Inside the Middle East
January 13, 2011
Posted: 1013 GMT
Tunisian demonstrators hurl objects towards security forces. (Getty Images)
Tunisian demonstrators hurl objects towards security forces. (Getty Images)

CNN's Tim Lister takes a closer look at the important role social media sites are having in the ongoing demonstrations against the government in Tunisia:

The protests that have gripped Tunisia in recent weeks are, to say the least, unusual. Organized dissent in the streets is rarely tolerated in Arab states, and human rights groups say the Tunisian government has had a short fuse when dealing with opponents. But what's going on in Tunisia is all the more unusual because the protests are being organized and supported through online networks centered on Twitter and Facebook.

So prolific are the educated members of the northern African nation's younger generation online that it has become a top priority of the Tunisian government to block and disrupt bloggers and others perceived as opponents.

The U.S. State Department - in an unusual public criticism of a pro-West Arab government - said last week it was concerned about "recent reports that Tunisian ISP providers, at the direction of the government, hacked into the accounts of Tunisian users of American companies including Facebook, and providers of email such as Yahoo and Google, and stealing passwords. This kind of interference," it continued, "threatens the ability of civil society to realize the benefits of new technologies."

Read the rest of the story here

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Filed under: Human Rights •Tunisia

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October 23, 2010
Posted: 1528 GMT

London, England (CNN) - Classified military documents published on the WikiLeaks site increase the civilian death toll of the Iraq war by 15,000, anti-war activists said at a news conference Saturday.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spoke at a press conference in London Saturday
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spoke at a press conference in London Saturday

"We have seen that there are approximately 15,000 never previously documented or known cases of civilians who have been killed by violence in Iraq," WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange said.

Those cases raise the civilian death toll in Iraq to 122,000, said Iraq Body Count, an-anti-war group.

Assange and others appeared at a news conference on Saturday in London, England, to discuss the release of nearly 400,000 classified military documents from the Iraq war by his whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.

Assange said the massive leak aims to reveal hidden truths about the Iraq war.

"The attack on the truth by war begins long before war starts and continues long after a war ends," Assange said.

"In our release of these 400,000 documents about the Iraq war, the intimate detail of that war from the U.S. perspective, we hope to correct some of that attack on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war and which has continued on since the war officially concluded."

CNN was offered access to the documents in advance of the release but declined because of conditions that were attached to accepting the material. The New York Times and The Guardian, the British newspaper, were among a handful of organizations provided early access to the papers. Read full story

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Filed under: Human Rights •Iraq •U.S.

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August 31, 2010
Posted: 1252 GMT

There are unconfirmed reports that the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry has arrested the sponsor of a Sri Lankan maid who has been in the news lately after doctors in her home country found 24 nails and needles inserted into her skin allegedly by the Saudi couple she worked for.

The 49-year-old woman who moved to Riyadh in March said the torture was her employers' way of punishing her when she didn't do the work they demanded by inserting pieces of metal into her arms, legs, hands and forehead.

She returned to her country for treatment and the story has gained momentum, incurring indignation in Sri Lanka, including protests outside the Saudi embassy in Colombo, and widespread demands for the Saudi government to take action. Read the latest on this story in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News.

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Filed under: Human Rights •Saudi Arabia

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August 29, 2010
Posted: 850 GMT

Bahrain has begun investigating the case of Shiite activist and spokesman of Al Haq political movement Abduljalil Al- Singace, according the Emirati newspaper Gulf News.

This comes amid reports that the kingdom's prosecutor has issued a gag order on the media from further reporting on the case.

"Based on the requirements for discretion in order to reach facts and in line with Bahrain's public order, Dr Ali Al Buainain, the public prosecutor, has issued a gag order on publishing, through print, audio, video and online media, news or details on the case of the terror network," the Gulf News quotes a Bahraini public prosecution source as saying.

"No details or hints about the investigations should be published and violators of the gag will be imprisoned for up to one year or fined. The only exception is the statements issued by the public prosecutor."

Al Singace's arrest on August 13 upon his return from London and subsequent detention of other Haq supporters intensified clashes between rioters and security forces.

The New York Times reported on what seems to be a widespread crackdown on Shiite activists in the wake of the heightened tension.

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Filed under: Bahrain •Human Rights •Media

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August 26, 2010
Posted: 1747 GMT

Heavy-handed behavior by Palestinian Authority security forces is not a new phenomenon. In the past, protests against the government have been broken up with force.

One Palestinian human rights group said in a statement it happened again on Wednesday.

The West Bank-based Al-Haq said political activists and members of civil society groups who oppose direct talks with Israel were in the process of convening when security personnel broke up the gathering and roughed up some people.

Al-Haq employees, who work across the street from the meeting location, said the meeting hall was filled with plainclothes police “who effectively disrupted the event." And, when the conference attendees left the hall to gather in front of the entrance in protest, they were surrounded by the officers, who started fights.

An Al-Haq staffer who tried to videotape what was going on was grabbed by the neck and had his camera seized. A co-worker who tried to assist him was injured and sent to the hospital.

Al-Haq threw a rhetorical counter punch. It called the actions of the West Bank government’s security forces an "example of the increasing climate of violence and intimidation that is effectively transforming Palestinian society into a “police state.”"

We could not reach anyone from the Palestinian Authority to comment on what transpired, but the authority-run WAFA news agency reported that President Mahmoud Abbas had ordered an investigation into the matter.

In a statement released Thursday the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights Points expressed its concern about "attacks the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly" which it said were rights guaranteed by Palestinian law.

One thing is certain: The incident underscores just how controversial and sensitive the topic of negotiations is among Palestinians, many of whom do not support the terms under which the talks are to be held.

