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South Africans to wait longer for US visas, as demand increases

Heavy demand for US visas has currently led to a longer than usual wait time in South Africa.

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South Africans to wait longer for US visas | News Central TV
US Mission in Pretoria, South Africa. (File photo)

The US Mission in South Africa has encouraged all residents of the country who intend traveling to the United State to make their visa applications “at least three months before the planned travel date,” else they stand the risk of extended wait times.

“All visa applications at US Consulates in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban are processed as efficiently as possible, and the US Mission aims to keep the wait time for appointments at a minimum,” an embassy statement stated on Wednesday.

“However, heavy demand for US visas has currently led to a longer than usual wait time in South Africa.”

“We encourage all potential travellers to apply for their visas at least three months before the planned travel date.”

The embassy also said that while it makes every effort to accommodate humanitarian situation and emergency travel, not all the requests for expedite appointments will be accepted.

“For those already with valid visas, a renewal application can be submitted at any time, and we encourage these travellers not to wait until their current visa has expired to apply for a new one. “If a visa is still valid or has expired within the last 12 months, the traveller may be eligible to renew by mail without an interview.”

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East Africa Politics News

Malawi police probes officers over rape allegations

Rights group, NGO-GCN said that some police officers took advantage of the chaos to sexually assault women

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Malawi police probes officers over rape allegations

Malawi police on Thursday announced the launch of an inquiry into allegations by rights groups that its officers raped and tortured women during demonstrations over presidential election results.   

The usually peaceful southern African country has been gripped by a wave of protests since President Peter Mutharika secured a second term in May.

Riots broke out last week in Msundwe — a trading outpost west of the capital Lilongwe — when opposition supporters blocked a pro-government group from attending a public meeting.

One policeman was stoned to death during the unrest.

Rights group Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) said Thursday that some police officers took advantage of the chaos to sexually assault women in and around Msundwe on the following day.

They urged authorities to “ensure thorough investigation into the following alleged rape, defilement and torture of innocent women and girls”.

Malawi police have since set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations.

“Different professionals…will investigate the matter in a transparent and independent manner,” said police spokesman James Kadadzera in a statement.

“All suspects identified will be treated according to the laws of the land without favour.”

The assaults allegedly took place on October 9 by police officers dispatched to quell the unrest, according to the NGO-GCN.

“Police went to these places on duty because they were in uniform and they used a police car,” said NGO-GCN head Barbara Banda, adding that the officers “threw teargas in every direction”.

“In one instance, the parents of one of the victims was asked to go into another room and the girl was raped.”

Banda told reporters that while three cases of sexual assault had been recorded so far, more could be “unveiled” by the investigation.

Protest organisers Malawi’s Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), also called for the allegations to be investigated.

“It is shocking that we have the police, who are supposed to protect people, abusing and victimizing women,” said HRDC official Gift Trapence.

Protests have flared in Malawi since Mutharika narrowly won May’s presidential election amid widespread allegations of fraud.

Opposition supporters are demanding the resignation of the electoral commission chairwoman, who they accuse of rigging the vote.

Most demonstrations have turned into violent clashes between groups, with security forces firing tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowds.

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East Africa News

International election observers flag concerns over Mozambique’s polls

The country voted in general polls on Tuesday after a campaign marked by violence and claims of electoral fraud

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International election observers flag concerns over Mozambique polls

International observers on Thursday said Mozambique’s election was conducted in an “orderly manner”, but expressed concerns about voter registration irregularities and “an unlevel playing field”.

The country voted in presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls on Tuesday after a campaign marked by violence and claims of electoral fraud.

President Filipe Nyusi’s Frelimo party — which has ruled Mozambique since independence in 1975 — is widely expected to again beat its civil war foe, Renamo, a former rebel group turned main opposition party.

Election day was seen as largely peaceful, but tensions have risen with uncertainty over when the results will be released.

The final results must be published within 15 days of the vote, but the electoral commission has indicated a provisional tally — which had been expected on Thursday — would not be issued.

Ignacio Sanchez Amor, leader of the European Union’s OSCE observer mission, said “voting procedures were well-implemented” on election day.

However, he said the fact that there were no observers in almost half of the country’s polling stations “did not contribute to the transparency of the process”.

Amor added that “an unlevel playing field was evident throughout the campaign”.

READ: Mozambique votes in tense election after violent campaign

“The ruling party dominated the campaign in all provinces and benefited from the advantages of incumbency, including use of state resources.”

The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) said it was regrettable that irregularities in voter registration had not been addressed before the vote.

