A refugee disowned by his country

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

In Melbourne, there is a man without a home today.


Not in the sense we might normally mean.

This is the story of a man whose very country has been pulled out from under him.

Sayed Alawi al-Beladi was browsing on Twitter when his life changed before his eyes.

His country — the land where his children, his parents, his siblings still live — had revoked his nationality.

1200 kilometres away, at his home in Melbourne, the Bahraini refugee checked on Facebook, then on the web site of Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News.

“They listed 31 Bahrainis, and my number was 13 … (on) the list.”

Formally, the name on the list reads Alawi Saeed Sayed Sharaf.

Al-Beladi, a popular name around his home area in Bahrain, is the surname he adopted after coming to Australia as a refugee, via Iran, 15 years ago.

Back then, he had been exiled, as he terms it, because he spoke out against the government.

Now, the Bahrain government has taken it one step further after the 45-year-old Mr al-Beladi continued to speak out.

“My activity on Twitter, or (my) interview with SBS, that’s the reason for this decision.”

SBS Radio’s Arabic program had interviewed Sayed Alawi al-Beladi on three different occasions about the ongoing unrest in Bahrain.

Considered an articulate voice for the opposition, he has had his nationality revoked alongside some other, very well-known Shi’ite Muslim opposition figures.

Among them are the brothers and former MPs Jawad and Jalal Fairuz, and Ali Mashaima, son of a leading activist.

The human-rights group Amnesty International has described the decision as chilling, calling on Bahrain to rescind the ruling.

Amnesty International Australia’s Michael Hayworth says it appears clear the 31 are simply being punished for being political dissidents.

“Amnesty’s particularly surprised at this really quite frightening and chilling punishment of what seems to be 31 activists who’ve been stripped of their Bahraini citizenship — leaving some of these people stateless. Obviously, that’s a severe abuse of international human-rights law. And we call on the Bahraini authorities to come within their international human-rights obligations.”

The International Federation for Human Rights says 80 people have died in 18 months of unrest in Bahrain between the Sunni Muslim-led government and the majority Shi’ite people.

The latest move to revoke the nationality of the 31 comes after the government banned all protests and gatherings, in the name of maintaining security, late in October.

Bahrain is home to the United States navy’s Fifth Fleet and is strategically situated across the Persian Gulf from Iran.

But the Bahrain Australia Youth Movement’s Abdul Elah al-Hubaishi is urging the United States and Britain to put aside their strategic interests and help the Bahraini people.

He is asking for the Australian government’s help, too.

“We know Australia doesn’t have any power over Bahrain, but they have a good relationship with the UK and the USA, so we wish that they would put some pressure on those countries to try to put the pressure on Bahrain.”

Mr al-Hubaishi also disputes the Bahrain government’s claim this week that multiple bombings in the capital Manama have killed two people.

The government says the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah was responsible, and it has arrested four people.

Mr al-Hubaishi says there is no evidence the bombings happened.

“We are asking (for) an independent investigation from the United Nations or from any other party who is an independent (body), not related to the government, not related to the opposition, to come forward to Bahrain and investigate all this, what we believe is a, fabricated case against the opposition. Because, there is no single (piece of) evidence showing that it’s happened. Because, if it’s a bomb, at least somebody will hear the bomb … there will be a fire … there will be something which will show there is a bomb. But there is nothing of that.”

Meanwhile, Sayed Alawi al-Beladi sits at home mulling a much more personal perspective to what has happened.

He worries about what it means, not just for him, but also, back in Bahrain, for his two young daughters, his parents, his sisters.

“I am sure they will do more than this, (to) myself or (to) my family. If they catch me, they may kill me … may do anything.”

And then there are the questions that only a man banished from his country is forced to ponder.

“I feel very bad, because I am Bahraini, from my parents, from my grandparents … or, generally, I’m from Bahrain since thousands of years, you know? And how come, because I speak a few words, I become non-Bahraini, by one decision, a quick decision? It’s not fair.”

Closing gender gap debated at regional forum

Gender inequality figures in the Asia-Pacific region are stark, with glaring disparities between countries.


For example, female political representation in Australia and New Zealand has reached the recommended critical mass of 30 percent but the figure remains at about 3 percent or below for countries in the Pacific.

The current problems facing women in the region – and possible solutions – were discussed at a two-day conference in Cairns.

The role of women and their untapped potential became a key launching point for conference discussions.

