Afghan security service suffers heavy toll in Taliban attack

By AMIR SHAH and RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Dozens of people killed in a brazen Taliban attack on a military base were members of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, officials said Tuesday, in a severe blow to the government that already has lost control of nearly half of the country to the insurgents.
At least 45 people were killed and as many as 70 were wounded by a suicide bomber who drove an armored Humvee packed with explosives at the base in eastern Maidan Wardak province on Monday, the officials said.
There were fears the death toll from the daytime assault could increase. The base, which also serves as a training center for pro-government militias, is run by Afghanistan’s intelligence service known as the National Directorate for Security, or NDS.
The NDS said its reports show 36 military personnel were killed and 58 were wounded. Though the agency’s figures were lower than what provincial officials had reported, it was still an unprecedented casualty toll for the agency, among the best equipped and trained in Afghanistan.
The agency said the suicide bomber had managed to penetrate the gate of the base on the outskirts of Maidan Shar, the provincial capital located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Kabul, even though guards fired at the vehicle.
Khawanin Sultani, a council member in the province, said a main building collapsed from the explosion, which likely contributed to the high casualty toll.
“Most of the bodies were under the destroyed building,” he said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in a statement to the media just hours after the attack and later said its representatives met Monday with U.S. representatives to discuss “ending the invasion of Afghanistan” in talks that were to continue Tuesday. They are meeting in Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office.
The timing of the attack, one of the worst Taliban assaults on Afghan forces in recent years, and the Qatar meeting that was meant to pave way for talks aimed at resolving Afghanistan’s 17-year war, underscored the audacity of the insurgents in the face of stepped-up peace efforts.
The Taliban now hold sway in almost half of Afghanistan and carry out attacks on a daily basis, mainly targeting the country’s beleaguered security forces.
After the suicide bomber struck, four other attackers engaged in a shootout with Afghan troops, according to Sultani, the provincial council member. All the attackers were killed, he said.
About 150 military personnel and others were at the base at the time, he said. The pro-government militia that was hit had been highly effective in securing the province, especially two key highways linking Kabul with the provinces of Kandahar, Maidan Wardak and Bamyan.
“They had participated in so many operations alongside other security forces and had fought against insurgents,” Sultani added.
A provincial security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said he counted as many as 75 bodies at the base. There was no official confirmation of this higher toll.
Dozens of ambulances took the wounded to the main provincial hospital or to Kabul, the official said. The blast was so strong that windows of civilian homes outside the base also were shattered, he said.
President Ashraf Ghani’s office said the “enemy had carried out a terrorist attack against the intelligence agency’s personnel, killed and wounded a number of honest sons of this homeland who were defending their country and protecting their people.” An investigation was ordered, the statement added.
There was no official breakdown on how many of the victims were military, intelligence personnel or militia trainees.
The attack was a “tragedy and a big loss to the Afghan security forces,” said Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, a former deputy interior minister and a military analyst.
He said it was difficult to believe that the vaunted NSD could have lost such a high number of personnel in a single attack and that there must have been serious negligence on someone’s part. He also said there were no other checkpoints along the highway leading up to the base to prevent the attack.
The Taliban statement said they had met with U.S. representatives to discuss “ending the invasion of Afghanistan” in talks that would continue on Tuesday in Qatar.
“Peace talks and negotiations are important and essential for Afghanistan, but not under these unacceptable circumstances,” Yarmand said. “If such attacks continue, there must be a cease-fire agreement first.”
Last week, the Taliban threatened to walk away from the talks, accusing Washington of seeking to “expand the agenda” — presumably a reference to U.S. demands that the insurgents hold direct talks with the Kabul government.
The Taliban view the Afghan government as a U.S. puppet and have long insisted they will only negotiate directly with Washington.

