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Egyptian-American Charity Worker released from Prison after nearly 3 years of Detention

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FILE - Aya Hijazi, center, a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen, is acquitted by an Egyptian court after nearly three years of detention over accusations related to running a foundation dedicated to helping street children, Cairo, April 16, 2017. VOA

Egyptian-American charity worker Aya Hijazi was released from prison after nearly three years of detention, her lawyer said Wednesday.

The lawyer, Taher Abol Nasr, told the Associated Press that Hijazi was released late Tuesday, two days after a court acquitted her of charges of child abuse that were widely dismissed as bogus by human rights groups and U.S. officials.

Hijazi, a dual national, and her husband had established a foundation to aid street children in 2013, but were arrested along with six others in 2014. It was not immediately clear whether her co-defendants were also released.

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President Donald Trump did not publicly mention the case when he met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi earlier this month, but a senior White House official had said ahead of the meeting that the case would be addressed.

It was not immediately clear if Hijazi, 30, would remain in Egypt following her release. Hijazi, who grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, received a degree in conflict resolution from George Mason University in 2009, and then returned to her native country.

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Hijazi’s foundation — named Belady, Arabic for “our nation” — had its offices raided after a man alleged that his son was missing and blamed it on Belady.

Egyptian authorities have clamped down on civil society, particularly human rights groups and other organizations that receive foreign funding. Such groups played a central role in the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, and pro-government media often present them as part of a conspiracy to undermine the state.

The authorities also arrested thousands of people in the months following the 2013 overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, mainly his Islamist supporters but also a number of secular and liberal activists. (VOA)

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Sexual abuse is everywhere in the world, says Radhika

The actress believes that one should know how to say 'No'

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Radhika Apte's view on sexual abuse
Bollywood actress Radhika Apte says that sexual abuse is not only in B-town but in every part of the society. Wikimedia Commons

– Durga Chakravarty

Actress Radhika Apte feels that sexual abuse does not only exist in the world of showbiz but takes place in every alternate household.

“Sexual abuse takes place in every alternate household. So it’s not a part of just the film industry. You have so much child abuse, domestic abuse everywhere in the world, including India,” Radhika told IANS over phone from Mumbai.

She says it exists in “every field and household at some level or the other and that it all needs to be eliminated”.

Sexual abuse does not target just women, stresses Radhika.

“It’s also towards men, little boys and everybody. People exploit their power at every level.”

Radhika asserted that this needed to change.

“I think it starts from us putting our foot down and saying ‘no’ to things, however big your ambition is. You need to be brave about it, believe in your own talent, say ‘no’ and start speaking up because if one person speaks up, nobody is going to listen to him or her. But if 10 people do, then others would (listen to them),” she said.

The “Phobia” actress, who will be seen mentoring budding filmmakers in MTV’s upcoming digital show “Fame-istan”, says there has to be a more organised platform for people to work.

“There has to be more professional platforms as well as rules in place which is slowly happening.”

Sexual abuse has been a topic of debate in Bollywood and Hollywood. Prominent names from the entertainment industry are discussing how men in power take advantage of women in exchange for taking forward their dreams.

The sexual harassment saga started when a media house published a story in October revealing numerous accusations of sexual abuse against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

But why are no names taken in the case of casting couch in Bollywood?

“Because of fear, because people who have great ambitions are afraid. They think of what will happen to them if they take somebody’s name who has so much power. That’s what I am saying. Everybody has to speak up,” she added.

Radhika ventured into Bollywood in 2005 with “Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi!” and since then has explored genres like thriller, drama and adult comedy with films like “Rakht Charitra”, “Shor in the City”, “Badlapur”, “Parched” and “Hunterrr”.

Was it a conscious decision to act less in commercial entertainers?

Radhika said: “Nothing like that. You have to choose from the work that you have. You can’t say that ‘I want that’ if that’s not been offered to you. So, whatever is offered to you, you choose from that. You make your choice whatever you feel is going to be more challenging or something that inspires you or excites you.”

