(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE)
India’s parliament has passed a bill which offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries.
The bill provides citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), says this will give sanctuary to people fleeing religious persecution.
Critics say the bill is part of a BJP agenda to marginalise Muslims.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) passed the upper house of parliament, where the BJP lacks a majority, by 125 votes to 105 on 11 December. It had cleared the lower house two days earlier.
The bill has already prompted widespread protests in the north-east of the country which borders Bangladesh, as many people there say they will be “overrun” by immigrants from across the border.
The CAB amends the 64-year-old Indian Citizenship law, which currently prohibits illegal migrants from becoming Indian citizens.
It defines illegal immigrants as foreigners who enter India without a valid passport or travel documents, or stay beyond the permitted time. Illegal immigrants can be deported or jailed.
The new bill also amends a provision which says a person must have lived in India or worked for the federal government for at least 11 years before they can apply for citizenship.
Now there will be an exception for members of six religious minority communities – Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian – if they can prove that they are from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. They will only have to live or work in India for six years to be eligible for citizenship by naturalization, the process by which a non-citizen acquires the citizenship or nationality of that country.
It also says people holding Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards – an immigration status permitting a foreign citizen of Indian origin to live and work in India indefinitely – can lose their status if they violate local laws for major and minor offences and violations.
Opponents of the bill say it is exclusionary and violates the secular principles enshrined in the constitution. They say faith cannot be made a condition of citizenship.
The constitution prohibits religious discrimination against its citizens, and guarantees all persons equality before the law and equal protection of the law.
Delhi-based lawyer Gautam Bhatia says that by dividing alleged migrants into Muslims and non-Muslims, the bill “explicitly and blatantly seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law, contrary to our long-standing, secular constitutional ethos”.
Historian Mukul Kesavan says the bill is “couched in the language of refuge and seemingly directed at foreigners, but its main purpose is the delegitimisation of Muslims’ citizenship”.
Critics say that if it is genuinely aimed at protecting minorities, the bill should have have included Muslim religious minorities who have faced persecution in their own countries – Ahmadis in Pakistan and Rohingyas in Myanmar, for example. (The government has gone to the Supreme Court seeking to deport Rohingya refugees from India.)
Defending the bill, senior BJP leader Ram Madhav said, “no country in the world accepts illegal migration”.
“For all others about whom the bleeding hearts are complaining, Indian citizenship laws are there. Naturalized citizenship is an option for others who legally claim Indian citizenship. All other illegal [immigrants] will be infiltrators,” he added.
Also defending the bill earlier this year, R Jagannathan, editorial director of Swarajya magazine, wrote that “the exclusion of Muslims from the ambit of the bill’s coverage flows from the obvious reality that the three countries are Islamist ones, either as stated in their own constitutions, or because of the actions of militant Islamists, who target the minorities for conversion or harassment”.
The Citizen Amendment Bill was first put before parliament in July 2016.
The legislation cleared parliament’s lower house where the BJP has a large majority, but it did not pass in the upper house, after violent anti-migrant protests in north-eastern India.
The protests were particularly vocal in Assam state, which in August saw two million residents left off a citizens’ register. Illegal migration from Bangladesh has long been a concern in the state.
The CAB is seen as being linked to the register, although it is not the same thing.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list of people who can prove they came to the state by 24 March 1971, a day before neighboring Bangladesh became an independent country.
In the run-up to its publication, the BJP had supported the NRC, but changed tack days before the final list was published, saying it was error-ridden.
The reason for that was a lot of Bengali Hindus – a strong voter base for the BJP – were also left out of the list, and would possibly become illegal immigrants.
The two are closely linked, because the Citizenship Amendment Bill will help protect non-Muslims who are excluded from the register and face the threat of deportation or internment.
This means tens of thousands of Bengali Hindu migrants who were not included in the NRC can still get citizenship to stay on in Assam state.
Later, Home Minister Amit Shah proposed a nationwide register of citizens to ensure that “each and every infiltrator is identified and expelled from India” by 2024.
“If the government goes ahead with its plan of implementing the nationwide NRC, then those who find themselves excluded from it will be divided into two categories: (predominantly) Muslims, who will now be deemed illegal migrants, and all others, who would have been deemed illegal migrants, but are now immunized by the Citizenship Amendment Bill if they can show that their country of origin is Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan,” Mr Bhatia said.
Taken together, the NRC and CAB have the “potential of transforming India into a majoritarian polity with gradations of citizenship rights,” said sociologist Niraja Gopal Jaya.
