UK ‘anti-terror’ law indiscriminate, says rights groups

Only about one percent of 46,000 people were stopped under Schedule 7 powers were arrested, according to UK government statistics

UK 'anti-terror' law indiscriminate, says rights groups


Government figures reveal that only about one percent of people questioned under powers that allow police to stop individuals at ports were detained in 2013.

More than 46,000 people were stopped at Britain’s ports under Schedule 7 powers, which deem a refusal to answer police officers’ questions a criminal offence, according to figures published by the Home Office on Thursday.

The same power was used to stop and detain journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda for nine hours at Heathrow airport.

The figures reveal that the stops only resulted in 1.19 percent of people being detained, and out of those only two people were convicted – or 0.0043 percent of those stopped.

The London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission expressed “grave concern about the ethnic makeup of those examined and detained,” adding: “It is clear that non-whites are disproportionately and unnecessarily targeted by officers with the power to stop and search under Schedule 7.”

According to the figures, 55 percent of those stopped under schedule 7 were non-white, while they make up 14 percent of the population.

However, out of those detained under the power, 82 percent were non-white.

However, the number of individuals stopped under the power has dropped by 23 percent.

‘Indiscriminate power’

Their religious background is not currently recorded, but rights organizations have argued that Muslims are disproportionally targeted.

Overall, there were 222 arrests for terrorism-related offences, which were down on the previous year.

A total of 22 people, or 10 percent, were convicted of a terrorism offence.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission said that the figures demonstrated “that the vast majority of those subject to arrest are not guilty of any charge. This figure has remained consistent over the years, and thus should be a clear indicator to the government that this is an indiscriminate power”.

In April this year, British counter-terrorism officials appealed to Muslim women to persuade their relatives not to travel to Syria.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged people to contact authorities if they knew of someone planning to travel to the war-torn state.

The government has said that it fears people travelling to Syria may become “radicalized” and pose a risk to the UK.

There have been several arrests this year relating to individuals travelling to or returning from Syria.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 5 June 2013

Indian Kashmir: A mother’s fight for missing son

‘My son was picked up by security forces in 1990, I have not seen him since,’ said Parveena Ahanger, the head of ‘the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons’ in Indian-held Kashmir.

Indian Kashmir: A mother's fight for missing son


It’s been 24 years since she last saw her son. An arduous 24 years during which Parveena has struggled to find out what happened to 16-year-old Javid Ahmad Ahanger after Indian security forces picked him up in Kashmir.

“My son was picked up by security forces in 1990, I have not seen him since, she said. I looked for him at the police station, hospitals and detention centers but I did not find him.”

Parveena Ahanger, the head of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons in Indian-held Kashmir that she started in 1994, pled Monday for the British people to lobby their government to put pressure on India over human rights abuses in Kashmir.

“I request you approach the British Parliament and ask them to put pressure on the Indian government,” she urged participants at a conference in London called ‘Kashmiris: Contested present, possible futures’.

She burst into tears as she conveyed her 24-year struggle and the similar stories of other families of conflict-riddled Kashmir to the London audience.

“[My son] committed no crime, they just took him,” she continued. “Many others have also been taken and the families have no idea what happened to their loved ones.”

“I went to the courts that are supposed to give justice, but I found no justice there,” she added.

Parveena has traveled across Kashmir and gained support from other families whose loved ones have also been taken by Indian security forces, never to be seen again. In 2005, she was nominated for a Nobel Prize.

Her association organizes protests every month in Srinagar, located in the Kashmir valley, over the issue of enforced disappearances.

“I will only call myself a mother on the day I find out what happened to my son,” she lamented as she wondered aloud who would campaign for the children that have disappeared, once their mothers died.

Independent human rights groups have estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 such disappearances have occurred in Indian-administered Kashmir over the last 24 years.

She said: “There have been people who have been killed in Kashmir, but they have graves for them.

“We don’t have any graves because we do not know what happened to our loved ones.”

Since independence from the British colonial rule in 1947, both Pakistan and India have been engaged in a bitter conflict over Kashmir, which is split between the two countries. The two nuclear powers have already fought two wars over the region, of which two thirds are now controlled by India.

India estimates the death toll of the Kashmir conflict over the past two decades to be around 48,000. However, the region’s main separatist group, the All Parties Hurriyat [freedom] Conference speaks of 100,000 casualties. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for forensic experts, in line with UN protocol to investigate mass grave sites, which the human rights organization numbers in the hundreds.

One of the conference organizers, Goldie Osuri, assistant professor in sociology at the University of Warwick, whose latest book published in 2013 is called “Religious Freedom in India,” described the current situation in Kashmir as “not just colonization and occupation, […] we can use the term genocide.”

Parveena told the Anadolu Agency that she did not expect much from newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“He did not do enough in Gujarat” she told the AA, referring to his alleged role in the three-day Gujarat riots of 2002 in western India, where more than a thousand people were killed, most of them Muslims. Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 2 June 2014

UK counter-terrorism report criticized

Counter-terrorism report by MPs from UK’s main parties criticized for policy recommendations

UK counter-terrorism report criticized


A counter-terrorism report produced on Friday by MPs from the U.K.’s three main political parties has been criticized for its recommendations on how to deal with U.K. nationals returning from Syria.

The proposals are similar to the de-radicalization programme Channel, which tries to “identify individuals at risk of being drawn into terrorism.” U.K. counter-terrorism policies have long been contentious, with many organizations claiming laws have eroded civil liberties and disproportionally targeted the Muslim community.

The report highlights powers used to withdraw passports and revoke citizenship from U.K. nationals returning from Syria and recommends greater oversight of the tool – including the Home secretary’s provision of a quarterly report on its use. It also stated that if someone is to be made stateless it should happen while they are not in the U.K.

Cage, an independent advocacy organisation helping victims of the so-called “war on terror”, said the power to remove citizenship was “a clear indication that concerns for due process and human rights have been jettisoned.” Asim Qureshi, research director at Cage called the power to remove passports “despotic.”

“These proposals are a sure sign that values this country once held dear are being eroded at an ever-quickening pace,” Qureshi said.

Counter-terrorism expert Rizwaan Sabir at the University of Bath, questioned how the police would decide which individuals would be mentored and which individuals would be prosecuted for fighting in Syria.