She says she makes her choices in the “spur of the moment” with whatever she feels intuitively. “I am not a very big planner.” (IANS)

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Exclusive: Coping with the Stigma of Being an Ex Prisoner is not Easy, says Bengali Film Actor Nigel Akkara

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Ex prisoners
Ex prisoners working at Kolkata facilities management

By Deepanita Das

Sep 10, 2017:

“Every Fighter has that one fight that makes or breaks him- Elia Kazan.”

The above line sits appropriately on ex-convict turned actor Nigel Akkara who now wears self-belief as an accessory to fight his years of despair. But, what’s more interesting was that he came up with an intriguing idea for hundreds of ex-prisoners who had nothing to look forward to after they come out of prison.

NewsGram got in touch with Nigel Akkara about his take on the life after prison, establishing one of its kind organization to give job opportunities to ex-prisoners, counseling people to live a better life and much more.

What will a person do when completely rational people fail to cooperate or accept one as a part of the society? This is where Kolkata Facilities Management comes under the limelight.

Born in a middle-income Christian family in Kolkata in 1978, life almost went upside down for Akkara, after he stepped into the world of crime at the age of 15.

Nigel Akkara

One day, he went to a barber’s shop, where a fight broke out and as a consequence one person was dead. This was when he was still in school, but soon he got sucked into the crime world and became part of four gangs and got himself involved in kidnapping, extortion and contract killing.

He was arrested in December 2000 for his crimes and after serving nine years in jail.  He says how ironic it is that life after coming out of prison was much more challenging than it was while staying inside it.

When people around you become tone-deaf, it is time to be the ‘change’ rather hoping for one to happen. This is something Akkara believed in and followed with all his heart.

Akara was released from prison in 2009. “I will not deny it, that you carry a tag of being a criminal, it is indeed a psychological dilemma and people around you will look at you in a particular manner,” he said.

Uncertain about what to do after spending time in jail, and being rejected by several organizations due to “ex-prisoner” tag, he lost hope for a while and sat near the Tea Board of India office in Dalhousie where he saw men sweeping the streets in with long brooms to earn their living.

This incident stroked a thought that this is the only thing that doesn’t require any qualification. Later, “I cleaned offices too in the same year so that I can bear my expenses and fulfill my basic necessities,” he said.

On asking why a person in India cannot live a normal life after coming out of prison, Akkara said, “unemployment, illiteracy and political dramas are the primary factors behind this but what is good in West Bengal is that a prison is a correctional home for prisoners laced with education, proper food, and exams -therefore things changed for good in my case.”

There are 155 technical and vocational courses in the West Bengal prisons. Also in Berhampore, the prisons offer courses in mechanical engineering and prisoners are given certificate once they complete the course.

“There are dance and music therapies too correctional homes that can heal a person because at times it becomes lonely in there.  Theatre too is taught to people who have interest in it,” says Akkara.

Akkara found peace in spirituality and counseling other people later. He says, “ Spirituality has healed me a lot, and that personal connection to God is something I find peace in. I have conducted several music therapies for depressed people in several organizations like Psychogenesis Research Foundation, TCS and also in Jadavpur University.”

“When I started Kolkata facilities management, I realized that these people have hidden potential in them and therefore the area of work needed to be decided accordingly,” smiles Akkara.

To get a glimpse of the lives of these ex- prisoners and how they are dealing with the life after prison in an efficient manner, NewsGram had a chat with the employees of the organization (Kolkata Facilities Management), and it was interesting to look at how efficiently they are breaking the social stigmas that are attached to ex-prisoners-

 

Arijit Paul

The executive director of Kolkata Facilities Management, Arijit Paul (33) says, “I am with the organization for 2-3 years. I came out of prison in 2014 but I knew Nigel Akkara for last 15 years, he always had faith in me and had guided me throughout. It is sad that people are not ready to accept change but slowly times are changing.”

