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Man arrested for faking online sale of Indian Muslim women

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Police in India have arrested a man alleged to be behind the offering for sale of prominent Muslim women through a fake online auction, according to government officials, in a case that has sparked anger and outrage across the country.

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Satej Patil, the technology minister for the Maharashtra state, said late Monday that the cyber unit of the Mumbai Police has detained a 21-year-old engineering student from the southern city of Bengaluru in the neighboring Karnataka state and registered a case against him. Police did not reveal the identity of the suspect, and it wasn’t clear whether the man had made the auction website.

Photographs of more than 100 prominent Indian Muslim women, including journalists, activists, film stars and artists, were displayed last weekend without their permission on a website and put up for fake auction. The women listed on the website also included a 65-year-old mother of a disappeared Indian student and Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.

The website, which was taken down within 24 hours, was called “Bulli Bai,” a derogatory slang for Indian Muslims. Though there was no real sale involved, the Muslim women listed on the website said the auction was intended to humiliate them, many of whom have been vocal about rising Hindu nationalism in India and some of the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The website was hosted on GitHub, a San Francisco-based coding platform. A company spokesperson said GitHub had taken down the user account which had hosted the website on its platform, and that it would cooperate with investigating authorities.

The fake auction unleashed outrage on Twitter after complaints from the victims, with several women posting screenshots after finding their photos listed on the website. Women rights groups and politicians from opposition parties urged the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to take action against the online harassment of Muslim women, prompting India’s technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to promise strict measures.

Police in at least three states said they have opened investigations into the incident and filed criminal complaints against developers of the website, based on the complaints of the targeted women.

This was not the first time Muslim women were listed on a fake auction website. Last year in June, a similar website called “Sulli Deals,” also a derogatory slang for Muslim women, was created for the same purpose. That website remained online for weeks and was only taken down by authorities after complaints from victims. Police opened an investigation into that case, but no one was arrested or detained.

Indian women, particularly Muslims, have often found themselves as the target of hate and abuse on social media platforms, including Twitter. Outspoken Muslim women, including journalists and activists and those critical of Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, have received threats of rape and violence.

The fake auction website, many of the victims say, is the latest attempt to intimidate them.

Khadija Khan, a lawyer and journalist with Bar & Bench website, said she received a Twitter notification on New Year’s Eve that informed her she was tagged in a tweet that displayed her picture as part of the fake auction. The account has since been suspended.

Khan’s initial reaction was to report the tweet and block the user, dismissing it as spam. But she soon received messages from her friends and colleagues who confirmed to her that she was also on the list.

“My initial reaction was indifference and dismissal because we are used to daily trolling but by the next day, it had turned into shock and horror. Realizing what it actually was gave me nightmares,” Khan said.

Khan found support from her family and colleagues, but the incident left her shaken.

“It’s a message that ‘Look! We can brazenly humiliate and sell Muslim women online and still go scot-free while they are still vying for some modicum of justice,’” Khan said.

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Russian and UK defense ministers to meet over Ukraine

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accepted an invitation to meet his British counterpart Ben Wallace to discuss the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, a senior UK defense source said Saturday.

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“The Defense Secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart,” the source said.

“Given the last defense bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead,” added the source.

“The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis.”

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on Ukraine’s border, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

Russia has denied it plans to invade but the White House believes an attack could now come “at any point.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Friday that Moscow risks becoming embroiled in a “terrible quagmire” if it invades.

In a speech in Australia, the UK’s top diplomat issued a blunt and personal warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is on the brink of making a major strategic blunder.

He “has not learned the lessons of history,” Truss told Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

“The Ukrainians will fight this, it could be a quagmire” she said.

Britain is among a handful of Western nations rushing weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

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At least six killed in blast in western Afghan city of Herat

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A blast ripped through a minivan in the western Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, killing at least six people, according to officials.

Herat commander Mawlawi Ansari told Reuters that nine people had been injured. The cause of the blast was not clear.

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A health official in Herat, who asked not to be named, said an explosion hit a small van used for public transport just after 1800 local time and that three of the injured were in serious condition.

Since the Taliban took over in August, a series of blasts and attacks, some claimed by Islamic State, have taken place across Afghanistan.

The attacks have heightened the new administration’s security challenges as the country spirals into an economic crisis.

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Arab League delays annual summit as COVID-19 bites again

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The Arab League has announced it is delaying its annual summit scheduled for March 22 in Algiers because of COVID-19 after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

“Every year, the summit is held in March, but this year, there has been a delay,” the pan-Arab organization’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in televised remarks Friday, a week after returning to Cairo from a visit to Algiers.

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The last Arab League summit was held in Tunis in March 2019. The past two years’ gatherings have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zaki added that Algeria “preferred the option” of delaying the summit, noting that the critical mass of Arab leaders and high-ranking officials needed for the summit could not be guaranteed due to the public health situation.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce a new date for the summit during their scheduled meeting on March 9, Zaki said.

Zaki said that there were “no political reasons” behind the delay, but the time could be used to “improve political climates” in the region.

The summit is important for Algeria, which has been seeking to expand its political sphere of influence, against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Morocco.

No agenda has been announced for this year’s summit, but the Arab world remains plagued with multiple conflicts and crises.

These extend from the war in Yemen, which has killed nearly 400,000 people since 2015, to the 2021 coup in Sudan that resulted in its suspension from the African Union, as well as protracted crises in Libya, Lebanon and beyond.

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