“Taking such a decision will be based on an arbitrary process as opposed to an assessment of the risk posed to the UK’s security and interests,” said Sabir. He also criticized Prevent, an existing programme for countering violent extremism. “It is largely discredited within large segments of the Muslim community and thus engagement with the programme, or any variant of it, is likely to be minimal.”

Sabir told AA that the policy of revoking citizenship is flawed because it denies an individual the possibility to reintegrate into the U.K., if they decide to return.

“The U.K. might therefore be creating a process whereby more individuals become disenchanted with the U.K. for the way they are treated and perceive the UK to be targeting those individuals who stand against dictators and despots,” he said. “This is therefore a counterproductive policy that has a significant potential to backfire.”

The Islamic Human Rights Commission also criticised the policy and said that the focus on the Muslim community is, “disproportionate, inconsistent and discriminatory.” The commission’s chair Massoud Shadjareh told AA: “The report misses the point, recent attacks against mosques in the UK, shows that Muslims are more likely to be victims of terrorism rather than participants in it.”

The policy was amended last year to make it easier for the Home Secretary to confiscate passports and has since been used 14 times – in contrast, the committee believes the policy was used only 16 times between 1947 and 1976.

“The number of Muslims fighting in Syria is probably no more or less than the number of Britons who fought in Libya to depose Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, during which time British politicians said little if anything about their alleged exposure to extremist ideology and military training,” the Islamic Human Rights Commission said.

Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Select Committee said it is “vital” to stop British citizens fighting in foreign conflicts. “Whether in classrooms, local community centres, or through the global reach of the internet and social media, a clear message needs to be sent to those at risk.”

The report does however suggest transferring powers from London’s Metropolitan Police to the National Crime Agency. Sabir said the move would be “a step in the right direction” because of the Metropolitan Police’s damaged reputation.

The report also said that weak oversight of intelligence agencies has damaged their credibility and recommended greater international cooperation in intercepting foreign fighters before they enter Syria and in countering international terrorism.

“Recent events involving Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and Al Qaeda show that the terrorist threat to the UK is as grave as at any point in the past thirteen years,” said Vaz. “The international community must act as one to tackle this global problem.”

The proposals have done little to assure Muslims that they are not being unduly targeted in the UK, Shadjareh said. “The continuing focus on Muslims in Britain as a terrorism threat forms part of a wider discourse of demonization based on racial, religious tropes.  These tropes create disunity and division and also foster hatred against minority communities.  This report only contributes to the material and policies demonising Muslims.”

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 9 May 2014

Kashmiris want to vote on future, not Indian parliament

Kashmiris mostly chose to boycott India election, but say they will vote in a referendum

Kashmiris want to vote on future, not Indian parliament

SRINAGAR, Indian-held Kashmir 

Showkat Ahmad Bhat, a middle-aged grocery store owner in Indian-held Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, has never cast a vote in the 46 years of his life. On April 30, when polls were held in Srinagar, Bhat sat with his two friends near his closed grocery shop — a few meters from the old city’s Khanyar polling booth. Like the majority of Kashmiris living under Indian rule, Bhat was once again boycotting the elections.

More than 800 million people are eligible to participate in India’s largest ever elections but for many Kashmiris opposing the Indian rule in the Himalayan valley, their decades-long boycott continued. Other Indian voters are considering which candidate for the next prime minister can kick-start the country’s slow growth rate, improve internal security and alleviate poverty but in Kashmir, a region disputed by Pakistan and India, most are concerned more about their status as part of India.

“These elections mean nothing at all,” says Bhat, displaying his index finger, unstained by the ink used to identify voters. “The one option that I would walk a hundred miles to vote for, they haven’t kept it on the voting machine.”

“Independence. Independence from Indian rule,” adds Bhat and his two friends, who both joined him in the boycott. “If Independence from the Indian rule was an option, every Kashmiri would vote and that would be a democratic election. Rest is just a farce.”

The first phase of voting in Jammu & Kashmir on April 24 saw almost three-quarters of eligible voters boycott the polls. The day was characterized by pro-independence protests and stone-throwing clashes between protesters and the Indian police. Militants had killed three people in south Kashmir, including two village leaders, in the run-up to the elections and on the day of voting killed a polling official and wounded three soldiers.

Though the Indian Army’s counter-insurgency operations have almost wiped out the militancy — the military claims less than 300 militants remain active in the region — resistance to Indian rule continues and is instead manifested in the form of street protests and stone-throwing clashes with police.

To avoid similar protests and clashes in the Srinagar constituency’s elections, police launched a massive crackdown on youth and arrested more than 600 across Kashmir; local newspapers and human rights organizations believe the number to be more than 1,000.

One of the arrested boys was Waseem Ahmad Sofi, a 15 year old student who the police say is a regular “stone-thrower.” Sofi was wounded during the April 24 clashes and recuperating in the hospital when the police arrested him under the dreaded Public Safety Act, which allows imprisonment without trial for three years.

“Is this the country that they expect us to vote for where they take a minor and put them in a prison without the right to a trial?” Showkat Ahmad, Sofi’s brother, tells the Anadolu Agency.

On April 30, the day of elections in Srinagar, thousands of army personnel were deployed to ensure voting was undisrupted. The city’s winding streets and alleyways were dotted with political banners promising “peace” and “progress” but emptied of residents, the large military presence darkening its desolation.

According to the Election Commission, only a quarter of the 1.2 million electorate voted that day. By the time the voting in the state of Jammu and Kashmir had been completed Wednesday, the turnout had only rarely peeked above 50 percent.

The poll boycott happened despite most leaders of the pro-independence movement being arrested before the election began. The leaders had been calling for a plebiscite on whether Kashmir should be independent or join either India or Pakistan.

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had promised Kashmiris the right to self-determination and when the conflict over Kashmir escalated between India and Pakistan, soon after the partition, the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions favoring a plebiscite. India withdrew its support for the plebiscite however, when it became clear that a majority of Kashmiris wanted independence from India.

Mirwaiz Umar, a leader in the pro-independence Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference who has been under house arrest for more than three weeks, called the elections “undemocratic” and “meaningless.”

“While the pro-India leaders are campaigning for the people to vote, we have been put under arrest and still the people of Kashmir have showed that they won’t be part of this illegitimate elections,” Umar tells the Anadolu Agency.

Umar said Kashmir’s representatives in India’s parliament rarely speak about the realities of Kashmir. “It is telling that there have been more interventions in the parliament by a parliamentarian from Hyderabad than all of Kashmiri parliamentarians put together,” he says.

