Former Hollywood producer Weinstein convicted of sexual assault, rape, held in custody

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault and rape by a New York jury on Monday and handcuffed in court, a milestone verdict for the #MeToo movement that inspired women to go public with misconduct allegations against powerful men.

Once one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, Weinstein, 67, was convicted of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress, in 2013.

Weinstein was acquitted on the most serious charges that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life. In the minutes after the verdict was read in court, Weinstein was seen talking to his lead lawyer Donna Rotunno. He appeared expressionless.

Justice James Burke ordered Weinstein to be held in custody and he was put in handcuffs by officers in court.

He faces up to 25 years in prison on the sexual assault conviction.

The jury acquitted Weinstein on two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carried a potential life sentence, and first degree rape of Mann. A conviction on predatory sexual assault would have meant the jury had concluded he was a repeat sexual offender.

He was convicted of third degree rape which carries a sentence of up to four years in prison.

Elizabeth L. Jeglic, a Professor of Psychology at John Jay College in New York said, “I think this verdict is definitely a vindication of all the women who have come forward and not been able to get a prosecution.”

During his trial, Weinstein often appeared feeble, entering the courthouse using a walker. He sometimes leaned on Rotunno for support. Critics had accused Weinstein of playing up medical problems to win sympathy but Weinstein said he had back injuries.

“He’s taken some good acting tips,” actress Rose McGowan said at the start of the trial on Jan. 6 while staging a protest near the courthouse along with actress Rosanna Arquette and other Weinstein accusers.

Weinstein made his mark with critically acclaimed films such as “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love.”

More than 80 women, including famous actresses, had accused him of sexual misconduct stretching back decades. He had denied the allegations and said any sexual encounters were consensual.

Paul Callan, a former New York prosecutor who is not involved in the case, said Weinstein had strong grounds to argue the verdict should be overturned on appeal because of bias, noting that one of the jurors was the author of a forthcoming book on teenage girls and “predatory” older men.

During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Weinstein as a serial predator who had manipulated women with promises to open doors in Hollywood, coaxing them to hotel rooms or private apartments and then overpowering and violently attacking them.

“The man seated right there was not just a titan in Hollywood, he was a rapist,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast said during opening arguments.

Seated at the defense table, Weinstein often appeared impassive, though at times he looked intently at his attorneys when they cross-examined his accusers.

‘JEKYLL AND HYDE’

During the many weeks of trial, the prosecution methodically elicited graphic testimony from several accusers, including Haleyi, who said Weinstein invited her to his SoHo home after she had worked on one of his television productions.

After she arrived, Weinstein backed her into a bedroom, held her down on the bed and forced himself on her orally, yanking out her tampon, Haleyi told jurors.

Mann said that soon after meeting Weinstein she entered into an “extremely degrading” relationship with him that never included intercourse until, she alleged, he raped her in 2013.

She described Weinstein as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character: He was charming in public but often showed terrifying anger when they were alone, Mann said.

At one point, she started sobbing uncontrollably on the stand, prompting the judge to end testimony early for the day.

Weinstein was charged with assaulting Haleyi and Mann, but prosecutors bolstered their case by calling several other accusers as witnesses.

One of these women, “Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra, told jurors Weinstein came into her apartment one winter night in 1993 or 1994 and raped her.

Though the accusation was too old to be charged as a separate crime, prosecutors offered it to show Weinstein was a repeat sexual offender.

Three other women – costume designer Dawn Dunning, model Tarale Wulff and actress Lauren Young – testified that they were enticed into meeting Weinstein for professional reasons and then groped or raped.

Testimony of “prior bad acts” is generally not allowed in criminal trials, but an exception to the law allowed prosecutors to call these women to show Weinstein had a particular intention or a signature pattern of behavior.

Legal experts said the women provided powerful evidence that was difficult for the defense to overcome.

Dunning testified that the producer groped her in 2004 and offered her movie roles in exchange for three-way sex with him and his assistant, which she refused.

Young, a model and actress, testified that the producer trapped her in a hotel bathroom in 2013, masturbated in front of her while groping her breasts, and told her: “This is what all the actresses do to make it.”

