Monday, November 16, 2015

Condoléances / Condolences

Nous adressons nos condoléances les plus sincères à toutes celles et à tous ceux qui ont été touchés par les violentes attaques perpétrées à Paris le 13 novembre. Nous sommes bouleversés et attristés par cette inhumanité qui a causé ce lourd bilan de victimes civiles et innocentes.

The International Communications Forum est solidaire de la France.

We express our most sincere condolences to all of those who have endured loss and suffering throughout these violent attacks that hit Paris on November 13. We are shocked and saddened by this inhumanity that has caused such a high number of innocent victims. 
The International Communications Forum stands with France.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Statement on events in Paris and Beirut

It is with great sadness that the International Communications Forum has learnt of the shocking and brutal events in Beirut on Thursday night which left 43 dead and 200 seriously wounded and the subsequent events in Paris on Friday night that left 129 dead 352 injured 99 of whom are acutely injured.
This threat to the freedom of the world by ISIS, an organisation whose ideology expresses hatred for the other, is deeply and profoundly saddening. We strongly condemn these horrific terror attacks,
We hope and pray that there is not a polarising anti-Islamic backlash in France.
People always forget that the people who live most under the thumb of terrorists and extremists are the communities from which they come and in which they live, which are often more oppressed by extremists and in fear of violence than those who are the public target of terrorism.
In the aftermath of such carnage and bloodshed emotions are understandably roused. Feelings of outrage and demands for action are inevitable.

At such times many will empathise with the innocent while  being utterly perplexed at the motives of the perpetrators. Such irrational hatred is hard for most sane people to comprehend.

No ideology, no deeply felt grievance,  no religious belief or political cause can justify the shedding of so much innocent blood.  

Such acts will be judged by God and reckoned in the light of history as yet another example of our violent capacities when moral constraint and fellow human feeling are suppressed or,  through some twisted mental process, denied.

History  also shows  us that vengeful over-reaction to such events plays into the hands of the perpetrators. Terrorism met with  a 'vigilante' mentality for retribution is likely to increase the levels of hatred and provide nothing other than a  fleeting feeling of gratification when one,  or more, of "them" are  violently punished,  maybe by a drone strike;  the cycle of violence grinds on.
Is there a better way?

The major world religions, at their best,  sustain an intrinsically hopeful view of humanity while recognising our immoral  capacities.  World scriptures,  when read in the light of a merciful God, entreat every human heart to be merciful and as Abraham Lincoln said "listen to the better angels of our conscience".

While the best of human legal processes  must be brought to bear on those behind the Paris outrage we must also be mindful of God's law which calls to higher feelings and prayerful responses:

  • To break the cycle of violence,
  • To decrease the levels of hatred, 
  • To master our capacities for vengeance
  • Kindle the embers of forgiveness.
Both Paris and Beirut are cities we know and love. Our deepest sympathy goes to the people of France, and indeed the people of Lebanon. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this challenging time and we wish them peace.
The International Communications Forum

Saturday, November 07, 2015


Tony Thomas attended the recent UK Conservative Party conference on behalf of the ICF. He has now issued his report and we thought our readers might find it of interest:

