Conditions in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate days after the Taliban effectively gained control over most of the country, with a U.N. assessment from Friday warning that the Taliban are targeting what they call “collaborators” in major cities.
Amnesty for Some
Conditions in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate days after the Taliban effectively gained control over most of the country, with an assessment from the United Nations warning on Friday that the Taliban are targeting what the Taliban call “collaborators” in major cities.
The Norwegian Center for Global Analysis, a U.N.-linked intelligence support center, said Taliban fighters are going door-to-door in major cities looking to arrest or kill their alleged enemies and/or their family members. There are also reports of checkpoints that have been set up throughout the country in an effort to stop and identify potential enemies of the Taliban, although it’s unclear at this time just how many have been affected by the practices. The move comes just two days after the Taliban promised a general amnesty.
One of the most prominent people targeted despite the amnesty pledge was Haji Mullah Achakzai, the police chief for Baghdis province near Herat. Achakzai’s execution was captured on camera and shared online, drawing concerns that the Taliban’s claims to not engage in acts of vengeance or reprisals against former enemies may not be true.
Doubts Over Media Commitments
Adding to this fear are reports of Taliban efforts to target journalists. Like other groups, the Taliban promised to respect journalists and promote a free press in Afghanistan so long as they follow Islamic rules. However, German outlet DW reported that several of its journalists, translators, and their families have all been hunted down by the Taliban.
In one instance, the Taliban went door-to-door looking for a DW journalist who has already left the country and is working in Germany. Regardless, his family was targeted, with at least one member being killed and another seriously injured. Peter Limboiurg, DW‘s Director-General issued a statement about the slaying, condemning the attack and calling on the German government to take action.
“The killing of a close relative of one of our editors by the Taliban yesterday is inconceivably tragic, and testifies to the acute danger in which all our employees and their families in Afghanistan find themselves,” Limbourg said. “It is evident that the Taliban are already carrying out organized searches for journalists, both in Kabul and in the provinces. We are running out of time!”
DW has had at least three journalists targeted in total. Nematullah Hemat of the private television station Ghargasht TV is believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban, and Toofan Omar, who ran Paktia Ghag Radio, was shot dead by Taliban fighters. Additionally, a translator for Die Zeit was shot dead by two Taliban members this week.
Panjshir Valley and the National Resistance Front
While the Taliban continue to try and consolidate their rule, there are still some efforts to push back against the group. Hundreds attended protests throughout major cities in the country on Wednesday and Thursday saw to defend the Afghan National Flag, which the Taliban have largely replaced with their own. These protests were most often met with brutal reprisals, including beatings and shootings.
Beyond that, Amrullah Saleh, the former Vice President of the now-defunct Afghan National Government, continues to fight the Taliban from the Panjshir Valley. The region is infamous for having never been conquered during the Soviet invasion of the country in the ’80s, and for being home to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The latter was a group that allied with the United States to bring down the Taliban in 2001, although it remained largely autonomous from the control of the National Afghan Government.
Panjshir Valley now hosts some of the most senior members of the ousted Afghan government, with Saleh declaring himself caretaker president after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country with over $160 million.
“I will never, ever and under no circumstances bow to the Taliban terrorists,” Saleh wrote on Twitter. “I will never betray the soul and legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Mas[s]oud, the commander, the legend, and the guide.”
Massoud was a commander of the Northern Alliance and remains a venerated figure for many Afghans. His son, alongside Saleh, is hoping that a second alliance can topple the Taliban.
In an op-ed he wrote in The Washington Post on Wednesday, Ahmad Massoud said the regions have prepared for a Taliban takeover for twenty years, adding that “we also have the weapons carried by the Afghans who, over the past 72 hours, have responded to my appeal to join the resistance in Panjshir.”
“But that is not enough. If Taliban warlords launch an assault, they will of course face staunch resistance from us,” he said, adding, “The flag of the National Resistance Front will fly over every position that they attempt to take, as the National United Front flag flew 20 years ago.”
He ended with a plea for the U.S. to remain “a ‘great arsenal of democracy,'” and arm the so-called National Resistance Front.
Lifeline at the Kabul Airport
While many Afghans continue to lay low in their homes or flee into Panjshir Valley in preparation to fight the Taliban, evacuations from the Kabul Airport have continued to be a tense affair. Throughout the week, flights were required to intermittently pause as the situation on the ground worsened, leading to chaos over boarding the flights.