‘LAST LINE OF DEFENSE’

Throughout the case, the defense said regret drove the accusers to take consensual incidents and reframe them as crimes.

Weinstein’s lawyers zeroed in on friendly messages and ongoing contact between the women and Weinstein.

During cross-examination of Haleyi, for example, the defense showed her a message she sent Weinstein signed “lots of love” after her alleged attack.

Defense lawyers repeatedly suggested that Mann willingly had sex with Weinstein to advance her career.

Weinstein never testified in his defense, although he told reporters he had wanted to. One of his lawyers said the case was too weak to warrant putting him on the stand.

Weinstein’s lawyer Rotunno told jurors during closing arguments that they were “the last line of defense” against an “overzealous” prosecution and that women were “responsible” for the “choices they make to further their own careers.”

Prosecutors pushed back against claims that his accusers were not credible and the notion that they were responsible for the alleged attacks.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi said it was irrelevant whether they had ongoing contact with Weinstein after the alleged attacks.

Illuzzi rejected a defense claim that Mann had a loving relationship with Weinstein, but said it would not matter if she had been “head over heels in love with him.”

“He still wouldn’t be allowed to rape her on March 18 of 2013,” she said.

Weinstein still faces sexual assault charges in California, which were announced just hours after his New York rape trial began, and dozens of women have filed civil lawsuits against him.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson; Additional reporting by Tom Hals; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Howard Goller and Jonathan Oatis, Grant McCool)

Weinstein jury renews deliberations after deadlock on most serious charges

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Jurors in the sexual assault trial of former movie producer Harvey Weinstein began their fifth day of deliberations on Monday, after suggesting last week they were deadlocked on the most serious charges in the case.

Weinstein arrived at court after breakfast at the Four Seasons New York Downtown hotel, wearing a navy blue suit and leaning on a walker. He appeared to be in an upbeat mood.

“Good morning everyone,” he said as he passed journalists in the courthouse hallway and paused for photos.

Weinstein, 67, pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress.

On Friday, the jury of seven men and five women asked the judge whether they could be hung on two counts of predatory sexual assault and unanimous on the others, which include first-degree rape.

Conviction on the predatory assault charges, which carry a potential life sentence, would indicate that Weinstein is a repeat sexual offender. Two of the other three charges carry prison terms of up to 25 years; a third carries a sentence of up to 4 years.

Legal experts said the jury’s questions suggested they were nearing a guilty verdict on at least one of the five counts against the producer of movies including “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love.”

Weinstein has denied the charges. A source within Weinstein’s defense team said speculation about the verdict would be “premature and a mistake.”

Paul Callan, a former prosecutor, said an acquittal is still possible and “anything can happen after a weekend of reflection.” The jury began its deliberations last Tuesday.

During the weeks-long trial Haleyi testified that Weinstein invited her to his Manhattan home in 2006 and then backed her into a bedroom and forcibly performed oral sex on her.

Mann said that soon after meeting Weinstein she began an “extremely degrading” relationship with him that never included intercourse until, she alleged, he raped her in March 2013.

Another accuser, Annabella Sciorra, best known for her role in HBO’s “The Sopranos,” testified that Weinstein came to her New York apartment one winter night in 1993 or 1994, raped her and then forced oral sex on her.

That accusation is too old to be charged as a separate crime, but was introduced by prosecutors as an aggravating factor for the predatory sexual assault charges.

Jurors appeared to focus on Sciorra’s allegations on Thursday and Friday, asking to review extensive evidence related to her.

Jurors can convict Weinstein of predatory sexual assault if they find that he committed the alleged assault against Sciorra and at least one of the alleged crimes against Haleyi or Mann.

Defense lawyer Michael Bachner, who is not involved in the case, said it seemed the jury had decided to convict Weinstein on the counts related to the individual complainants.

“Otherwise there really would be no reason for them to be considering the testimony of Ms. Sciorra,” Bachner said on Friday.

However, legal experts cautioned that the jurors could be confused by the complexity of the predatory sexual assault charges and the verdict sheet.

Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. He has said any sexual encounters were consensual.

