A protest in Aleppo on Sunday night
See also Bahrain 1st-Hand: Smuggled Footage of Crackdown & Interview with Ala'a Shehabi br>
Iraq Snapshot: The Divisions Among the Shia Factions br>
Bahrain Snap Analysis: The Regime's Propaganda Struggles br>
Bahrain 1st-Hand: The AlKhawaja Story - Wife/Mother Speaks Out br>
Turkey Live Coverage (30 April): Questions on the Syrian Front br>
Sunday's Bahrain, Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: The Two-Step of Protest and Detention
2100 GMT: Iraq. In a further escalation of political tension, fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and some of his bodyguards have been charged with a series of murders, including the killing of six judges.
Hashemi, a Sunni politician, fled Baghdad in December when the Shia-led Government issued an arrest warrant for him, accusing him of running death squads. He is now in Turkey and is not expected to attend the trial when it begins on Thursday.
The nine men belong to the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah), a non-profit organization that advocates --- through peaceful debate --- greater adherence to Islamic precepts.
The most recent arrest was on 20 April, 2012, when plain-clothes officials from the UAE Amn al-Dawla (State Security) agency detained the chairman of al-Islah, Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Kayed al-Qasimi. The ruler has told family members that the basis of the detention relates to a "family matter”.
The government claimed through its official news agency in December 2011 that it had stripped six al-Islah members of their UAE citizenship. On 9 April, the authorities detained the men --- Dr. Ali Hussain al-Hammadi, Dr. Shahin Abdullah al-Hosni, Hussein Munif al-Jabri and his brother Hassan Munif al-Jabri; Ibrahim Hassan al-Marzouqi, and Sheikh Mohammad Abdul Razak al-Sediq –--- when they responded to a summons to appear at an Abu Dhabi office of the Interior Ministry. One of the lawyers for the detained men told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that the authorities said they arrested the six for refusing to sign a pledge to seek another nationality.
All six are now held in the al-Shihama deportation centre in Abu Dhabi with the seventh man, Ahmed Ghaith al-Suwaidi, detained since 26 March.
The whereabouts of the ninth man, Dr. Ahmed al-Zaabi, a former judge who was also detained on 26 March, is not clear. He was initially held at al-Rahba Police Station in Abu Dhabi, and was granted bail on 15 April but has not been released.
“There is nothing sacred in Moscow's calculations regarding Syria, except of course Moscow's interests.” That statement was made by a Syrian dissident who just returned from Moscow after meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a number of Russian diplomats overseeing the Syrian situation.
It is obvious that the Russians do not consider President Bashar al-Assad’s position to be sacred, and that they will not insist on him being part of the deal they seek to achieve between the regime and the opposition. A member of the Syrian opposition reported that a Russian official repeatedly said that Assad’s fate is in the hands of the Syrians alone, and it should not be decided by Russia or any others.
The Syrian dissident also gave an account of Russia’s mistakes in the Syrian conflict, after which he stated that the Russians have come to realize that the Syrian regime cannot survive under current conditions. Therefore, Russia is holding political meetings to find acceptable alternatives.
Take the claims with a grain of salt, given the interest of the opposition in portraying Moscow's wavering support of President Assad, but start with this basic fact --- the Russians are at least meeting with activists opposed to the continued rule of the regime.
Shammas was arrested with 11 other activists in a café in the old part of Damascus on 7 March. Nine new charges were brought against her on 22 April, including one which could lead to life in prison or capital punishment: “A life sentence of forced labour will be passed on anyone committing an act that aims to cause a civil war or communal strife by arming Syrian citizens or inciting them to take up arms against each other, or to incite a massacre or looting in one or more localities. If this act achieves its aim, the guilty party will be sentenced to death.”
Shammas is the daughter of Michel Shammas, a well-known human rights lawyer active on Facebook, and activists believe she may have been arrested to put pressure on the attorney.
1852 GMT: Syria. Back from a break to find a video of a loud protest rally in Ataman in Daraa Province: "Death but not humiliation!"
Young men demonstrate after a funeral in Tartous:
This is only a limited victory for Khawaja and his team, our correspondent says, because although the verdict reached by a military tribunal has been thrown out, he will remain in custody while his case is reviewed.
The BBC also quotes AlKhawaja's wife, who further illustrates the frustration that is being echoed by many Bahraini activists today:
"I think it is ridiculous, what sort of legal process is this?" Khawaja's wife Khadija al-Moussawi told the BBC. "They are playing for time, and should have transferred his case to a civilian court at the first hearing not the third."
