KABUL: About two dozen Afghan women chanting “bread, work, freedom” protested in the capital on Sunday against the Taliban’s harsh restrictions on their rights.
Since seizing power in August, the Taliban have rolled back the marginal gains made by women during the two decades of US intervention in Afghanistan.
“Education is my right! Reopen schools!” chanted the protesters, many of them wearing face-covering veils, as they gathered in front of the ministry of education.
Demonstrators marched for a few hundred meters before ending the rally as authorities deployed Taliban fighters in plain clothes, an AFP correspondent reported.
“We wanted to read out a declaration but the Taliban didn’t allow it,” said protester Zholia Parsi.
“They took the mobile phones of some girls and also prevented us from taking photos or videos of our protest.”
After seizing power, the Taliban had promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have already been imposed.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
Women have also been banned from traveling alone and can only visit public gardens and parks in the capital on days separate from men.
This month, the country’s supreme leader and Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada said women should generally stay at home.
They were ordered to conceal themselves completely, including their faces, should they need to go out in public.
The decree, which triggered international outrage, carried echoes of the Taliban’s first reign, when they made the all-covering burqa mandatory for women.
The Taliban have also banned protests calling for women’s rights and dismissed calls by the United Nations to reverse their restrictions.
Some Afghan women initially pushed back against the curbs, holding small protests.
But the Taliban soon rounded up the ringleaders, holding them incommunicado while denying they had been detained.
BOSTON: Hackers sponsored by the Iranian government last year attempted a “despicable” cyberattack against Boston Children’s Hospital that threatened to disrupt services to patients, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Wednesday.
Wray, in a speech delivered at a conference hosted by Boston College, detailed the incident as he warned about the rising threat cyberattacks sponsored by some nation states including Iran pose to companies and US infrastructure.
“We got a report from one of our intelligence partners indicating Boston Children’s was about to be targeted, and understanding the urgency of the situation, the cyber squad in our Boston field office raced out to notify the hospital,” Wray said.
Wray said officials with the FBI were able to quickly get the nationally renowned children’s hospital the information needed to “stop the danger right away” and mitigate the threat.
“Quick actions by everyone involved, especially at the hospital, protected both the network and the sick kids that depended on it,” Wray said.
Boston Children’s Hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wray called the incident “one of the most despicable cyberattacks I have ever seen” and was an example of the increasing risks hospitals and other providers of critical infrastructure face from hackers, including state-sponsored ones.
“If malicious cyber actors are going to purposefully cause destruction, or hold data and systems for ransom, they tend to hit us somewhere that’s really going to hurt,” Wray said.
LONDON: Suicide attempts by asylum seekers in Britain threatened with being sent to Rwanda under new deportation plans have been reported to refugee charities, which warn that they are being “driven to despair.”
The reports of suicide attempts were made as Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that the first group of asylum seekers who entered Britain via the English Channel will be deported to Rwanda on June 14.
A female Iranian asylum seeker told charity representatives that she attempted suicide because she thought she faced being sent to the African country.
A Yemeni asylum seeker, 40, sent a video to Patel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he had “no other choice but to kill myself” after arriving in the UK in April and being informed about the Rwanda offshoring plans.
More recently, an Afghan asylum seeker attempted suicide after being detained in preparation for being offshored to Rwanda.
A young Sudanese asylum seeker died in Calais on May 11, with charity workers being told that he wanted to die because of the Rwanda offshoring plans. French authorities are investigating the case.
Clare Moseley, CEO of the charity Care4Calais, said the prospect of being forcibly sent to Rwanda has distressed a lot of asylum seekers who could be traumatized from the lives they are escaping.
The Home Office deals with thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers every year, with its own assessments of the widespread vulnerability of asylum seekers being revealed in an investigation by The Guardian.
Some 17,440 asylum seekers were determined to be vulnerable last year. They were referred to so-called “safeguarding hubs.”
The Home Office said it records 26 different vulnerabilities that can lead to an asylum seeker or migrant being sent to a safeguarding hub, including suicide and self-harm, torture, trafficking and mental health problems.
Moseley said: “The aim of the Rwanda plan is to act as a deterrent by being even more terrifying to refugees than the journeys they make in flimsy boats across the Channel.
“Refugees have suffered terrible oppression. Yet our goal is to deter them using the fear of more injury and oppression. This is not the act of a civilized or compassionate nation.
“Little wonder that Priti Patel’s actions are driving the world’s victims to take their own lives in despair.”
LONDON: Britons prepared Wednesday to mark a record-breaking 70 years on the throne for Queen Elizabeth II, with four days of festivities offering temporary respite from an inflationary crisis and doubts over the monarchy’s future.
The Platinum Jubilee takes place as Britons contend with a surge in prices not seen since the 1970s, with many households struggling to put food on the table and pay rocketing bills.
But with two public holidays from Thursday and then the weekend, pubs, restaurants and retailers are hoping for a timely sales boost, after a difficult period including the Covid pandemic.
Supermarket chain Co-op predicted “a bigger sales period than Christmas.”
On The Mall, a red-paved avenue leading to Buckingham Palace, royal enthusiasts from far and wide have been camping out, despite heavy downpours.
“The last 24 hours have been horrendous. We had rain, hail, thunder, lightning,” Mary-Jane Willows, 68, from Cornwall, southwest England, told AFP.
“It’s the only way to make sure that you are at the front of the barrier when that royal coronation coach goes past, that golden coach…. It will be the most magical moment,” she said.
Angie Hart, 51, traveled from Canada to stake out a camping spot on The Mall with her husband and two daughters.