The allegations fueled the #MeToo movement, in which women have accused powerful men in business, entertainment, media and politics of sexual misconduct.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Additional reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)

Cover up or be censored: Cambodia orders women not look sexy on Facebook

By Matt Blomberg

PHNOM PENH (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A crackdown in Cambodia on women who wear provocative clothing while selling goods via Facebook live streams was slammed by women’s rights groups on Wednesday as dangerous and baseless.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said low cut tops were an affront to Cambodian culture and ordered authorities to track down Facebook vendors who wear them to sell items like clothes and beauty products – a popular trend in the conservative country.

“Go to their places and order them to stop live-streaming until they change to proper clothes,” the prime minister told the government’s Cambodian National Council for Women on Monday.

“This is a violation of our culture and tradition,” he said, adding that such behaviour contributed to sexual abuse and violence against women.

While Cambodia’s young population is increasingly educated, many expect women to be submissive and quiet, a legacy of Chbap Srey, an oppressive code of conduct for women in the form of a poem that was on primary school curricula until 2007.

The national police posted a video to Facebook on Wednesday, in which a Cambodian woman makes a public apology for sullying the “tradition and honour of Cambodian women” by wearing “extremely short and sexy clothes” in her online sales pitches.

Facebook was not immediately available to comment.

Interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak confirmed on Wednesday that authorities were “taking action” in line with the prime minister’s orders. He referred further questions to a police spokesman who could not be reached immediately.

Amnesty International regional director Nicholas Bequelin said the prime minister’s comments were a “dangerous instance of victim blaming”.

“This rhetoric only serves to perpetuate violence against women and stigmatise survivors of gender-based violence,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

One in five Cambodian men said they had raped a woman in a 2013 United Nations survey.

Ros Sopheap, head of the charity Gender and Development for Cambodia, said the government should look at the reasons why women sell goods online instead of dictating what they wear.

“They always talk about culture, culture, culture,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “What about jobs? What about education? These things are broken in Cambodia. And what about people’s right to make a living?”

Seven Cambodian women’s rights groups pointed out that the women vendors had breached no law.

“There is no evidence-based research that affirms that women’s clothing choice is the root cause of degradation of social morality,” they said in an open letter.

(Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

Migrants raped and trafficked as U.S. and Mexico tighten borders, charity says

By Christine Murray

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Central American migrants are being kidnapped, raped and trafficked in Mexico as they seek to enter the United States amid a migration crackdown, a medical charity said on Tuesday.

In Mexico’s Nuevo Laredo city – separated from the United States by the Rio Grande – almost 80% of migrants treated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the first nine months of 2019 said they had been victims of violence, including kidnapping.

“They’re treated as if they aren’t really people,” Sergio Martin, Mexico coordinator for MSF, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “They’ve suffered violence … and what they find on their journey is more violence.”

Mexico has ramped up efforts to stop Central American migrants, often fleeing violent crime and poverty, reaching the U.S. border under pressure from President Donald Trump who threatened to put import tariffs on its goods.

It has deployed the National Guard to stop migrants crossing northwards and increased detentions and deportations.

Mexico’s immigration authority and interior ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has said he wants to apply immigration laws while respecting migrants’ human rights.

The United States has sent 57,000 non-Mexican migrants back to Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, restricted asylum criteria and limited the number of claims it receives daily at each port of entry.

In September, 18 of 41 patients in Nuevo Laredo who had been sent back to Mexico to wait for U.S. asylum processing told MSF they had recently been kidnapped.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We think that as a direct result of many of these policies there are people who are suffering more violence,” said Martin.

“It’s easier for them to fall into human trafficking networks or into extortion networks, and no one look for them.”

MSF found 78% of almost 3,700 patients in Mexico who sought mental health care in 2018 and 2019 showed signs of exposure to violence, including assault, sexual violence and torture.

Some patients said they had been kidnapped in Mexico for long periods for forced labour, sexual exploitation or recruitment to work for criminal groups.

Almost one in four female migrants told MSF they had experienced sexual violence on their journeys.

The MSF data was based on some 26,000 health consultations with migrants in 2018 and 2019, testimonials and a survey.

(Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Judge threatens Harvey Weinstein with jail for texting in court

Judge threatens Harvey Weinstein with jail for texting in court
By Gabriella Borter and Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial took a dramatic turn on Tuesday as the judge threatened to revoke his bail and jail the former film producer after catching him using his cellphone just as jury selection got underway.

“Is this really the way you want to end up in jail for the rest of your life, by texting and violating a court order?” state Judge James Burke asked the 67-year-old defendant, visibly angry.

“I’m not looking for apologies; I’m looking for compliance,” Burke said.

The once-powerful producer has been released on bail, but is required to wear an electronic-tracking device that was visible on his ankle when he arrived at court on Tuesday.

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to charges of assaulting two women in New York. He faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charge, predatory sexual assault.

Jury selection began with Burke speaking to 120 potential jurors in the courtroom about the importance of jury service and telling them the identity of the defendant.

“Having heard of him, or even having heard the allegations made against him in the press, does not disqualify you,” he told them.

Burke read to jurors a list of dozens of names that might come up at the trial, including actresses Salma Hayek and Charlize Theron, who have accused Weinstein of misconduct.

He also mentioned actress Alyssa Milano. Days after reports of Weinstein’s alleged misconduct was first reported in October 2017, Milano wrote on Twitter “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”

That message propelled the #MeToo movement, which prompted women to lodge misconduct allegations against powerful men in politics and business.

Burke did not say if the people he mentioned would be called as witnesses.

Prosecutors have said they may call three women to testify about encounters with Weinstein, even though he is not formally charged with crimes against them. Their testimony is intended to bolster the charges by showing that Weinstein had a consistent pattern of behavior.

Michelle Gelernt, a public defender who briefly represented Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, raised her had when asked if anyone knew the legal teams. She said she knew the judge and lead prosecutor but it would not prevent her from being impartial.

Forty potential jurors were excused after saying they could not be impartial, and a small number said their health prevented them from serving.

Those who said they believed serving on the jury would be a hardship were called one by one to speak with the judge and lawyers privately.

The remaining jurors were told to take a written questionnaire and return on Jan. 16 for further selection if they believed they were able to serve.

On Monday, hours after Weinstein’s trial in New York started, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey charged Weinstein with the sexual assault of two unidentified women in 2013.

More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct dating back decades.

Weinstein has denied the allegations, saying any sexual encounters he had were consensual.

Burke denied a request by one of Weinstein’s lawyers, Arthur Aidala, to delay the trial or at least allow more time for jury selection because Monday’s charges would make it impossible to choose a fair and impartial jury this week.

“I cannot think of one time, one case where the day of jury selection this type of prejudice is being cast against a criminal defendant,” said Aidala, who held up copies of the New York Times, Daily News and New York Post with articles about the Los Angeles charges.

“I don’t see how anyone could answer honestly that they’re fair and impartial after this stuff is drilled into their brains,” he said.

Legal experts said the #MeToo movement and Monday’s charges would make jury selection challenging in the trial of Weinstein, who made his mark with low-budget, critically acclaimed films such as “The English Patient” and “Shakespeare in Love.”

“The defendant, Harvey Weinstein is a film producer,” stated the form with 55 questions potential jurors were asked to answer. “Can you assure all parties that you will determine this case based only on the evidence you will hear in Court?”

Jurors were also asked if they had read about the case or Weinstein, if they or a family member was ever a victim of sexual abuse or if they or a family member ever worked in the entertainment business.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, said the 2,000 jurors summoned for the Weinstein case is roughly five times the number for a typical trial. Based on past experience, about 500 were likely to show up for jury duty.

Prosecutors need all 12 jurors to back a conviction, while Weinstein needs just one holdout for a hung jury.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, and Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis)

Rape map and murdered women – welcome to South Africa’s Republic of Sexual Abuse

By Kim Harrisberg

JOHANNESBURG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It has its own currency, passports and a blood-stained map, but this is no ordinary country. Welcome to the Republic of Sexual Abuse, the creation of a group of campaigners in South Africa, where a woman is murdered every three hours.

The fictional country is the centrepiece of an exhibition held in a Johannesburg mall that seeks to raise awareness of South Africa’s high levels of violence against women – and inspire action against it.

It was thought up by Roanna Williams, executive creative director of the advertising agency Black River FC, after she saw women protesting against the violence from her office window.

