Archives for : CRIMES

Nihad told of the brutality she had endured when she was kidnapped by Islamic State and sold into sexual slavery.HER STORY.

‘Australia will be my first home and my last home’: Nihad’s new life begins

London: Twelve months ago Nihad Barakat al-Awsi’s eyes were heavy with sadness.

Sharing her story with Fairfax Media, Nihad told of the brutality she had endured when she was kidnapped by Islamic State and sold into sexual slavery.  She has never again seen the baby boy, Issa, she gave birth to at just 15, and probably never will. She spoke of a sadness so deep she feared the trauma would be ever present in her mind.

Today, Nihad’s face is a happier picture. Three weeks ago she received a call that would change her life. Her application for Australia’s protection & residency had been accepted.

“I will go and I will change everything; I will start a new life there. I will remove it all from my mind,” the 19-year old said from Iraq.

Nihad Barakat al-Awsi will start a new life in Australia.

Later this week, Nihad – one of 18 children – will board a flight to Australia with two brothers and a sister, ready to close the door on their grossly troubled Iraqi lives. It will be a day of mixed emotions & feelings because it means saying goodbye to her parents, who want to stay in Iraq with the remaining family members.

Two of her brothers were forced into Islamic State training camps, while two sisters and another brother were murdered in the terror group’s attempted genocide of the Yazidis.

But Nihad is looking forward to her new life. She dreams of speaking English fluently and becoming a teacher.

“When I reach Australia I just want to learn English and become a teacher,” she said. ”This is the only purpose I have – to become a teacher.”

‘I will go and I will change everything. I will start a new life there.’

Liberal senator Zed Seselja, who met Nihad in London last year while serving as the assistant minister for social services and multicultural affairs, said there was “absolutely no doubt” Nihad would achieve her dreams in Australia,  and be welcomed & resettled by her new community.

“Like all refugees who are resettled in Australia, Nihad and her siblings will receive 500 hours of intensive English language lessons and can apply for more if needed, so she’ll have a great opportunity to pick up English,” he said.

He said refugees are offered housing assistance and help to enrol in education or training courses or look for work. They also receive a basic care or welcome package when they arrive into Australia.

Senator Seselja said only a tiny minority would begrudge the taxpayer-funded services provided to those fleeing harm and persecution.

“We’ve resettled a few hundred Yazidis and several thousand from Iraq and Syria in the last few years,” he said. “Most people I speak to want Australia to be a generous nation and are welcoming of refugees.”

Senator Seselja said Australia also offered support to victims of trauma and torture and this would be provided in Nihad’s case.

Since her escape from Islamic State, Nihad has received support from doctors and psychologists in Iraq. Her case inspired the AMAR Foundation, a London-based charity, to set up its Escaping Darkness program, which funds psychological support services for many thousands of Yazidi women who were traded as sex slaves by Islamic State.

Australia accepted 17,555 refugees in 2015-16 under the humanitarian program, with the highest number (4358) from Iraq. This year Australia will accept 18,750 people fleeing persecution in their country.

When Nihad arrives she will live in Toowoomba, which is home to quite a sizeable Yazidi community, including some of Nihad’s relatives. Nihad is looking forward to seeing her relatives again but also wants to become part of the Australian community.

“I don’t want to come just to see the Yazidis; I want to change my life, I want to change everything,” she said. “Australia will become my first home and my last one.”

Senator Seselja said Nihad’s desires to live an Australian life was common.

“I’ve seen that from so many people who come, not just refugees but from migrants, and it’s wonderful that they can come and want to integrate,” he said. ”I think that’s a great attitude to bring with them.”

But as Nihad looks forward to embracing life in Queensland, she will not entirely close the door on Iraq and the horror she has lived from that August day in 2014 when a cry rang out that dramatically changed her life: “IS are coming.”

About 10,000 Yazidis are estimated to have been slaughtered or kidnapped in the few days that followed. Thousands have never been seen or heard of again. Sinjar is now a rubble and nearly 50 mass graves have been uncovered.

“When I go to Australia I wish to help my people in Iraq because they need us,” she said.

Henry Sapiecha

Mexican women what happened to them when they were detained by the police. Here were their disturbing responses.

