March 2008 Archives


Tajiks admit to killing Russian TV reporter: officials
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 31, 2008 8:33 PM ET

[JURIST] Two Tajikistani men have admitted to killing Russian journalist Ilyas Shurpayev [personal blog], Tajikistani Interior Ministry officials said Monday. Shurpayev, a correspondent for Russia's state-run Channel One [media website, in Russian], was found dead [JURIST report] in his Moscow apartment earlier this month with stab wounds and a belt around his neck when firefighters responded to a fire, apparently set after the attack. The two suspects have reportedly said they to killed Shurpayev during a robbery. It was not clear if the two would be extradited to Russia. AP has more.

Hours before his death, Shurpayev reportedly made a blog post complaining that he had been banned from writing columns for a newspaper in the violence-plagued southern Russian territory of Dagestan and saying "I am now a dissident." Over a dozen reporters have been killed in Russia since 2000, many in apparent retaliation for reporting on alleged corruption or human rights violations. Late last week, Russian prosecutors said they were still actively searching [Moscow Times report] for a person said responsible for the October 2006 slaying of Anna Politkovskaja [JURIST news archive], who reported on human rights abuses in the neighboring region of Chechnya.






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DOJ pressing bribery case against congressman despite high court setback
David Frueh on March 31, 2008 7:15 PM ET

[JURIST] A US Department of Justice spokesman said Monday that the department would continue to press its bribery case against Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) [official profile; JURIST news archive] despite the US Supreme Court's refusal to review an appeals court ruling [PDF text; JURIST report] that held the FBI's conduct during an 18-hour raid on Jefferson's congressional offices was unconstitutional. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit had ruled that, although the May 2006 raid itself was legal, the "compelled disclosure of privileged material to the Executive during execution of the search warrant" violated the Speech or Debate Clause [text] because the FBI searched through privileged materials without giving Jefferson an opportunity to review the materials.

In June, Jefferson pleaded not guilty to charges [JURIST reports] under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [DOJ materials], including bribery, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Jefferson is accused of accepting approximately $500,000 in bribes from numerous companies in the US and Africa and faces a maximum sentence of 235 years in prison if he is convicted on all counts. Last January, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty [DOJ press release] to bribery charges for his role in the scheme. AP has more.






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New climate change treaty negotiations begin in Bangkok
Andrew Gilmore on March 31, 2008 6:49 PM ET

[JURIST] Negotiations on a new international treaty to combat global warming [EPA materials; NRDC Q&A; JURIST news archive] began Monday in Bangkok. The week-long negotiations, part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) [official website], are intended to establish an agenda [UNFCCC press release, PDF] for the negotiation of a new agreement to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol [text; JURIST news archive].

Pursuant to the Bali Roadmap [PDF text; JURIST report] negotiated in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007, the 187 participating nations pledge to finalize a new agreement at an up-coming meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, by the end of 2009. The new deal is expected to enter into force by 2013, following the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. The New York Times has more. The UN News Service has additional coverage.






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Greece justice ministry to study impact of legalizing same-sex marriage
Andrew Gilmore on March 31, 2008 6:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The Greek Ministry of Justice [official website, in Greek] has agreed to establish a working group to analyze the potential impact of recognizing same-sex civil marriages in Greece, according to Monday media reports. The move comes after the Greek National Commission for Human Rights [official website, in Greek] proposed legislation to allow same-sex marriage in the country. RIA Novosti has more.

Currently, Belgium, Spain, and the Netherlands are the only European countries to recognize same-sex marriage, although a number of others, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Denmark, and Croatia, recognize some form of civil union or registered partnership [ILGA backgrounder].






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Norway terrorism trial begins under tightened anti-terror laws
David Frueh on March 31, 2008 5:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Three Norwegian men indicted [JURIST report] in September for shooting at an Oslo synagogue and planning attacks against US and Israeli embassies went on trial in Oslo Monday under strengthened anti-terrorism laws. This is the first time that suspects will be tried under the country's new terror laws, which were passed in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks [JURIST news archive] on the United States. The trial is expected to last 40 days and include 80 witnesses

The US ambassador to Norway last year criticized [JURIST report] a circulated draft of Norway's new anti-terrorism law as too lenient; Ambassador Benson K. Whitney [official profile] expressed particular concern about the fact that membership of a terrorist organization was not by itself an offense. AP has more.