Local non-profit observer groups had reported the presence of 300,000 “ghost voters” — names not aligned with real voters — on the electoral roll in the southern Gaza province.

“Key aspects of the process such as the security challenges, voter registration, the campaign and selective accreditation of citizen observers posed challenges to the integrity of the elections,” said EISA Mozambique head and former Ghana President John Dramani Mahama. 

Former Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said the Commonwealth’s observer mission “remained concerned about the impact” of the suspected ghost voters on the election.

However, observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had no such concerns.

READ: Mozambique’s Renamo party says members attacked after peace deal

“The pre-election and the voting phases of the 2019 electoral processes were generally peaceful and conducted in an orderly manner,” said Zimbabwean Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, the SADC observer head.

The election has been seen as a key test of the peace deal sealed in August between Frelimo and Renamo, which fought a brutal 1975-1992 civil war.

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North Africa

Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon

Hajar Raissouni was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiancé for having sexual relations out of wedlock

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Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni (R) flashes the victory sign upon leaving a prison in Sale near the capital Rabat on October 16, 2019. - Raissouni who was sentenced to one year in jail for an "illegal abortion" and sexual relations outside marriage walked free on today, hours after being granted a royal pardon. She was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiance, a gynaecologist, anaesthetist and a medical assistant, whose convictions were also overturned, an official told AFP. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni who was sentenced to one year in jail for an “illegal abortion” and sexual relations outside marriage walked free on Wednesday, shortly after being granted a royal pardon.

In a case that had provoked a storm of protests from rights groups, the justice ministry said the 28-year-old woman was released on a pardon issued by King Mohammed VI.

Rassiouni was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiancé, a gynaecologist, anaesthetist and a medical assistant, whose convictions were also overturned, an official told reporters.

The journalist made a victory sign to the waiting media as they emerged from El-Arjat prison near Rabat, but she made no statement before joining her family and friends.

The ministry said the monarch wanted to help “preserve the future of the couple, who wanted to establish a family in line with our religious and legal precepts, despite the error they made”.

The amnesty was decided on the grounds of “compassion”, it said.

A government source told reporters the ruling was made “without entering into the debate that is sovereign to Moroccan citizens on the evolution of their society and in which, regrettably, certain foreigners, intellectuals, media and NGOs invited themselves to take part”.

The journalist at the Akhbar Al-Yaoum newspaper, which has a history of run-ins with the authorities, denounced the affair as a “political trial”, saying she had been questioned by police about her family and her writing.

Youne Maskine, a director of Akhbar Al-Yaoum, took to Twitter to hail “finally a wise decision”. 

READ: Moroccan journalist says police forced her to take medical test

Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni (L) is greeted by her boyfriend Rifaat Al Amine upon leaving a prison in Sale, near the capital Rabat, on October 16, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Raissouni was arrested on August 31 as she left a clinic in Rabat. In court, she denied having had an abortion, saying she had been treated for internal bleeding — testimony backed up by her gynaecologist.

She was sentenced under Article 490 of the Muslim-majority kingdom’s legal code.

That article punishes sexual relations out of wedlock, while the law also forbids all abortions unless the mother’s life is in danger.

‘Obsolete’ ban –

In a case that sparked widespread debate on personal and media freedoms in Morocco, her gynaecologist, who spoke up in her defence, was given two years and her fiancé one year in prison.

The anaesthetist was handed a one-year suspended sentence and the medical assistant eight months, also suspended.

Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni (L) is greeted by her mother upon leaving a prison in Sale near the capital Rabat on October 16, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Rights groups were quick to condemn the verdicts, which Amnesty International described as a “devastating blow for women’s rights” in the country. 

Ahmed Benchemsi, the regional director for Human Rights Watch, described the sentencing of Raissouni and her fiancé as a “black day for freedom in Morocco”.

The verdicts were “a blatant injustice, a flagrant violation of human rights, and a frontal attack on individual freedoms,” he wrote on Twitter.

The prosecution insisted she had been seen by a medic and showed signs of pregnancy and of having undergone a “late voluntary abortion”.

It had said her detention had “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist”.

READ: Moroccan journalist arrested over “Illegal abortion”

Between 600 and 800 back-shop abortions occur each day in Morocco, according to estimates by campaign groups.

In a manifesto published on September 23 by Moroccan media outlets, hundreds of women declared themselves “outlaws” by claiming to have already violated the “obsolete” laws of their country on abortion and other social norms.

In the early 1970s, in a similar text, French women calling themselves the “343 sluts” famously declared they had had an abortion when it was still illegal.

Last year, Morocco tried thousands of people for sex out of wedlock, 170 people for being gay and 73 for pregnancy terminations.

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