Watch: Amnesty International asked Mexican women what happened to them when they were detained by the police. Here were their disturbing responses.

WHEN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL interviewed 100 women in Mexico about their experiences being detained by police, the stories they heard were terrifying: 97 had been physically abused, 72 sexually abused, and 33 were raped. Watch the video to learn more about what can be done about police impunity in the country.

graphic-arrestsrape-mexican -police image

Henry Sapiecha



sharia woman in berka being flogged image

Sharia law … A woman is caned in Aceh for selling food during Ramadan in October. A woman and a man will soon be caned publicly for adultery. Photo: AFP


Sharia police in the Indonesian province of Aceh will publicly flog a young woman for adultery after she was turned in by eight vigilantes who had already gang-raped her as punishment.


The woman, a 25-year-old widow, and her alleged partner, a married 40-year old man, were caught inside her home last Thursday by a group of eight who were intent on enforcing the sharia prohibition on sex outside marriage, local media reports say.


The eight, who included a 13-year-old boy, tied up and beat the man and repeatedly raped the woman before dousing both in raw sewage.


They then marched the couple to the office of the local sharia police.


Ibrahim Latif, the head of the sharia police, or Wilayatul Hisbah in the town of Langsa, in Aceh’s far south-east, was quoted in The Jakarta Globe saying: “We want the couple caned because they violated the religious bylaw on sexual relations”.


Under the sharia law, which is peculiar to Aceh, each of the couple faces nine strokes of the cane in a public place.


The woman’s ordeal at the hands of her accusers would not be taken into account in delivering the sentence, Mr Ibrahim said.


“They have to be [caned] as a form of justice … they’ve confessed to having sex several times before, even though the man is married and has five children”.


The Jakarta Globe newspaper reported that Teungku Faisal Ali, the head of the Aceh chapter of the country’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama had backed the caning.


The organisation is usually considered part of Indonesia’s moderate muslim maintream.


However, Mr Faisal said the alleged rapists themselves should be treated more harshly than the couple, because they had “set back efforts to uphold sharia in Aceh”.


He said vigilantes should not act directly, but report offences to the sharia police.


Three of the alleged rapists including the boy are in police custody, and police have appealed for the families of the other five to give them up.


They are facing investigation and conviction by the ordinary criminal courts.


Aceh is the only province of Indonesia which enforces sharia law, after the central government in Jakarta granted its religious leaders the right to impose it in 2001 to try to quell separatist sentiment.


A recent bylaw in the province extended its provisions to all residents and visitors, including non-Muslims.


The law is enforced patchily, but Langsa is known to be strict. In nearby Lhokseumawe, women are prohibited from wearing tight jeans and riding astride motor scooters — they are required to go side saddle. Women are also expected to cover their hair, and young unmarried couples are not allowed to sit together in public in case sexual feelings emerge.


The law has often been abused by vigilantes and overzealous officials.


In one tragic case in 2012, a 16-year old girl was at a concert with friends in Langsa when the sharia police harangued her as a prostitute. When local media picked up the story the next day, repeated the accusation and published her full name, the girl hanged herself.


In 2010, three sharia policemen raped a 20-year-old university student after they found her riding a motorcycle with her boyfriend.

Henry Sapiecha


A love of adventure drew Philippa Strickland to the ancient island of Lamu, off the Kenyan coast. It was beautiful and captivating but, as she discovered, even paradise has a dark side.

Philippa Strickland on hiking trip image

He seized me with his left arm while his right hand brandished a knife at my throat. I tried to grab it, but the blade sliced across my fingers. I’d first noticed this man moments earlier staring at me as I left a nearby restaurant after breakfast. We were alone on this path. Before I could think or act, everything went black.

When I could see again, I was on the floor and he was straddling me as he adjusted a balaclava on his head. His build was unimposing but, in his right hand, he still held the knife and now pointed the tip of it down at my chest. I wasn’t so much scared as dazed by what I saw, convinced it was a delusion I just had to wait out.

What’s happening?” I asked. Hearing my own voice, I realised this was no dream. The sounds were too clear, the colours too vivid and the smells too intense: the stench of human excrement filled my nostrils. I looked around. I was lying underneath an overturned wooden boat that had been propped against a wall to create a makeshift public toilet. How did I get here?