“It has always been something that I wanted to do,” she said. “I just have a real respect for the queen.”
But in Britain and the wider Commonwealth, support for the monarchy overall is an open question once the increasingly frail, 96-year-old monarch departs the scene.
With Prince Charles taking over more of his mother’s duties for occasions of state, there is a sense that the first — and possibly the last — Platinum Jubilee in British history marks a turning of the page.
A poll for The Sun newspaper this week gave the queen a 91.7-percent approval rating. Charles commanded only 67.5 percent, behind his son Prince William on 87.4 percent.
In Australia, where the queen is also head of state, new center-left Prime Minister Anthony Albanese appointed an “assistant minister for the republic” in a move welcomed by the republicans.
Albanese has previously described Australia becoming a republic as “inevitable.”
Historian Anthony Seldon, of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), said “how traumatic it’s going to be when it unravels, as well as it might in the next two, three, four years when the change comes.”
Unlike the vocal Charles, the queen has rarely expressed an opinion in public, and her sheer longevity means that she has been a fixture of the life of nearly every Briton alive.
She has overcome numerous family traumas, including Charles’ very public split from Princess Diana and personal heartache when her consort Prince Philip died aged 99 last year.
The jubilee is being seen as a chance for the nation to give thanks to the queen publicly, after social distancing last year prevented crowds at Philip’s funeral.
The celebrations kick off Thursday with Trooping the Color, a military parade that has officially marked the British monarch’s birthday for centuries.
A fly-past will include Spitfires, the iconic fighter plane that helped win the Battle of Britain and fend off Nazi Germany in 1940.
The aerial display is expected to be watched by the queen and senior royals from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Balcony numbers have been limited to “working royals” only, leaving no place for self-exiled grandson Prince Harry and his American wife Meghan — returning on a rare visit to Britain — nor Elizabeth’s disgraced second son Prince Andrew.
Patriotic nostalgia runs red, white and blue throughout the festivities, culminating in Ed Sheeran singing “God Save the Queen” in front of Buckingham Palace on Sunday.
Participants in a giant public parade through central London earlier Sunday will be familiar to anyone acquainted with British popular culture since 1952.
But Bollywood dancers and a Caribbean carnival will also reflect the changes in British society since then, from one that was predominantly white and Christian, to one that is multicultural and multi-faith.
Britain’s Empire has given way to a Commonwealth of nations — 14 of which still count the queen as their head of state, including Australia and Canada.
But recent royal tours of the Caribbean have laid bare growing tensions about the British monarchy’s status further afield.
“This queen has been a significant glue within that Commonwealth,” said Michael Cox, emeritus professor of international relations at LSE.
“Whether, how successfully, Charles is going to play the same role, I don’t know,” he said.
NEW DELHI: Representatives of a Hindu minority in Indian-controlled Kashmir said on Wednesday they will begin leaving the region themselves if the government refuses to relocate them to a safer place following a recent series of deadly attacks on community members.
Hindus in the Kashmir Valley, known locally as Pandits, have been taking to the streets since last month, protesting against the local administration, which they say has failed to provide them with security in the disputed Muslim-majority region.
At least 17 Kashmiri Hindus have been killed in the valley since August 2019. In the most recent incident, a Pandit teacher was shot dead outside her school in Kulgam district on Tuesday — less than a month after a government employee and community member was murdered in nearby Budgam.
Tuesday’s killing sparked another wave of fear and protests, with hundreds of Pandits blocking highways in Kulgam and Srinagar, the region’s main city, to demand relocation from the valley.
“We want to be relocated so that we save our lives, our families are safe and our children are safe,” Sunil Bhat, a Pandit community member and local administration worker, told Arab News.
He said that after community members announced they would begin leaving the region on Thursday, neighborhoods where they live were sealed off by police.
Local media footage also showed checkpoints and security forces blocking entry points to the areas.
“The government has sealed our areas where Kashmir migrant families live so that we don’t come out,” Bhat said. “We have to leave to save our lives. We have been telling the government to take us away from here.”
Most Pandits, about 200,000, fled Kashmir after an anti-India rebellion broke out in 1989. About 5,000 returned after 2010 under a government resettlement plan that provided jobs and housing.
Sanjay Tickoo, who heads the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti — the largest Kashmiri Pandit group in the region — said that the government “should accept the situation is not good.”
Problems multiplied after New Delhi stripped the region of its semi-autonomy in August 2019 and cracked down on political activity. A series of administrative measures allowing more outsiders to settle in Kashmir also raised fears of an attempt to engineer demographic change in the Muslim-majority area.
“If they want to bring normalcy in the valley, the government will have to hold dialogues with the main political parties, which have been sidelined since August 2019,” Tickoo said.
Others say the security situation has worsened since the abrogation of Article 370 of the constitution, which granted Kashmir special autonomous status.
“Nothing good has happened to us after the removal of Article 370,” Sandeep Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit whose family has been living in the valley for generations, told Arab News.
“All Pandits are living under fear. They don’t want any more killing.”
However, Hina Bhat, spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said that there is no plan for any relocation.
“The BJP government is doing everything to protect them and take care of the Pandits,” she added.
“Displacement would be against the policy of the government, and ever since we have come to power, we are working to create a situation where they can live peacefully and securely.”
But community members do not feel safe.
“We are feeling so insecure that we want to leave the valley,” Ashvin, a Kashmiri Hindu who requested anonymity, told Arab News over the phone from the valley.
“We want the government to rescue us and relocate us. If the government does not do that, we will migrate.”