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Fort Dix plot accomplice sentenced to 20 months in prison
Alexis Unkovic on March 31, 2008 4:53 PM ET

[JURIST] New Jersey US District Judge Robert Kugler Monday sentenced Albanian Kosovar refugee Agron Abdullahu [criminal complaint, PDF], one of the six men arrested [JURIST report] in May for plotting an attack on New Jersey's Fort Dix [official website], to 20 months in prison. In October 2007, Abdullahu pleaded guilty to charges of "conspiring to provide firearms and ammunition" [press release, PDF; JURIST report] to the other five men, all foreign-born Muslims in their 20s, whom he knew to be illegal immigrants and who allegedly plotted to kill soldiers at Fort Dix. Abdullahu, who was granted asylum in the US eight years ago after fleeing Kosovo, will likely face deportation after serving his sentence. He originally faced up to five years in federal prison. AP has more.

The five alleged plotters of the attack pleaded not guilty in January to additional charges filed against them [JURIST reports], including attempted murder. Prosecutors say their trial will probably last four to six weeks, and jury selection is scheduled for September 29. If convicted, the suspects face life sentences.






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Ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee Hicks gag order expires
Alexis Unkovic on March 31, 2008 4:16 PM ET

[JURIST] A gag order precluding former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks [JURIST news archives] from speaking to the media expired on Sunday, but Hicks is reportedly "not interested at the moment" in speaking publicly about his detention. Hicks had agreed not to speak publicly before March 30, 2008 about his detention as a condition of his release [JURIST report] from an Australian prison in December; at the time, he issued a statement [text] asking the media and public to respect his agreement. Australia's ABC News has more. AAP has additional coverage.

Hicks pleaded guilty to a charge of supporting terrorism [JURIST reports] before a US military commission last March after spending more than five years in US custody after his capture in Afghanistan. Hicks was transferred to Australia [JURIST report] in May 2007 to serve the remainder of a nine-month prison sentence at a maximum security prison near his hometown of Adelaide, South Australia.






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Guantanamo detainee charged in 1998 US African embassy attacks
Alexis Unkovic on March 31, 2008 3:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense Monday charged [DOD press release; charge sheet, PDF] Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani [BBC profile] with several terrorism-related counts under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text] stemming from his alleged involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania [US DOS backgrounder]. The charges include providing material support to terrorism, murder in violation of the Law of War, murder of protected persons, attacking civilians, and conspiracy to commit several of the enumerated offenses. He could face the death penalty. Pakistani authorities arrested Ghailani [JURIST report], allegedly a top al-Qaeda operative, in July 2004.

Ghailani is one of 14 "high-value" detainees [DOD backgrounder, PDF] the US Department of Defense designated as enemy combatants [press release; JURIST report] based on the recommendations of Combatant Status Review Tribunals [DOD materials]. AFP has more. The Miami Herald has additional coverage.






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Chad president pardons 'Darfur orphans' airlift workers
Alexis Unkovic on March 31, 2008 3:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Chadian President Idriss Deby [official website, in French; BBC profile] Monday officially pardoned six French aid workers convicted in Chad in December of attempting to kidnap [JURIST reports] 103 African children. The six were handed over [JURIST report] to French custody in December to serve their sentences. Chad's Higher Judicial Council on Friday recommended [JURIST report] that Deby pardon the French workers. Earlier this month Deby had indicated a willingness to grant the pardons [JURIST report] earlier this month, saying he was waiting for an official request from France. The pardoned workers were released from French detention hours after the pardon was announced.

The aid workers, affiliated with charity Zoe's Ark [advocacy website, in French], said they were attempting to airlift orphaned children from the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur [JURIST news archives], but investigations revealed that most of the children were not Sudanese or orphans. In January, another aid worker was charged in French court [JURIST report] with conspiring to allow illegal residents into the country in connection with the foiled airlift. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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EU Kosovo justice mission going forward without Spain
Caitlin Price on March 31, 2008 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] EULEX Kosovo [planning website] head Yves de Kermabon said Monday that a 1,800-strong European Union police and justice mission [Reuters report] in Kosovo will go forward even in Serbian-controlled areas, despite reservations from some EU member states. Spain's Foreign Affairs Ministry [official website, in Spanish] said Monday that the country will not send personnel to the mission until the handover from the current UN mandate to the EU is formalized under the terms of the EU Council Joint Action [PDF text]. Spain was among nine EU member states that have declined to recognize [JURIST report] the Assembly of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of Kosovo's independence [text; JURIST report] from Serbia last month.