Confusion and panic overwhelmed me, stunning me into submission. “What do you want from me?” He put his face close to mine. “I only want one thing,” he replied and his eyes darted down to my hips. My heart began to thump, my terror palpable in this closed-off world. I started to plead with him, “Please don’t do this to me.”

He pressed his hand heavily over my mouth and looked piercingly into my eyes: “I have two men out there watching for me. If you make any noise, I will tell them to come here. Do you want one man raping you or three?”

Philippa Strickland with a local woman in east Africa-image

I’d arrived on Lamu Island, off the north-east coast of Kenya, the previous afternoon, September 4, after travelling 24 hours from Nairobi on overcrowded buses along dusty, potholed, dirt roads and, finally, by boat. I was exhausted, but captivated by the beauty of Lamu Town as we entered its port. Described on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as “the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa”, the crumbling architecture lining many of Lamu’s cramped laneways dates back to the 14th century, when the town was established along a major Arab trading route.

With beautiful, white-sand beaches fringing the warm Indian Ocean, car-free streets heaving with life, the aroma of grilled fish drifting along the esplanade and the call to prayer permeating every crevice of its dilapidated buildings, the town made me feel as if I’d been transported back in time. This was everything that excited me about travelling. I dumped my bags at the hotel, grabbed my camera and went out to explore the foreshore as the sun began to set. It was humming with activity: veiled women with children in tow bustled purposefully among the shops, and donkeys lugged loads of cement from boats to building sites as the menfolk ambled from their evening prayers.

I knew this paradise had its dark side, however. In 2011, Somali pirates kidnapped a disabled French woman, Marie Dedieu, from her home on the small island of Manda just west of Lamu; both islands are part of an archipelago lying 100 kilometres south of the Kenya-Somali border. They refused her her daily medications for cancer and heart problems, which resulted in her death, and then attempted to sell her body. Two weeks earlier, a British couple had been abducted further up the coast in Kiwayu. Judith Tebbutt was held for six months before being released for a $1 million ransom; her husband, David, received a fatal shot to the chest as he tried to wrestle with one of the gunmen.

These events had had a significant impact on Lamu’s tourism industry, and although people were gradually starting to return to the island, the restaurants along the foreshore were empty. I was the only guest in my hotel, which my 2010 guide book described as “often full both in and out of season”: it was multi-storeyed with eight rooms sprawled haphazardly over three floors. Run by a friendly local family, it had an open terrace on the roof that overlooked the mosque next door.


As a tall, blonde, 31-year-old white woman, I didn’t go unnoticed in Lamu. In the narrow streets, young men sat in groups drinking tea or playing board games, gesturing for me to join them. Having spent the past nine months in Africa, I’d grown used to the attention and chose to ignore it.

The freedom to explore the world like this was infectious. As a keen photographer, I could be wherever I wanted to be, whenever I wanted to be, just to catch the best light; I could change my plans on a whim. Other travellers would ignite my interest in new destinations or alternative routes, and the friendships I’d made on the road were enduring. Every day was new and exciting and my perspective on the world and my own life had been challenged immeasurably.

Travel had equipped and enriched me in a way my formal education never had. I had backpacked like this for the past 10 years, spending eight or nine months overseas, then returning home to Adelaide to work in order to fund the next trip. Nothing bad had happened to me – yet.

I stared at the knife wedged into the sand next to my head, unable to look at the man looming over me who was now rocking rhythmically back and forth. It was the same sort of knife I used to chop vegetables at home. There was blood pouring from the cut on my hand: it was no toy. Dread collided with confusion, which fused with a constant wish to deny the reality of this situation. This wasn’t me lying here, it was someone else, and I wanted her to know what to do because I didn’t.

I thought about grabbing the knife, but then what? And if he overpowered me? All rational thought was stifled by fear of his every movement. Without the knife in his hand, he had become perversely gentle in his actions. When he saw the blood on my hand, he interrupted his awful rhythm to wipe it with my underwear and apologised for hurting me. His attempts to convince himself that this was something other than what it was infuriated me, yet I decided to act on this fleeting glimpse of humanity. Despite being unmarried, I tried to reason with him, saying, “My husband will kill me if he finds out”, and struggling under his weight.