Muhammad Faysal, who also campaigns for a referendum on Kashmir’s future, condemned the election in stronger terms. “Basically elections are a facade of the Indian occupation to give it a democratic look by installing its puppets,” says Faysal.

“Kashmiris have been against this occupation since 1947. For Kashmir, their only worry and the biggest issue is the occupation and its horrific cost on lives of Kashmiris. That’s why majority of Kashmiris boycott elections.”

The boycott was not observed by everyone in Kashmir however, despite militant threats and social pressure, because of personal concerns about jobs, roads and electricity.

Abdul Ahad Cheken, a 53 year old motor mechanic, voted in Srinagar, after voting for the first time only in 2008. “If my two sons got a job and we could get out of poverty, I would feel I have got freedom,” Cheken said. Voter turnout was also higher in the Jammu part of the Jammu & Kashmir state, where Muslims are a minority.

The ascendance of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi has also contributed to a new political landscape. Modi’s controversial presence as the favored prime ministerial candidate has given many Kashmiris greater desire for independence.

Modi has been criticized for his alleged role in 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, where he is chief minister, and has spoken aggressively about both Kashmir and neighboring Pakistan during the election campaign. For many Kashmiris, Modi coming to power will simply expose the Indian policies they feel they have suffered from for decades.

By Zahid Rafiq (Additional reporting by Assed Baig)

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 8 May 2014

An ideological war against UK Muslims in schools?

The UK government investigation into Muslim majority schools set off by an anonymous letter

An ideological war against UK Muslims in schools?


A so-called ‘Islamist’ school plot, government leaks, off-the-record briefings, a media scramble and a government-ordered investigation of 25 schools has gripped the U.K.’s second city Birmingham in the last month.

An anonymous letter alleging a secret ‘Trojan horse’ plot to take over Muslim majority schools by ‘Islamists’ was sent to Birmingham city council in March. The letter claimed the supposed secret plot by Muslims was to take over school governing bodies and replace head teachers with ones that agreed with a specific Muslim ideology. Muslims make up 22% of the population of Birmingham.

Investigators from educational watchdog Ofsted were sent into the named schools, followed by investigators from the Department of Education (DfE).

However, the narrative and accusations have rarely been challenged by the British press, and have fuelled the language of Islamophobia against the U.K.’s Muslim community, which makes up 4.8 percent of the population.

The schools in question are based in inner-city Muslim majority areas of Birmingham and therefore have a majority Muslim membership. Anadolu Agency has gained exclusive evidence about the investigations prompted by the letter, which is now believed to be fake.

The Department of Education’s (DfE) response has alarmed many, including West Midlands police. The police called the government’s assignment of a former head of counter-terrorism, Peter Clarke, to the investigation a “desperately unfortunate appointment”.

“Peter Clarke has many qualities but people will inevitably draw unwarranted conclusions from his former role as National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism,” said Chief Constable Chris Sims.

A list of DfE investigators passed to AA revealed that one of the leading inspectors sent into investigate the schools, Isthiaq Hussain, was a former member of the controversial Quilliam foundation.  The organization brands itself as a counter-extremism think tank and is run by former members of Hizb ul-Tahrir; a group working to establish an Islamic state. However, Quilliam has been criticized by much of the British Muslim community for feeding anti-Muslim prejudice by marginalizing other Muslim groups.  A 2010 list of groups with terrorist ideologies, drawn up by the Quilliam foundation, included East London Mosque, the Muslim Council of Britain, and a group that worked with the police to improve community relations, the Muslim Safety Forum.  The move was seen as an attempt to malign Muslim groups and individuals. Ishtiaq Hussain was with the controversial think tank until 2009 and now works for the Department of Education.  The DfE did not wish to comment on Hussain’s involvement in the investigation or his connection with the Quilliam foundation.

AA sources at one of the investigated schools said the investigation was “very aggressive” and they believed “the outcome has already been decided.”

“They are asking girls if they are forced to wear the headscarf and if we force them to sit separately to boys,” a source at one of the schools said.

“They asked children how they felt that their school was now inadequate?” a teacher at Park View School told AA. “They asked teachers if they were homophobic.  All the questions were very leading and with a clear agenda behind them,” he added.

Roger King, the National Union of Teachers executive member for Birmingham, has said that he has recieved complaints from NUT members whose schools were been investigated that inspectors had asked inappropriate questions, the Guardian reported.

One of the schools in question, Park View, was rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2012. Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said he had had seen “remarkable improvements in outcomes for some of the city’s most deprived young people.”

He said the head Lindsey Clark had shown “inspirational leadership” and “Like all great heads, Clark has put her heart and soul into the school, and the pride and respect of the pupils shines through in everything they do.”

“I reflected on the moral purpose at the heart of schools such as Park View in my speech to the Association of School and College Leaders conference the same day,” he added.

Ofsted investigators have reportedly told school staff that it will now be downgraded to inadequate following the allegations.

There are currently three separate investigations taking place, by Ofsted, DfE, and Birmingham city council.  All this based on a letter that Birmingham city council’s head said was not genuine. Mark Rogers told website Chamberline files, “The letter that sparked all this off is almost certainly spurious. ”

“I think the letter reflects some concerns and potential issues in our communities. I don’t think it is a narrative of historical fact,” he said. “I don’t believe there is a conspiracy. Conspiracy is such a damaging and loaded word. Easy to use, and difficult to prove.”

The DfE report was leaked to the Telegraph and with no apparent mention of the so-called Islamist plot; the media reports discussed Muslim conservatism.

In an article in the Times on 13 April they reported a DfE official saying, “religious conservatism is getting in the way of learning and a balanced curriculum”.

“Extreme religious conservatism often acts as an entry to later problems,” a DfE source said. “A child who is brought up, age eight, nine, 10, believing that you should segregate the sexes and hand out Islamic textbooks is more likely to be radicalized in later life.”

The DfE report was leaked to Andrew Gilligan from the Telegraph.  A journalist on record for denying there was an anti-Muslim backlash following the public murder of a soldier in London in 2013, he has consistently targeted the first elected Muslim Mayor of Tower Hamlets, and says he is opposed to what he calls “Islamism.” The DfE refused to comment on the leaks that are attributed to their department.

