Week of June 29

Amnesty International activists hold masks of Turkish civil rights activist Taner Kilic in front of their faces as they demonstrate on February 7, 2018 in front of the Turkish embassy in Berlin. Kilic has been held since June 2017, accused of links to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen who Turkey says ordered a failed coup in July 2016. He was sentenced to over two years in prison last week. Credit: PAUL ZINKEN/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

On Monday, June 29th, White House staff downplayed allegations that President Trump had any knowledge of Russia offering bounty for American soldiers in Afghanistan. A car bombing that killed three U.S. Marines in April 2019 sparked the investigation into Russian influence in Afghanistan. Two intelligence officials say that Trump received a written brief on the matter in late February. Trump insists that he was not briefed on the matter and the press secretary refused to comment on the matter. The National Security Council also declined to comment. Some, including many Democrats, see this potential scandal as evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Others, namely Republicans, believe that the president simply neglected the brief that day. The president is known for often overlooking the daily brief on foreign policy and new intelligence. Congress’s investigation into this matter will shine a clearer light on the nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin and the former’s intentions in Afghanistan.

Also on Monday, Interpol denied Iran’s request for an arrest warrant for Trump for his role in the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Iran had asked Interpol to issue a red notice for Trump and 35 unnamed officials for allegedly ordering and carrying out the January killing of Qasem Soleimani. Interpol, in a statement, said “it is strictly forbidden for the organization to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.” Brian Hook, U.S. special representative to Iran, called the Iranian demand “propaganda.” Tehran’s move comes at a time of even further deteriorating Tehran-Washington relations as Trump’s administration has increasingly called Iran “the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism.” 

On Friday, Turkish courts sentenced four Amnesty International activists to prison on terrorism charges. The high-profile case, which resulted in two to six-year sentences for each member, has been widely criticized as a “travesty of justice of spectacular proportions” by the organization. Honorary chair of Amnesty International Turkey, Taner Kilic, was sentenced to six years and three months for being a member of a terror organization, while the group’s former director Idil Eser was sentenced to 25 months for aiding a terror organization. Turkish prosecution explicitly named the Gulen movement, seen as a terrorist organization by Turkey for alleged involvement in the 2016 failed coup, as the organization Kilic was involved with. According to Human Rights Watch, terrorism charges continue to be widely used since the failed coup, and those with terrorism charges are held in prolonged pre-trial detention, a move some consider a form of summary punishment.

An anti-government protester shouts at riot police in Beirut on Friday, near the scene where a Lebanese man killed himself in the midst of an escalating economic and financial crisis. Credit: Hussein Malla/AP

The economic crisis in Lebanon continues to cripple the country, making many fear a repeat of the great famine that it suffered a century ago. One UN official explained that there are two pillars of food security. First, having enough food. Second, the population has the purchasing power to access food. Regarding the first pillar, Lebanon was struggling with food supply before the pandemic. The country hosts 1.5 million refugees, the most per capita in the world. Lebanon imports most of its food, as only 13% of its land is arable. The pandemic and corruption in the agricultural industry has caused imports to plummet about 50% relative to last year’s imports. As for people’s purchasing power, Lebanese currency has lost more than 80% of its value since last October. A dilapidated infrastructure, political corruption, and a lack of state investment have all contributed to the economic crisis. The pandemic did not cause this crisis, but it has undoubtedly accelerated it.

On June 16th, a Tunisia court sentenced two men to two years of prison for same-sex conduct.  The men were charged under Article 230 of the Tunisian penal code, which makes homosexuality illegal. According to Damj Association, an LGBT+ advocacy NGO, a loan-payment dispute led to the encounter between the accused and police forces. Hassina Darraji, the lawyer in charge of the case, indicated that the police persuaded the two men to “confess that they are gay” through bullying, insulting and threatening methods. Rasha Younes, an LGBT+ researcher stated that “Tunisia’s record of actively prosecuting people for consensual same sex-conduct is deeply worrying and a blatant invasion of their private life.” Despite some human rights advancements resulting from the new 2014 constitution, Tunisian authorities have made little progress in promoting legislation that would comply with universal civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights. An appeals hearing is scheduled for July 8.

People across the United States have taken on new or foster pets while working from home during the coronavirus shutdown, but Paws Rescue Qatar, an animal welfare organization based in Doha, is planning for a surge in abandoned and stray animals. Qatar’s economic downturn resulting from the  pandemic is forcing expats to quickly leave the country without finding new homes for their pets. Expats make up around 90% of Qatar’s 2.75 million population. Many foreigners work short contract jobs or were furloughed due to quarantines. Furthermore, the pandemic has reduced the number of international flights and fewer countries are accepting foreign animals, making it particularly challenging to find a solution to this unexpected by-product of the crisis. Another threat to the homeless pet population is the rising summer temperatures (up to 122°F) that put abandoned animals at an increased risk of dehydration and death. The video below, produced by AFP,  takes a deeper dive into the situation. 

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