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Head of Iran’s morality police reportedly suspended amid protests | Iran

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The head of Iran’s morality police has reportedly been suspended from his post as protests swept across Iran for a third day over the killing of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was detained by the police after being accused of not wearing the hijab appropriately.

A number of respected Iranian news outlets reported that Col Ahmed Mirzaei, the head of the moral security police of Greater Tehran, had been suspended from his role after the death of Mahsa Amini. Tehran police denied he had been suspended or fired.

A CT scan of Amini’s head showed a bone fracture, haemorrhage, and brain edema, seemingly confirming that she died due to being struck on the head.

The scan results, if confirmed, are a huge setback not only for the morality police, but the wider Tehran police force since it published edited videos of her arrest and detention in a police centre designed to show she died due to a heart condition or epilepsy.

Her father has always denied she suffered any such condition, effectively accusing the police of a cover-up.

President Ebrahim Raisi, who since his election last year has tightened enforcement of the headscarf law, spoke to Amini’s family by phone on Sunday. “Your daughter is like my own daughter, and I feel that this incident happened to one of my loved ones. Please accept my condolences,” state media reported him as saying.

Raisi is travelling to New York where he is due to address the general assembly on Tuesday over the future of the nuclear deal with the west.

Western officials involved in the talks met in New York on Monday to underline they will not make a better offer to Iran, but Iranian sources claimed there appeared to be movement from the UN nuclear weapons inspectorate the IAEA that might unblock one of the obstacles to an agreement.

Raisi will be hoping that protests will have died down by time he speaks in New York. The former Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said he was ashamed by what happened to Amini.

Speaking at a press conference, the Greater Tehran police commander, Hossein Rahimi, said Amini was stopped by the morality police, known as “Gasht-e Ershad”, while walking in a park because her hijab was “inappropriate”. He claimed the police had not made mistakes and railed against the “cowardly accusations” being made against his force.

“There was no negligence on the part of the police, not even a small slip; all the words published in cyberspace about the cause of death are pure lies.”

Rahimi said “there was no argument or resistance” during Amini’s detention, claiming she was “even joking” while inside the morality police’s van. He admitted “guidance patrol officers are equipped with body cameras, but in this instance, they had no camera”.

In social media posted online, there was footage of police motorcycles in flames, and large crowds gathering to demand a relaxation of hijab rules.

Protesters threw rocks at security forces in the town of Divandarreh in Kurdistan, a video posted on Twitter by Kurdish rights group Hengaw showed. A widely followed Iranian Twitter account that focuses on protests in Iran said shopkeepers had gone on strike in Kurdish cities.

Students rallied, including at the capital’s Tehran and Shahid Beheshti universities, demanding “clarification” on how Mahsa Amini died, and water cannon was seen on the streets in a bid to quell the protests. Many women joined the protests refusing to wear the hijab.

Stepping up denials of any wrongdoing in the death, police commander Hossein Rahimi said Amini had suffered no physical harm and that police had “done everything” to keep her alive. “This incident was unfortunate for us and we wish to never witness such incidents,” Rahimi said, describing accusations of mistreatment as “cowardly”.

Amini was visiting Tehran with her family on Tuesday last week when she was detained by morality police in what Amnesty International called “an arbitrary arrest”.

Police accused her of not complying with the country’s hijab regulations and took her to a police station, telling her family she would be released after a “re-education” session.

However, she was subsequently transferred in a coma to the emergency department of a nearby hospital. Pictures of her face in hospital showed discolouring around her ears that seemed consistent with physical blows. She died on Friday.

Official police department reports say Amini died after suffering a heart attack, but her family hold police responsible.

Videos shared on Twitter late on Sunday showed protesters demonstrating in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province. A video posted by Hengaw showed security forces in riot gear running down a street in the city, at least one of them firing what appeared to be a gun.

The US called for accountability in the case. “Mahsa Amini’s death after injuries sustained while in police custody for wearing an ‘improper’ hijab is an appalling and egregious affront to human rights,” a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said.

“Women in Iran should have the right to wear what they want, free from violence or harassment. Iran must end its use of violence against women for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” the official said. “There must be accountability for Mahsa’s death.”

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Mobilising Assam’s ‘hargila army’: how 10,000 women saved India’s rarest stork | Global development

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On a cool December afternoon a group of women dressed in brightly coloured mekhela chadors (Assam’s traditional handwoven clothing) sit in a circle on the grass at the Bhokha Beel wetlands, singing and clapping.

Some of the women are wearing papier-mache headdresses shaped like long-necked birds. As they sing, one of them gets to her feet and starts dancing.

They are part of the “hargila army”, a group of rural women in the Indian state of Assam who work to protect one of the world’s rarest storks: the greater adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius) – or hargila (meaning “bone swallower” in Assamese) as the scavenger bird is known locally. They are celebrating the recent UN Environment Programme’s Champions of the Earth award, conferred on the group’s biologist founder, Dr Purnima Devi Barman.