Zimbabwe leader: Violence by security forces ‘unacceptable’

By FARAI MUTSAKA, Associated Press
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s president on Tuesday said “unacceptable” violence by security forces will be investigated after a days-long crackdown on economic unrest, while a doctor said the 12 documented deaths and more than 300 people wounded are likely “are just a fraction of the actual victims.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa called for a national dialogue among political parties and civic leaders, even as arrests continued. He spoke after skipping a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland under pressure to return home.
Zimbabwe’s military is in the streets for the first time since post-election violence in August killed six people. This time, people report being hunted down in their homes. More than 600 people have been arrested, most denied bail.
The “army is on the forefront of orchestrating the violence,” backed by ruling ZANU-PF youth gangs and police, Dr Norman Matara with the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told reporters in Johannesburg.
The pattern of injuries seen in the more than 300 people wounded and 12 dead suggested premeditation and training in torture, Matara said, and “we think these numbers are just a fraction of the actual victims” as some were too scared to seek treatment.
Several people were dragged from their hospital beds and arrested. Some were shot in the head at close range and died. About half of those wounded were bystanders hit by stray bullets when the military opened fire on crowds. The group documented abuse of people as young as 9.
Some medical professionals, accused of “trying to subvert the government” by publicizing the toll, are now afraid to help victims, Matara said.
Zimbabwe’s president said insubordination will not be tolerated and “if required, heads will roll.”
He defended, however, the dramatic fuel price increase that began the unrest by making gasoline in Zimbabwe the most world’s expensive. Authorities said it was aimed at easing the demand that created miles-long lines as gas stations.
But Zimbabweans who had seen no improvement in the collapsed economy under Mnangagwa, who took office in 2017 after the ouster of longtime leader Robert Mugabe, lost their patience. Activists and labor leaders called for people to stay at home in protest. Others took to the streets, some looting in anger or desperation.
Mnangagwa’s government has blamed the opposition, despite witness accounts of security forces killing or wounding bystanders, including a 17-year-old .
“Everyone has the right to protest, but this was not a peaceful protest,” Mnangagwa said.
The government-backed Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission said eight people were killed and criticized the use of the military and live ammunition. It said the government had not learned from the August crackdown, and should compensate “victims of military and police brutality.”
Mnangagwa has previously said he is open to dialogue with the main opposition MDC party, which narrowly lost both the July election and a court challenge alleging fraud. He has dismissed a government of national unity.
The opposition called Mnangagwa’s new call for dialogue a “gimmick to buy time.”
“Mnangagwa’s overtures are always on Twitter. He knows where we are, yet he has chosen not to talk to us directly,” MDC spokesman Jacob Mafume said.
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said his attempts at dialogue had been “spurned and mocked” and that people must be free to talk without fear.
Arrests continued. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said police detained labor federation leader Japhet Moyo overnight, just hours after releasing him. He is charged with subversion for his role in organizing the national strike along with pastor and activist Evan Mawarire.
Police also detained 28 people being treated at a hospital in the capital, Harare, the lawyers’ group said, calling it “very inhumane.”
Zimbabwe’s government ordered an internet blackout in recent days as reports of abuses emerged, but the High Court on Monday ordered that full service be restored, saying only the president has the authority to order it.
At Davos, Mnangagwa had planned to appeal for foreign investment and loans but faced a more difficult reception than a year ago, when optimism was relatively high about a “new Zimbabwe.” Neighboring South Africa recently turned down Mnangagwa’s request for a $1.2 billion loan.
South Africa is now considering a bailout for Zimbabwe “as long as it is affordable for our side,” Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said. Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa again suggested that U.S. and other sanctions on Zimbabwe be lifted or relaxed.
Zimbabwe Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube told The Associated Press in Davos that “we don’t need to be told by anyone that we need to do better on human rights or open up democratic space … we need to do it for ourselves.” He hopes to gain access to some $500 million in lines of credit at Davos.
Zimbabwe’s turmoil again brought questions about tensions between Mnangagwa and the man he had left in charge, hard-line Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who had led the military effort to oust Mugabe.
Mnangagwa and Chiwenga have dismissed reports of a rift, and they hugged upon the president’s return late Monday.
“This is state-sponsored violence,” Dewa Mavhinga, the southern African director for Human Rights Watch, told reporters. He called Mnangagwa’s government the same as that of Mugabe but with “an even more brazen system in charge.”
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Associated Press writers Krista Mahr in Johannesburg and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.
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China demands US drop Huawei extradition request with Canada