Updated: Dec 16, 2019 09:07 IST
As many as 50 Jamia Millia Islamia students who were detained after a clash with the Delhi cops were released in the early hours of Monday after being kept in the police stations for over six hours, police said.
The demonstration against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise took a violent turn on Sunday after protesters attempted to march towards arterial south Delhi roads and were stopped by the cops. The police said they had to resort to lathi-charge and fire tear gas shells after protesters started pelting stones and smashing cars and vehicles. The protesters set fire to at least four DTC buses, too, the police said.
Following the clashes, the police entered the university campus and detained several students. While 35 were detained at Kalkaji police station, 16 were detained at the New Friends Colony (NFC) police station near the varsity.
Chinmoy Biswal, deputy commissioner of police (south-east) said, “35 students detained at Kalkaji police have been released.”
According to some Jamia students, 15 students at NFC police station were also released. Rishabh Jain, a postgraduate student of the varsity present at the police station, said the detained students were released and have been taken to Jasola Apollo hospital and AIIMS trauma centre for medical reports.
On Sunday night, hundreds gathered outside the Delhi Police headquarters at ITO demanding the release of detained students.
The university administration, students and teachers dissociated themselves from Sunday’s violence and said that people from outside the campus were involved in clashes with the police.
Condemning police violence against students, a group of Jamia’s alumni members said, “The police entered the campus without the university authority’s permission and beat up students, injuring dozens, and destroying the university property. Many of them were studying in the university library, which was tear-gassed, and students were detained. By the latest account, students are still being treated for injuries in different hospitals in Delhi.”
After the police crackdown on the Jamia students, protests erupted on the campuses across the country. The situation turned violent in the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) on Sunday night after the students clashed with cops over the alleged police assault on the Jamia Millia Islamia students. The police fired tear gas shells at students outside the Aligarh Muslim University campus after protesters pelted stones at them.
Students of Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), in Hyderabad, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi and Kolkata’s Jadavpur University also held demonstrations in solidarity with the Jamia students.
Earlier on Sunday night, the Delhi Minority Commission (DMC) issued a direction to the SHO of Kalkaji Police Station to release the “injured” Jamia students. The commission also asked the police to take the students for treatment at a reputed hospital without any delay.
From stuffed lamb and fish, to the giant pots of soups and rice, to the plates of lentils and other beans, there is no shortage of food to go around. Volunteers from the capital and southern provinces cook traditional dishes that reflect the country’s rich cuisine and bring protesters together, reported The Associated Press.
Tahrir Square has been the focal point for the protests that have continued to roil Iraq since Oct. 1. The spontaneous, leaderless demonstrations were organized on social media over long-standing grievances including government corruption, unemployment and a lack of basic services. For many, the square in central Baghdad has become a miniature model for the kind of state they dream of, where factional and sectarian politics play no part and public services exist.
Services, including the near-constant supply of food, have been integral to keeping people in the square, but volunteers are eyeing a gradual drop in donations with concern.
Iraqis are used to communal meals and many volunteer food. Every year, during the annual Shiite religious commemoration known as Arbaeen, volunteers prepare food for pilgrims making their way to the city of Karbala. Shortly after the protests started Oct. 1, volunteers began setting up similar tents to cook and distribute traditional Iraqi dishes for the protesters in and around Tahrir Square.
“We make it for the hungry people, and people in need here in Tahrir Square,” said a woman who gave her name as Um Ammar, which means “Ammar’s mother.” She is from the southern province of Missan and was cooking Seyah, a thick mixture of rice flour and water fried on a hot plate.
Other popular dishes are lentils and beans; Tepsy, a traditional Iraqi casserole; Dolma, consisting of stuffed cabbage and grape leaves, onions and aubergines cooked in tomato sauce; and Makhlama, a mixture of potato, tomatoes, onion and egg all fried together and put in bread. It is a favorite breakfast for people in Baghdad.
“It is an old Baghdadi (dish). It is common in the morning. All the Iraqi people, but specifically the people of Baghdad, love this food,” said Muhsin Salman, a cook from the capital who was making Makhlama.
Arouk bread — a tandoor bread made of dough mixed with celery and spices — is another favorite.
And there are the popular sweets: Hareesa is boiled whole wheat sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. Cherek is baked wheat flour bread stuffed with dates. And there’s also the fried dough balls called Awamah.
On any given day, people can be seen lining up to fill plastic dishes with food. Protesters say the free food is important to help sustain the protest movement, especially for those who cannot afford to eat meat on a regular basis. But it’s not the main attraction, they say.