She said they were the same judges in military and civilian courts, "but with different clothes".
"Just let them [the activists] go. The government commissioned the Bassiouni report and that declared that they were prisoners of conscience," she said - referring to an independent inquiry into events in 2011 that delivered a searing indictment of the government, including its treatment of Khawaja.
1445 GMT: Syria.According to anonymous members of Lebanon's security force, Syrian soldiers fired on a group of 3 Lebanese and 1 Swiss skiers, wounding at least one.
The group of four were skiing on Mount Herman in Lebanon's east when one of the Lebanese men, Antoine Hajj, was shot in the shoulder, they said."Once they came under fire from the Syrian army post, the skiers started screaming to them to hold fire," the security source said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the press.
The Syrian border guards then entered Lebanon, he said, and told the skiers that they could leave. They then walked for four hours to the nearest Lebanese security post, he added.
1435 GMT: Bahrain. Scott Lucas has posted a separate feature, a first hand account from Bahrain. See also Bahrain 1st-Hand: Smuggled Footage of Crackdown & Interview with Ala'a Shehabi (Channel 4).
1414 GMT: Syria. Tense moments around the capital today - there are reports of a very large funeral protest, perhaps with thousands of activists, in the heart of Kafar Souseh, one of the most important neighborhoods in Damascus.
Meanwhile, there are many reports, from many sources, of an intensified security presence on the streets of the Syrian capital and its suburbs. These tanks are reportedly stationed in Douma, and match reports we've been carrying since earlier today (see update 0920 GMT). Many other suburbs are carrying similar reports, though Douma, as always, appears to be a focus.
1359 GMT: Libya. The former Libyan oil minister, Shukri Ghanem, is dead, apparently drowned in the Danube River in Italy. Preliminary autopsy results suggest that there are no signs of suicide or violence, possibly indicating an accident. However, whenever a man who defected from the Qaddafi regime dies mysteriously, plenty of attention will be paid to the incident. Then again, Ghanem had been complaining of health problems of late.
1340 GMT: Bahrain. The international spotlight is fixed on Bahrain today, with news that 21 political prisoners, including Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, will be given a retrial. However, with reports that AlKhawaja has been force fed, the opposition reaction has been mixed, to say the least.
Al Wefaq, a major opposition political party, has released statements that are cautiously optimistic, while many in the streets, and AlKhawaja's wife, have once again called for AlKhawaja's immediate release - not a retrial:
"This ruling is just a step in the right direction, but the street will not calm down until all the prisoners are freed. This is just a part of it," said Sayed Hadi al-Mousawi, a senior official from leading opposition party Wefaq.
Khawaja has been refusing food for nearly three months and is at risk of dying, according to his family. But his wife, Khadija al-Mousawi, said on Monday his hunger strike would continue despite the decision to grant him a retrial. "If they are serious they should set them free and then retry them," she said. "My husband is going through the whole thing again, remembering the horrible episode of torture, attempt to rape and sexual abuse."
The division between the official opposition parties and the demands of those on the street is becoming wider, particularly as violence in the streets, and reports of continued abuse at the hands of regime security forces, continue to renew tensions between many Bahraini citizens and the Bahraini government. This is just another sign of that divide - the regime is calling this "reform," the opposition parties are saying that it's a good start, and the Bahraini activists remain as convinced as ever that the government cannot be trusted.
James Miller takes over today's coverage from Scott Lucas.
0920 GMT: Syria. Movement of military forces in Douma this morning --- activists claim the regime's troops are carrying out raids in the Damascus suburb for the fourth time in a week:
0912 GMT: Bahrain. So what does this morning's announcement of a "retrial" for 21 political prisoners actually mean? Will any of them, including hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, be released pending a hearing in civilian court rather than in the military tribunal that convicted them?
We are trying to get answers out of the convoluted statement from the Bahrain News Agency:
A quash of judgment does not result in release of the defendants as long as they were imprisoned when presented in the first trial, because a quash of judgment brings the case to the same condition when it emerged from the Public Prosecution. Whereas a verdict to quash a judgment does not result in or potentiality of giving preference to acquittal on the conviction in the case, but the court may return it after legal error correction, which occurred in the first judgment to adjudicate with the same previous penalty, mitigate, or innocence of the defendant. It retrieves full freedom to issue judgment without being bound by verdict of the First Degree as a new case that did not receive the judgment before. However, it is prohibited to adjudicate with severe punishment as long as the defendant was the appellant before the Court of Cassation.