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — China on Tuesday demanded the U.S. drop a request that Canada extradite a top executive of the tech giant Huawei, shifting blame to Washington in a case that has severely damaged Beijing’s relations with Ottawa.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Meng Wanzhou’s case was out of the ordinary and Canada’s extradition treaty with the U.S. infringed on the “safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.”
Hua said China demands that the U.S. withdraw the arrest warrant against Meng and “not make a formal extradition request to the Canadian side.”
Hua’s remarks came after more than 100 academics and former diplomats signed a letter calling on China to release two Canadians detained in apparent retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
They also follow a report by the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail that the U.S. plans to formally request Meng’s extradition to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.
China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.
Meng is Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei. Huawei has close ties to China’s military and is considered one of the country’s most successful international enterprises, operating in the high-tech sphere where China hopes to establish dominance.
The letter signed by academics and former diplomats said the arrests of the two will lead to “less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground. Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result.”
More than 20 diplomats from seven countries and more than 100 scholars and academics from 19 countries signed.
Meng is living under house arrest in her Vancouver mansion while her case is under deliberation. Kovrig and Spavor are being held in Chinese jails and have yet to be granted access to lawyers, according to those who have contact with them.

Brazil’s nationalist leader to address Davos globalist crowd

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will headline the first full day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with a speech to political and business leaders.
The nationalist leader is attending an event that has long represented business’s interest in increasing ties across borders. But globalism is in retreat as populist leaders around the world put a focus back on nation states, even if that means limiting trade and migration.
After Bolsonaro’s speech on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will address the gathering on Wednesday.
But several key leaders are not attending to handle big issues at home: U.S. President Donald Trump amid the government shutdown, British Prime Minister Theresa May to grapple with Brexit talks, and France’s Emmanuel Macron to face popular protests.
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Follow the AP’s coverage of Davos here: https://www.apnews.com/Davos

Kremlin ‘optimistic’ ahead of WADA doping ruling

By JAMES ELLINGWORTH, AP Sports Writer
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is “optimistic” ahead of a World Anti-Doping Agency ruling on whether the country’s authorities met demands to turn over lab data, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Tuesday.
The WADA executive committee reinstated Russia’s anti-doping agency in September — despite protests from many Western athletes and officials — on condition the country turned over data from a Moscow laboratory. The data could help WADA pursue doping cases against many top Russian athletes for past offenses.
WADA representatives left Moscow with the data last week but only after Russia missed a Dec. 31 deadline.
“Our sports authorities have clearly made the maximum effort to arrange the work of the WADA representatives in Moscow, to arrange all the necessary procedures and contacts,” said Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. “So in Moscow everyone is optimistic.”
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had called for the Russian agency, known as RUSADA, to be suspended for missing the deadline, though WADA said it preferred to wait for the data.
Russian law enforcement sealed off the lab and its data after the former director, Grigory Rodchenkov, testified to WADA that he covered up doping for several years and swapped doped Russian athletes’ samples for clean urine during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
WADA president Craig Reedie on Thursday hailed the recovery of the data as “a major breakthrough for clean sport,” but said WADA couldn’t yet be sure the information was genuine.
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Airports, customs, trade: Europe preps for a chaotic Brexit

By ANGELA CHARLTON, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — France is spending 50 million euros ($57 million) to beef up security at airports and the Eurotunnel, hiring hundreds of extra customs officers and issuing emergency decrees to gear up for the increasingly likely possibility that Britain will leave the European Union on March 29 without a plan.
Germany is fast-tracking a debate on solving bureaucratic problems in case of a no-deal Brexit. And the Netherlands has made a special exception to let British citizens stay in the country temporarily once they no longer enjoy EU residency rights.
A no-deal Brexit would shake up the rest of the continent in ways that many Europeans haven’t yet fathomed.
Britain, which would face by far the biggest disruption, has devoted thousands of civil servants and several billion pounds (dollars) on measures to mitigate the worst effect — although officials can only speculate about what will actually happen on March 30 if Brexit happens without a deal.
After the British parliament overwhelmingly rejected British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brext divorce deal this week, other European governments are now bracing for chaos too.
“We strongly believe” Britain will leave with no exit deal, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Thursday, unveiling a raft of emergency measures to cope with that prospect. “Under these conditions, our responsibility … is to ensure that our country is ready, that the interests of our citizens are preserved and defended.”
The French government will hire nearly 600 extra customs officers and veterinary inspectors and invest in new infrastructure at airports and ports. All are to be operational by March 30.
Special security measures will be put in place for the tunnel beneath the English Channel. The company that operates the Eurotunnel says a quarter of all U.K.-EU trade passes through the tunnel, which could be a major chokepoint in a no-deal Brexit.
The French prime minister insisted the measures are a “contingency plan” but says France can no longer wait for a potential deal or other developments.
France’s emergency decrees will allow British workers and retirees living in France to continue staying there for a year after March 29 — but only if the British government agrees to do the same for French citizens living in the U.K.
The decrees will temporarily let British companies transport goods in France, and allow certain British insurance and other financial activities to continue in France despite Britain’s loss of access to the EU financial market. The exceptional transfer of military equipment between the two countries will also be allowed.
In Berlin, German lawmakers were debating a bill Thursday meant to solve some bureaucratic issues arising from Brexit. The bill is now being fast-tracked.
“We want to keep the damage — and there will certainly be damage from Britain’s departure — as small as possible,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday. “That’s why we will of course do everything to find an orderly solution, but we are also prepared if there is no orderly solution.”
The Dutch government announced last week it will let British citizens living in the Netherlands remain in the country for 15 months in the event of a no-deal Brexit and offer them the opportunity to apply for residency permits.
In Britain, the government has begun to recruit hundreds of extra customs officers and border staff and has passed laws to help cross-border trade continue to flow, such as permits for long-distance truckers. Britain says EU citizens will be able to stay temporarily in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
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Jill Lawless in London, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.
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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