Serb ally Russia has already condemned EULEX Kosovo [JURIST report], with the Russian foreign ministry calling it "in breach of the highest international law." Russia earlier rejected Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia, warning that such unilateral action without the approval of the United Nations set a dangerous precedent for "frozen conflicts" around the world. Russia and Spain each face ongoing domestic disputes with separatist groups. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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Turkish constitutional court to hear bid to ban ruling party
Caitlin Price on March 31, 2008 2:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Turkey [official website, in Turkish] voted 11-0 Monday to hear a bid to disband the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish], days after a warning [JURIST report] by the EU Enlargement Commissioner that an AKP ban could have serious ramifications for Turkey's bid to join the European Union [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya petitioned the court to disband the AKP [JURIST report] and bar 71 politicians, including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish President Abdullah Gul [BBC profiles], from holding political office for five years, citing allegations that the AKP is the "focal point of anti-secular activities." The government now has one month to prepare a defense or seek an extension before oral arguments begin.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn [official website] said Saturday that in a typical European democracy the political issue raised by the case would normally be debated in parliament and decided by a ballot, and that a decision to ban the Islamic-oriented party could create an obstacle in Turkey's bid to become a member of the EU. The Constitutional Court has banned several Islamist parties in the past for violating constitutional obligations to respect Turkey's strict secular principles. AP has more. Hurriyet has local coverage.






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Supreme Court takes two First Amendment cases
Alexis Unkovic on March 31, 2008 2:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Monday agreed to hear two cases [order list, PDF] involving the First Amendment Monday, including Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (07-665) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], in which the Court will consider whether a private, religious group can donate a monument for display in a public park. Specifically, the Court must decide whether the situation implicates government speech or private speech under the First Amendment [text], and then reconcile whether the local government has the right to select which monuments it displays in the park or whether a public forum exists, thereby nullifying such a right. The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] in 2007 that the Utah park at issue constituted a public forum and that the privately-donated monument embodied the donor's private speech interests. AP has more.

The Court also granted certiorari Monday in Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association (07-869) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], in which it will consider whether certain sections of the Idaho Voluntary Contributions Act [text] unconstitutionally abridge labor unions' free speech rights as related to payroll deductions for political activities. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] in October that the Idaho statute, "as applied to local government employers, violates the First Amendment because it is a content-based law for which the State officials assert no compelling justification." AP has more. SCOTUSblog has additional coverage.






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Zimbabwe justice minister voted out, other election results delayed
Caitlin Price on March 31, 2008 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabwean Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa [JURIST news archive] and Public Affairs Minister Chen Chimutengwende were confirmed ousted Monday as returns came in from Saturday's general elections [JURIST report] in the country, but other election results continue to be delayed, according to media reports. Zimbabwe opposition parties renewed allegations that the government had rigged the local, senate, assembly and presidential elections, with unofficial results so far giving a very slight lead to Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile]. Results for only 52 of 210 parliamentary seats had been announced by Monday, with the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) [party website] party of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] leading opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] by 26 seats to 25.

Mugabe's administration denied any improper delays in the vote count, with Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [official website] officials attributing the lag to the task of tallying all the results together for the first time in the country's history. State newspaper The Herald [media website] said that the MDC was "preempting results" and inciting supporters to violence. Analysts have projected that the election poses the biggest threat to Mugabe's rule [BBC report] since he took office. Reuters has more.






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Proposed US financial regulatory overhaul would merge SEC, CFTC
Joshua Pantesco on March 31, 2008 12:26 PM ET

[JURIST] US Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. [official profile] unveiled a plan [factsheet, PDF] to overhaul the nation's financial regulatory system and merge key federal administrative agencies in remarks at a press conference [transcript] in Washington Monday. The executive summary [text] of the Treasury's Blueprint for a Modernized Financial Regulatory Structure [PDF text] described the initiative as presenting

a series of "short-term" and "intermediate-term" recommendations that could immediately improve and reform the U.S. regulatory structure. The short-term recommendations focus on taking action now to improve regulatory coordination and oversight in the wake of recent events in the credit and mortgage markets. The intermediate recommendations focus on eliminating some of the duplication of the U.S. regulatory system, but more importantly try to modernize the regulatory structure applicable to certain sectors in the financial services industry (banking, insurance, securities, and futures) within the current framework.
If enacted in full, the Treasury's suggested changes would be the most comprehensive overhaul of financial regulatory systems since the current system was devised in the wake of the Great Depression.