Hashem al-Jabouri said that after more than two months of protests, he’s worried that support for the movement is dwindling. Speaking as he fried falafel in a huge pot, he said support was not as strong as it was in the beginning. “There’s a lot of pressure and threats targeting the volunteers,” he said.
At least 400 people have been killed at the hands of security forces and unidentified assailants firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the demonstrations since the protests erupted in October. A string of targeted assassinations, forced disappearances and arrests of civil activists and journalists have also fostered fear among protesters.
Some said they will not be intimidated.
“I distribute food to my protester brothers. We will not retreat even if they kill or threaten us. We don’t care,” said Um Mohammed, who was cooking rice and beans on a recent day. Her husband was killed in Iraq’s sectarian conflict in 2006.
“I am a martyr’s wife, but it is OK,” said the mother of four. “I am not retreating and will not leave the square. My house is here now, until they give me my rights.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saleh said: “We took to public squares because of the difficult economic situation. Our politicians are responsible for this situation, and we are still here because they refuse to meet a single one of our demands. Those in power have clung to it for many years without even considering giving us our basic rights. We do not even have healthcare or pensions; instead, they have drowned us with debt.”
Protesters in Tyre, a city in south Lebanon, have been a vital part of the protest movement since it first erupted in October. They were met with repression, and the most prominent of which was when they were assaulted by partisans and had their tents destroyed at the Al-Alam Square. However, the scene hasn’t changed in the past few days, save the erection of new tents to the square, and the addition of a large tent meant to protect protesters from the rain, allowing them to continue to hold their debates and lectures. The square is also equipped with plastic chairs, mobile mattresses, and stoves to make tea and coffee.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Hassan Darwish, one of the young people who maintain a constant presence in the square, says: “The uprising in Tyre has not changed, and people’s determination has not been shaken. The people of Tyre will not leave the squares just like that, and we will persist until our demands are met”.
He points to the fact that internal debates are still being held at the square daily and that civil society initiatives are also ongoing. He also says that a new tent will soon be installed near the square “to support anyone in need by providing them with clothes and food. The basic idea behind it is that it will be accessible to every household and person. We have launched this symbolic initiative because of the difficult living conditions some of us in Tyre arrived at, with the minimum wage standing around 600,000 Lebanese pounds (400$ at the official rate but effectively much less). This isn’t enough for people to secure their basic needs”.
In a statement, the UN human rights office said it had obtained “verified video footage” showing security forces firing on protesters, apparently with intent to kill.
The rights office added that it had “information suggesting that at least 208 people were killed” during the unrest, echoing a count also tallied by Amnesty International.
“There are also reports, which the UN Human Rights Office has so far been unable to verify, suggesting more than twice that number killed,” the statement added.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said video obtained by her office shows “severe violence was used against protesters.”
“We have also received footage which appears to show security forces shooting unarmed demonstrators from behind while they were running away, and shooting others directly in the face and vital organs – in other words shooting to kill,” Bachelet said.
Additional video material shows “armed members of security forces shooting from the roof of a justice department building” in the city of Javanrud, west of Tehran in Kermanshah Province, as well as gunfire from helicopters in Sadra, in Fars Province.
The protests began on November 15 following a surprise hike in fuel prices.
Iran has yet to give overall figures for the number of people killed or arrested when security forces moved in to quell the unrest that saw buildings torched and shops looted.
Bachelet’s office said it had received many reports of ill-treatment against people arrested, “including with the apparent aim of extracting forced confessions.”
She charged that “many of the arrested protesters have not had access to a lawyer,” while raising alarm over “reports of severe overcrowding and harsh conditions in detention centers, which in some cities include military barracks, sports venues and schools.”
“I urge the authorities to immediately release from detention all protesters who have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty,” she further said.
The demonstrations show the widespread economic discontent gripping Iran since May 2018, when President Donald Trump imposed crushing sanctions after unilaterally withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers.
The Hong Kong-related act recently passed by the US Congress and signed into law by the US president is “completely unnecessary and unjustifiable,” Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.
At a media briefing before the weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam said the HKSAR government strongly opposes the so-called Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, and regards it as a “very regrettable” move by a foreign legislature and administration to interfere in the Hong Kong affairs through their own legislation.
Stressing that the human rights and freedom of Hong Kong residents are well protected by the HKSAR Basic Law, Lam pointed out “we enjoy a high degree of freedom in many aspects, including freedom of press, freedom of assembly and demonstration, as well as religious freedom.”
