COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Muslims will not take part in this year’s Hajj, the country’s pilgrimage organizers announced on Tuesday, as the island nation faces its worst economic crisis in memory.
Muslims make up almost 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist.
This year, 1,585 Sri Lankans were expected to perform Hajj after Saudi Arabia announced last month that it would allow 1 million foreign and domestic Muslims to travel to the holy city of Makkah in the pilgrimage season.
The Hajj, one of Islam’s five main pillars of faith, was restricted to just 1,000 domestic visitors in 2020. Last year, the Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.
But even with Sri Lanka’s reduced pilgrim quota this year, the cost of sending worshippers to the Kingdom is too high for the country to bear.
“When going through the prevailing situation and the suffering the people are undergoing in our Mother Lanka, members of both associations decided to sacrifice this year’s Hajj,” All Ceylon Hajj Tour Operators Association and Hajj Tour Operators Association of Sri Lanka said in a letter to the country’s Department of Muslim Religious Affairs.
The organizations are umbrella groups of government-licensed operators — the only tour organizers available to prospective pilgrims.
Hajj Tour Operators Association President Rizmi Reyal said that the decision by operators was unanimous due to “the severe dollar crisis facing the country.”
Sri Lanka’s economy is in dire straits. Earlier this month, the finance ministry estimated its usable foreign reserves at less than $50 million. The country has already defaulted on its debts after missing a deadline for foreign debt repayments.
“The whole Hajj operation of Sri Lankan pilgrims will cost around $10 million, which is a big amount compared with the current economic situation of the country,” Ahkam Uwais, chairman of the National Hajj Committee under Sri Lanka’s Department of Muslim Religious Affairs, told Arab News.
“The decision to forgo this year’s Hajj is a generous gesture by members of the Muslim community to sacrifice their pilgrimage for the sake of the country,” he said.
Saheed M. Rismy, president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, said the Muslim community’s decision was “in solidarity with the other people during the trying times.”
FAIRFAX, Virginia: A jury on Wednesday awarded Johnny Depp $10.35 million in his libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard, vindicating his stance that Heard fabricated claims that she was abused by Depp before and during their brief marriage.
The jury also found in favor of Heard, who said she was defamed by Depp’s lawyer when he called her abuse allegations a hoax. The jury awarded her $2 million in damages.
The verdicts bring an end to a televised trial that Depp had hoped would help restore his reputation, though it turned into a spectacle of a vicious marriage.
Throughout the trial, fans — overwhelmingly on Depp’s side — lined up overnight for coveted courtroom seats. Spectators who couldn’t get in gathered on the street to cheer Depp and jeer Heard whenever either appeared outside.
Depp sued Heard for libel in Fairfax County Circuit Court over a December 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” His lawyers said he was defamed by the article even though it never mentioned his name.
While the case was ostensibly about libel, most of the testimony focused on whether Heard had been physically and sexually abused, as she claimed. Heard enumerated more than a dozen alleged assaults, including a fight in Australia — where Depp was shooting a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel — in which Depp lost the tip of his middle finger and Heard said she was sexually assaulted with a liquor bottle.
Depp said he never hit Heard and that she was the abuser, though Heard’s attorneys highlighted years-old text messages Depp sent apologizing to Heard for his behavior as well as profane texts he sent to a friend in which Depp said he wanted to kill Heard and defile her dead body.
In some ways, the trial was a replay of a lawsuit Depp filed in the United Kingdom against a British tabloid after he was described as a “wife beater.” The judge in that case ruled in the newspaper’s favor after finding that Heard was telling the truth in her descriptions of abuse.
In the Virginia case, Depp had to prove not only that he never assaulted Heard, but that Heard’s article — which focused primarily on public policy related to domestic violence — defamed him. He also had to prove that Heard wrote the article with actual malice. And to claim damages he had to prove that her article caused the damage to his reputation as opposed to any number of articles before and after Heard’s piece that detailed the allegations against him.
Depp, in his final testimony to the jury, said the trial gave him a chance to clear his name in a way that he the U.K trial never allowed.
“No matter what happens, I did get here and I did tell the truth and I have spoken up for what I’ve been carrying on my back, reluctantly, for six years.” Depp said.
Heard, on the other hand, said the trial has been an ordeal inflicted by an orchestrated smear campaign led by Depp.
“Johnny promised me — promised me — that he’d ruin my life, that he’d ruin my career. He’d take my life from me,” Heard said in her final testimony.
The case captivated millions through its gavel-to-gavel television coverage and impassioned followers on social media who dissected everything from the actors’ mannerisms to the possible symbolism of what they were wearing. Both performers emerge from the trial with reputations in tatters with unclear prospects for their careers.
Eric Rose, a crisis management and communications expert in Los Angeles, called the trial a “classic murder-suicide.”
“From a reputation management perspective, there can be no winners,” he said. “They’ve bloodied each other up. It becomes more difficult now for studios to hire either actor because you’re potentially alienating a large segment of your audience who may not like the fact that you have retained either Johnny or Amber for a specific project because feelings are so strong now.”
Depp, a three-time best actor Oscar nominee, had until recent years been a bankable star. His turn as Capt. Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film helped turn it into a global franchise, but he’s lost that role. (Heard and Depp’s teams each blame the other.) He was also replaced as the title character in the third “Fantastic Beasts” spin-off film, “The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Despite testimony at the trial that he could be violent, abusive and out of control, Depp received a standing ovation Tuesday night in London after performing for about 40 minutes with Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall. He has previously toured with Joe Perry and Alice Cooper as the group Hollywood Vampires.
Heard’s acting career has been more modest, and her only two upcoming roles are in a small film and the upcoming “Aquaman” sequel due out next year.
Depp’s lawyers fought to keep the case in Virginia, in part because state law provided some legal advantages compared with California, where the two reside. A judge ruled that Virginia was an acceptable forum for the case because The Washington Post’s printing presses and online servers are in the county.
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.”