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India bans Islamic group PFI, accuses it of ‘terrorism’

NEW DELHI, Sept 28 (Reuters) – India declared the Popular Front of India (PFI) Islamic group and its affiliates unlawful on Wednesday, accusing them of involvement in “terrorism” and banning them for five years, after authorities detained more than 100 PFI members this month.

The PFI did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment but its now-banned student wing, the Campus Front of India (CFI), called the government action a political vendetta and propaganda.

“We are against the concept of a Hindu nation, we are against fascism, not India,” Imran P.J., national secretary of the CFI, told Reuters.

“We will overcome this challenge. We will revive our ideology after five years. We will also consider going to court against the ban.”

On Tuesday, the PFI denied accusations of violence and anti-national activities when its offices were raided and dozens of its members were detained in various states.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, in announcing the ban, said in a statement the PFI and its affiliates had “been found to be involved in serious offenses, including terrorism and its financing, targeted gruesome killings, disregarding the constitutional setup”.

Imran denied any involvement in terrorism.

Muslims account for 13% of India’s 1.4 billion people and many have complained of marginalization under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi’s party denies accusations of discrimination against Muslims and points to data that all Indians irrespective of religion are benefiting from the government’s focus on economic development and social welfare.

The PFI has supported causes like protests against a 2019 citizenship law that many Muslims deem discriminatory, as well as protests in the southern state of Karnataka this year demanding the right for Muslim women students to wear the hijab in class.

The ban is likely to stir an outcry among opponents of the government, which retains broad public support and a comfortable majority in parliament eight years after Modi first became prime minister.

The Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which works with the PFI on some issues but was not included in the ban, said the government had struck a blow against democracy and human rights.

“Freedom of speech, protests and organisations have been ruthlessly suppressed by the regime against the basic principles of the Indian constitution,” the SDPI said in a statement.

“The regime is misusing the investigation agencies and laws to silence the opposition and to scare the people from expressing the voice of dissent. An undeclared emergency is clearly visible in the country.”

Some SDPI office were raided and some of its members were detained this month.

The government said in a notification it had banned the PFI and affiliates CFI, Rehab India Foundation, All India Imams Council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation, National Women’s Front, Junior Front, Empower India Foundation and Rehab Foundation, Kerala.

The government said it found a “number of instances of international linkages of PFI with global terrorist groups”, adding that some of its members had joined Islamic State and participated in “terror activities” in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Imran said the government had provided no proof to back up the accusation that PFI were involved in terrorism or working alongside Islamic State.

India has been the victim of some major militant attacks over the past two decades, most linked to Islamists based in neighbouring Pakistan.

The PFI came together in late 2006 and was launched formally the next year with the merger of three organisations based in south India.

It calls itself a “social movement striving for total empowerment” on its website.

Sopore Mandi lost Rs 500 Cr due to halted fruit trucks on Sgr-Jmu highway

In Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, fruit growers staged a peaceful protest demonstrated, in Sopore town of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district against the halting of fruit-laden trucks along the Srinagar-Jammu highway.

Notably, fruit growers and buyers across the Kashmir valley are continuously protesting time to time over the halting of trucks along the national highway, but despite protests nothing happened

Scores of fruit growers assembled inside fruit mandi Sopore and demanded smooth transportation of fruit-laden trucks along the highway.

The president of Fruit Mandi Sopore, Fayaz Ahmed Malik, talking to the media maintained that they have already suffered heavy losses during the last several years due to natural calamities and continued blockage of the Srinagar-Jammu highway and now unnecessarily stopping of fruit-laden trucks are compounding to their miseries. He said the authorities are unnecessarily stopping trucks and it seems they deliberately want the fruit growers to suffer.

Fruit growers in occupied Jammu and Kashmir have called for opening of trade routes via Azad Jammu and Kashmir for the apple and other businesses with the outside world.

President buyers association, Fruit Mandi Sopore Mudasir Ahmed Bhat told a local news agency, that the halting of trucks along the Srinagar-Jammu national highway leads to a loss of around 500 crore rupees to the growers, buyers, and dealers in the month of September only.

He said, that a buyer suffers a loss of 4-5 lac rupees per truck as the authorities are unnecessarily stopping trucks and it seems they deliberately want them to suffer. “Who is going to pay the losses?” asked Mudasir.

the fruit growers, on Monday, closed the fruit market in protest against Modi government’s unannounced economic blockade by halting thousands of trucks laden with apples on the Srinagar-Jammu highway for past 20 days.

Iranian army says it will ‘confront the enemies’ as protests rage

Iran’s army warned on Friday that it would “confront the enemies” to ensure security and peace in the country, according to a statement, as protests rage over the death of a woman in the morality police’s custody.

Iranians have staged nationwide demonstrations over the case of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died last week after being arrested for wearing “unsuitable attire”.

The army said “these desperate actions are part of the evil strategy of the enemy to weaken the Islamic regime”.

Pro-government protests were planned for Friday, Iranian media said.

Meanwhile, a New York-based human rights group has said that at least 36 people have been killed in an Iranian crackdown on protests.

The official death toll rose to at least 17 on Thursday, including five security personnel, but the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said its sources put the figure much higher.

“On the 7th day of #IranProtest, officials admit to at least 17 deaths w/ independent sources say 36,” the CHRI said in a Twitter post late Thursday.

“Expect the number to rise. World leaders must press Iranian officials to allow protest without lethal force.”

“The government has responded with live ammunition, pellet guns and tear gas, according to videos shared on social media that have also shown protesters bleeding profusely,” CHRI said in a statement.