The Park View Education Trust said in a statement “We do not know where the ‘leaks’ and ‘briefings’ around these inspections are coming from. However, the fact that they are being attributed to Ofsted (as well as the Department for Education) should be as much a cause for concern for Mr Wilshaw as it is for us, The Park View Education Trust said in a statement. “The credibility of both Ofsted and its inspections is seriously undermined by the suggestion that the agency may be colluding with the media and breaching confidentiality. This would constitute a serious breach of protocol.”

AA sources at the school have called the investigation a “witch hunt” and the term was also used in an online petition asking Michael Gove to ‘stop the racist witch hunt in Birmingham schools’ which has reached more than 1500 signatures.

Observers have felt that Gove’s response to the allegation has owed more to his personal, ideological persuasions about Islam than to upholding standards in education. In 2006 Gove wrote a book entitled Celsius 7/7 in which he argued that Europe should do more to tackle ‘Islamism’.  Arun Kundani, author of ‘The Muslims are coming! Islamophobia, extremism and the domestic war on terror’, told  AA Gove’s “cranky 2006 book Celsius 7/7 recommended Britain carry out assassinations of terrorist suspects to send “a vital signal of resolution”, and said a “temporary curtailment of liberties” would be needed to prevent “Islamism” from destroying Western civilization.”

“Someone with those views cannot be trusted to take a balanced approach to the allegations of a “Muslim takeover” of schools in Birmingham,” Kundani told AA.

William Dalrymple a writer and historian launched a much more scathing attack on Gove when the book was published.

He criticized Gove for having a lack of knowledge and experience in the subject, “Gove has never lived in the Middle East, indeed has barely set foot in a Muslim country. He has little knowledge of Islamic history, theology or culture,” Dalrymple wrote.

He accused the Education Secretary of being “ill-informed” and writing “to fit pre-existing prejudices.”

“Gove’s book is a confused epic of simplistic incomprehension, riddled with more factual errors and misconceptions than any other text I have come across in two decades of reviewing books on this subject,” writes Dalrymple.

Speaking with AA on Michael Gove and the investigation, Dalymple said, “He’s an out and out Islamophobe whose ignorance about the religion is matched only by his hostility.”

In 2002 Michael Gove was the founding chairman of the centre-right conservative think-tank Policy Exchange. In 2007 the organization published a report entitled ‘The Hijacking of British Islam: How extremist literature is subverting mosques in the UK, the report claimed that 26 out of 100 mosques were found to be selling extremist literature.  However, a BBC newsnight report found that some of the receipts used to prove that the books were purchased from mosques had been forged.

Gove is also a founder member of the Henry Jackson Society a controversial think-tank that Muslim organizations have accused of spreading anti-Muslim bigotry.  The think tank’s associate director Douglas Murray recently wrote about how the rise in Muslim birthrate in the UK was a negative thing.  MPs have resigned from the Henry Jackson society after Islamophobic and xenophobic outbursts of Douglas Murray and Alan Mendoza.  In 2013 Murray said that Britain had become a foreign country and that white Britons were a minority.

Department of Education employees have gone onto work for the Henry Jackson Society. In 2012 Emily Dyer joined the Henry Jackson Society leaving the DfE where she worked Higher Executive Officer for the Preventing Extremism Unit, where she wrote several papers on extremism within educational settings.  Before working at the DfE she worked at Policy Exchange where Gove was a founding chairman. In February this year the UK press reported that sources close to close to liberal Democrats schools minister, David Laws accused Gove of a “blatant” attempt to politicize Ofsted after sacking the watchdog’s chairman, Baroness Morgan, the Labour peer. The source said: “David is absolutely furious at the blatant attempts by the Tories to politicize Ofsted.”

It is not only Gove’s connections with Policy Exchange and the Henry Jackson society that has raised concerns, but the choice of advisors to the DfE on the issue of the investigation into the schools has also raised concerns.

On 11 April Maryam Namazie tweeted, “Met with Department for Education advisor about Islamist school in Birmingham and tackling Islamism in schools. No faith schools the answer”.  Namazie is the co-founder of the council of Ex-Muslims, which opposes Islam and Muslims.

Gove’s office refused to comment on why Namazie, an atheist and political campaigner against Muslim organizations, was consulted on an issue of school standards.

Whilst media attentions has been focused on the so-called plot, the fact that 72 percent of the schools’ children are on free school meals in a school with a 75 percent pass rate, one of the highest in the city, has been ignored.  “There has been absolutely no evidence at all of extremism,” a teacher at the school told AA.  “The decision has been made before the inspection.  They will remove the governing body, this is a witch hunt,” said one of the schools governors speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Ofsted report is due out next month, but in the meantime the school has been receiving racist hate mail.

“How can this even be allowed to happen in this day and age, WE ARE ENGLAND!  If people want to go to school run by Muslims perhaps they should move to a Muslim country. Oh my god close this school and deport you all!” said one email.

On the day the story broke in the media, one school received a phone call asking the school if they wanted to receive a delivery of bacon sandwiches.  The school serves halal meals to 90 percent Muslim students that attend it.

AA contacted the Department of Education but did not receive a response to the specific questions asked in relation to the investigation and links of inspectors and advisors.  Instead AA was presented with the following statement attributed to a DfE spokesperson: “The allegations made in relation to some schools in Birmingham are very serious and we are investigating all evidence put to us in conjunction with Ofsted, Birmingham City Council and the police. It is absolutely vital these investigations are carried out impartially, without pre-judgement. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

The findings of the investigation are expected to be published next month, but for many the damage has already been done with the leaks in the British press.

One parent told AA, “No one cared when the school was underperforming, now our kids are doing well they want to shut us down.  Everyone in the country thinks that we’re some sort of extremists, we’re not, we just want our kids to have the same chances as everybody else.”

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 25 April 2014

UK mosque row increases community suspicion of police

Police donations to UK mosque raises suspicion about intentions.

UK mosque row increases community suspicion of police


Birmingham is the United Kingdom’s second city and home to a sizeable Muslim community — one that has, at times, had a tense relationship with the city’s police.

In recent years, Birmingham has seen some high-profile terrorism cases: a plot to behead a British soldier; a terror cell that planned 7/7-style attacks and several other convictions for the funding and supporting of terrorism. Many of those arrested, from the Muslim population that makes a fifth of the city’s whole, have been released without charge.

That and the tactics used by the police in these investigations have become a source of controversy and suspicion. ‘Project Champion’ was an initiative to install over 200 cameras, some of them hidden, around mainly Muslim parts of Birmingham and was paid for with a fund earmarked for tackling terrorism. They were later removed after a community outcry against the clandestine and surreptitious nature of the operation.