“If we look at issues of when we invest in women in the economy or personally, it comes back five-fold into the economy, it comes back five-fold into the family and the same-ratios don’t apply to men,” said conference organiser, Professor Hurriyet Babacan, director at James Cook University’s Cairns Institute.

“In that sense, the multiplier effects – in terms of the returns and how they would cost that – are significant.”

And across the Asia-Pacific region significant barriers remain to female participation in society, argued Babacan.

“As the UN points out, women’s progress is less. There’s still significant inequalities to address on a range of themes across all of the Asia Pacific from political representation to access to education and basic rights such as food, housing, shelter,” she said.

Despite the variable status of women in the Asia Pacific region, Professor Babacan said there is much to be gained from comparing the strategies and experiences among the different countries in the region.

“It’s an advantage because of what it provides,” she says. “People who have come through a particular historical trajectory…they talk about what that process has been so countries that are either at the starting or in the middle of that continuum, learn from that. The diversity is definitely a strength.”

Boosting male support for greater female representation in parliament, refocusing on the informal economy and creating greater awareness of gender equality were some of the key ideas being discussed, said Professor Babacan.

And one conference paper, in particular, raised interesting possibilities on how to awaken ideas of gender equality.

“Most of our apparatus – you know the UN and government apparatus – tends to target adult females. Whereas what this research is showing is that it’s coming from childhood awakenings and awareness, so that was a very interesting piece of work,” said Hurriyet Babacan.

Travelling from India to the conference in Cairns was Aruna Gajbhiye, an associate professor at Tirpude College of Social Work in Nagpur.

Working in the area of sex trafficking, she says the safety of women is still a key issue in the region.

“The problem is growing like wildfire and women and girls are in very dangerous positions,” said Professor Gajbhiye, who co-ordinates operations to rescue trafficked women.

Although numbers are hard to document because of the underground nature of the practice, she says the number of sex trafficked girls or women have increased five-fold over the past seven years to 35,000 cases a year in her city alone. The age of trafficked females can be as young as seven.

Aruna Gajbhiye said there is a reluctance to talk about sex trafficking, but argued international awareness of the problem would be key to preventing trafficking that often operates across borders.

“We can develop some sort of sensitisation to what’s going on around the world in nearby countries. If we are sensitised towards the problems and towards the situation in which women are struggling, we can contribute to making their lives safer.”

The empowerment of women themselves to say no to sexual violence, will also be critical, she adds.

“I think we should teach our girls how to say no, especially in the Asian countries because many of the girls don’t know how to say no to the sexual violence especially, and they surrender very easily.”

The only female politician in the last two parliaments of Papua New Guinea, Dame Carol Kidu is the current Opposition leader.

She describes the last five years of progress on the role of women in Papua New Guinea as a case of three steps forward and one step back.

“In terms of politics, the statistics they speak for themselves. It is a very difficult and hostile area for women to get into the political arena in the Pacific region,” said Dame Kidu.

“There are some women starting to get into local government politics and that’s excellent, because that is really at the point where women can make impact. But at the national level it has been a real battle.”

Over the past six years, Dame Carol Kidu has spearheaded a push to pass a bill for an additional 22 temporary female seats in the Papua New Guinea Parliament.

But the bill failed to pass after a third attempt earlier this year.

“There were very polarised views and of course the attempt to try and get reserve seats for this election in the final outcome did not succeed,” she said.

“But the attempt in itself was great progress because there was an enormous amount of dialogue that went on and there were people who changed their attitudes. And I mean it takes a long time [for change in female political participation] in any society.”

Despite the criticism against quota systems to mandate gender equality, Dame Kidu argued legislation is the only way to kickstart the process of boosting female participation in her country.

“Getting women around the decision-making tables at all levels of government and in all fields not just political or bureaucratic tables, but also the private sector, is very fundamental. Until we get the women’s voices in the decision-making it’s like having a bird with one wing,” she said.

Panamanian fisherman sues Princess Cruises

Adrian Vasquez has filed a negligence lawsuit in Florida last week, arguing that one of its cruise ships should have stopped and saved him.


The lawsuit claims the behaviour of crew members of the Star Princess was “outrageous and, under the circumstances, so beyond all bounds of decency as to be regarded as shocking, atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”

Three passengers on board the Star, who were bird watching, alerted a crew member when they spotted the disabled fisherman and his two companions.

One of the passengers, Judith Meredith, described that the fisherman (Vasquez) was signalling for help from the fishing boat.

CNN reported that the lawsuit further claimed, even though crew members “had clear knowledge that people were stranded in an open boat hundreds of miles from shore in the Pacific Ocean and desperately calling for their help, they consciously ignored the emergency situation and did not deviate from their cruise.”

