year war.

The dead soldier - a Royal Marine from 40 Commando - has not been named. He had been gravely injured in an explosion while on patrol in in Helmand's Sangin district on June 12.

Cowper-Coles, who also had Pakistan in his remit as special envoy, clashed in recent months with senior Nato and US officials over his insistence that the military-driven counter-insurgency effort was headed for failure, and that talks with the Taliban should be prioritised.

The position is being "reviewed" by the new foreign secretary, William Hague, an official said.

The change comes at a sensitive time. With the bloody summer fighting underway in Helmand, President Hamid Karzai appears to be losing faith in the Nato-led war as foreign troops numbers reach their highest level.

Meanwhile on 20 July, Karzai and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, are due to host the first international conference in Kabul. Theoretically about co-ordinating international aid, the summit is expected to focus sharply on the controversial question of talks with the Taliban.

Cowper-Coles, a veteran diplomat who has served in Saudi Arabia and Israel, served as ambassador to Kabul between 2007 and 2009. He attracted controversy in 2008 when a leaked French diplomatic cable suggested he had been sharply critical of Karzai and US policy.

While insisting Britain should support the US, he was quoted as saying in the Canard Enchaîné: "We should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one." The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said his remarks had been distorted.

Cowper-Coles was appointed regional envoy in February 2009, a job that involves shadowing the US special representative Richard Holbrooke. The Briton quickly took an aggressive line on the need to open peace talks with the Taliban, irking US officials who favoured a slower approach.

One western official said Holbrooke found Cowper-Coles's insistence on peace negotiations "troubling"; another said that US officials blamed him for "peddling the idea that Karzai should be removed".

There were also differences with Mark Sedwill, Nato's senior civilian representative in Kabul. Sedwill has become a close ally of the US general, Stanley McChrystal, Nato's commander in Afghanistan, with whom he regularly appears in public to bolster the counter-insurgency effort.

Sedwill, who replaced Cowper-Coles as ambassador in 2009 before taking up his current job last January, has argued for optimism, saying opinion polls showed that "most of the country has rejected insurgency".

A Nato official predicted that Sedwill would be "clicking his heels" at news of Cowper-Coles's departure.

Sedwill has argued for optimism, saying that opinion polls showed that "most of the country has rejected insurgency". Cowper-Coles has been more downbeat, warning that the current battle in Afghanistan was "a civil war" and that the international community had "backed the wrong side", according to one non-British diplomat.

He had increasingly come to believe that "sod-all can be done" about turning round the fortunes of the nine-year war, a top diplomat said, and is believed to have pushed strongly for the withdrawal of British troops as soon as possible.

He is thought to have influenced the thinking of former foreign secretary David Miliband, who in a speech last March called for rapid progress towards a political settlement that would include talks with the Taliban.

Somalia tops 'failed states index'

Somalia tops the list of so-called failed states, based on factors including its economy, human rights record and security, a new survey says.

The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine released their 2010 "Failed States Index", on Monday, ranking 177 countries to determine those most at risk of failure.

The annual reportuses 12 metrics including security threats, economic implosion, human rights violations and refugee flows.

Since the index was published for the first time in 2005, the top 10 slots have rotated among just 15 countries, and Foreign Policy said it seems that state failure "is a chronic condition".

Africa has seven of the top 10 spots, and half of the 60 weakest states.

Somalia, which has held the worst position for three years in a row, has not had an effective government since 1991. It is wracked by bloody fighting between anti-government groups and the army in large parts of the country and pirates are operating off the coast.

Also listed is Zimbabwe, which moved down two ratings from last year, to number four, after a power sharing agreement was reached between the party of Robert Mugabe, the president, and Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader who was named prime minister.

Some increased stability

Asia is home to 30 per cent of the top 60 weakest states and the Middle East has just over 10 per cent.


The least and most stable countries in the world:
1. Somalia
2. Chad
3. Sudan
4. Zimbabwe
5. DR Congo
173. Ireland
174. Switzerland
175. Sweden
176. Finland
177. Norway

Afghanistan and Iraq, both with tens of thousands of US-led deployed troops, come in places six and seven respectively.

Yemen, meanwhile, saw increased instability in the last year while Sri Lanka received a better ranking this year.

Cynthia Pegrigh, the director of Policy at Conciliation Resources in London, told Al Jazeera that the index provides very informative analyses.