UN health chief orders probe into misconduct

By MARIA CHENG, AP Medical Writer
LONDON (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization has ordered an internal investigation into allegations the U.N. health agency is rife with racism, sexism and corruption, after a series of anonymous emails with the explosive charges were sent to top managers last year.
Three emails addressed to WHO directors — and obtained by the Associated Press — complained about “systematic racial discrimination” against African staffers and alleged other instances of wrongdoing, including claims that some of the money intended to fight Ebola in Congo was misspent.
Last month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told staffers he had instructed the head of WHO’s office of internal oversight to look into the charges raised by the emails. He confirmed that directive to the AP on Thursday.
Critics, however, doubt that WHO can effectively investigate itself and have called for the probe to be made public.
The first email, which was sent last April, claimed there was “systematic racial discrimination against Africans at WHO” and that African staffers were being “abused, sworn at (and) shown contempt to” by their Geneva-based colleagues.
Two further emails addressed to WHO directors complained that senior officials were “attempting to stifle” investigations into such problems and also alleged other instances of wrongdoing, including allegedly misspent Ebola funds.
The last email, sent in December, labeled the behavior of a senior doctor helping to lead the response against Ebola as “unacceptable, unprofessional and racist,” citing a November incident at a meeting where the doctor reportedly “humiliated, disgraced and belittled” a subordinate from the Middle East.
Tedros — a former health minister of Ethiopia and WHO’s first African director-general — said investigators looking into the charges “have all my support” and that he would provide more resources if necessary.
“To those that are giving us feedback, thank you,” he told a meeting of WHO’s country representatives in Nairobi last month. “We will do everything to correct (it) if there are problems.”
But Tedros refuted claims that WHO’s hiring policies are skewed, arguing that his top management team was more geographically diverse and gender-balanced than any other U.N. organization after adopting measures to be more inclusive.
“There is change already happening,” he said during the December staff meeting, according to an audio recording provided to the AP.
WHO’s in-house investigation into misconduct comes after other U.N. agencies have been rocked by harassment complaints.
At UNAIDS, chief Michel Sidibe agreed to step down after an independent report concluded in December that his “defective leadership” had created a toxic working environment, with staffers asserting there was rampant sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power.
The author of the anonymous WHO emails also charged there were “crooked recruitment and selection” processes that were “tantamount to fraud, corruption and abuse of authority.”
In the latest anonymous message, the author singled out the supposedly flawed hiring process of a senior director in WHO’s emergencies department, suggesting that might have led to mistakes being made by incompetent officials involved in efforts to stop Ebola in Congo.
Some staffers feared that funds donated to stem the spread of the deadly virus “have not been used judiciously,” the email said, warning such blunders could undermine WHO’s credibility.
“A plane was hired to transport three vehicles from the warehouse in Dubai at the cost of $1 million. Why would WHO ship vehicles from Dubai? We would appreciate the rationale when jeeps in DRC (Congo) can be purchased at $80,000 per vehicle,” the email said, claiming that “corruption stories about logisticians and procurement in WHO’s (Geneva emergencies department) are legendary.”
David Webb, director of WHO’s office of internal oversight, told staffers that Tedros had asked him “to conduct an appropriate investigation” into the issues raised in the emails. Webb said he and his team would scrutinize those accusations, in addition to the approximately 150 other claims that have been reported to his office this year.
“My team is trying their best to go to DRC (Congo), to go to where the allegations are with an effort to find the facts,” he said.
The revelations about the alleged wrongdoing were likely to prompt discussions next week at WHO’s executive board meeting at its Geneva headquarters.
Webb said the investigation would be conducted independently even though it would be done by WHO staffers.
Critics outside the organization felt that was not enough.
“That’s the same office that botched the initial investigation at UNAIDS,” said Edward Flaherty, a lawyer who represents Martina Brostrom, the UNAIDS whistleblower whose sexual harassment allegations ultimately triggered Sidibe’s resignation. “Having an internal investigation at WHO is as good as doing nothing.”
Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who previously worked at WHO and now serves on several of its advisory groups, wasn’t surprised by the emails’ claims of racism, sexism and corruption.
“After what I’ve seen at WHO, I have no doubt that everything in those emails is true,” he said, although he had no evidence to prove the specific claims.
Tomori said he and his African colleagues had often been subjected to “slights that turned to slurs, embarrassing humiliations and rudeness that escalated to abuse” from fellow WHO staffers.
He predicted that without an independent investigation, more complaints would continue to spill out.
“People have known about these problems for a long time,” he said. “But nobody wants to talk because they’re afraid.”
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Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