According to the lawsuit, the fishing boat, Fifty Cents, had been adrift for 15 days when it crossed paths with the Star Princess on March 10. At the time all three fishermen aboard were alive.

Later that day, according to the lawsuit, 16-year-old Fernando Osorio died, “having lost all hope as the Star Princess steamed away.” Five days later, another fisherman on the broken-down boat, Oropeces Betancourt (24), died at sea.

Two days after spotting the struggling fishermen, the three cruise ship passengers followed up with a ship officer, asking him what happened to the fishing boat after their report, according to the lawsuit.

“This officer did not have an answer for them and walked away without explanation,” the lawsuit says.

Princess Cruises spokeswoman Karen Candy did not comment on this specific allegation Monday, adding that the company was still investigating the incident.

Robert Dickman, a lawyer for Vasquez, speculated that one reason the Star Princess did not stop was because the cruise ship’s crew didn’t want to get off schedule for their next stop in Puntarenas, Costa Rica — and, thus, lose money.

The ship did arrive in Puntarenas on March 11, noted Candy, but she strongly denied that the crew decided not to help the fishermen for financial reasons.

“This is absolutely false,” she told CNN by e-mail.

Princess Cruises released a statement on Monday saying it was “deeply saddened that two Panamanian men perished at sea” and “very sorry for the tragic loss of life.”

“Because of what we suspect was a case of unfortunate miscommunication, regretfully the captain of the Star Princess was never notified of the passengers’ concern. Had he been advised, he would have had the opportunity to respond, as he has done numerous times throughout his career,” the statement said.

“This is an upsetting and emotional issue for us all, as no employee on board a Princess ship would purposefully ignore someone in distress. It is our ethical and maritime responsibility to provide assistance to any vessel in need, and it is not an uncommon occurrence for our ships to be involved in a rescue at sea. In fact, we have done so more than 30 times over the last decade.”

Jeff Gilligan, another cruise ship passenger who witnessed the stranded fisherman and alerted the ship’s crew, told CNN last month that he took a picture of the fishing boat from about two miles away.

“It’s just a horrible thing. I’m sick about it,” he said.

He saw the tiny vessel through high-powered scopes, he said. It appeared not to be moving, he said, but the men on board were.

“We were looking through powerful spotting scopes before I took those photographs, and we — the three of us — couldn’t come up with any reasonable explanation why somebody would have been flagging with two different colours of cloth, clothing or whatever it was, to our ship from perhaps two miles away on a little boat that wasn’t moving, over 100 miles from the coast,” he said.

At the time, he and his fellow passengers thought the cruise ship crew members would do something.

“We fully expected the ship to turn around or to send a tender boat out to investigate … our suspicions,” he said.

Vasquez’s lawsuit seeks compensation for physical, emotional and psychological injuries that it alleges he suffered as a result of the conduct of cruise line employees.

The story of Vasquez’s survival gained international coverage when the Ecuadorian navy rescued him north of the Galapagos Islands in March.

The trio’s February 24 fishing trip had started out well, according to Vasquez’s mother, Nilsa de la Cruz. The three caught plenty of fish, she said. But the boat’s engine died without warning and, with no tools and scant navigational experience, there was little the trio could do, de la Cruz told CNN.

Ecuadorian Rear Adm. Freddy Garcia Calle said that at the time he was found, the 18-year-old showed “severe signs of dehydration and lack of nutrition.”

He said the survivor had thrown his friends’ bodies into the ocean “because they had become badly decomposed.”

MLB may suspend A-Rod under lab

Major League Baseball may try to suspend Alex Rodriguez under its labour agreement instead of its drug rules, which would eliminate any chance of delaying a penalty until after the case goes to an arbitrator, The Associated Press has learned.


Rodriguez has never been disciplined for a drug offence, and a first offender under baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement is entitled to an automatic stay if the players’ association files a grievance – meaning the penalty is put on hold until after an arbitrator rules.

While use of banned performance-enhancing substances falls under the drug agreement, MLB may argue other alleged violations are punishable under the labour contract, a person familiar with management’s deliberations told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorised.

Taking that action would prevent the New York Yankees third baseman from returning to the field, even if he recovers from a quadriceps injury cited by the team as the reason for keeping him on the disabled list.

And merely threatening to use that provision might give MLB leverage to force a deal.