Lord Feldman, Chairman of the Conservative Party opened the Conference, saying, with reference to the Labour Party, that we need to defend ourselves. Heads as well as hearts. The Party needed to maintain a world-class campaign team. The average age of the Party is rising, and he was concerned about the lack of contact with youth. It was a Party of opportunity for all, and was debt-free.
He was followed by Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, who said that Britain was meeting her defence budget. Labour was a threat to our security. He said we will defeat ISIS, and pledged support for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.  
Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said there were 4000 servicemen and women operational in 21 centres. His reference to the Armed Services drew a standing ovation. WE were meeting our target of 2% of GDP spending on NATO.  Now was no time for Britain to retreat from the world. WE will build 4 ballistic submarines.
The Secretary of State for International Development said we were committed to spending 0.7 of   GDP on overseas aid. A video recording from Bill Gates and the President of the World Bank  gave tribute to Britain’s commitment to this target. She said the solving of the Ebola crisis was an example of Britain at its best.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke  on Monday morning.  He said if we take the right decisions people trust you. We must not let us rest on our laurels. “We are the builders”. There was a record number of people in work. He referred to this autumn when the Spending Review had to be made. There were tough decisions.  He wanted to “fix the roof when the sun is shining”. He wanted a low welfare and high wage economy. There would be lower taxes for the lowest paid, and a National Living Wage. He was going to build a home-owning democracy, and get Pension Funds to invest in infrastructure. He announced an independent National  Infrastructure Commission, chaired by Lord Adonis, the former Labour Minister to advise on rebuilding.  WE would never be part of the Single currency (the Eurozone). Being an MP in the North had changed him. He was committed to development of the Northern Powerhouse. We must live within our means. He would give Councils the right to keep their own rates (these exceed Government grants)  and abolish the uniform business rate.
Tony went to a Housing “fringe” meeting where it was said that 15% of publicly-owned land (NHS, railways etc) would be released for building. Most tenants wish to be home-owners. 60% of London’s Police live outside London. 40% of housing in London is built by Housing Associations and the Government is to give them powers to sell to tenants. 99% of land owned by City Hall London is now being developed. By 2020 London’s population is expected to be 10 millions. Tony asked a question re council housing, especially as councils would have income from their rates. It was felt there would be a case for that, but that many councils had disbanded their departments and there was a serious shortage of skilled craftsmen.  Many homes in London were built for the investment market. Overall there was concern for the housebuilding programme. The Leader of Harrow Council said 240,000 homes are required.
In the afternoon the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said a strong environment and a strong economy go hand in hand. There was a growing demand for British food. Kew was a global asset.  The role of science and data was invaluable in charting the way ahead.
Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary of State, spoke on Tuesday, saying that there were now 80,000 prisoners. He has plans for  training them in skills, so they can be usefully employed on release, following an investigation he made in Texas. At present far too many re-offend after release. He said every life is precious. Three-quarters of offenders have an absent father. Many are victims of domestic violence. He arranged for  a representative from Timpsons, the shoe repairers to recount how his firm are now the biggest employers of ex-offenders in the country. Nine of their shops are now being managed by ex-offenders. (they do not train them to cut keys!)
Theresa  May, the Home Secretary, spoke next. She said the UK was the biggest donor after the USA to give aid to the Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan for their refugees. The numbers coming from Europe must be controlled. Net migration is still too high. We don’t need a European Common Asylum policy. We need to cut the need to enter Britain. There is a difference between economic migrants and refugees. Our present infrastructure cannot sustain a high level of migrants.
The candidate for the Mayor of London spoke in the afternoon. Next year is the election. Rents are already twice the national average and there is a need to build more homes.There is no shortage of land. He was followed by Boris Johnson, who gave a witty speech, as he usually does.
Ian Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary said that there were now 2 million more employed. He would ensure that work pays better than welfare.Work our way out of poverty. He would ensure that policy makes families stronger. He welcomed the Chancellor’s introduction of the National Living Wage. There were no people more fair-minded than in the UK.
The Head Teacher of an Academy School in Stourbridge introduced four pupils from the school who spoke confidently of their educational  opportunities. He was followed by a worker with vulnerable youth in Rugby. His organisation selected 10/15 young people and trained them for 2 years. He said 63% of prisoners miss mainstream education. His organisation receives support from the private sector. He was succeeded by the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, who said that teaching was the noblest of professions.
Speakers from the regions were given a good hearing, some a standing ovation (Wales and Scotland).
The Prime Minister gave the closing address. A third of the Cabinet are women. A one nation Party. He would defend the Union with his all. He would not fight another election as Leader. WE need to tackle some deep social problems – poverty, blocked opportunity, the shadow of extremism. Britain does n’t just need a stronger economy – it needs a stronger society. “My first duty as Prime Minister is to keep people safe”. He took action to eliminate  British subjects in Syria planning terrorist attacks on UK soil. “If we opened the door to every refugee, our country would be overwhelmed. The best thing we can do is help neighbouring countries, the Syrian people and the refugees in the camps...and when we do take refugees, to take them from the region.” We will spend 2% of GDP on defence. (the audience gave a standing ovation to the Armed Services). On Europe he said Britain is not interested in “ever closer union”. He wanted renegotiation of terms. On the economy he said there was more inward investment  than any other country except America and China. “but, if anyone thinks the battle on the economy is won, they need to think again. The battle has only just begun.....we can’t just be thinking about today, we should be thinking about the rainy days that could come – just like a family does.” He spoke of housing needs – the Help to Buy scheme and the Right to Buy, and also building affordable homes to buy. With reference to social reform, he said, “It is people that fire me up”.The best route out of poverty is work. “We must also stop children needing to be in care at all.” “If we tackle the causes of poverty, we can make our country greater.” He was passionate about academies and free schools. He was upset that in Britain today, even if  they have the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic=sounding names. He wanted his Party that did n’t care where people come from, but only where they were going. He said we must take on extremism in all its forms, and we need to tackle segregation . He called for an end to passive tolerance – enforce the laws. Free speech – and the best literature in the world. “The fight against extremism is the fight for our existence.”  He believed that  this era, the 2010’s, could become a defining decade for the country. A Greater Britain.
                                                                                                                                       Tony Thomas 12.10.2015