Lam noted that the major chambers of commerce here have been strongly opposing the act, adding that the act may even bring harm to US companies, considering that there are more than 1,300 US enterprises that have operation or even regional headquarters in Hong Kong.
As for the suspension of reviewing applications to visit Hong Kong by US military ships and aircraft and the sanctions against some US non-governmental organizations announced by the Chinese central government on Monday, Lam said the central government shall be responsible for the foreign affairs related to the HKSAR, and the HKSAR will cooperate and follow up in accordance.
The protesters are putting forward specific demands that they are not willing to compromise. Most notably, they insist on replacing Adil Abdul-Mahdi’s government with a government that will hold those responsible for the murder of hundreds of protesters accountable, draft new electoral legislation, and form an independent electoral commission. The protesters want these steps to be taken in coordination with the parliament that will then resign to allow for early elections under international monitoring.
The protesters have already achieved their first demand. They have overthrown Abdul-Mahdi’s government, an indication that the regime is aware that it needs to compromise by scapegoating specific figures to satisfy the protesters.
The regime insists on finishing the remaining three years of its term, even if with a new Prime Minister, because of their fear that criticism of their notorious ties with Iran will prevent them from securing the 50 seats they need in the next elections. The Kurds are no longer heavily invested in Barham Saleh, with their interest in him restricted to demands that he secures budget that allows the nearly autonomous region to remain sustainable, protects minorities, and safeguards against the return of dictatorship.
This is similar to the young Sunni position highlighted in the May 2018 elections led by Mohamed al-Halbousi in that it insists on finishing its term to consecrate the new rule, while definitively excluding the old leaderships.
After Muqtada al-Sadr’s Saeron alliance withdrew their candidacy two days ago, the regime is in a better position to insist on finishing its term, and while doing so, propping up several obstacles and dragging the selection of a new prime minister for months. This will potentially spread despair among the protesters. It seems that Saeron withdrawing their candidacy was a pragmatic decision to save face with the revolution. A source from the alliance stated that it would go against their interests in front of their supporters and the protesters, in general, to get involved in this.
Besides, the alliance thinks that their competitors want to incriminate them in this vicious cycle of finding a new prime minister in order to reign in on whatever is left of Saeron’s popular support. Generally, no one side can be declared victorious yet. Still, the revolutionary forces are insisting on their demands and on crushing whoever stands against them. Whatever the outcome, the country is standing at the doorstep of radical change, and the scene after October will look nothing like it did before.
Baghdad, Iraq – Tiba says she decided to boycott her university classes the moment she learned that her friend Amer had been killed during clashes with Iraqi security forces.
The pair first met in October in Tahrir Square, the capital’s main site for anti-government demonstrations which have continued for two months. Amer told her that he was protesting on behalf of his brother, who had died in clashes with security forces. Days later, Tiba received news that her new friend had joined a growing list of Iraqi lives cut short during the protests.
“When I saw his picture among the martyrs, I knew I had to do something for my country,” said Tiba, a 23-year-old engineering student at Baghdad University. “The best thing I could do was go on strike,” she added.
For two months, protesters have taken to the streets in Baghdad and towns and cities across the mostly Shia south to demand jobs, basic services and an end to corruption. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has since quit and now leads a caretaker government with limited powers, but the grassroots movement wants a complete overhaul of the political system before new elections are held. More than 400 people have been killed and thousands of others wounded in clashes with security forces.
Since October 25, university and school students across Baghdad and Iraq’s south have defied the government and gone on strike to support protesters’ demands.
The students believe the walkout is a potent tool to pressure politicians to act on the protesters’ demands.
“If we keep it up, the government will have to respond,” says Tiba. “Our university campuses have been literally empty for weeks. This can’t go on forever.”
For Hussein, an 18-year-old medical student at the University of Mustansiriya, taking part in the protests is his only hope for a better future.
“There are barely any jobs out there, even if you’re a university graduate,” he told Al Jazeera. “So, what’s the point of going to class now and then being unemployed a few years later.”
Instead of attending university, Hussein helps organise weekly rallies at the ministry of education, attends the protests at Tahrir Square and participates in campaigns to encourage the sale of local products.
“We do everything from cleaning the streets and painting the walls in Tahrir to holding protests at our university gates to encourage people to join in,” he said, adding that the strikes would continue despite the prime minister’s decision to step down.
“Abdul Mahdi’s resignation means nothing. He’s just a tool in the hands of the corrupt political parties,” said Hussein.