Human Rights Watch: Global pushback against autocrats grows

By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER, Associated Press
BERLIN (AP) — The world is seeing growing resistance against the abuses of autocrats as states, civic groups and popular movements all push back against populists who are seeking to curtail freedoms, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
In its annual assessment of rights around the world, the advocacy group said rising opposition to authoritarian governments has been the most important development in the past year.
“The same populists who spread hatred and intolerance are fueling a resistance that keeps winning battles,” agency director Kenneth Roth said. “Important battles are being won, re-energizing the global defense of human rights.”
The report, released in Berlin, said the pushback can be seen in efforts to resist attacks on democracy in Europe, to prevent a bloodbath in Syria or to stop the Saudi-led bombing and blockade of Yemeni civilians.
In Europe, support for rights took many forms, on the streets and in institutions, the report said.
Large crowds protested Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s increasingly authoritarian rule and his limits on academic freedom. Tens of thousands took to the streets in Poland to protest the government’s attempts to erode the independence of the judiciary. On the government level, Germany, Denmark and Finland stopped arms sales to Saudi Arabia following the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.
In the United States, the opposition Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives in the midterm election, with voters rejecting what it called “fear-mongering” by President Donald Trump, “who sought to mobilize his support base by trying to portray asylum-seekers fleeing Central American violence as a crisis.”
Voters in Malaysia and the Maldives ousted their corrupt prime ministers, Armenia’s prime minister stepped down amid massive protests over corruption, and Ethiopia, under popular pressure, replaced a long-abusive government with a prime minister who embarked on an impressive reform agenda.
“If you’re an autocrat, it’s very convenient to violate human rights — it’s the way you stay in power, it’s the way you fill up your bank account, it’s the way you pay off your cronies,” Roth told The Associated Press.
But, he added, “the role of the human rights movement is to raise the cost of these human rights violations — that’s not something that’s done overnight … but we know that if you do raise the cost of abuse, ultimately, governments realize it is not paying and they start to curb these abuses.”
Still, there have been setbacks on the human rights front.
China increased its repression over the last year to the worst level in decades. Roth expressed concern that President Xi Jinping ended term limits on his presidency and Chinese officials vastly expanded the country’s surveillance of ordinary people.
“This year it became clear that he is detaining 1 million Uighur Muslims for so-called re-education, which basically means forcing them to renounce Islam and to renounce their ethnicity,” Roth said.
Roth said if any other country was doing this “it would be an outrage, but China, because of its economic clout, has been getting away with it.”