Among other things, the Blueprint contemplates the eventual merger of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) [official websites]. CFTC Chairman Walt Lukken adopted a cautious attitude towards that recommendation Monday, saying in a statement [text] that "The CFTC is a world-class regulator because of its focused mission, market expertise, manageable size, problem solving culture and global outlook—all of which may be jeopardized with the creation of a larger regulatory bureaucracy." SEC chair Christopher Cox, however, welcomed [statement text] the Treasury approach, suggesting that "recent events have provided further evidence, if more were needed, that financial services regulation in the United States needs to be better integrated among fewer agencies, with clearer lines of responsibility."

The US Chamber of Commerce supports comprehensive reform [press release] of the financial regulatory scheme; Christopher Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Chairman, was quoted by AP as that the overhaul would not cure the ongoing housing-credit crunch. AP has more.





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Supreme Court rules for Delaware in state water boundary dispute
Jeannie Shawl on March 31, 2008 10:04 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Monday that New Jersey and Delaware have "overlapping authority" to control "extraordinary" construction projects along the Delaware River. The Court's decision came in New Jersey v. Delaware [Medill case backgrounder; JURIST report], where the Court revisited the century-old water boundary dispute between the two states. New Jersey filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Delaware in 2005 over British Petroleum's plans to build a liquefied natural gas plant on New Jersey's side of the Delaware River. Delaware refused to approve construction of a 2,000-foot pier that would serve the facility. Under boundary determinations settled by the Supreme Court in 1934 in New Jersey v. Delaware, Delaware controls the river up to the mean low-tide mark on the New Jersey shore, but New Jersey asked the Court to declare that a 1905 interstate compact gives it the right to control riparian access and structures on its side of the river, even if they extend across the border. A Court-appointed Special Master found [report, PDF] in 2007 that Delaware has the authority to block the pier.

The Court agreed with the Special Master's report, writing:

We accept the Special Master's recommendation in principal part. Article VII of the 1905 Compact, we hold, did not secure to New Jersey exclusive jurisdiction over all riparian improvements commencing on its shores. The parties' own conduct, since the time Delaware has endeavored to regulate coastal development, supports the conclusion to which other relevant factors point: New Jersey and Delaware have overlapping authority to regulate riparian structures and operations of extraordinary character extending outshore of New Jersey's domain into territory over which Delaware is sovereign.
The Court concluded:
Given the authority over riparian rights that the 1905 Compact preserves for New Jersey, Delaware may not impede ordinary and usual exercises of the right of riparian owners to wharf out from New Jersey's shore. The Crown Landing project, however, goes well beyond the ordinary or usual.... Consistent with the scope of its retained police power to regulate certain riparian uses, it was within Delaware's authority to prohibit construction of the facility within its domain.
Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Ginsburg, along with a partial concurrence and partial dissent [text] from Justice Stevens and a dissent [text] from Justice Scalia. Justice Breyer did not participate in consideration or decision of the case. AP has more.





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Myanmar draft constitution entrenches military, blocks Suu Kyi: report
Joshua Pantesco on March 31, 2008 9:38 AM ET

[JURIST] The draft constitution [JURIST news archive] of Myanmar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], slated to be put before the country's citizens in a May referendum, contains a provision reserving 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military, and another provision that will effectively prevent pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from seeking the presidency or a seat in parliament due to her foreign husband, according to AP, which reported Monday that it had obtained a copy of the secret document. The draft constitution also provides a mechanism by which the president may cede legislative, executive, and judicial functions to the military for up to one year in the event of a state of emergency. It further requires that any constitutional amendments must receive support from at least 75 percent of parliament, which effectively guarantees that the military will have veto power over any unwelcome amendments.

The Myanmar constitution-drafting process has come under fire [JURIST report] from critics who have urged citizens to reject the proposed referendum, saying it is a "sham" to legalize military rule. Other opponents, including supporters of Suu Kyi, have stopped just short of calling for a boycott. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988 and talks on a new national charter [JURIST report] have been underway for 14 years. AP has more.






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Freed Chaudhry launches Pakistan campaign for reinstatement of ousted judges
Joshua Pantesco on March 31, 2008 8:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Ousted Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive], who was released from virtual house arrest [JURIST report] last week on the orders of recently-elected Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani [official profile], returned to his hometown of Quetta on Monday for the first of a series of trips and speeches to build support for the reinstatement of superior court judges purged by President Pervez Musharraf [official profile; JURIST news archive] last fall. The newly-elected coalition government formed by the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League(N) has vowed to establish a fully independent judiciary, saying it will work to reinstate the ousted judges, a pledge renewed [JURIST reports] by Gilani in an address to parliament Saturday.