He clasped one hand over my mouth and pressed the other down on my neck, tightening his grasp until I could scarcely breathe. The aggressor in him left me powerless. He looked around, checking for passers-by or signals from accomplices. I tilted my head to follow his gaze – I wanted to know if there really were other men on lookout – but he yanked it back sharply. Angered, he pulled the knife from the sand and motioned to stab me in the chest with it. “I will kill you,” he whispered menacingly, his eyes threatening through the holes in the balaclava.


Panic and fear enveloped me once again. Nothing had prepared me for this disarray of thoughts, resulting from a deprivation of basic rights or alternatives. I didn’t want to submit to this, but what was I risking otherwise?

Abruptly, he stopped, listened. Was somebody coming? I held my breath and strained to listen through the accelerated beating of my heart thudding in my ears. He yanked up his shorts, snatched the knife and my bag from the sand, crawled out from beneath the boat and was gone. My instinct was to chase him. He had my wallet, camera and lenses – I didn’t want him to get away with any more than he already had. I scrambled out into the path and ran after him. I saw him 100 metres away and then he disappeared, consumed by the sand dunes and vegetation that lay beyond the restaurant. I stopped. What was I doing? This man had a knife. Defeated, I stood in anguish, screaming.

Two young men ran towards me. While my words were lost in translation, my distress was understood and I collapsed on the sand. “We call police,” they said. “Wait.” One of them disappeared around the corner, returning with the couple who owned the restaurant where I’d had breakfast a short time earlier.

“What has happened to you?” questioned the woman, obviously shocked at my appearance: hair tangled with sand and excrement and blood staining the cream shirt and long skirt I was wearing. “He stole everything … and he raped me,” I replied. She covered her mouth in disbelief before stepping forward to embrace me. “The police are on their way,” she said. “We will take you to hospital.”

The Lamu Hospital, serving the island’s 100,000 residents, was a cluster of buildings surrounding an open-air courtyard on the edge of town. I sat in the surgery feeling numb. Had all this really happened?

The young Muslim doctor who treated me was warm, compassionate and worked with a professionalism and focus that contrasted significantly with the modus operandi of the police, who repeatedly knocked on the door, interrupting her examination, to ask me basic questions that they’d forgotten during their initial, muddled interview. They appeared listless and confused.


The doctor’s assessment was methodical and thorough. She carried out blood tests, took swabs and explained in detail how the USAid antiretroviral drugs she was prescribing would work to reduce the risk of infection. While the man’s HIV status was unknown, the prevalence of the virus in Africa, and the devastation it has wrought across the continent, are only too well known. I couldn’t even contemplate what this could mean for me. While I had an Implanon rod inserted under the skin of my upper arm to prevent unwanted pregnancy, I had no control over HIV.

For the next month I would need to take five tablets a day, taken in different combinations, plus a course of antibiotics. Like many drugs, the antiretrovirals are not 100 per cent effective and, after three months, I would need to be tested for HIV. I have yet to undergo this blood test. I choose not to think about the possibility of an unwelcome outcome: I’m not preparing myself for that, for the simple reason that I don’t know how to.

The doctor also addressed my psychological state. “Maybe you are still in shock and this will not hit you until later,” she said. “But remember, this is not your fault and, no matter what happens, you will be okay.” While I wanted to believe her, sitting in a hospital full of strangers, 10,000 kilometres from home, I wasn’t so sure. “Is this common?” I asked.

“For white women, no. But for local women, particularly young girls, yes. I see too many cases.”

The drop in Lamu’s tourist numbers following the events of 2011, and the subsequent rise in unemployment, had apparently taken its toll on this small community. As I sat in the hospital courtyard waiting for the results of blood tests for sexually transmitted diseases, an elderly man approached me. “I’m so sorry this has happened to you,” he said with sincerity. It seemed that news had spread fast. “This is because of the drug problems. This never would have happened before. Lamu is a peaceful place. But do not expect anything from these police.” He lowered his voice, before adding, “They are all involved.”