Friday, November 06, 2015

Bahraini Media People Arrested and Detained (as of 2/11/2015)

Here is a list of journalists, photographers and social media people currently detained in Bahrain (as of 2 November 2015), based on what we found online. Given the vague information we have at the moment, every comment or feedback would be highly appreciated.
Journalists and Photographers
Ahmed Humaidan, an award-winning photojournalist, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for reporting and photographing the pro-democracy demonstrations in Sitra in 2012. He has been incarcerated since December 2012, accused of taking part in an attack on a police station.
Jaffar Marhoon, photographer, was arrested on 26 December 2013. On 24 February 2015, the court sentenced Jaffar to life in prison.
Hussain Hubail, a freelance photographer, was arrested before boarding an international flight to Dubai on 31 July 2013. On 28 April 2014, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison under charges that include “using social media networks to incite hatred on the government”, “calling on people to ignore the law” and “calling for illegal demonstrations”.
Qasim ZainalDeen, a freelance photographer who had filmed opposition protests, was arrested from his home on 2 August 2013 and sentenced in December the same year to three months in prison for illegal assembly. In January 2014, he was sentenced to an additional six months imprisonment for a further charge of illegal assembly and vandalism. On 25 February 2015, the court of appeal upheld Qasim’s sentence of three years in prison.
On 4 September 2014, three journalists, Hussam Suroor (17 years), Ahmed Zainaldeen (20 years) and Mustafa Rabea (19 years), were arrested after their houses in Duraz were raided by security forces. They were subjected to enforced disappearance for up to five days following arrest. On 30 September 2015, the three journalists were sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegal assembly and for causing an explosion in Duraz. Ahmed Zainaldeen is awaiting court ruling in a separate case.
On 28 June 2015, the political activist Fadhel Abbas was sentenced to 5 years in prison for a tweet in which he denounced the war in Yemen, as he was accused of “spreading false information that could harm the military operations of Bahrain and its allies” in Yemen.
In December 2014 the main Shia opposition leader in Bahrain, Sheikh Ali Salman, has been jailed for four years for inciting hatred, promoting disobedience and “insulting” public institutions. The charges relate to a series of statements by Sheikh Salman made in a public speech last year.
Bloggers and Internet Activists
Abduljalil al-Singace, a Bahraini engineer, blogger and human rights activist, was arrested in 2011, and sentenced to life imprisonment for pro-democracy activism during the Bahraini uprising.
Jaleela al-Sayed was arrested on 10 February 2015 after security forces raided her house. She was charged with misusing social media, inciting hatred against the government and insulting the king on the social media website Twitter. Jaleela is currently held at the Isa Town Women’s Prison.
Blogger and Internet activist Ali Al-Mearaj was arrested on 6 January 2014 accused of misusing information technology and insulting the King in his blog “Awal Pearl”. On 9 April 2014, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison. His next appeal hearing is on 1 December 2015.
Jassim Al-Nuaimi, an Internet activist, was apprehended from his own house by masked security men on 31 July 2013. Four days after his arrest, he was sent to prison under the charges of inciting anti-government hatred and posting messages on social media calling for illegal demonstrations. During a hearing he testified he was not present in the country and that he had already sold his computer by the time the alleged messages were posted. On 28 April 2014, the criminal court sentenced Jassim to five years in prison.
In October 2015, security forces raided the house of Ebrahim Karimi. He was taken to the Criminal Investigation Directorate. Security forces interrogated Ebrahim about posts on the Twitter handler “FreejKarimi”. The public prosecution charged Ebrahim with, among others, inciting hatred against the government, insulting the king and misuse of social media. In 2012, the Government of Bahrain had revoked the citizenship of Ebrahim through an administrative decision and the court ordered him later to deportation which he is appealing.  
In September 2015, security forces arrested two Internet activists, the owner of the Twitter handlers “BuKhamis” and “HajiAhmed”. The Ministry of Interior announced that it had arrested them because of posts on Twitter deemed insulting to the country’s martyrs in Yemen, after they posted tweets in which they denounced and criticized Bahrain’s participation in the military operation in Yemen.
In January 2015, the Bahraini authorities arrested nine Internet activists for their posts on Twitter deemed critical of the late Saudi King Abdulla Alsaud. These men are: Mohammed Saeed Al Adraj, Mohammed Ahmed Ali, Yousif Fadhel Salman, Abas Ali Ahmed, Kameel Ibrahim Yousif, and Hussain Mohammed Ahmed. The Ministry of Interior stated that these individuals were arrested for “misuse of social media” and that they could face an imprisonment term of up to two years or a fine of up to BHD200 according to article 215 of Bahrain’s Penal Code which punishes with these terms whoever “offends in public a foreign country or an international organization based in Bahrain or its president or representative. The same penalty shall apply to a person who offends such organization’s flag or official emblem”.
Citizenship Revocations
In January 2015, the Government of Bahrain revoked the citizenship of 72 Bahrainis, of whom the majority were activists, on grounds of damaging national security. The list included four journalists and bloggers. They are: the founder of BahrainOnline forum, Ali Abdel Imam; founder and chief editor of Bahrain Mirror, Ali al-Dairi; journalist Abbas Busafwan; and blogger Hussein Yousef. The authorities stated that their citizenship was revoked because of “acts resulted in harming the Kingdom’s interest”, thus the measures were implemented in part to “preserve security and stability and fight the danger of terrorist threats”. It is the largest number of Bahrainis to be stripped of their nationality since 2013. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bangladesh: The government's failed efforts to protect its secular bloggers