Chaudhry and the other judges were effectively dismissed on November 3 [JURIST report] after Musharraf suspended the country's constitution and declared emergency rule [proclamation, PDF]. Chaudhry was effectively put under house arrest November 5 [JURIST report], when an Army major locked him in his residence and took the keys. Chaudhry was ousted as the country anticipated a Supreme Court ruling [JURIST report] on whether Musharraf had been eligible to run for re-election as Pakistan's president while still army chief. AP has more.






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Bangladesh ex-PM appears in court to face graft charges after hospital release
Devin Montgomery on March 30, 2008 3:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [party profile; JURIST news archive] appeared in court Sunday, shortly after being released from hospital care for severe ear and eye conditions, to face charges [JURIST report] that she received approximately $440,000 in illegal kickbacks on a power-plant deal while in office between 1996 and 2001. Her appearance before the court has been postponed numerous times because of her heath and her initial insistence [Arab News report] that she be allowed to travel outside the country for care, a request that the court has refused. After her court appearance, Hasina was returned to a special prison in Dhaka, the nation's capital.

The two cases against Hasina, who also faces separate extortion charges, have also been delayed by a series of appeals by her lawyers, who argue that she cannot be tried under the current state of emergency rules because the alleged crimes occurred before the national state of emergency [JURIST report] was declared last January. The Bangladesh Supreme Court [official website] rejected those arguments in January, ruling that her extortion trial could continue. The Dhaka High Court in February halted the trial [JURIST report], agreeing with her lawyers, but the Supreme Court later stayed the High Court's judgment [Xinhua report] and reiterated its June decision, paving the way for trial proceedings to continue. Hasina, who has denied all charges, faces up to 14 years in jail if convicted. Reuters has more.






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Alleged Equatorial Guinea coup plotter accuses Thatcher of coup involvement
Benjamin Klein on March 30, 2008 3:04 PM ET

[JURIST] British national Simon Mann [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], accused of participating in an alleged coup attempt [BBC backgrounder] against Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo [BBC profile] in 2004, has accused Sir Mark Thatcher [BBC profile] of being involved in the plot, Equatorial Guinea Attorney General Jose Olo said Sunday. According to Olo, Mann, whose trial is set to begin in May, made statements to prosecutors during recent pretrial testimony that Thatcher was fully aware of the scheme to overthrow the president. Despite Saturday reports [AFP report] that Equatorial Guinea has requested an international arrest warrant [Guardian report] for Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, international police organization Interpol [official website] on Sunday denied having received such a request.

Thatcher pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in South Africa in 2005 to charges related to the failed coup and later admitted to having chartered a helicopter for Mann, but has denied knowledge of or involvement in the coup plot. Mann was sentenced [JURIST report] in 2004 in Zimbabwe for plotting the coup, and was deported [JURIST report] to Equatorial Guinea in secret last month before his appeal process against extradition in Zimbabwe was complete. His lawyers argued that Mann would face torture and possibly the death penalty if extradited, but the Zimbabwe High Court ruled against his appeal [JURIST report] in January, finding that there was enough evidence of his involvement to carry out extradition, and that the defense failed to show a sufficient likelihood of torture. Equatorial Guinea has promised to give Mann a fair trial and not seek capital punishment. Reuters has more.






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Egypt Muslim Brotherhood arrests threaten local elections: HRW
Eric Firkel on March 30, 2008 11:29 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Sunday criticized Egypt [statement] for arresting over 800 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood [party website; FAS backgrounder], including 148 candidates slated to run in local council elections scheduled for April 8. HRW characterized the arrests as a "shameless attempt to fix the upcoming elections." The Muslim Brotherhood [JURIST news archive] currently holds one-fifth of the seats in the lower house of parliament with members elected as independents. The organization has accused the government of trying to prevent it from running candidates in the upcoming elections which were originally scheduled for 2006 until the Egyptian legislature passed a law [JURIST report] delaying the elections for two years after the Muslim Brotherhood made a strong showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections. According to HRW, none of the Muslim Brotherhood members arrested in recent weeks have been charged "with actual crimes."

Earlier this month, several provincial Egyptian courts ruled that members of the Muslim Brotherhood must be allowed to register as candidates [JURIST report] in the upcoming elections, even as Egyptian police continued arrests of group members [JURIST report]. Muslim Brotherhood members officially run as independents in elections as the organization has been banned in Egypt [JURIST news archive] since 1954. The Egyptian government has accused the group of trying to create an Islamic theocracy through violence. Reuters has more.