A greater adjutant stork

Barman won the award for her achievement in mobilising more than 10,000 women to help save the stork. “They are the protectors of the birds and of their nesting trees,” says Barman, referring to the band of homemakers turned conservationists.

The greater adjutant, a member of the stork family that can grow up to 1.5 metres (5ft) tall, was once abundant across south Asia. But its distinctive features – a featherless head, dangling gular (throat) pouch, striking pale eyes and long skinny legs – and its foul-smelling droppings and dietary preference for carrion – won it few fans.

The birds were not just reviled, they were seen as a bad omen and carriers of disease. Villagers attacked them with stones, cut down trees where they roosted communally and burned their nests.

Today the greater adjutant is endangered, with fewer than 1,200 adult birds in its last strongholds – the Indian states of Assam and Bihar, and Cambodia. Most of the global population is found in Assam, making Barman and the hargila army’s work critical to its survival.

Barman grew up in a village on the Brahmaputra, a river that flows for 2,500 miles through Tibet, north-east India and Bangladesh. As a child, she learned about Assam’s wildlife from her grandmother, who took her into the paddy fields where she worked and taught her about local birdlife. “She didn’t know how to write but she had a feeling for nature and taught me lots of songs and stories about the birds,” says Barman.

Barman and members of the 10,000-strong hargila army sing and dance to traditional songs.

Her love of the natural world stayed with her. She gained a first degree and a master’s in zoology and was about to embark on a PhD on the greater adjutant when a contact phoned to tell her that a villager in Dadara had cut down a kadam (burflower) nesting tree in his yard.

When she arrived at the site she was appalled to find the ground littered with nests and dead or injured chicks. “It was my mothering instinct. I wanted to do something to protect these innocent creatures,” says Barman, whose twin girls were two at the time.

Barman began teaching the villagers about the birds’ importance as “nature’s cleaning crew”, and why nesting trees should not be cut down. In response, she was taunted and asked to clean the foul-smelling mess herself. The hostility she faced made her realise that to save the bird, she first needed to change the community’s attitude to it.

Purnima Devi Barman with a lifesize cutout of a greater adjutant stork
Badge worn by hargila army members
A sign in Dadara village shows the partnership of the hargila army with the state forest department and the district administration and police

She delayed her PhD and set to work: she organised public meetings where she honoured the owners of trees, mostly men, instilling in them a sense of pride in their role as guardians. The tactic paid off. “Not a single nesting tree has been cut down since 2010,” she says.

But it was the women who Barman believed held the key to sustainable and community-led conservation. The problem was they were confined to their homes and household chores. So Barman found creative ways to bring them out where she could talk to them. She began organising cooking competitions of traditional sweets and snacks, where she befriended the women and talked about the birds.

A primary school student with a greater adjutant poster

She tapped into the women’s nurturing side by organising “baby showers” during the storks’ breeding season, inspired by a Hindu ritual for expectant human mothers, and “happy hatching” ceremonies to commemorate the arrival of the chicks. Slowly but surely, the women began to accept the birds as part of their world.

By 2014, the conservation movement had gathered momentum and the hargila army was born. “Conservation is all about uniting people and building ownership,” says Barman. “I’ve always believed that, if given a chance, women can make a big difference in conservation.”

Today, the once-maligned bird is now a cultural symbol, appearing on everything from towels to road-safety campaigns.

In the villages of Dadara, Pacharia and Singimari (all in Kamrup district), greater adjutants’ nests have increased from 28 in 2010 to more than 250 according to Barman’s last count, making the area the world’s largest breeding colony. “We now have more than 1,000 hargila birds in Assam,” says Barman, referring to recent but unpublished data collected by her team.

The conservation efforts have also transformed the lives of the women, who now go into other villages to raise awareness of the birds. “Joining the hargila army gave me a chance to show everyone that I could do something meaningful with my life,” says Daivaki Saikia, a young widow from Dadara’s marginalised fishing community, who has been a member for five years.

The UN award was for Barman’s “entrepreneurial vision” in using conservation to improve women’s economic status. Assam has a rich tradition of weaving, so Barman secured funding for 30 looms and provided training in weaving the hargila motif into fabrics, providing women with an independent income. Eighty women were also given sewing machines to make bags, cushion covers and other items from the handwoven fabrics.

Mamoni Malakar, a Hargila Army member paints a henna tattoo of the hargila on Purnima Devi Barman’s palm.

In 2021, Barman established the Hargila Learning and Conservation Centre in a government school in Pacharia village, where hargila army members use songs, art and games to encourage children to protect the birds.