“Most women in South Africa have a story of sexual abuse,” said Williams at the exhibition, which opened on Nov. 26 to coincide with the United Nations’ 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence.

“We are not just trying to shock, we are showing that this is everyone’s problem and we all need to act, not just during 16 Days of Activism, but 365 days of the year.”

Recent murders, rapes and kidnappings of South African women sparked mass protests in September where women called for justice for rape survivors.

Soon after, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a five-point plan to tackle violence against women, including media campaigns, strengthening the criminal justice system, and providing training for healthcare workers and counsellors.

The exhibition, run together with women’s rights group People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), includes a huge red map painted in fake blood with all the excuses men use to rape women – including “I was drunk”.

At the back of the exhibition, a warning sign marks the entrance to a bedroom where blood stained sheets hide behind a curtain. Recordings of cries and slaps fill the room.

“This room is where reality kicks in for people in the exhibition,” said Patricia Naha, a volunteer and counsellor with POWA, adding it showed women were not safe anywhere.

About 3,000 women in South Africa were murdered in 2018 – one every three hours and more than five times higher than the global average, according to the World Health Organization.

The number of recorded murders of women went up 11% between 2017 and 2018.

A video advertising South Africa as a tourist destination is played on repeat, with images of the country overlaid with jarring narration about sexual violence.

“Retreat to the spectacular bushveld,” a voice is heard saying over a video of zebra running through a national park. “Where women are dumped after being murdered,” the sentence continues.

Some men visiting the exhibition get defensive, said Clayton Swartz, Black River FC’s art director, but many leave taking pamphlets and asking how they can help.

“I am proud to be South African, but not with these rape stats,” said Swartz. “We want to encourage everyone to speak out.”

The exhibition, which has so far attracted thousands of visitors, is open until Dec. 10 at Rosebank Mall and the organisers are seeking corporate sponsors to help them take it across the country.

(Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Anger erupts in Spain as five men acquitted of gang-raping teenager

Anger erupts in Spain as five men acquitted of gang-raping teenager
By Sophie Davies

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women’s rights campaigners in Spain called for a change in the law on Friday after a court in Barcelona cleared five men of raping a 14-year-old girl and jailed them for the lesser charge of sexual abuse, ruling that they did not use violence.

The men, who denied the charges, took turns to have sex with the teenager after a party in Manresa, a town to the north of Barcelona, in October 2016, the court heard.

On Thursday they were sentenced to between 10 and 12 years in jail for sexual abuse, avoiding more serious charges of rape or sexual assault because the court said the girl was drunk and unconscious, did not fight back and the men were not violent.

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, took to social media to express her anger at the verdict, saying it was “outrageous” and the result of a patriarchal judicial system.

“I’m not a judge and I don’t know how many years in prison they deserve, but what I do know is that this is not abuse, it is rape!” she wrote on Twitter.

The verdict has reignited a debate over the Spanish judiciary’s treatment of women, which intensified with the 2016 “Wolf Pack” case, in which an 18-year-old woman was gang-raped during the running of the bulls festival in Pamplona.

The men, who included a former policeman and a former soldier, had shared videos of the incident in a WhatsApp group and joked about it afterwards.

In June, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled the five accused were guilty of rape not the lesser crime of sexual abuse, increasing their sentence to 15 years rather than the nine years they had been given for sexual abuse by a regional court.

Outrage and protests over the initial verdict prompted a government promise to change the law, but critics say the Manresa case shows how the penal code is still outdated.

“It makes no sense that the law continues to distinguish between abuse and sexual assault,” Nuria Gonzalez, a Barcelona-based human rights lawyer, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Everything that happens after a woman says no, or says nothing at all, or which happens through violence and intimidation, goes against the will of the victim and is a sexual assault in which there is no room for mitigating or lower grades,” she added.

Spanish law requires that the plaintiff in a rape case must present evidence of intimidation or specific violence.

“Any attack on sexual liberty should be considered violence,” Graciela Atencio, a women’s rights activist and director of the website Feminicidio.net, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It’s important that they introduce the term rape into the penal code for all attacks that involve penetration and that any sexual behaviour without consent be considered sexual violence.”