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EU enlargement chief warns Turkey over possible court ban of ruling party
Eric Firkel on March 30, 2008 10:13 AM ET

[JURIST] EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn [official website] warned Turkey on Saturday that there would be serious ramifications for its bid to join the European Union [JURIST news archive] if the Constitutional Court of Turkey [official website, in Turkish] decides to shut down the ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya [official profile, in Turkish] petitioned the court earlier this month to disband the AKP and bar Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul [BBC profiles] from political office. The Constitutional Court could meet as early as Monday to decide whether to take the case [JURIST report] and dissolve the AKP and ban its members from politics for five years. Rehn noted that this type of political issue would normally be debated in parliament and decided by a ballot in a typical European democracy and that a decision to ban the Islamic-oriented party could create an obstacle in Turkey's bid to become a member of the EU.

The AKP, which emerged in 2001 from a banned Islamist party, took 47 percent of the vote in the national parliamentary elections last July. The AKP controls the offices of the prime minister and president, and dominates the 550-seat parliament with 340 lawmakers. The Constitutional Court has banned several Islamist parties in the past, including the Welfare Party, which led Turkey's first pro-Islamist government for nearly a year, for violating constitutional obligations to respect Turkey's strict secular principles. The decision would be a another blow to Turkey's bid to join the EU, after French and German criticisms of the hostile trade relations [JURIST report] between Turkey the divided island of Cyprus [CIA backgrounder]. Other stumbling blocks [JURIST report] have included the ban on women wearing headscarves [JURIST report] at universities, which was lifted earlier this year, and the use of Article 301 [Amnesty backgrounder; JURIST news archive] of Turkey's Penal Code [text, in Turkish], which makes insulting "Turkishness" a crime, to silence government critics. AP has more.






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Zimbabwe election clouded by fraud allegations
David Frueh on March 29, 2008 5:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabweans voted Saturday in local, senate, assembly and presidential elections amid opposition allegations that the government was rigging the results. President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was challenged by ruling party defector Simba Makoni [official website] and opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [official website] leader Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile]. MDC officials claimed detergent could remove voting ink from ballots and that the three million extra ballots and a bloated voter roll 'ensures that there will be multiple voting.' The two opposition parties will likely unite if no candidate wins more than 51 percent of the vote and the election goes into a second round.

Mugabe, now 84 years old, has served as the head of government in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive] since 1980, when the country attained independence from Britain. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] raised doubts about Saturday's election in a report [text] last week, suggesting that it was likely to be "deeply flawed." Despite concerns about fairness, analysts project that the election poses the biggest threat to Mugabe's rule [BBC report] since he took office. Reuters has more.






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Pakistan PM vows to press for reinstatement of purged judges
David Frueh on March 29, 2008 3:59 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani [official profile] told parliament Saturday that he will 'work for the reinstatement' of superior court judges purged by President Pervez Musharraf [official profile; JURIST news archive] last fall. The commitment was made in Gilani's first major policy speech on terrorism since taking office. He also promised to abolish criminal codes still in place from British colonial rule and strengthen regulation of religious schools. Absent from the speech was any mention of Musharraf or whether Gilani would seek the president's resignation or impeachment.

Gilani heads the new coalition government formed by the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N. The government has vowed to establish a fully independent judiciary and work to reinstate judges [JURIST reports] ousted by Musharraf's November declaration of emergency rule [proclamation, PDF; JURIST report]. On Monday, Gilani ordered the release [JURIST report] of former Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] and several other judges from months-long house arrest. Pakistani Attorney General Malik Qayyum has said reinstating the ousted judges would require a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] with a two-thirds majority vote. AP has more and provides additional coverage.






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UN council deplores Myanmar rights abuses
Steve Czajkowski on March 29, 2008 3:30 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council [official website] passed a resolution [press release] Friday condemning the military government of Myanmar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] for ongoing systematic violations of human rights and people's fundamental freedoms. The European Union expressed particular concern over human rights violations in the country and the lack of investigations in the aftermath of last year's government crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations [JURIST report]. In support of the resolution proposed by the EU, Slovenia's ambassador Andrej Logar stated:

The European Union particularly deplored the continued imposition of restrictions on the freedom of movement, expression, assembly and association, the prevailing culture of impunity, ongoing summary executions, torture and forced labour practices, recruitment of child soldiers and sexual violence. Enforced disappearances and the number of detainees also continued to grow. Progress on the political front could only take place if the authorities in Myanmar engaged in real dialogue with all political parties and relevant actors and ethnic groups. The release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and other fundamental steps needed to be taken for any change to be meaningful.
The resolution also called on Myanmar to make the country's process of drafting a new constitution "inclusive, participatory and transparent in order to ensure that the process is broadly representative of the views of all the people of Myanmar and meets all international norms." The council also passed a separate measure authorizing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro [official profile] for another year.

