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Calls for release of Kabul University professor detained by Taliban | Taliban

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Supporters of a prominent university professor, and one of Afghanistan’s most vocal critics of the Taliban, are calling for his release after he was arrested on Saturday.

Faizullah Jalal, a professor at Kabul University, was detained by the Taliban after the group claimed he was responsible for a series of messages on social media attacking them.

Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, tweeted: “A fanatic named #Jalal has been arrested for his remarks on social media inciting people against the #system and playing with human dignity,” adding screenshots of posts from a social media account with Jalal’s name and photograph.

But his daughter, Hosna Jalal, said the accounts listed by Mujahid are fake. “We had in fact reported them to Twitter a week prior, but they didn’t take any action. We have emails to prove that,” she said.

Hosna, who is currently studying in Europe, said she first learned of the arrest from social media. “We don’t know where he is being held or how he is doing. The Taliban have refused to let us talk to him. We were able to confirm the news through friends who were with him at the time of the arrest,” she added.

Jalal is one of the country’s best-known political commentators and a long-time activist against authoritarian regimes. He was arrested in 1978 for his role in protests against the communist coup in Afghanistan and was held and tortured in Pul-e-Charkhi prison. After his release, he joined Kabul University as a lecturer. In 1993, he was appointed vice-chancellor of the university, a position he held until 1996, when the Taliban seized Kabul. In 2001, after the fall of the Taliban, he was appointed deputy minister of education, before returning to academia. He is married to Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan’s first female presidential candidate and a former minister in the now abolished Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Taliban forces fire in the air to disperse Afghan women protesting against Taliban restrictions, Kabul, 28 December 2021
Taliban forces fire in the air to disperse women protesting against Taliban restrictions, Kabul, 28 December 2021. Photograph: Ali Khara/Reuters

“This is hard for my mother but she understands, because all his life he has been part of the non-violent civil resistance,” Hosna said. “Every time I talk to him, he tells me how happy he is being among the people, being their voice. I am very proud of him, and we pray he is released and reunited with his people,” she added.

Jalal’s supporters, particularly women’s groups, have taken to the streets in Kabul calling for his immediate release. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have also raised concerns over Jalal’s detention. “Despite the fact that Faizullah Jalal’s family have confirmed that the Twitter account set up in his name is fake, he remains detained in custody. The Taliban authorities must immediately and unconditionally release him,” Samira Hamidi, Afghan activist and Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, told the Guardian.

Jalal appeared on a televised debate with a Taliban panellist in November 2021, telling him: “You can’t govern with force, terror, power and by destroying. This country belong to all people. The country doesn’t belong to one group, one ethnicity, one class or a group of four people.”

His family grew very concerned over his safety after the debate. “We urged him to leave Kabul because the Taliban can be vengeful,” his daughter said. “(But) He has never wanted to leave. Even when we left, he refused to leave. And I know even after this he will not leave.”



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Biden threatens US blacklisting of Putin

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US president Joe Biden said Tuesday “Yes, I would see that” when asked by reporters if the US would blacklist Russian president Valdimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine. It would be the “largest invasion since World War Two” and would “change the world”, Biden said. The UK and US were also “in discussions” on disconnecting Russia from the Swift international payments system, British prime minister Boris Johnson also said Tuesday.

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Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development

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Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.

The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.

Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.

In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.

The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.

An indigenous tree stands in habitat destroyed by charcoal makers
An indigenous tree, believed by local people to be ancient, stands in an area destroyed by charcoal makers in Nyakweri forest, Narok county, Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.

“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”

A mural of Prof Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace prize winner by Pius Kiio Kitheka also known as Waji Dice.
A mural of Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who campaigned to protect Kenya’s forests. Photograph: Boniface Muthoni/SOPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”

She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.

In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”

Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.

Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.

“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.

Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.

Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.



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EU court set to rule on Hungary, Poland rule-of-law challenge

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The European Court of Justice will rule on 16 February on the legality of the new mechanism linking EU funds to respect for the rule of law, which was challenged by Poland and Hungary last year. The tool has been threatened against Budapest and Warsaw where governments oversaw a decline in EU democratic standards. The court’s adviser ruled last month that their challenges should be rejected.

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