In the past year, four secular bloggers have been hacked to death in broad daylight in Bangladesh, while many other writers including poets and journalists have received death threats. These violent killings highlight the serious threat to freedom of expression that persist within Bangladesh and needs to be addressed.
Bangladesh was established as a secular state in 1971, however 89.7% of the population are Muslim. There is ongoing tension between Bangladesh's secularists who want to maintain the country’s tradition of separating religion and state, and the Islamists who want to establish an Islamic state. While Bangladesh's authorities have arrested several suspects thought to be responsible for these attacks, none have been punished as of yet. The Bangladesh government doesn’t seem to be doing much to protect secular bloggers. Indeed, the Bangladesh government has even arrested and jailed a number of secular bloggers for “defaming Islam.”
Niloy Neel, formally known as Niloy Chatterjee, is the fourth and most recent blogger murdered. On August 6th, a group of men armed with machetes broke into his flat in the capital, Dhaka and hacked him to death. Neel was a critic of religious fundamentalism and extremism which put him on the target list of Islamist militants. Prior to his death, Neel had received many death threats from Islamist radicals. When he took the case to local authorities however, his complaint was never taken seriously. Ansarullah Bangla Team, an al-Qaeda inspired Islamic extremist group in Bangladesh later claimed responsibility for the killing and warned of more to come.
Two years ago, Islamist hardliners tried to get the government to adopt a blasphemy law that would jail those whom criticized Islam or God. The four men that were killed this year were part of a list of 84 “atheist bloggers,” drawn up by Islamic groups and widely circulated around the country. At first the aim of the list was to get the government to arrest the 84 bloggers and charge them with blasphemy. Ever since, death threats to secular bloggers have been on the rise and protection from government authorities remains non-existent.
Unlike other countries in the region such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bangladesh has never been a centre for terrorism. However Islamic militancy is on the rise in Bangladesh with both home-grown militant groups and international ones, including al-Qaeda. In the past Bangladeshi authorities had made it difficult for Islamist groups to establish themselves within the country. The rise in the number of attacks on secular public figures is proving that the government needs to implement more stringent counter terrorism strategies.
Three of four of these four murdered bloggers notified authorities that they were being followed or had been receiving threats and feared for their lives, however no action was ever taken to protect them. Hundreds of secular activists have protested and made calls for justice, and it is clear that the government needs to do more. The authorities have certainly made arrests, but there is a clear danger to secularists in Bangladesh, who are being identified, tracked and targeted. These murders attack free speech and ferment fear, and the Bangladesh government needs to make it clear that attacks on freedom of religion and expression will not be tolerated. The government must  counter violent extremism to ensure that these attacks do not become the norm in the country.