Outside of the airport, the scenes are chaos. Crowds of thousands have waited outside in attempts to enter the airport. The Taliban claimed they had no interest in anyone seeking to leave the country but have since set up checkpoints at the two entrances to the airport.
In footage from Thursday, Taliban fighters can be seen beating crowds of would-be refugees back, or according to some reports, even firing at the crowd.
Thousands of American troops continue to guard the airport and direct evacuation flights; however, Britain and France also maintain troops at airport facilities and have sent ore over the last week. Unlike the American mission, which is limited to the airport at this point in time, French and British forces have conducted raids throughout Kabul in an effort to extract their citizens. According to The Telegraph, at least 200 British Nationals have been successfully extracted so far.
As evacuations continue, the U.S. and U.N. are asking more and more nations to accept Afghan Refugees as common destinations, such as Qatar, are reaching their capacity to successfully take care of them.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (DW) (Military Times)
Quebec Introduces Legislation To Ban Anti-Vax Protests at Schools and Hospitals
Lawmakers said they are tired of anti-vaccine protesters intimidating students and hindering access to hospitals while hosting their demonstrations.
Outrage at Anti-Vaccine Demonstrations
Quebec lawmakers introduced legislation on Thursday that would regulate where anti-vaccine protesters can hold demonstrations.
While there have been large anti-vax protests across Quebec, small protests at schools and hospitals have specifically triggered concern. Though such protests typically feature about a dozen people, there have been reports of demonstrators harassing students and blocking access to hospitals when gathering at these locations.
Legislation aimed at addressing the issue has been in discussion for weeks. Following reports of these types of gatherings Tuesday, Premier Francois Legault said, “I cannot accept to have anti-vaccine people in front of our schools and hospitals. So I will use whatever is necessary to stop that.”
Prior to Legault’s comments, Education Minister Jean-F. Roberge tweeted out his own outrage at an anti-vaccine protest in front of a high school in Louis-Riel.
“I am appalled by these demonstrators who have used the tragic death of a young girl to fuel disinformation,” he wrote. “It is an irresponsible gesture and I offer my condolences to the relatives of the victim and to the school staff.”
Fifty Meter Standard
If approved, the new legislation would ban all forms of protests within 50 meters of a school, hospital, or daycare.
Police would be allowed to levy a $10,000 fine to anyone protesting at one of these locations depending on their demeanor. If the protests are related specifically to COVID-19 health regulations or vaccines, another fine of up to $6,000 can be added. Protesters intimidating someone, which is open to interpretation, can face another $10,000 fine.
The bill would also ban inciting or encouraging protests, including through posts on online platforms such as Facebook, where many protests are organized.
All of Quebec’s major parties said they support the bill, but it could still be held up by a single vote from Claire Samson. The conservative lawmaker broke with her party over concerns that the provisions don’t have an expiration date, despite them applying to more than just protests over COVID-19 regulations.
Some experts have argued that the new proposal is unnecessary since the government and police already have unenforced laws on the books to crack down on unruly protesters. However, the largest concerns regarding the legislation stem from its constitutionality.
Many on the right claim that such provisions limit the freedom of speech and assembly, both of which are explicitly allowed in Canada in various forms.
Still, while Canada has the freedom of speech and assembly just like the United States, it also has what American legal analysts call “time, place, and manner” restrictions.
As Pearl Eliadis, a human rights lawyer who teaches at McGill University in Montreal explained to Global News, “The issue is not really freedom of expression. No one’s telling them they can’t say stuff. It’s just where they’re saying it.”
“I think there’s a strong argument to be made that children, in particular minor children, should not in any way be intimidated or frightened for going to school,” Eliadis added.
“If you’re a patient going into a facility, or trying to get into a facility, and you’ve been intimidated or frightened, your right to access has been diminished.”
Similar laws in Canada have already withstood legal scrutiny. In 2016, Quebec banned demonstrations within 50 meters of an abortion clinic. Since then, other provinces have introduced their own bans on protests near abortion clinics. Alberta has its own spin on such regulations against people protesting energy and oil companies. Quebec’s proposal also has the possibility of inspiring national legislation. While campaigning in the recent federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also promised legislation to restrict protests in front of schools and hospitals.
The proposals, according to proponents, are meant to protect students and those seeking medical care from unnecessary harassment by individuals who are likely unvaccinated in the midst of a pandemic.
See what others are saying: (Global News) (CTV) (La Presse)
New Zealand Considers Offering Vaccines at Fast-Food Chains Like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson discussed the move as a possibility Thursday, saying, “We want to make sure we’re going to where people are.”