Such a controversial history means worshippers at Birmingham Central Mosque were shocked when they found out about the mosque’s involvement with West Midlands Police’s counter-terrorism unit. The police donated £5,000 used to buy 50 transmitters the mosque uses to broadcast the call to prayer, sermons and question and answer sessions to people at home or work.

The decision, according to the unit’s Chief Inspector Dale Randle, was made as part of the UK government’s controversial program for tackling violent extremism, Prevent, which was launched after the 7/7 bomb attacks in London. Though Prevent has been seen as a method for spying on communities, Randle says it is actually a way of building engagement within them — which is why he agreed to fund the transmitters when asked by the mosque.

“In return we are given a little bit of air time, previously we’ve worked with radio stations and purchased airtime and advertising time, and this is a little bit similar,” said Randle. “We can work with the mosque and do some Q&A sessions and talk through some of what we do, and hopefully break down any barriers.”

Muhammad Ali, the mosque administrator, said it has a good relationship with the police. “There are many organizations involved and we have many sponsors, the police is just one of them.”

“We have not told our congregation yet,” admitted Ali.

When told about the program, several mosque attendees said they were shocked. One of them, Faisal, told the Anadolu Agency: “It’s a concern to me, why are the police involved in the first place?”

Jahan Mahmood, a historian who has advised authorities on radicalization at a local and national level told the AA that many Muslims view Prevent with suspicion. “Many Muslims were deeply annoyed by the fact that the Prevent agenda appeared to be entirely focused on Muslims,” he said, adding, “West Midlands Police have a history of mishaps when it comes to dealing with Prevent and the Muslim matters.”

“In the early stages of Prevent in Birmingham, West Midlands Police seconded one of their officers to Birmingham City Council to head outreach projects. This aroused suspicion. Then there were rumors that West Midlands Police were visiting nurseries looking for early signs of radicalization in children as young as 5,” he told the AA, adding that after the fallout from Project Champion “West Midlands Police and Muslim relations haven’t quite been the same.”

Randall said that suspicion is why his counter-terrorism unit invested in the transmitters.

“If we can help explain why we do things, as best as we can, it sometimes helps communities understand what we do,” he said.

One of the issues they want to talk about is humanitarian aid trips to Syria, after the government revealed its concerns about UK nationals fighting in Syria’s civil war.

“It gives us a good space to talk around Syria, which is a real issue at the moment. Which is certainly having an impact on the local community, regionally and nationally,” said Randall.

Steve Jolly a leading campaigner and activist against Project Champion still views the police with suspicion, claiming that “listening is a main feature” of the project. “What are police doing in mosques?” he said. “I’m surprised that mosques have been so friendly and co-opted by the police, they are beginning to resemble police stations.”

“Mosques are so keen to cooperate with police and prove that they are not terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers that they are willing to do anything, I don’t think it will do them any good,” he added.

Though Randle insisted that the program was transparent, he admitted that the decision to donate was initially made with a view to listening to the subjects being discussed but they did not pursue that option, believing it would raise suspicion within the community.

Mahmood said that while there is concern among residents, some of the blame for the controversy lies with the mosque. “This latest move has triggered criticism among some Muslims who feel West Midlands Police are once again invading their privacy but the truth is all this could have been avoided had the Mosque requested the money from elsewhere.”

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 8 April 2014

The Muslim Plot That Wasn’t

A secret document purporting to expose an undercover Muslim conspiracy to take over schools in Birmingham hit national news recently, prompting journalists to fall over themselves heralding a sinister ‘Islamic plot’, while eliciting both public statements from the Prime Minister and snap Ofsted inspections for the places of learning allegedly targeted by the conspirators.

From the outset I would like to be clear about my interest in the subject. I grew up in Birmingham, in the areas where some of these schools are based. I know Park View, one of the places mentioned, very well. I used to play football there once a week in the evenings as a teenager, and trained on the astro turf on Friday nights with Alum Rock FC. I still have family and friends playing for the local side. I also remember the reputation of Park View. It was the last place you wanted to go to school, it was the last place most parents in the area wanted to send their children and those of my friends were educated there would admit it with embarrassment.

The school since then has completely turned around. It is regarded as outstanding. There is a waiting list to get into the school. But now this so-called plot has overshadowed the school’s achievements and the hard work of those that have helped it progress. Its success is particularly worthy of celebration due to the fact that it has now become a place where people from poorer backgrounds can develop a brighter future; 72% of the school children are on free school meals. Journalists usually fail to mention this and the fact that the school is in one of the most economically deprived areas of Birmingham.

Rather, the emphasis is fixed around religion and culture. The narrative attached to this story fits neatly into the anti-Muslim rhetoric that we have seen increasing over the years. For those that buy into Islamophobic paradigms this is a gift: what more could any self-respected bigot want as vindication for their beliefs than the exposure of a clandestine plot by Muslim hardliners to oust non-Muslim heads and staff and replace them with Muslim fundamentalists? A plot to segregate girls from boys. Girls forced to wear headscarves – it has all the makings of a racist melodrama and an EDL wet dream.

There’s only one problem: none of it is true.

The letter that stirred up the recent hysteria about the school is an unattributed, undated text, unsigned by anyone- a fact that seems to have been completely overlooked by those journalists braying for the blood of Muslims of late.

How many Muslims do you need for a plot? Two? Three? Or more? What constitutes a plot? There is a very sinister Islamophobic narrative taking place here, one that, for all intents and purposes, accuses an entire minority community of surreptitiously plotting away to infiltrate the country’s institutions and changing its very values, or so we are led to believe. Would journalists ever call something a ‘Jewish plot’ or ‘Christian plot’? Should we now re-visit the Gunpowder plot and rename it the ‘Roman-Catholic plot’? Why is the religion of the governors and students been mentioned as if it were any worthier of emphasis than Guy Fawkes’ faith? Why does this become the central issue?

I’ve spoken to teachers at the school, as well as parents and governors. There is no forced segregation. Children sit where they want and- shock! Horror!- teenage boys want to sit with their male friends and girls sit with their female friends. The issue appears to be gaining so much focus simply because the children are Muslim. Arabic is taught in school, for a simple reason: it’s actually the preferred option by students.