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Filed under: General •Human Rights •Palestinians •Protests •West Bank

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August 21, 2010
Posted: 2053 GMT

A story that has been creating a stir in the region lately involes the case of a man in Saudi Arabia accused of paralyzing another man after attacking him with a knife.

According to local Saudi newspaper Okaz, the victim in the attack asked the judge hearing the case to submit his attacker to the same fate based on the precepts of Sharia law.  The judge,  says the paper, responded by sending letters to several hospitals in Saudi Arabia asking if they could sever a man's spinal cord.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom and Amir Ahmed have the rest of the compelling story here.

Filed under: General •Human Rights •Saudi Arabia

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June 1, 2010
Posted: 926 GMT

By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) - A day after Israeli forces stormed a flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies in a fatal raid, independent information on what transpired remained scant Tuesday.

The death toll of nine killed came from the Israelis, who did not release the names of those who died.

The Free Gaza Movement, one of the groups that organized the convoy of ships, said the fatalities numbered higher, but did not offer an exact number.

The surviving passengers themselves were being held incommunicado by Israeli authorities.

Of the foreigners who were taken into custody, none have been placed under arrest, the Israeli police said Tuesday.

The foreigners who have identified themselves were being taken to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv to be flown back to their native countries, police said.

Those who have refused to identify themselves to Israeli immigration authorities have been transferred to a prison in Beer Sheva in southern Israel where they are being temporarily held as they undergo security checks, police said.

A police spokesman said that the process involved in deporting these latter protesters is more complicated as it requires the involvement of foreign diplomats.

Early Tuesday morning, the U.N. Security Council said it regretted the loss of lives on the humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza and condemned the actions that led to the deaths.

"The Security Council deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting from the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza," the council said in a statement. "The council in this context condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and expresses condolences to the families."

The 15 member-nations of the council requested the immediate release of the seized ships that made up the flotilla, as well as the civilians who were taken into custody following the raid.

And it called for a "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent" investigation into the incident. Read full story and Q&A on Israel's Gaza blockade.

Filed under: Gaza •Human Rights •Israel •Palestinians •Turkey •United Nations

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April 2, 2010
Posted: 1105 GMT
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March 11, 2010
Posted: 755 GMT

Note: Due to a technical glitch, the "comment" function was not working when we first posted Paula's blog. It should be functional now.

Rachel Corrie tries to prevent a bulldozer razing homes at a Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah, Gaza in a photo dated March 16, 2003, the day she died. She was one of a number of activists at the site from the International Solidarity Movement.
Rachel Corrie tries to prevent a bulldozer razing homes at a Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah, Gaza in a photo dated March 16, 2003, the day she died. She was one of a number of activists at the site from the International Solidarity Movement.
Here, the 23-year-old gives an interview to Saudi-owned MBC television two days before she died.
Here, the 23-year-old gives an interview to Saudi-owned MBC television two days before she died.

By Paula Hancocks

No parent should have to bury their child no matter nationality or circumstance. For Craig and Cindy Corrie, their grief is mixed with a seven year fight for justice and to find out exactly what happened to their daughter Rachel. She was an American activist, trying to protect Palestinian homes from being destroyed by the Israeli military in Gaza. March 16, 2003, she was crushed and killed by a 65 tonne bulldozer. Corrie's parents are taking the Israeli defense ministry to court.

Meeting Cindy and Craig, you are struck by how kind, gentle and eloquent they are. They never imagined they would find themselves in this position and even though they are suing for damages, they don't want the money. The Israeli military has refused to identify the driver of the bulldozer that killed their daughter, so they tell me this is the only avenue left open to them to force accountability.

What struck me most was the lack of anger – there is frustration certainly, it has taken 7 years for a court case to be brought. But Craig, a Vietnam veteran tells me he does not want to see the bulldozer driver sent to jail, especially if he too has children. He tells me, "I would like to know what happened, I would like him to come forward and say here's what I saw, here's what I was doing... I'm not full of hatred for this person but it was a horrendous act to kill my daughter and I hope he understands that."

Cindy and Craig talk of how proud they are of Rachel, how important her humanitarian work was to her and how close she was to the families whose homes in Gaza she was trying to protect. A play was directed by Alan Rickman based on her diaries. It is still being played around the world, Cindy mentions there is currently a version in Canada and Iceland.

The story of Rachel Corrie has become so much more than the tragic death of a 23 year old woman. It has become a symbol for those trying to fight against Israeli occupation. Cindy talks of concern among human rights groups that there is impunity for the Israeli military, "We feel that we're in a position that we can seek accountability, we can seek the answers, we can pursue this even though it's been a very difficult and long journey and that we have some obligation and responsibility to do that."

When asked about the case, the IDF simply resent the statement from their investigation 7 years ago, saying the bulldozer driver did not see Rachel and no Israeli soldier is to blame.

The case could last months and will be watched very closely by human rights groups around the world. If grieving parents can take Israel's defense ministry to court, then why not others who also feel they've been wronged.

Filed under: Gaza •Human Rights •Israel •U.S.

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October 15, 2009
Posted: 448 GMT

By Paula Hancocks

(CNN) - Salwa Salah was 16 years old when she was arrested by Israeli forces and jailed for seven months.

Israeli court minutes said Salwa Salah, 16, had been involved in 'planning military operations'
Israeli court minutes said Salwa Salah, 16, had been involved in 'planning military operations'

To this day she says she does not know her crime and is struggling to get her life back on track.

She was released shortly before her final school exams but was unable to catch up and now has to re-sit before she can go to university.

Salah was held under administrative detention – detention without charge or trial. It is legal under international law which permits its use only in exceptional cases to protect the security of a state.

But human rights groups say Israel abuses this right. Read full article

Watch Paula's report:

Filed under: Human Rights •Israel •Palestinians •Video

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