Monday, June 29, 2015

ISIS - A Statement

We feel that an inability to recognize that there can be life without war, an inability to acknowledge the supreme sanctity of human life, an inability to recognize our shared humanity, is an anathema.
ISIS claims the world is divided between their extremist version of Dar al Islam (the World of Peace) and Dar al Harb (The World of War). They justify their actions by claims that we are approaching the apocalypse.  Any claims to such knowledge of the end of times are indefensible claims to know the mind of God as our scriptures warn. Humanity may seem, at times, to be bent on its own destruction but Faith in a merciful God engenders hope not despair, love not hatred, compassion not indifference.
Under a merciful God, humanity must continually strive to overcome the historic polarizations that lead to bloody cycles of conflict and revenge. As believers in the one God, we are convinced that the polarizations between Sunni and Shia, between Islam and Judaism, and between Islam and Christianity are against the will of God and wars fought in the name of religion are an offence to God’s name.

ISIS must also be challenged theologically and spiritually. Bishop Angaelos, of the Coptic Orthodox Church, states that the brutal killings in France, Tunisia and Kuwait, “Show the vulnerability of our humanity, not only in those who died so needlessly and tragically, but also in those who were able to murder so brutally, mercilessly and intentionally.”

When 28 Coptic Christians were executed by ISIS in Libya, Bishop Angaelos began a twitter feed which attracted thousands of followers: #father forgive.  In this profound statement of forgiveness the potential cycle of anger and revenge was halted and the higher morality of righteousness affirmed. As the families of those murdered in Charleston church shooting asserted, compassion and forgiveness are far more potent and effective that hatred and revenge.  Forgiveness has an unconditional quality which transcends our vulnerability to judge.

That said, Al Azhar in Cairo, and senior clergy (ulama) in Iran and Iraq share the view expressed to this council by Ayatollah Safavi in Britain, that ISIS’s behaviour is contrary to Islamic law and therefore morally indefensible.

Military action against extremists, like ISIS, is fraught with danger. Indiscriminate bombing has caused considerable collateral damage which sometimes serves to attract sympathy to their cause.  ISIS must be isolated so it withers and destroys itself because its own deadly ethos will inevitably turn in on its self.

Action must be taken to prevent vulnerable young people being attracted to ISIS and travelling to ISIS controlled areas. Their financial backers must be brought to account and their theology exposed for what it is.

Human history is littered with the consequences of the actions of heavily armed fanatics. ISIS is the latest expression of such warlike fanaticism and is as in error as all others.  We would conclude by reminding believers that they need not be anxious, instead they should act. Anxiety is a sin because it means you do not trust God. The Lord God expects us to deal with ISIS, not to fear them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ISIS - a Statement

The Holy Koran states that in the last days the ‘mufsidin fi al-ard,’ (those who corrupt the earth), will appear.
Some of the learned ‘Ulama equate ISIS with the ‘mufsidin fi al-ard’ -- “those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption” as recorded in Chapter 5, verse 33 of the Holy Quran.
We are appalled at the savage atrocity committed in the act of execution of the Jordanian pilot Ra’id Moath al-Kassasbeh and, indeed, by the brutal beheadings of so many innocent aid workers and journalists, as well as by the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians (young men from the same village who died with the name of the Messiah on their lips as any who have watched the horrific video will be aware).
Some claim the kind of violence being exercised by ISIS is part of the past, of the ‘jahiliyah,’ the pre-Islamic era.
Some Muslim scholars go further and argue that, members of ISIS and their supporters are behaving in a way that is thoroughly un-Islamic. Some of these scholars suggest that they resemble the “false Muslims” referred to in Surah al-Munafiqun, the 33rd chapter of the Holy Koran and should be treated as such. Their approach of dividing the world into ‘Dar al-Islam’ (the House of Islam) and ‘Dar al-Harb’ (the House of War) is not valid. The same can be said about the fanatics and terrorists, who recently killed people in France and Denmark. They have to be unequivocally condemned, even if we believe that the freedom of expression is not the freedom to insult (see the message on this link published by the ICF on May 2, 2006). They are not Islam. They are a disgrace to Islam.
To quote Aristotle, “Anyone can be angry, but to be angry at the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way is to be commended.”
Having said which, we caution against the use of indiscriminate force to destroy ISIS. There has been too much civilian collateral damage in the liberation of Kobani and in the bombing of Durna, and we must move with careful deliberation in acting against ISIS lest we increase sympathy for this renegade terrorist group.
Bernard Margueritte, ICF President; and William Morris, ICF Chairman, 
The International Communications Forum