In that paragraph, "does not result in release of the defendants" appears to confirm that the 14 political prisoners (seven were convicted in absentia) will remain behind bars.
And then there is this passage:
In the case of re-trial and due to the previous guilty verdict from First Degree Court and the Court of Appeal, which means an agreement and persuasion of two departments' judges on conviction, it is likely to result in a resumption of the judiciary, usually, with reconviction due to the absence of any changes in the case or in its subject or evidence.
Translation? The move to civilian court is "likely to result...(in) reconviction", meaning that the notion of a "retrial" is more show than substance.
0905 GMT: Syria. State TV is reporting that eight people died in this morning's double bombing in Idlib, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims 20 people, most of them from the security forces, were killed.
State TV is also saying that an "armed terrorist group" carried out an attack with rocket-propelled grenades overnight, causing no casualties, and that another group used RPGs on a police patrol in front of a hospital in the Damascus area of Rukn al-Din, wounding four officers.
0805 GMT: Syria. Activist Maryam Alkhawaja reports that the trial of her sister and fellow activist Zainab has been postponed to 2 May. She said Zainab, arrested on 21 April, would be held pending the hearing.
0755 GMT: Syria. A newsflash from Syrian State news agency SANA said two bombs have exploded in Idlib in the northwest of the country, near the Turkish border: "Terrorist bombings in Hanano Square and Carlton Street in Idlib and news of casualties."
0745 GMT: Bahrain. The country's appeals court has ordered a retrial in a civilian court for 21 opposition activists, including hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja and other opposition leaders such as Ebrahim Sharif and Hassan Mushaimaa.
The Court of Cessation has ruled "that testimony from prosecution and defence witnesses be heard once more as if it is a new trial"; however, it did not indicate if the men would be released from detention.
The trials were held last summer in a military court. Eight of the defendants were given life sentences, with the others receiving terms from 5 to 15 years. Seven men were convicted in absentia
A date for the retrial was not but a lawyer said it was expected within the next couple of weeks.
Alkhawaja's daughter, activist Maryam Alkhawaja, indicated the decision would have no effect on his hunger strike: "Abdulhadi Alkhawaja did not go on #HungerStrike saying death or retrial, he said death or freedom. A retrial doesn't mean much."
Meanwhile, John Yates, the British policeman brought in by the regime to supervise "reform" of security forces, appeared to have shifted in his position that issues of abuse and political tension are exaggerated:
In BBC Radio 5 interview, John Yates just acknowledged HRW & Amnesty allegations of police brutality were "alarming, and if true, appalling"— Kristian Ulrichsen(@Dr_Ulrichsen) April 30, 2012
0742 GMT: Bahrain. As we post two contrasting but linked features from Bahrain --- "The Regime's Propaganda Struggles" and "The AlKhawaja Story --- Wife/Mother Speaks Out", a snapshot from Sunday in the kingdom....
The first video is of a march, calling for the release of political prisoners such as hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, in Bilad Qadeem; the second is of subsequent clashes between security forces and protesting youth:
And from Saturday, police fire dozens of tear gas rounds into Karzakan village:
0730 GMT: Syria. The first significant wave of United Nations observers, in the second effort by the UN to monitor the situation in Syria, arrives today. Thirty monitors are due to take to the streets.
A handful of lbservers have been on the ground since the UN Security Council decided earlier this month to authorise a 300-strong team, but videos have shown them evading regime gunfire as much as establishing any calm. As he arrived in Damascus on Sunday, the head of the mission, Major General Robert Mood, sounded far from confident:
To achieve the success of the Kofi Annan plan, I call on all sides to stop violence and help us continue the cessation of armed violence. Thirty unarmed observers, 300 unarmed observers, even 1,000 unarmed observers cannot solve all the problems. I call on everyone to help us and cooperate with us in this very challenging task ahead.
Sunday was relatively quiet for news in the conflict, but 29 people still died in violence, according to activists: nine in Hama Province, eight in Homs Province, five in Idlib Province, two in the Damascus suburbs, two in Daraa Province, and one each in Aleppo Province, Damascus, and Deir Ez Zor Province.