 

Md Ramzan

An employee of the organization, Md Ramzan (26), who is a resident of Satragachi was charged with a murder in 2007 but after serving a sentence, living a normal life and being accepted by people were the two things, Ramzan was looking for. He now works as a security guard.

Prasenjit Dutta

41-year-old Prasenjit Dutta used to work as a stuntman and as a body double in the movies, but now he has become a stunt director. He says the journey from 2000 to 2014 was tough enough to deal with. I tried to invest in a film too, but there were obstacles. Life was never easy for me. It is hard to come out of a situation when police, politicians form a team against you and people close to you get involved.” He went to prison for two months in Alipore Central Jail but used to keep himself engaged in the pujas performed in the jail premises. “I also worked as a Group D staff with Putihari Brojomohon Tiwari High School. Later on, I started working with Nigel from the sets of Yodha, and now I am like a family to him,” smiles Dutta.

Tarun Patra

Another employee of the organization, Tarun Patra (30), who is a resident of Sonarpur says, “I was a shop owner, seven years back I lost 6 lakhs due to which there was too much loan, and I had to shut down the shop. There was a fight where a person got killed, and therefore I  was arrested on the charge of murder.”  7 long years he was behind bars but, Patra never lost hope. He was also a tailor by profession, but because of the eyesight issues, he had to give up tailoring and soon after his parents also passed away. He now works as a security guard in an apartment in Kolkata.

What is important here is to take into account that a prisoner’s dilemma is beyond any doubt, a situation where self-interests and collective interests are at odds. This is high time for people in India to understand the crisis, be compassionate and sensitize themselves enough to accept ex-prisoners as a part of the society! 


NewsGram is a Chicago-based non-profit media organization. We depend upon support from our readers to maintain our objective reporting. Show your support by Donating to NewsGram. Donations to NewsGram are tax-exempt. 

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Ex Women Prison Inmates Get to Start a New Life in Hyderabad

Women who have served their term at prison appear comparatively more comfortable compared to the undertrials

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Prison
Woman in prison. Pixabay

July 27, 2017: Criminals also have a life beyond the expiration of retribution period. A group of former prison inmates and undertrials have been working at Chanchalguda’s women-only petrol station since June 23. The petrol station is an initiative of the Prisons and Correctional Services of Telangana state to provide employment to as many women undertrials and former prisoners as possible.

The station also has two police constables and a sub-inspector for security purposes. The women working at the petrol pump earn Rs 12,000 a month. These women will soon have a provident fund account if things work according to the way the prison’s authorities have planned.

[sociallocker][/sociallocker]

“Anyone who tries to mess with our women will be dealt with strongly,” enunciated Basheera Begum, the superintendent of Special Prison for Women in Chanchalguda, to the queue at Petrol station.

Basheera goes on, “What they did and why they did is a thing of past. They have served the prison sentence for it. The real reformation starts once they have been released and we are here to make it easy for them”, reports Scroll.in.

ALSO READ: Has The Chinese Government Done Enough to Assist Victims of ‘Comfort Women’ System? 

Razia Sultana (name changed) completed her prison sentence in the last year. She along with her younger brother and mother were sentenced in a dowry harassment case. She spent a total of five-and-a-half years in jail. Sultana’s husband left her at the course of the sentence. According to her, he paid too much attention to people outside.

Sultana learnt to bake, sew and weave. She also received a sewing machine from the police authorities after her release from the imprisonment.

Five women working at the petrol pump are from different districts of Telangana and are presently residing in a makeshift accommodation provided by the Department of Prisons.

Bindu (name changed), a resident of Hyderabad, was sentenced along with her son for six years each for a case of acid attack. She wanted to get a job to support her family after completing the sentence and also shift them to a larger house in a different neighbourhood. She and another inmate work at the petrol station, which is also run by the Chanchalguda prison.

Women who have served their term at prison appear comparatively more comfortable as compared to the undertrials.

– Prepared by Naina Mishra of Newsgram. Twitter @Nainamishr94