"However, the problem with these kind of rankings, is that it draws attention to the top 10 failed states, as they are called," she said.

"If you take the example of Yemen, for decades, it has not been on the top 10 on these lists and media interest.

"Now, because of last year's event, everybody is looking at the situation in Yemen," she said, referring to the failed Christmas Day bombing of a jet en route to Detroit, where the alleged culprit apparently had ties to al-Qaeda in Yemen.

"What we say is that you should look at the complexities of all these countries in the long-term, not only when a crisis arises."

Three Nordic nations - Norway, Finland and Sweden - are ranked as the most stable countries.

Mayor backs Jerusalem eviction plan

The mayor of Jerusalem is pressing ahead with a plan to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem's Silwan neighbourhood to make room for a tourist centre.

Mayor Nir Barkat asked the city's municipal planning committee on Monday to give initial approval to the controversial plan that Palestinians describe as "forced displacement".

Barkat, however, insists the plan would revitalise tourism in the neighbourhood.

Barkat first proposed the demolition months ago, but he shelved the plan in March under pressure from Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. Netanyahu asked Barkat to consult with the Palestinian families who would lose their homes.

A spokesman for Barkat said on Monday that the municipality had finished those consultations.
"Now, after fine-tuning the plan and seeking more co-operation with the residents... the municipality is ready to submit the plans for the first stage of approval," Stephan Miller, Barkat's spokesman, said.

'Fast-track Judaisation'

Activists in Silwan denounced the latest move as another step in the "fast-track Judaisation" of East Jerusalem.

Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland last year interviewed Silwan families with homes slated for demolitionIt pre-empts "the possibility of Jerusalem ever being a shared city, or indeed capital of a Palestinian state," they said in a statement. "This in itself precludes peace."

Several members of Meretz, a left-wing Israeli political party, threatened to resign their seats on Jerusalem's city council over the announcement.

Netanyahu's office issued a statement that expressed his hope "that the dialogue can continue".
Barkat's plan has also been criticised in the past by the Palestinian Authority, the United States and the UN. Muhammad Ishtayeh, a PA cabinet minister, said after the plan was announced in March that there was "no way" Palestinians could accept it.

The PA, US and UN have yet to respond to Barkat's latest announcement.

The 'King's Garden'

The Palestinian homes targeted for demolition are in Silwan's al-Bustan quarter, which Israel calls Gan Hamelech - the "King's Garden" - because the biblical King David supposedly wrote his psalms in the neighbourhood.

The homes would be razed and replaced with a collection of shops, restaurants, art galleries and a large community centre.

Israeli officials say the displaced families would be allowed to build new homes elsewhere in the neighbourhood - but haven't said whether they will compensate those families for their losses.

Israeli officials say that all of the 88 Palestinian homes in Silwan are built illegally. It is extremely difficult for Palestinians to obtain construction permits in East Jerusalem, so many families build their homes without the required paperwork.

Barkat's proposal would allow residents of the other 66 Silwan homes - the ones not slated for demolition - to retroactively apply for construction permits, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.

Cost of Afghan and Iraq wars £20bn


The cost to British taxpayers of fighting, diplomacy and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq since the 9/11 attacks has passed £20 billion, official figures reveal. This includes £18 billion for military operations, on top of the normal defence budget, as well as hundreds of millions of pounds on aid and security for UK officials.

But the total does not cover expenses like troops' basic salaries or long-term care for the seriously wounded, and the final price is likely to be much higher.

Opponents of the wars condemned the "obscene" cost and pointed out that Britain's involvement in Afghanistan remains very expensive at a time when the Government is slashing billions from public spending.

Former London mayor Ken Livingstone said the cost of the conflicts was the same as that of scrapping student tuition fees in England for 10 years.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said ministers could not cut jobs and services while the "grotesque waste of money" in Iraq and Afghanistan was allowed to dominate spending priorities.

He said: "While new hospital schemes are scrapped, young people are consigned to the scrap heap of the dole and key transport projects are kicked into the long grass, billions are being poured into the death and destruction of wars many miles from home.

"The money that's been drained away on illegal war-mongering is only outstripped by the cash ripped off in the bankers bail-out."

Between April 2001 and March 2010, the UK's expenditure in the two war-torn countries was at least £20.34 billion, Whitehall figures show.

Some £9.24 billion of this was spent in Iraq and £11.1 billion in Afghanistan.