Myanmar's representative to the council, Wunna Maung Win, said that the resolution was "highly intrusive and failed to address the positive developments made by the Government." The Myanmar government has said a national referendum on the new constitution will be held in May [JURIST report], and multi-party elections are to be held in 2010. AP has more.





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Former Alabama governor released from prison pending appeal of fraud conviction
Steve Czajkowski on March 29, 2008 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman (D) [official profile; JURIST news archive] was released from federal prison Friday after a federal appeals court ruled that he was not a flight risk while his appeal of his fraud and bribery conviction is pending. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] made the ruling Thursday, which coincided with a request from the House Judiciary Committee [official website] to have Siegelman provide testimony about the committee's investigation into whether politics played a role in alleged selective prosecutions [JURIST news archive] by the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website]. Siegelman's testimony is scheduled for May, according to a spokesperson for the committee.

Siegelman and former HealthSouth [corporate website] CEO Richard Scrushy [JURIST news archive] were convicted [DOJ press release, JURIST report] of federal bribery and fraud charges in June 2006. Siegelman was convicted on 10 counts, including bribery, conspiracy, and mail fraud. Scrushy was found guilty of fraud and both were also convicted in connection with a $500,000 payment from Scrushy for Siegelman's 1999 campaign debts in exchange for a seat on a state-operated review board that regulates hospitals. Siegelman and Scrushy were sentenced [JURIST report] to 88 and 82 months respectively. AP has more.






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Anthrax reporter appeals contempt of court order for not revealing sources
Nick Fiske on March 29, 2008 12:52 PM ET

[JURIST] Former USA Today reporter Toni Locy [profile] on Friday asked the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reverse a federal judge's decision to impose sanctions against her for refusing to disclose government sources [RCFP backgrounder] who provided information about former US Army germ-warfare researcher Dr. Steven J. Hatfill [Washington Post profile]. In a ruling earlier this month, US District Judge Reggie Walton found Locy in contempt of court [PDF text; JURIST report] and ordered that, beginning March 11, Locy pay a fine of $500 a day; the fine was due to increase to $1000 a day after one week and then up to $5000 a day after two weeks. Walton refused to delay the sanctions until Locy could file an appeal and also ruled that Locy cannot accept reimbursement for the monetary sanctions. The appeals court, however, on March 11 granted [PDF text; JURIST report] an emergency stay against the monetary sanctions while Locy pursued her appeal. Locy's lawyers said that she is unable to pay the fines and categorized the sanctions as "destructive", arguing that Walton had abused his discretion. Oral arguments on the appeal are scheduled to be held May 9.

Locy, now a journalism professor at West Virginia University, has refused to cooperate in Hatfill's suit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its alleged violation of the US Privacy Act [text], arguing that the information Hatfill is seeking has not been demonstrated to be central to the lawsuit. Hatfill was identified as a "person of interest" in the investigations of the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder]. He contends that FBI and DOJ officials violated federal privacy laws [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] by providing personal information and information about the investigation to journalists. Locy and former CBS reporter James Stewart have refused to comply with orders to reveal their sources. Locy has said that she no longer has notes from her reports and that she cannot recall who gave her the information. Walton has not yet decided whether to hold Stewart in contempt. AP has more.

Editor's Note: Toni Locy served as a JURIST student staff member while pursuing her MSL at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2006-07.






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Malaysia opposition urges release of ethnic Indian protesters held under security law
Nick Fiske on March 29, 2008 11:38 AM ET

[JURIST] Malaysia's opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) [party website] on Saturday denounced [statement text] the government's refusal to release five prominent members of the Hindu Rights Action Force, including M. Manoharan who was recently elected to the state legislature. The five were arrested [JURIST report] in December for allegedly orchestrating a November street demonstration [TIME report] by thousands of the nation's ethnic Indians in Kuala Lumpur, and have since been held without trial under Malaysia's Internal Security Act (ISA) [HRW backgrounder]. While detained, Manoharan ran for a seat in the state legislature as a member of the DAP and won in Malaysia's March 8 election. Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, citing national security concerns, said that Manoharan may be sworn into office, but that he will not be released to attend state assembly sessions. The DAP said that the ruling National Front (BN) [party website] has failed to hear the voice of the people who called for a more democratic and progressive Malaysia in the elections, in which the BN lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority and suffered its biggest defeat to date.