Unprecedented images have shown protesters defacing or burning images of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and late Revolutionary Guards commander Qasem Soleimani.

In response, security forces have fired at crowds with birdshot and metal pellets, and deployed tear gas and water cannon, said Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Demonstrators have hurled stones at them, set fire to police cars and chanted anti-government slogans, the official IRNA news agency said.

Protesters in Tehran and other cities have torched police stations and vehicles as outrage over Amini’s death showed no signs of abating, with reports of security forces coming under attack.

Amini’s death has reignited anger over issues including restrictions on personal freedoms in Iran — including strict dress codes for women and an economy reeling from sanctions.

Iran’s clerical rulers fear a revival of the 2019 protests that erupted over gasoline price rises, the bloodiest in the Islamic Republic’s history.

Global response to flood devastation ‘commendable but not enough’: PM Shehbaz

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Friday that the world’s response to the flood devastation in Pakistan was “commendable” but added that it was far from meeting the country’s needs.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, the premier outlined the challenges the country is facing due to catastrophic flood which have displaced more than 33 million people.

“We are among the top ten most vulnerable countries [to climate change],” he said, adding that around 1,500 people had died in the disastrous deluge.

Standing crops on four million acres have been washed away and thousands of houses have been damaged, PM Shehbaz said.

Highlighting the meetings he had held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the premier said that he had spoken to several world leaders.

He especially mentioned the recent visit of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “He saw this calamity with his own eyes. He said: ‘Prime Minister, it is unbelievable’. He is a man who has been dedicating his life for humanitarian cause[s] for many years [and] he said he had never seen this kind of a climatic situation in his life.”

He went on to say that several world leaders had talked about the devastation in Pakistan. I am “very grateful” to US President Joe Biden for speaking about Pakistan’s plight, he said, adding that Turkiye’s Reccip Tayyip Erdogan and France’s Emmanuel Macron had also done the same.

“Many other leaders have discussed and openly said that Pakistan has never needed support and help more than ever before at this time. This shows the intentions and sincerity of global leaders but I think it should come very fast because time is running [out] and we are racing against time,” he said as he highlighted the health concerns among the displaced flood victims.

“What the world has done is commendable but it is far from meeting our needs. We can’t do it alone.”

The prime minister highlighted that Pakistan could not fund the relief and rehabilitation work by itself. Flood losses are estimated to be at $30 billion, he said.

“Unless the world comes out with billions of dollars for relief, rehabilitation, for building resilient infrastructure […] things will not come back to normal. And I need to put the economy back on [track] and put millions of people back in their homes.”

Talking about Pakistan’s debt obligations, PM Shehbaz said he had urged European leaders to fight the country’s case with the Paris Club for a moratorium.

“Unless we get substantial relief, how can the world expect us to stand on our own feet,” he asked. “It is simply impossible. The world has to stand by us.”

He also said that there was a “yawning gap” between what had been asked and what was available. “All hell will break loose.”

He said that once Paris Clubs grants the moratorium, Pakistan would also speak to China seeking debt relief.

Commenting on his meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, he said that he had spoken to him about the availability of gas.

“He has promised me that he will most definitely look into this. There is no commitment as yet. But we are also talking to them about buying wheat because there was a shortage of wheat last year and this year the land is not going to be ready for wheat sowing. So we’ll have to import wheat which will cost a fortune.”

Separately on Twitter, the premier said that in his interactions on the third day of the UNGA, there had been a “massive outpouring of sympathy and solidarity” with Pakistan for the flood devastation.

“The time has come for [the] world to translate this solidarity into concrete action to help Pakistan overcome this crisis,” he said.

Ahead of the interview, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb shared photographs of the prime minister with Bloomberg anchor Sherry Ahn.

US report exposes Indian Army’s propaganda campaign

The report titled “My Heart Belongs to Kashmir: An Analysis of a Pro-Indian Army Covert Influence Operation on Twitter” took cognizance of a Twitter network that was recently suspended and concludes that the network was consistent with the Indian Army’s Srinagar-based Chinar Corps..

The report pointed out that the purpose of the Twitter accounts in the network was to praise the Indian Army for their military successes and provision of so-called humanitarian services in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The report said the accounts also criticized Pakistan and China who are rivals of India.

The Chinar Corps is responsible for military operations in the Kashmir Valley. The Corps also has social media accounts where it consistently promotes a positive image of the Indian Army despite its internationally recognized human rights violations in IIOJK. Moreover, the social media accounts of Chinar Corps were suspended and blocked for short periods of time on multiple occasions for “coordinated inauthentic activity”.

Last month, Twitter identified a network of over 1000 accounts that tweeted about India and Pakistan. Twitter suspended the network for violating its Platform Manipulation and Spam Policy and said that the presumptive country of origin was India.

The SIO report noted that while the network was not attributed to any actor or organization, there were many similarities to the Chinar Corps. It stated that the content of the Twitter network is consistent with the Chinar Corps’ objectives, praising the work of the Indian Army in IIOJK.

The network was made up of several Twitter accounts posing as fake Kashmiris with images taken from elsewhere on the internet, for instance, Getty Stock Images.

“Tweets tagging journalists aimed either to bring events to the attention of reporters or to bring the reporter to the attention of followers – often in an apparent attempt to target the reporter for what was framed as anti-India content,” the report further revealed.

It is to mention here that Stanford Internet Observatory is a program of the Cyber Policy Center which is a joint initiative of the Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies and the prestigious Stanford Law School in the US.