Regarding the claims that a teacher praised the extremist preacher Anwar Awlaki in a school assembly- I have yet to find any evidence of this. We do not know when this has supposedly taken place and which staff member said it. Yet it has been broadly taken as gospel truth and ‘evidence’ of the claims of pro-terrorist Muslim scheming.

Let us look at a few facts that contradict the dominant narrative at hand about Park View: the executive principle is not a Muslim, the assistant principle is not Muslim but the acting principle is a Muslim. Surely if there was a ‘plot’ taking place all the heads of the school would be Muslim, instead the executive principle is a white non-Muslim woman. She must be a crypto-Muslim agent no doubt.

In the last 17 years all three permanent appointments at the school for head teacher have been non-Muslims. If this plot started 20 years ago as it is claimed, then where are the Muslim heads?

Tahir Alam, chair of governors at Park View, is named in the letter and ‘plot’. Mr Alam for years has tried to get Muslim parents involved in the education of their children. He has made no secret about this, he has held public events and told parents the importance of participation. The Muslim community often gets criticised for not engaging but when they do they are accused of infiltration, plots and extremism.

According to one BBC report a former teacher, Mike White, said the plot started 20 years ago. White was removed for gross misconduct and he took the school to a tribunal but lost. What the BBC fails to mention is that when Mr White was head of maths only one in 120 students got a C grade. Now, 99 out of 120 students get a C+ grade.

BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme did a report on the school. A journalist accosted students and asked them if they were forced to wear the hijab- you know, because this school is run by the Taliban, where every woman must cover themselves in order to appease their fastidious schoolmasters. This biased and loaded piece of so-called journalism also claimed that there were no pictures of girls and boys together in the school. The reporter was either blind or deliberately neglected to mention the fact that the school demonstrably displays pictures of boys and girls together and that several people have refuted her claim- but why let facts get in the way when you are on a mission to prove that there is a plot, however low your journalistic standards have to sink in order to do this?

We all know from former Daily Star reporter, Richard Peppiatt, how the drive for anti-Muslim stories in the press can lead to a skewing of facts or just simply making things up.

I do not have much hope in the Ofsted report either. I have already spoken to parents and was shocked by the questions that Ofsted and Department of Education investigators have been asking students and teachers. “Are you forced to wear that scarf,” they asked one girl who was wearing a long skirt, “Isn’t it very difficult for you to move around?”. One teacher was asked, “Are you homophobic?”, because all Muslims must be homophobic, right?

There is extremism is schools, I agree and accept this. Extremism exists in schools were parents pay tens of thousands a year to have their boys segregated from girls. Where an ideology of superiority is taught, where young rich boys are taught that it is their God given right to rule over the commoners. Where a skewed version of history is taught, colonialism was a good thing and the empire brought good to the world and civilized the savages. In these schools boys are forced to learn Latin, not Arabic. But we won’t see or hear politicians talking of that kind of extremism or segregation, we won’t see journalists peering through windows there, because it is not Muslims involved. Extremism of the rich is applauded, not questioned.

I would like to thank the teachers, governors and staff at Park View school. I would like to thank them for giving hope to so many children from a deprived area, an area I grew up in. I wish I had had this hope as a youngster. I would like to thank them for making the children believe that they can achieve and making them feel comfortable as themselves. I would like to thank them for going to such a school and not leaving it to fail, when so many others are willing to spend a short stint at an inner-city school and then move on once they have the ‘diversity’ and ‘difficult’ school on their CV’s. I would like to thank them for caring about children that once no one cared about- because no one thought we were capable of achieving anything.

Theirs is a story that should have made the news for this reason, long before they were smeared by a press addicted to sensationalist, dog-whistle journalism- which a growing market of uncritical bigots will happily pay to read.

Myanmar: Meiktila memories still fresh one year on

Many Muslim victims continue to live in Internally Displaced People camps, still dreaming of returning home.

Myanmar: Meiktila memories still fresh one year on

RANGOON, Myanmar 

It’s been one year since a Buddhist mob rampaged through the central Myanmar town of Meiktila, killing local residents and setting fire to their homes. Today, the violence is over, but many of the Muslim victims continue to live in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps, still dreaming of returning home.

The violence started after a mob attacked a Muslim-owned gold shop in the center of Meiktila following a dispute. Later that evening, a Buddhist monk was dragged off a motorbike and beaten by a group of Muslims. He later died in hospital.

Over the next two days over 40 people were killed by the mob, which also set about destroying Muslim homes, setting fire to mosques and attacking religious schools.

 “They brought them out and killed them with swords,” said Thin Thin OO – an eyewitness to the violence. She told the Anadolu Agency that she was standing by the Muslim madrassa, having just got off her moped, when three students were brought out.

“All of the children were hit in the neck,” she said, as she placed the side of her straightened hand on her neck to illustrate a chopping motion. “One of the children was hit on the neck with a sword. He dropped to the ground but they carried on hitting him. They just didn’t stop.”

OO is Muslim, but she may have been left unscathed as there was no visible way the mob could determine her faith. It’s impossible to distinguish many Muslims and Buddhists, bar a beard, a hijab or other visible symbols of faith.

The memories, however, remain.

“The Buddhists were calling the children ‘Kalars,’ they were saying: ‘Don’t leave anyone, finish off all the Kalars’,” she said.

“I remember the children begging the Buddhists to let them go – they (the children) were around 16-years-old.”

One year on, she is still haunted by the moment, adding that she still sees some of “the murderers” around town.

Eighteen-year-old Assad Ullah was a student at the Madrassah. He said he still remembers what happened.

“We were hiding, and the police came to take us to safety, but when we came out and walked through the Buddhist area, the Buddhists attacked us,” he told the AA.

He said that his attackers were armed with knives and swords, and launched themselves at them in full view of the police who were helpless to do anything.

“The Buddhists told us to worship them… They said ‘if you worship us, you will be saved,'” he said. “Some did and (yet they) were still killed.”

He said he remembered one of his teachers – Maulana Shafi – refusing to bow down to the mob and being killed before his eyes.

“He was beaten and stabbed; he was still alive when they poured petrol on him and set him on fire.”

Ullah started to cry at the memory of the day: “Everyone ran, whoever was found was killed,” he said. “I was lucky.”

By the time police intervened and the shaken Muslims were taken to the station four teachers were missing and 30 students had been killed.

“I think about it a lot… It is hard to study now… It’s hard to bear. It is very hard to deal with,” said Ullah.