Government Discusses Vaccine Partnership With Fast-Food Industry
The New Zealand government is reportedly in talks with fast-food brands about offering customers COVID-19 vaccines at their locations.
Auckland Councillor Josephine Bartley tweeted Wednesday that Restaurant Brands — the company behind KFC, Pizza Hut, Carl’s Jr., and Taco Bell in New Zealand — was speaking to the government about a potential partnership.
“We want to make sure we’re going to where people are,” Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson also told Radio New Zealand on Thursday.
New Zealand’s 90% Vaccination Goal
New Zealand has had a good handle on the virus over the last year thanks to its strict safety protocols. For instance, in August, it went straight into another lockdown after recording its first case of COVID in six months.
Despite its general success in fighting off the virus, the country is still hoping to increase its overall vaccination rate. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday that lockdowns measures could be dropped for good if enough people get vaccinated.
Her goal is for New Zealand to have a 90% vaccination rate. According to government data, 40% of the country’s eligible population is fully vaccinated as of Thursday while 75% have had one dose.
Some believe strategies, like this potential fast-food partnership, could help boost those numbers, especially since New Zealanders apparently love fast-food. In fact, the Guardian reported that the country has one of the highest per-capita distributions of KFC and McDonald’s outlets in the world.
Just this week, the government finally eased some restrictions in Auckland, ending nearly five weeks of the strictest lockdown in its most populous city. That meant restaurants could reopen for takeout and delivery again, and once that happened they were met with massive lines of people waiting to order.
Still, in his interview Thursday, Robertson did admit that there could be some issues to consider with this plan.
“There’s a few logistics to work through, one of which is obviously making sure that people wait,” he said. “When someone gets the vaccines, as you know you wait in the waiting room to make sure everything’s going okay.”
He went on to suggest that such a requirement could be challenging considering the time crunch fast-food restaurants deal with. However, he also said the government is working through the options and looking at other spots people frequently visit, not just fast-food chains.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian)(The Independent)(Insider)
Northern Ireland Police Arrest Two More Men Over Murder of Journalist Lyra McKee
Lyra McKee was covering a riot in 2019 when members of the New Irish Republican Army opened fire on police, accidentally killing McKee in the process.
Police Making Headway
Police in Northern Ireland announced Wednesday that they have arrested two more men in connection with the April 2019 murder of journalist Lyra Mckee.
According to authorities, the 24- and 29-year-old men were detained under the Terrorism Act and are specifically suspected of being with the actual gunmen who shot McKee, rather than involved in other crimes that occurred that night.
Three other men have been charged with murder for her death, including 33-year-old Peter Géaroid Cavanagh and 21-year-old Justin Devine, both of who were arrested last week. They were similarly charged under the Terrorism Act while two additional men were arrested on rioting and petrol bomb offenses on the night McKee was killed.
McKee died while covering a demonstration that turned violent in Derry. She was reportedly standing near police when members of the New Irish Republican Army (New IRA) opened fire. The group’s role in her death has rarely been in doubt, as it was quick to take responsibility for the crime.
“In the course of attacking the enemy, Lyra McKee was tragically killed while standing beside enemy forces,” it said in a statement to The Irish Times, which the paper confirmed via a series of code words. “The IRA offer our full and sincere apologies to the partner, family and friends of Lyra McKee for her death.”
McKee was considered an upcoming journalist who focused on LGBTQ issues in relatively conservative Northern Ireland. Despite her death and seeming remorse from the New IRA, the group was unwilling to give up its members. Information about her death was slow coming, with police taking nearly a year before making any substantial arrests.
Prosecutors Fail to Block Bail
One of the first people arrested in connection to this case was 53-year-old Paul McIntrye, who has been on bail for more than a year. His current freedom led prosecutors to fail in a bid on Wednesday to keep Devine, Cavanagh, and 21-year-old Joe Cambell (who is accused of throwing petrol bombs) from being released on bail. A judge told prosecutors, “It’s difficult to distinguish the case against McIntyre and that against Devine and Cavanagh.”
“The prosecution have not sought to differentiate between these applicants and McIntyre in terms of involvement.”
McKee is one of many deaths inflicted by the New IRA and its predecessors. The group originated in 2012 when various republican dissident groups within Northern Ireland banded together. Most of these organizations, including the New IRA, claim to be the legitimate successors of the “IRA,” a nebulous term that encompasses many groups that engaged in anti-British activities throughout Northern Ireland until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The New IRA rejects the agreement and seeks a united Ireland through the use of physical force.
The defendants currently released on bail are all expected to return to court on October 7.