I was taken back to my hotel to shower and change. In an attempt to steady my nerves, I drank the last of a bottle of red wine I’d bought two days earlier. I returned to the police station later that afternoon feeling calmer and more rational, but infinitely exhausted. The officer who’d been appointed to my case asked the same question posed earlier by his colleagues: “Would you be able to identify this man?” I repeated that, since his face had been covered, this would be difficult. “Well, there is not so much we can do,” he sighed. “But we will try our best.”

He then asked a young officer to chaperone me to the hotel of a friend on the other side of Lamu Town. “I just walked from there,” came the young officer’s lethargic reply. I was too drained to argue or care, so I left alone.


I spent that night with an English friend in her hotel. She’d informed me the previous week that she’d be holidaying on the island, but until now we hadn’t met up. She listened in disbelief as I related my day of horror, which was in sharp contrast to her experience of Lamu – she’d spent days alternately wandering through the town and sunbaking on the beach.

Sitting on her balcony talking, I felt vastly disconnected from the person who’d been lying under the boat only hours before. My ability to relay the incident without emotion or distress was disconcerting to us both, and finally attributed to shock. I slept restlessly next to her, waking frequently to check she was still there and questioning myself about the reality of it all. This was something that happened to other people, not to me.

My friend was visiting the island with a group of former colleagues, one of whom was a journalist now working in Nairobi. He contacted the Kenyan police in the city, and they arranged a meeting that would take place the following morning at the local police station. All chiefs of police and government officials on the island would be there. Although I was sceptical about the efficacy of such a meeting, I agreed to go with the journalist.

I woke up in pain, my muscles remembering the struggle of the day before. The gathering began with an outpouring of condolences and assurances that absolutely everything would be done to find this man and prosecute him. Unfortunately, with few leads to work with, it soon deteriorated into a search for a scapegoat, the finger of blame wandering back and forth between me, for travelling alone, and the restaurant owners; according to the police, they should have employed a guard to monitor the 50-metre public path where the assault had taken place, despite no previous concerns regarding safety in the area.

Once again, I was infuriated. This family had responded to my screams, alerted the police and accompanied me to the hospital. I didn’t want to hear them accused of anything. Enough was enough. I excused myself.

It was time to contact my family and book a flight home to Adelaide. First, I stopped to thank the owners of the restaurant for their kindnesses the day before. “Today it is you,” said the woman with emotion. “Maybe tomorrow it is me.”

I walked back to the hotel with apprehension. What would this predominantly Muslim community think about an uncovered white woman being attacked like this? I needn’t have worried. In an incredible show of solidarity, women I didn’t know stopped to embrace me or to say simply, “We are sorry this has happened to you.”

As the plane took off the next morning, I looked down at the waters of the Indian Ocean, the white sands of the archipelago and the ancient town of Lamu. Its beauty was stunning, but I was relieved to be leaving it behind – for now. I knew I’d be back, though. I loved Africa: its landscapes, its cultures, its people.

As I watched the villages becoming specks in the vast mosaic of Africa, I thought of the women I’d seen in my travels here: the loads they carried, their relentless chores and the children they bore in harsh conditions. What other, unspoken perils did they endure? While I could get on a plane and fly away, they had no option but to stay.

Philippa Strickland-image www.goodgirlsgo (2)

On September 21, after I returned home to Adelaide, insurgents from the Somali militant group al-Shabaab stormed Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, killing more than 60 civilians. I feared the impact this event would have on Kenya’s tourism and the people of Lamu. In regions of the country that relied so heavily on foreign visitors for economic stability, what further knock-on effects would these communities experience?

The gang-rape of a 16-year-old Kenyan schoolgirl in June sparked widespread protest when it was revealed last month that the police response to the violent attack had been to force three of her attackers to cut the grass around the station before releasing them. The police had also urged that the mother “clean her up”, thereby destroying all forensic evidence.

At the end of October, I was told a man had attempted to rape a schoolgirl on Lamu. His build and knife fitted the description I gave. Angry locals caught and beat the man with the intention of lynching him before police intervened. He was taken to hospital under police surveillance. I wasn’t surprised to learn that later, while in their custody, he escaped through a bathroom window.


Henry Sapiecha