(Editing by Ros Russell ((Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

For Yazidis, Baghdadi’s death ‘doesn’t feel like justice yet’

For Yazidis, Baghdadi’s death ‘doesn’t feel like justice yet’
By Raya Jalabi

SHARYA CAMP, Iraq (Reuters) – Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death will mean nothing to 19-year-old rape victim Jamila unless the Islamic State militants who enslaved her are brought to justice.

Jamila, who asked not to be identified by her last name, is one of thousands of women from the Yazidi minority religion who were kidnapped and raped by IS after it mounted an assault on the Yazidi homeland in northern Iraq in August 2014.

“Even if Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead, it doesn’t mean Islamic State is dead,” Jamila told Reuters outside the tent that is now her temporary home in the Sharya camp for displaced Yazidis in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

“This doesn’t feel like justice yet,” she said. “I want the men who took me, who raped me, to stand trial. And I want to have my voice heard in court. I want to face them in court … Without proper trials, his death has no meaning.”

Baghdadi, who had led IS since 2010, detonated a suicide vest after being cornered in a raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria, U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Sunday.

Inspired by his edicts to enslave and slaughter Yazidis, whom IS regard as infidels, his followers shot, beheaded and kidnapped thousands in a rampage which the United Nations called a genocidal campaign against them.

Along with thousands of other women and children, Jamila said she was enslaved by the militants and kept in captivity for five months in the city of Mosul along with her sister.

She was just 14 when she was seized. But her problems did not end after she and her sister managed to escape when, she said, their guards were high on drugs.

“When I first came back, I had a nervous breakdown and psychological problems for two years, so I couldn’t go to school,” she said.

Now instead of working or catching up on her years of lost schooling, she looks after her mother, with whom she shares her cramped tent at the camp.

“My mother can’t walk and has health problems so I have to stay and take care of her because my older siblings are in Germany,” she said.

NO PLANS TO GO HOME

The prospect of going home to Sinjar in northern Iraq is not an option for Jamila, and many others. The city still lies in ruin four years after the IS onslaught, and suspicion runs deep in the ethnically mixed area.

“Sinjar is completely destroyed. Even if we could go back, I wouldn’t want to because we’d be surrounded by the same Arab neighbors who all joined IS in the first place, and helped them kill us (Yazidis),” she said.

Thousands of men are being tried in Iraqi courts for their ties to IS. Iraq has so far not allowed victims to testify in court, something community leaders and human rights groups say would go a long way in the healing process.

“It is deplorable that not a single victim of Islamic State’s horrific abuses including sexual slavery has gotten their day in court,” said Belkis Wille, Iraq Researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Iraq’s justice system is designed to allow the state to exact mass revenge against suspects, not provide real accountability for victims.”

For some of the nearly 17,000 Yazidis at the Sharya camp, Baghdadi’s death was a first step in that direction though they fear the IS fighters who are still alive.

Mayan Sinu, 25, can dream of a new life after the camp as she and her three children have been granted asylum by Australia. But she also wants the men who shot her husband in the legs and dragged him off to be brought to justice. He has been missing since the incident five years ago.

“I hope Baghdadi is suffering more than we ever did, and my God we suffered,” said Sinu. “I wish he (Baghdadi) hadn’t blown himself up so I could have slaughtered him myself with my bare hands.”

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Bangladesh sentences 16 to death for killing teenager in harassment case

Bangladesh sentences 16 to death for killing teenager in harassment case
DHAKA (Reuters) – The principal of a religious school in Bangladesh was among 16 people sentenced to death on Thursday for the murder of a teenage girl who refused to withdraw a complaint of sexual harassment against him, the public prosecutor said.

The perpetrators poured kerosene over Nusrat Jahan, 18, and set her on fire on the roof of her madrasa in April in the southeastern district of Feni. Police said in their charge-sheet the murder was carried out on the orders of the principal.

“The judgment proves that no one is above the law,” public prosecutor Hafez Ahmed told reporters after the court verdict.

He said the defense lawyers had tried unsuccessfully to establish that Jahan had committed suicide.

Defense lawyer Giasuddin Nannu said all the convicts will challenge the verdict in the High Court.