The Yankees expect Rodriguez to be accused of recruiting other athletes for the clinic, of attempting to obstruct MLB’s investigation, and of not being truthful with MLB in the past when he discussed his relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, who pleaded guilty two years ago to a charge of bringing unapproved drugs into the United States from Canada.

Four years ago, Rodriguez admitted using PEDs while with Texas from 2001-03. He has repeatedly denied using them since.

Baseball has been investigating Rodriguez and other players since a January report in the Miami New Times alleging they received PEDs from Biogenesis of America, a closed anti-aging clinic on Florida.

“We’re still involved in the process of preparing for an eventual appeal in this matter,” Rodriguez’s lawyer, David Cornwell, said Monday on ESPN New York Radio. “My understanding is that the next step that is going to be taken is that the players’ association and baseball will meet to discuss the investigation and baseball’s focus on particular players. So we’ll see how that process plays out. But at this point my understanding or my expectation is that we’re going to be working through the process towards an appeal.”

Aside from the drug agreement, there is no automatic stay for suspensions under baseball’s labour contract. Rodriguez could be punished under Article XII B of the Basic Agreement, which states: “Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law.”

If suspended under that section, Rodriguez would serve the penalty while a grievance is litigated before arbitrator Fredric Horowitz – unless the union asks for a stay and the arbitrator grants one, which would be unusual under the grievance procedure.

Asian Americans vote overwhelmingly for Obama

President Barack Obama enjoyed soaring support from Asian Americans to win another term, a survey said Wednesday, as voters elected new faces to Congress including its first Hindu lawmaker.


A poll conducted for community groups found that 72 percent of Asian Americans voted for Obama on Tuesday, a gain from the two-thirds support he won in 2008 and part of a major shift toward the Democrats over the past 20 years.

While small in total, Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States and made up 3.4 percent of the electorate on Tuesday, up from 2.7 percent four years ago.

Obama, the first African American president, also enjoyed overwhelming backing from black and Hispanic voters, helping him offset a tilt by white voters toward his Republican rival Mitt Romney.

“It is without question that these three minority groups combined provided the margin of victory for Obama nationally but also in some key states,” said Matt Barreto, founding principal of the Latino Decisions research firm that carried out the survey.

The survey — whose finding on Asian American support for Obama was similar to polls carried out for media outlets — said that the top issue for the community was the economy.

In one potential reason behind support for Obama, Asian Americans were supportive of his signature legislative achievement, with 60 percent saying that the government had a role to play in ensuring access to health care.

At least five Americans of Asian or Pacific Island descent, all Democrats, won new seats in Congress. In Hawaii, 31-year-old Tulsi Gabbard was elected as the first Hindu member of Congress.

Gabbard, who served in combat in Iraq, is of Samoan descent and her mother embraced the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition.

“That Gabbard won while proudly espousing her Hinduism and voicing a willingness to be a strong voice for Hindu Americans brings over two million Americans into the political landscape for the first time,” said Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation.

Mazie Hirono, who held the seat that Gabbard won, was elected to the Senate. She will be the first senator who is Buddhist and the first who was born in Japan.

“Congress is slowly, but surely, starting to better represent America,” said Representative Mike Honda, whose California district is the first on the US mainland with an Asian American majority.

In the Chicago suburbs, Tammy Duckworth, a Thai-born war veteran who lost most of her two legs in Iraq, beat controversial Republican congressman Joe Walsh.

Walsh is a hawkish supporter of Israel and campaigned for the United States to issue a visa to Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat who is shunned in Washington due to anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state in 2002.

In California, Mark Takano was elected as the first non-white member of Congress who is openly gay. Grace Meng became the first Asian American member of Congress elected from New York City.

“It feels great. I’m proud to be the first Asian, I’m proud to be a woman,” the Taiwanese American lawyer told NY1 television, calling for more women to serve in Congress.

Eight lawmakers of Asian American or Pacific Island descent were re-elected. In northern California, Indian American doctor Ami Bera was locked in a race against Republican Dan Lungren that was too close to call.

Asian American candidates also suffered a series of defeats. In Detroit’s suburbs, Indian-born physician Syed Taj lost to conservative Kerry Bentivolio, a reindeer farmer and Santa Claus impersonator.

Despite the overwhelming Democratic tilt of the Asian American vote, the survey said that less than half of the community said it was contacted by campaigns.

“While Barack Obama’s narrative attracted Asian American voters, Mitt Romney missed an enormous opportunity to offer a direct appeal to this group,” said Lisa Hasegawa, executive director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development.

Her group and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund organized the poll, which surveyed 804 Asian American voters in multiple languages and had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.