“We’re continuing our strike until the electoral law changes. Unless that happens, our main ask for a complete overhaul of the political system can’t be achieved.”
While university students say the ministry of education has done little to force them back to classes, university professors say strong measures have been taken against faculty members who choose to go on strike.
According to Fayez Abdel Hamid, who teaches medicine at the University of Baghdad, Iraq’s public universities received communication from the ministry of education to ensure staff were attending their jobs.
“Deans were given orders to pass on the names of professors who have been on strike and to deduct money from their salaries as punishment,” he said.
Zaid Shafik, an IT professor at al-Nahrain University, says while he has been forced by his university to prove his attendance, he continues to join the protests.
“After I sign the register in the morning, I head to Tahrir with the students,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s our right to protest, and we’ll continue to do so no matter the measures taken against us.”
Dhamiaa al-Rubaei, spokesperson for the ministry of education, said students and teachers had been given space to protest.
“We’ve only been encouraging students to attend classes for the sake of their own futures,” she told Al Jazeera.
“With regards to lecturers, they have been mostly attending their classes even if some support students on strike.”
Most of those boycotting classes have been university-level students but school teachers and students have also taken part.
After the Iraqi teachers’ syndicate called for a nationwide strike from October 28 to November 7 to mark the beginning of school walkouts, most schools in Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces shut their doors, according to the syndicate’s secretary-general Odai Essawi.
“During the official strike, we saw 100 percent adherence at most schools across Baghdad and the south,” he told Al Jazeera.
Essawi claimed that when the education ministry tried to end the strike by threatening to blame the syndicate for any measures it takes against striking teachers, the body fought back.
“We warned the ministry of education that we would stand up to it. Protesting and expressing our opinions are human rights,” he told Al Jazeera.
Despite the challenges, Essawi says 50 to 75 percent of school students in Baghdad and the south were on partial strike or attended protests after school hours.
The ministry of higher education has warned that if university students continue to strike it may cancel spring break, while the army has warned it would detain administrators who keep schools shut as part of its fight against “terror”.
The threat forced many schools to resume classes, while some set exam schedules in an attempt to force students to return to class.
Omar al-Mukhtar High School in Baghdad, which took part in the strike for more than a week, officially resumed classes after security forces visited the school.
“The whole school, teachers and students, were on strike. Many of us would even go to Tahrir together,” Abbas Tamimi, the school’s headteacher, told Al Jazeera.
“But intelligence staff threatened to take measures if we don’t resume classes,” said Tamimi, adding that 80 percent of students attended classes after he set an exam schedule.
Ali, an 18-year-old student at the school told Al Jazeera that while he had not prepared for the exams, he decided to end his boycott to avoid possible repercussions.
“I boycotted classes for a whole month to show my support for those who died for us,” Ali told Al Jazeera.
“But I had to come back when exams were set. I was worried my name would be sent to the ministry or that I’d be suspended from school altogether,” he added.
Tamimi said that while he has to enforce some rules, he remains lenient towards students who don’t show up.
“We won’t take any measures against students who don’t attend. But people [from the intelligence] do come asking for the register, so we have to maintain some level of adherence,” explained Tamimi.
“But as soon as we finish school hours, students and teachers go to Tahrir hand in hand,” he added.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS
More than 250 people were killed and hundreds injured in the months-long protests that erupted in December 2018, according to umbrella protest movement Forces of Freedom and Change.
Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years, was deposed by the army on April 11 after the demonstrations triggered by an acute economic crisis.
Crowds marched from a central Khartoum square to Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s offices, demanding authorities deliver justice for those killed and also find out about protesters who went missing.
“Blood for blood!” chanted protesters gathered in front of Hamdok’s offices in the capital, an Agence France Presse correspondent reported.
Dozens of policemen stood guard.
“We want justice for martyrs. We are afraid that the criminals might not be judged,” said protester Nizar bin Sufian.
He said protesters welcomed Thursday’s decision by the new authorities to dismantle Bashir’s regime and former ruling party.
“But we have not seen any moves by the government to find those missing or to begin trials of those responsible for the killing of protesters,” bin Sufian told AFP.
Bashir and several senior members of his regime are in prison, while the veteran leader himself is on trial for alleged graft.
Since August, Sudan has been ruled by a joint civilian-military sovereign council headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
A transitional cabinet led by Hamdok has been tasked with the day-to-day running of the country.
The sovereign council is tasked with overseeing an overall transition to civilian rule as demanded by the protest movement.
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