Syrian mother holds her sick child
Syrian mother holds her sick child iStock

At a time when our nation is pre-occupied with the pandemic, the Netanyahu trial and plans to annex parts of Judea and Samaria, Muslim dictatorial regimes are taking advantage of the pandemic in order to engage in massive human rights violations, as the international community is pre-occupied with the economic, psychological and humanitarian toll of the pandemic. From Turkey and Syria to Pakistan and Bangladesh, human rights and minority rights violations continue unabetted, as the community of nations turns a blind eye.

In an exclusive interview, Turkish journalist Rafael Sadi proclaimed that a number of prominent opposition journalists including Baris Terkoglu and Baris Pehlivan from Oda TV remain imprisoned despite the pandemic:

“According to the advocate of Baris Terkoglu and Baris Pehlivan, there is no case against them and no basis to arrest them. However, nothing is helping to release them. Even though the pandemic is ongoing, the court refuses to release them. Around the same period of time, the Oda TV website was closed and had to re-open utilizing a different name. In Turkey, there are many journalists in prison due to their quest to fight to save Turkey from destruction.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reported that in a sermon about the coronavirus pandemic, Ali Erbas, an imam who heads Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, blamed homosexuality and pre-marital sex for the spreading of HIV. Erbaş urged Muslims “to join the fight to protect people from such evil.”

Following criticism of Erbaş by rights groups and bar associations in Ankara, Izmir, and Diyarbakir, several top Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, voiced their support for Erbaş’s remarks and condemned the Ankara Bar Association for criticizing Erbaş’s speech. Now, there is a criminal investigation against the Ankara Bar Association, after they filed a complaint against Erbas for giving a homophobic speech.

According to Sadi: "Remember that this is a government with religious motives. All that is new is that some government people said that this pandemic is like AIDS and homosexuals are to blame. The situation in Turkey is difficult during the pandemic. Human rights organizations have faced difficulties too. Not many in the Turkish media discuss this. Human rights are not one of the main items on the agenda to discuss.”

Journalists and gays are not the only ones getting targeted in Turkey amid the pandemic. Iranian Kurdish journalist Sirwan Mansouri noted that the plight of refugees in Turkey has also deteriorated recently. According to a petition that he was involved in spreading, aside from threatening to deport many refugees back to their countries of origin in violation of international law, Turkey’s Immigration Office cut off the refugees healthcare insurance amid the pandemic:

“As they are not able to pay for their healthcare, they won’t be able to go to the doctor and things will only become worse for them. In case of the COVID-19 outbreak, for which most Turkish poor families receive aid from the government, refugees were denied any kind of financial, material or even moral support. And that is while most of them have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and are living under terrible circumstances.”

As bad as the situation is in Turkey, it is even worse in Syria. Syrian Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas proclaimed,

“There is a lot of it going on, especially in Afrin. The folks that are controlling Afrin, the so-called Free Syrian Army supported by Turkey, are on a daily basis kidnapping and raping teenage girls. Anybody who resists moving out of their homes, they kill. They are changing Afrin, which was 99 percent Kurdish. Now, it is 25 percent Kurdish and the rest are no better than ISIS. You can clearly see their activities in that region.”

Abbas noted. “Anyone who promotes the Kurdish cause gets arrested, beaten and arrested or killed, especially in security zones under the regime’s control or any part that the regime still has control over. The Syrian Kurdish group PYD also does abuses to the Kurds primarily. Any Kurdish group that does not support their views, they have been marginalized and oppressed in that region. It is not to the scale of Turkey and the Syrian rebels in Afrin, Ras al Ayn and elsewhere, but the PYD need to change their behavior. They cannot just execute the orders coming from Assad to oppress the Kurds or any other independent voices, which is the overwhelming majority of the Kurds.”

During the pandemic, a Bangladeshi source noted that a Hindu girl was physically assaulted in Hapla village and was hospitalized. Additionally, a Hindu fisherman was physically assaulted, as well as 10 Hindus who congregated in a home. Bangladesh Minority Watch also reported that recently a Buddhist Temple was attacked by a mob of 50-60 Muslim fundamentalists, who vandalized the temple’s walls, windows and a Buddhist statue. The assailants apparently fired three rounds of bullets at the Buddhist Temple in Bangladesh and the only reason the Buddhist Monk who presided over the temple survived was because he hid from the attackers.

Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, reported that the Bangladeshi government has been involved in stealing massive amounts of food aid amid the pandemic. He noted that they have been providing direct and indirect assistance to different NGOs and Islamic organizations, with the sole purpose of utilizing coronavirus aid in order to convert Hindus to Islam.

The best way to weaken both Iran and Erdogan is to prop up and support minority groups seeking to secede, such as the Kurds, Ahwaz Arabs, Druze, Baloch and Iranian Azeris.
In fact, Basu claimed that minority rights violations have increased recently, as the international community turns a blind eye: “Various attacks, land grabbing incidents, forceful disappearances and murders have occurred throughout the country. The minorities are getting tortured with the indirect and direct help of the government. The victims are not getting justice. The minorities are fleeing their homes due to the lack of security. In many places, corona-infected Hindus are not being treated and are being forcefully discharged from hospitals. No help is being given to the helpless including relief. In this way, the bloody history of torture and land-grabbing of Hindu homes in Bangladesh won’t ever end.”

The human rights situation is not much better in Pakistan. According to an anonymous Baloch source, the Pakistani Army has desecrated a Baloch cemetery amid the pandemic: “This is the situation in Balochistan. Even the graves are not safe.” Similarly, the Clarion Project, an organization that monitors Islamist extremism, noted that there were two honor crimes recently in Pakistan, which occurred after a video circulated online of two female cousins, age 22 and age 24, kissing a man. According to the report, the father of one of the victims and the brother of the other victim confessed to committing the crime: “This clearly shows that the concept of honor is more important to the men than the lives of the women they kill.” Although relatively recently Pakistan changed the law, so honor killers now get life imprisonment, honor crimes still remain rampant in the Asian country, especially in the tribal areas.

How should the international community respond to these human rights violations going on amid the pandemic?

Syrian Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas believes that now is the time to go after the Iranian axis and Turkey’s jihadist allies, when the pandemic has weakened them. He thinks that the best way to weaken both Iran and Erdogan is to prop up and support minority groups seeking to secede, such as the Kurds, Ahwaz Arabs, Druze, Baloch and Iranian Azeris: “Working with the minorities is the best way to bring these regimes down now. Now is the time to divide and conquer. This is the way you do it. You promote the democratic elements similar to you and force those regions to be democratic and responsive.” Similarly, propping up Hindus, Christians and Buddhists in Pakistan and Bangladesh will also serve to weaken radical Islam and help to empower positive change there as well.

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”