American anchor for Iranian TV is arrested on visit to US

By JANET McCONNAUGHEY, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A prominent American anchorwoman on Iranian state television has been arrested by the FBI during a visit to the U.S., the broadcaster reported Wednesday, and her son said she was being held in a prison, apparently as a material witness.
Marzieh Hashemi, who worked for the network’s English-language service, was detained in St. Louis, where she had filmed a Black Lives Matter documentary after visiting relatives in the New Orleans area. She was then taken to Washington, according to her elder son, Hossein Hashemi.
The FBI said in an email that it had no comment on the arrest of the woman who was born Melanie Franklin in New Orleans and has worked for Iran’s state television network for 25 years.
Hossein Hashemi said his mother lives in Tehran and comes back to this country about once a year to see her family, usually scheduling documentary work somewhere in the U.S. as well.
“We still have no idea what’s going on,” said Hashemi, a research fellow at the University of Colorado who was interviewed by phone from Washington. He also said he and his siblings had been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.
The incident comes as Iran faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual citizens and other people with Western ties. Those cases have previously been used as bargaining chips in negotiations with world powers.
Federal law allows judges to order witnesses to be arrested and detained if the government can prove their testimony has extraordinary value for a criminal case and that they would be a flight risk and unlikely to respond to a subpoena. The statute generally requires those witnesses to be promptly released once they are deposed.
Marzieh Hashemi, an American citizen, had not been contacted by the FBI before she was detained and would “absolutely” have been willing to cooperate with the agency, her son said.
Asked whether his mother had been involved in any criminal activity or knew anyone who might be implicated in a crime, Hashemi said, “We don’t have any information along those lines.”
Hashemi said his mother was arrested as she was about to board a flight from St. Louis to Denver. A spokesman for St. Louis Lambert International Airport declined to comment and referred questions to the FBI.
The constitutionality of the material witness law has “never been meaningfully tested,” said Ricardo J. Bascuas, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law. “The government only relies on it when they need a reason to arrest somebody but they don’t have one.”
No matter the reason for Marzieh Hashemi’s detention, she should have been granted a court appearance by now, Bascuas said.
She apparently was unable to call her daughter until Tuesday night. The family is trying to hire an attorney, but it has been difficult because she has not been charged with a crime, her son said.
Iran’s state broadcaster held a news conference and launched a hashtag campaign for Hashemi, using the same techniques families with loved ones held in the Islamic Republic use to highlight their cases.
“We will not spare any legal action” to help her, said Paiman Jebeli, deputy chief of Iran’s state IRIB broadcaster. Iran’s Press TV aired footage of her anchoring news programs and discussing the war in Syria, set to dramatic music.
There were no references to any case against Hashemi in U.S. federal courts, nor in Missouri.
Hashemi describes herself online as having studied journalism at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She converted to Islam in 1982 at age 22 after meeting Iranian activist students in Denver.
She married a man she met while in journalism school. They had two sons and a daughter. Her husband is dead, said Hashemi’s brother, Milton Leroy Franklin of the New Orleans suburb of Metairie.
Last week, Iran confirmed it is holding U.S. Navy veteran Michael R. White at a prison, making him the first American known to be detained under President Donald Trump’s administration.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told state TV that Hashemi’s arrest indicates the “apartheid and racist policy” of the Trump administration.
“We hope that the innocent person will be released without any condition,” Ghasemi said.
At least four other American citizens are being held in Iran, including Iranian-American Siamak Namazi and his 82-year-old father, Baquer, both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences, respectively. Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 year in prison.
Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a permanent U.S. resident from Lebanon who advocated for internet freedom and has done work for the U.S. government. He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage-related charges.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him. His family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.
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Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Washington, Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Jim Salter in St. Louis, Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Saudi women runaways rebel against system of male control