On that note, Ullah suddenly stopped talking, the pain of the memory clearly too much, our conversation coming to an abrupt end.

Two days later, with the town smoldering, the military intervened and declared martial law. What was left of the homes was a trail of destruction with thousands of Muslims displaced.

The properties destroyed in the center of Meiktila are still to be rebuilt, leaving many victims unable to return, their homes reduced to burnt-out rubble.

Those whose properties were not destroyed and have felt that it is safe to return have done so, while others have gone to live with relatives or remain in the IDP camps, where they are dependent on aid from charities such as the World Food Programme. In the town center. mosques remain closed and only a handful of businesses operate.

Tint Hetw, 70, sits outside the Chan Aye Tha Ya mosque in Meiktila. There have been attempts to rebuild the homes around it, but the mosque still stands.

“First a mob of around 40 people came. They had knives and sticks,” he told the AA. “Behind them were even more, thousands of Buddhists, that had come to destroy the Muslim area.”

He said that although police came to protect the Muslims “they could not do anything to stop the mob.”

Al Hajj Maulana Hanif still lives in a camp with his wife and two daughters, exactly one year after the mob burnt down his and his neighbors’ homes.

He told the AA that he was one of around 5,000 people who hid in a nearby forest as the mob laid siege, only to reappear when police arrived and said they would protect them.

“The police took us in vehicles to the police station. There were also Buddhists with us, their homes also burnt down as they lived in our area.”

Hanif told the AA that not only was his house razed, he has no job, no home, no goods to sell, and accused the government of taking their land.

“We have no solace, peace or security. We are always worrying. What is happening? What will the future hold?” he said.

Hanif lives in a government camp where journalists are denied access. There are around 1,300 displaced people there. In Yandaw, at Madinatul Uloom mosque, there are 1,200 internally displaced people. They are all reliant on aid and have been there for a year.

AA was given access to Yandaw camp as is not run by the Myanmar government, but by local Muslims.

Laila Bi — a 33-year-old resident of Yandaw — told the AA that she used to have a restaurant in Meiktila but it was destroyed during the violence.

“We put everything into our restaurant, and when it was destroyed we fell into debt. How were we supposed to pay back the money if we did not have our business anymore?” she asked.

She said her husband has also now left, leaving Myanmar and travelling to Malaysia in search for work so he can pay back the debt.

“It’s very difficult. I feel depressed all the time,” she said, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “I feel like it (the situation) is useless.”

As she tried to wipe the tears away, camp trustee Muhammad Ali stood over her and told her things will be “OK.”

Bi’s older brother was also killed during the violence. She now lives in a small, one room bamboo hut with her four-year-old daughter. All the families live in similar huts regardless of their size.

They all want to return to Meiktila but feel it is not yet safe, and there is always a concern that the violence could start again at any time.

Ali told the AA that Muslims from around Myanmar and others from overseas had donated aid to the people in the camp, but “right now we can only give them rice and oil,” to eat he said.

There may, however, be a bigger issue at the heart of the violence.

Most of the Muslims that the AA met believed that the violence was orchestrated, and not necessarily related to the argument at the gold shop, or the beating of the monk.

“I think it was a plan to move Muslims out of the main economic area. Some Buddhists are occupying the land and hoping that they will have future market control,” said Ali.

Unlike the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state, the Muslims of Meiktila are considered Myanmar citizens, but this does not appear to have stopped extremists from targeting them. Their businesses have been the focus of protests for some time, not least from extreme militant Buddhist monk – and leader of anti-Muslim 969 group – Ashin Wirathu, who has urged Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses and even likened them to dogs.

Such attacks have led Myanmar’s Muslims — who make up 4 percent of the country’s population — to complain about such hate speech. They have lobbied the government to put a stop to it.

Leaflets distributed by Buddhist monks often claim that Muslims are conspiring against Buddhists with help and money from Saudi Arabia. The narrative the extremists adopt is one that Buddhism is under threat from Islam, and Buddhists must defend their faith.

Little has so far been done following the violence, however, Myanmar President U Thein Sein did touch on the subject soon after.

“I am deeply saddened to find out that a simple private dispute led to such deadly violence and those instigators, taking advantages of the disingenuousness of the public, attempted to exploit the situation to engineer violence in other parts of the country,” he said.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 20 March 2014

Myanmar’s Apartheid: Healthcare and memories of violence

The Rohingya of Myanmar are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world according to the United Nations.

Myanmar's Apartheid: Healthcare and memories of violence

SITTWE, Myanmar 

Myanmar’s Rohingya are mainly located in the Western state of Rakhine. There, violence against the minority in 2012 resulted in hundreds of deaths and, according to Human Rights Watch, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity were perpetrated against them – with the help of state forces.

The story of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar does not start with the outbreak of violence in 2012. Discrimination and marginalization against them dates back to post-British rule, with one of the most significant points being the 1982 citizenship law, introduced by the military junta, which stripped theRohingya of their citizenship and made them stateless.

The state commonly labels the Rohingya ‘Bengalis’, claiming they are recently arrived illegal immigrants from Bangladesh – despite a centuries-long Rohingyapresence in Myanmar. This has been further complicated by the historical placement of boundaries, with the historical kingdom of Rakhine stretching into present-day Bangladesh.

Across the border in Bangladesh, where more than 200,000 have fled, they have been met with hostility and resentment by the government. Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh dates back to the 1990s and the majority are living in unregistered camps or Bangladeshi villages, where there is no legal protection from arrest or abuse and little to no humanitarian assistance. Not wanted by Myanmar or Bangladesh the Rohingya live as a stateless people invisible to the world.

Extremist Buddhist monks from the “969 Movement” have targeted Muslim minorities in Myanmar, including the Rohingya,  telling their followers not to do business with Muslims, not to marry them, not to engage with them and even likening them to animals. One of the most prominent monks, Wirathu, has been likened to neo-Nazis for allegedly using hate speech against Muslims and warning of a Muslim takeover of the country.

– Health

Sittwe hospital is off-limits for the Rohingya. If the case is serious enough, they can be admitted by the International Committee for the Red Cross but are not able to freely enter by themselves.

They are also afraid that ethnic Rakhine doctors will not treat them properly; there are frequent stories ofRohingya dying at Sittwe hospital allegedly because of poor treatment at the hands of Rakhine staff. The claims cannot be substantiated but increase suspicions. Women who need to give birth are refusing to go to Sittwe hospital, even when NGO staff secure their access.