Juggling her job as a biologist at Aaranyak, a wildlife non-profit organisation based in the city of Guwahati, Barman continues to help preserve the hargila. In February the hargila army begins its work in the districts of Morigaon and Nagaon, with further expansion planned for Assam.

She also hopes to set up a nursery for kadam trees that can be distributed to those who want to plant them in their gardens (45,000 saplings have already been handed out). “This will help improve the back-yard biodiversity,” says Barman.

Barman’s unwavering dedication has been recognised in India and internationally. Last year she was named World Female Ranger and in 2017, she received the prestigious Whitley award, known as the “Green Oscars”, as well as India’s highest civilian honour for women – the Nari Shakti Puraskar.

Hargila army member Sarawasti Das is weaving a mekhela chador set with the hargila motif

But Barman refuses to rest on her laurels. No opportunity to advocate for the bird is missed. “My intention is to involve everyone,” she says. “If people are concerned about the conservation of the hargila and its habitat, it will help other species as well.”

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Video | The 10 deadliest earthquakes of the 21st century | International

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The death toll from the Syria and Turkey earthquake rose Wednesday to more than 11,000, making it the deadliest quake worldwide in more than a decade and one of the 10 most lethal earthquakes of the 21st century.

In this video, EL PAÍS reviews, in chronological order, the quakes that have caused the largest loss of life since 2001. The list includes the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed 250,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless, as well as the 2004 quake that hit the Indonesian province of Aceh, triggering a tsunami that killed nearly 230,000.

Other major natural disasters include the 2003 earthquake in Iran, the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan, killing 15,690 people. The video shows the devastating impact of these natural disasters. Earthquakes take an especially hard toll on countries that are ill-prepared to face an emergency of such scale. Japan and Chile, for example, have been hit by stronger quakes, but recorded fewer fatalities thanks to anti-seismic building norms.

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Uganda condemned for ‘shameful’ decision to close UN human rights office | Global development

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Rights activists and campaigners have condemned the Ugandan government’s decision to shut down the country’s UN human rights office, describing it as “shameful”.

In a letter to the Office of the UN high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) in Uganda dated 3 February, the foreign affairs ministry said it will not renew the host country agreement it signed with the OHCHR, which established its initial mandate in the country in 2005. The current mandate, signed on 9 February 2020, expires in August.

“The government of Uganda will now continue its cooperation with the OHCHR Headquarters either directly or through its Permanent Mission in Geneva,” reads the letter.

The development comes less than three months after the UN’s committee against torture adopted the concluding observations on Uganda, which raised concerns that torture and ill-treatment continued to be frequently practised, and called for investigation and prosecution of security officials accused of excessive use of force, violence and arbitrary detention.

“The closure of the @UNHumanRightsUG office proves that [the] government has lost all sense of shame. It no longer wants any close international scrutiny of its human rights record,” tweeted Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

“If the protectors are sent away, what then happens to those they were protecting? We are headed for tough times,” he added.

Adrian Jjuuko, (speaking, centre left) executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, has condemned the OHCHR closure.
Adrian Jjuuko, (speaking, centre left) executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, has condemned the OHCHR closure. Photograph: Alice McCool

Bobi Wine, the reggae singer turned Ugandan opposition leader, whose supporters remain in unauthorised places of detention or “safe houses”, said it was no surprise that Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, has closed the OHCHR. He tweeted: “In the face of growing international condemnation and isolation, tyrant Museveni has responded by shutting down NGOs, Facebook, DGF [Democratic Governance Facility] & declaring several internationals Persona Non-Grata or deporting them! Now he shuts down @UNHumanRightsUG.”

Wine added: “You’ll recall in the aftermath of the 2021 election and the hundreds killed or abducted by the Museveni regime, we petitioned the UN Human Rights Office & the military brutalised journalists right there. This UN Office condemned these actions. Not surprising it’s being closed.”

Human right activists and advocacy groups have called the decision a “mockery” and accused the government of running from international scrutiny on abuse and protection of human rights.

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“This is unbelievable, and the reasons given by the government are a mockery of the real state of human rights in the country,” said Jjuuko. “To claim that Uganda no longer needs the office [OHCHR] because of its strong stand for human rights is ironic to say the least.

“A strong stand for human rights would imply opening up to the UN and other actors.”

David Livingstone Sewanyana, founder of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative in the capital, Kampala, told the Guardian, “The decision not to renew the mandate deprives Uganda of a critical player in the field of human rights promotion and protection.”

At least 38 local and international staff at the head office in Kampala and two field offices in Gulu and Moroto stand to lose their jobs.

Jjuuko said: “Following closely on the closure of the DGF, this is a scary move which indicates that the government is no longer willing to have its human rights record scrutinised by international actors.

“This leaves local organisations at much more risk of being further silenced and their work curtailed without the government fearing close international security. It is a sad day indeed for the human rights movement in Uganda.”



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