By AYA BATRAWY, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Another Saudi woman has turned to social media for protection from her father, just days after Canada granted refuge to Rahaf al-Qunun, the 18-year-old Saudi who fled her family.
Identified only as Nojoud al-Mandeel on Twitter, her case differs from that of al-Qunun. She has not fled the kingdom, has not revealed her face and has only made her pleas for help on Twitter in Arabic.
While their circumstances are different, the claims of abuse by the two women mirror those of other female Saudi runaways who have used social media to publicize their escapes.
There has been speculation that al-Qunun’s successful getaway will inspire others to copy her. However, powerful deterrents remain in place. If caught, runaways face possible death at the hands of relatives for purportedly shaming the family.
Saudi women fleeing their families challenge a system that grants men guardianship over women’s lives. This guardianship system starts in the home, where women must obey fathers, husbands and brothers. Outside the home, it is applied to citizens, often referred to as sons and daughters by Saudi rulers who demand obedience.
Hala Aldosari, a Saudi scholar and activist, said the male guardianship system replicates the ruling family’s model of governance, which demands full obedience to the king, who holds absolute power in decision-making.
“This is why the state is keen to maintain the authority of male citizens over women to ensure their allegiance,” she said, adding that this “hierarchical system of domination” necessitates “keeping women in line.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who’s introduced social reforms loosening restrictions on women, told The Atlantic that doing away with guardianship laws has to be done in a way that does not harm families and the culture. He said abolishing these laws would create problems for families that don’t want to give freedom to their daughters.
The issue of guardianship is extremely sensitive in the kingdom, where conservative families view what they consider the protection of women as a man’s duty.
More than a dozen women’s rights activists have been detained, many since May, after they campaigned against the guardianship system. Some had also wanted to create alternative shelters for women runaways.
Regardless of their age, women in Saudi Arabia must have the consent of a male relative to obtain a passport, travel or marry. In the past, a travel permit was a paper document issued by the Interior Ministry and signed by a male relative.
Today, Saudi men download a government mobile app that notifies them of a woman’s travel. Through the app, men can grant or deny a woman permission to travel. Some young women who have fled the country had managed to access their father’s phone, change the setting and disable its notifications.
In a statement read to reporters in Canada on Tuesday, al-Qunun said she wants to be independent, travel and make her own decisions.
“I am one of the lucky ones,” she said. “I know there are unlucky women who disappeared after trying to escape or who could not change their reality.”
That’s especially true for women from conservative tribal families, like al-Qunun’s.
Al-Qunun, one of 10 children, posted online that her father, Mohammed Mutliq al-Qunun, is the governor of the city of al-Sulaimi in the hilly hinterland of Ha’il — a province where nearly all women cover their face in black veils and wear loose black robes, or abayas, in public. The family belongs to the influential Shammar tribe, which extends to Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East. Her father has considerable clout as a prominent town official and member of a powerful tribe.
Al-Qunun, who barricaded herself in an airport hotel room in Thailand last week to avoid deportation, said she was abused by a brother and locked in her room for months for cutting her hair short. She said she would have been killed if sent back to her family.
According to government statistics, at least 577 Saudi women tried to flee their homes inside the country in 2015, though the actual number is likely higher. There are no statistics on attempted or successful escapes abroad.
Shahad al-Mohaimeed, 19, who fled abuse and an ultraconservative family in Saudi Arabia two years ago, said fear is a powerful deterrent.
“When a Saudi girl decides to flee, it means she’s decided to put her life on the line and take a very, very risky step,” said al-Mohaimeed, who now lives in Sweden.
Al-Qunun’s plight on social media drew international attention, helping her short-circuit the typically complex path to asylum. A little more than a week after fleeing Saudi Arabia, she was in Canada, building a new life, posting pictures of wine, bacon and donning a dress above the knees.
Back in Saudi Arabia, the woman identified as Nojoud al-Mandeel posted audio on Twitter on Monday alleging her father had beaten and burnt her “over something trivial”. She posted a video looking onto a neighbor’s gated pool, where she says she jumped from her bedroom window before a friend picked her up and they escaped.
“Don’t tell me to report to police,” she said, explaining that in a previous attempt, police just had her father sign a pledge saying he would not beat her again.
After her story gained some traction online, she was promised attention by a protection hotline in Saudi Arabia for domestic abuse victims. Prosecutors also reportedly began looking into her allegations of abuse, according to Saudi news sites.
She was placed in a domestic abuse shelter, but on Tuesday complained on Twitter about the shelter’s restrictions over her movements.
Al-Mohaimeed said Twitter is where Saudi women can share stories and be heard. She and two other Saudi women took over al-Qunun’s Twitter account, writing messages on her behalf during the height of her pleas last week to avoid deportation.
“I was not born in this world to serve a man,” al-Mohaimeed said. “I was born in this world to fulfill my dreams, achieve my dreams, grow, learn and be independent — to taste life as I hold it in my hands.”
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Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ayaelb .