Some doctors visit the camps, where most Rohingyaare forced to live, but stay only for a short while, unable to treat everyone in the queues of people that go on and on. Like all goods, medicine has to be brought into Rohingya areas from the Rakhine side of town. There are makeshift pharmacies selling everything from painkillers to anti-biotics but, as with everything else, medicine is more expensive in the camps than in central Sittwe.

At the end of February, Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) was told by the Myanmar regime to leave the country. The move came after MSF reported that they had treated 22 Rohingya that had been injured and traumatized after January’s massacre in Maungdaw. The government denied anyone had been killed.  MSF were also accused by the government of hiring “Bengalis”. A few days later they were allowed to resume their activities – but only outside Rakhine state.

– Memories

Everyone remembers the violence.  They share stories of what happened, how their homes were destroyed, how their family members were killed in front of them and how they fled. Muhammed Hussein tells AA of the time that they were forced out, told to leave by police only to see their homes being burnt by Buddhist extremists.

“The police had first told us to stay in our homes but then told us to leave. They told us that we could come back later after everything had settled down, but as soon as we left the village our houses were set on fire,” he says.

“Everything was fine with our Buddhist neighbors until some men from the Rakhine authorities visited.  I do not know what they said to them but our Rakhine neighbors turned on us. We left the old and sick behind in the village believing that we would be back shortly,” he said.

The people gathered around him to listen to the story fell silent; all in the camp from the same village know the story. “A woman in our village with a two-day-old baby. The Rakhine killed her, and they did not spare the baby,” he said.

Hussein says the police did not even let them take their rickshaw bikes: “If they had let us then we could have brought her and the baby with us,” he says regretfully.  Others around him share the sense of guilt for leaving people behind, and for believing the authorities that they would be allowed to return.

“When we tried to go back and help, the police fired on us,” claims Hussein.

One man has memories of a time before the 1982 citizenship law, when Rohingya were considered citizens of the state. “My great grandfather and grandfather were recognized as Rohingya. They had passports. My father had an identity card that stated he was a Rohingya. Why am I called a Bengali?” protests 77-year-old Abdul Rahman.

He produces a green identity card, from when he was just 21-years-old, and reminisces of a time when he could live in his family home in Sittwe, rather than a camp.

“Are we not humans? Do we not have a right to exist?” he asks. His grandson shows his white identity card; a temporary one that states he is Bengali, not Rohingya.

In every camp the stories are of pain and suffering. Qadir told AA’s reporter: “We are just living, we are like the living dead.  We live without a life, just to survive each day.”

One of AA’s contacts has not stepped out of her house in nine months. It’s a self-imposed restriction in a way but comes from her fear of what would happen if the police decide to arrest her for speaking to foreigners.

She has been targeted because she is known amongst the Rohingya for providing education, distributing food and medicine, listening to people’s grievances and being amongst the few who are educated and capable of communicating in English about the Rohingya’s problems to the outside world.

“The international community just offers us words. Nothing in real terms. I do not expect anything from them anymore,” she says. “We have lost hope,” she adds with a tone of sadness.

While all this takes place in Myanmar, one of its most prominent political figures remains silent. Nobel peace laureate Aung Sun Suu Kyi chooses not to condemn the violence against the Rohingya, who she does not consider part of her support base. In 2013 in an interview with the BBC she said that violence against the Rohingya was not “ethnic cleansing”, despite reports by various human rights organizations.

It is not only the Noble peace laureate that remains silent on the plight of the Rohingya, the international community is doing very little to help the Rohingya on a meaningful level.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 13 March 2014

Myanmar’s Apartheid: Arbitrary arrest & torture

In a series of features, Anadolu Agency correspondent Assed Baig, reveals the extent of oppression inflicted on the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Apartheid: Arbitrary arrest & torture

SITTWE, Myanmar 

In 2013, in preparation for Myanmar’s census the government asked the Rohingya Muslims of western Myanmar to sign papers declaring that they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The result would have been the Rohingya identity being wiped from official records. Instead of agreeing, they responded by defiantly chanting: “Rohingya, Rohingya, Rohingya!” Following the protests the police began to arrest people they believed to have organized the demonstrations. The authorities refused to accept that they were not actually organized but were instead a spontaneous expression of the frustration the Rohingya felt at having their identity denied to them and forced to sign papers calling themselves illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

According to the UN, the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Hundreds of thousands remain in camps and tens of thousands have been forced to flee the country, risking a perilous journey at sea.  In 1982, under the citizenship act brought in by the military junta, the Rohingya had their citizenship removed and became stateless.

Win, one of Anadolu Agency’s contacts within Myanmar, was arrested on the accusation that he had organized a Rohingya demonstration against the census, though he is adamant that he had not.  Win was held in detention for a week.  “They beat and electrocuted me,” he says and then falls silent, not saying another word.  He has clearly been traumatized by the ordeal. Win was only released after his family paid a ransom of one million Burmese Kyat, around US$1000, which they raised by borrowing and asking for help from relatives abroad. His family now say that he is suffering from the psychological effects of the torture.  “He is not the same man,” his sister says. “He has changed,” she says, with a dejected look in her eyes.

Win’s family said that since his release every time he sees police near the house he begins to cry and becomes gripped with fear. His wife and children have to deal with the psychological damage the torture has left on Win’s mind. There are no doctors in the camps in Sittwe, let alone psychiatrists to help with the trauma.

Though Win was arrested for allegedly organizing protests, the authorities do not need any particular reason to detain the Rohingya. Muhammed Shafiq owns a little store that is little more than a roadside shack. He was arrested after going to a nearby military base in search of a soldier who had purchased some goods from him on credit but had disappeared. He did not even enter the base, he simply asked if the soldier was there but was detained and beaten by soldiers belonging to battalion 354.  “They tied my hands behind my back and kicked and punched me for half an hour,” he told me. “I only wanted to see if the soldier was there, he owed me money,” said the 22-year-old.  “They stripped me naked and searched me,” said Shafiq.

In one of the many Internally Displaced Persons camps an old woman approaches AA and asked to tell her story. Shugu Begum has not seen her son for two years.

“He was arrested in front of me during the violence,” she says. “We have been moved to camps and I have not seen him for two years,” she says as tears roll down her face.

Shugu looks tired and skinny.  Her grey hair is tied back and she has the look of desperation on her face, she asks, “Do you know where he is?”

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 4 March 2014