Jahan’s death sparked public outrage and mass demonstrations calling for her killers to be punished. She had faced pressure to withdraw a complaint to police in March accusing the school principal of attempted rape, her family said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had met her family and vowed to bring the killers to justice.

Two female classmates and two local leaders of her party were among those convicted.

After the murder, the government instructed some 27,000 educational institutions to form committees to prevent sexual assaults.

“I can’t forget her for a moment. I still feel the pain that she went through,” mother Shirin Akhtar said as she burst into tears at her home following the verdict.

Jahan’s brother, Mahmudul Hasan Noman, demanded that the death sentences be carried out swiftly and sought protection for his family against reprisals.

“We live in fear. We were threatened even today in the courtroom,” Noman said.

Bangladesh has seen a dramatic rise in the number of rape cases in recent months, with 217 women and children raped in September, the highest in any single month since 2010, according to a report published by Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, a women’s rights group.

Many more cases go unreported because women fear being stigmatized. Rights activists attribute the increasing number of rapes to a lack of awareness, a culture of impunity, moral decadence, and people of influence protecting suspected rapists for political reasons.

Even when survivors file a complaint, prosecution is very rare and takes years to conclude.

“This verdict has set an example. It shows that with utmost sincerity we can ensure justice within our existing system,” said the group’s head, Ayesha Khanam.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani & Simon Cameron-Moore)

African refugee women report surge of sex attacks in Egypt

African refugee women report surge of sex attacks in Egypt
By Nadeen Ebrahim and Ulf Laessing

CAIRO (Reuters) – The 17-year-old South Sudanese refugee finally managed to escape after three months as a prisoner in a Cairo apartment where she was repeatedly gang raped, only to realize that she had become pregnant by one of her attackers.

She is one of a growing number of African migrant and refugee women in the Egyptian capital who report abuse, in what rights groups say has become an epidemic of sexual violence that has worsened in recent months.

Reuters met five women from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia at a community center in Cairo, each of whom said she was a victim of violent sexual assault.

The 17-year old South Sudanese woman said she was snatched by strangers in a poor neighborhood and brought by a taxi to another area, where a man locked her up in an apartment for three months and repeatedly raped her with friends.

“I tried several times to escape,” she said, adding that she finally managed to flee when her captor left a key in the house. She asked not to be identified but agreed to be filmed provided that her face was not visible.

A Sudanese woman who gave her name as Bakhtia said she was assaulted by a stranger on the street in what then became a gang attack.

“He touched me, after which I slapped him on the face,” she said. “Immediately, around four other people (came over), each one grabbing me from a different body part. I tried to defend myself, but how can I defend myself?”

Three other women who spoke to Reuters said they were attacked while cleaning houses as domestic workers. Two were raped and one sexually assaulted. They asked not to be filmed or quoted directly.

The United Nations estimates around 500,000 migrants, half of them refugees, live in Egypt. Many arrived aiming to reach Europe via Israel or by boat to Turkey, routes that have been largely closed by tougher security measures.

Jobs are scarce. With austerity measures having driven up inflation since last year, many have found it more difficult to pay rent. Increasingly they have become homeless or are forced to share rooms with strangers, making them more vulnerable to sexual assault.

Cairo was named most dangerous megacity for women in an international perception poll carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered a crackdown on sexual harassment after seven men were arrested for attacking women near Cairo’s Tahrir Square during his inauguration celebrations in 2014. Tougher sentences have been imposed for sex crimes.

But rights groups say such measures have done little to deter attacks against African migrants, who often have no recourse to the police or family to protect them.

“From two to three (complaints of abuse) a week they were going to seven a week,” said Laurent De Boeck, head of the International Organization for Migration in Egypt, who blamed the surging cost of renting a room.

“The situation of them not having protection of a house, made them more vulnerable to the situation because they were basically in families in the street.”

Fatma Abdelkader, who works with local aid group Tadamon which runs the community center, said cases of sex abuse had increased in the past six months, with attackers seeming to seek out African women as prey.

“The darker the skin tone, the more susceptible the women are to violence,” she said.

(Reporting by Nadeen Ebrahim and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Peter Graff)