The detentions were originally upheld [JURIST report] in February after a Malaysian court ruled that the men were lawfully held under the controversial ISA, which permits the government to detain suspects for two years without trial and to renew the detention indefinitely. Both the DAP and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [advocacy website] say the law is being used to silence political dissidents and that it violates fundamental human rights. In January, the FIDH urged Malaysia to revoke the act [JURIST report]. AP has more. The Star has local coverage.






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Ex-Guantanamo Bay detainee describes torture allegations
Nick Fiske on March 29, 2008 10:17 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Murat Kurnaz [Amnesty profile; JURIST news archive], a Turkish citizen born in Germany, detailed his allegations that he was tortured while in US custody in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] in a new interview to air Sunday on CBS' 60 Minutes. Kurnaz told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley that he was exposed to extreme temperatures, hung upside down from the ceiling of an airplane hangar for five days, and submerged under water while being beaten by his interrogators. Kurnaz, detained until 2006, also said that the abuse continued even after US authorities determined in 2002 that he was not a terrorist and should be released. Responding to CBS by e-mail, the Department of Defense [official website] said that detainees are treated humanely and that credible claims of abuse are thoroughly investigated, but that Kurnaz's allegations were "unsubstantiated", "implausible", and "simply outlandish." Kurnaz's abuse claims echo similar allegations he made while still in custody at Guantanamo in 2005 and following his release [JURIST reports].

Kurnaz spent almost five years at Guantanamo Bay before being returned to Germany in August 2006 after German authorities pressed for his release [JURIST reports]. Declassified documents released in December showed that a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantanamo ignored evidence clearing Kurnaz [JURIST report] of terrorist connections. The evidence included a memo [PDF] from 2002 in which a German intelligence officer wrote that the US had considered Kurnaz's "innocence to be proven" and a 2005 opinion [PDF] from US District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Joyce Hens Green that held that Kurnaz did not receive "fair opportunity to contest the material allegations against him." CBS News has more.






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UK parliament should approve options in EU Lisbon Treaty: Lords panel
Eric Firkel on March 28, 2008 4:21 PM ET

[JURIST] Both houses of the UK parliament should approve any UK government proposal to opt-in or opt-out of certain policy provisions of the EU reform treaty [JURIST news archive], formally known as the Treaty of Lisbon [official website; PDF text], the UK House of Lords Constitution Committee [official website] concluded Friday in a 124-page report [PDF text] on the implications of the treaty for the largely-unwritten UK constitution. The committee found that the treaty would not affect UK sovereignty, but said it was important for parliament to have the ultimate say on whether the UK should adopt optional provisions in areas such as security and justice. The committee's recommendation comes one week before debate on the European Union (Amendment) Bill [PDF text; materials], which would incorporate the Treaty of Lisbon into UK law. The Guardian has more.

Earlier this month, the UK House of Commons passed [JURIST report] the bill 346-206. The version passed did not mandate parliamentary approval of opt-in and opt-out provisions. The Commons previously rejected holding a national referendum [JURIST report] on treaty ratification, though supporters of that proposal are still hoping that the House of Lords will back a popular vote on the treaty, rather than allowing parliamentary ratification. The treaty must be ratified by all 27 EU member states before it can take effect, though each country may choose the method of ratification. Six countries have ratified the reform treaty; so far, Ireland is the only EU member state that has chosen to hold a referendum on the issue.






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UN commission suspects criminal network responsible for Hariri killing
Steve Czajkowski on March 28, 2008 4:00 PM ET

[JURIST] A criminal network may have been responsible for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri [JURIST news archive], the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) [authorizing resolution; UN materials] said Friday. In a press briefing [recorded audio] on its latest report [PDF text], the IIIC said that this network continued to operate after the assassination and may be involved with other attacks in Lebanon.

Hariri was killed in February 2005 by a car bomb in Beirut which killed 22 others. The IIIC was formed [JURIST report] in 2005 after the UN found that Lebanon's earlier investigations were not carried out to acceptable standards. It also found that Syrian influence was responsible for creating the political tension that preceded the assassination. The UN is currently is the process of establishing a tribunal [JURIST report; UN materials] to try those suspected in the murder. BBC News has more.






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UN SG condemns 'offensively anti-Islamic' film, calls for calm response
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 28, 2008 3:45 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] Friday condemned a film made by far-right Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders [personal website, in Dutch] that criticizes the Koran, calling it "offensively anti-Islamic." In a statement [text], Ban said:

I condemn, in the strongest terms, the airing of Geert Wilders' offensively anti-Islamic film. There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free expression is not at stake here. I acknowledge the efforts of the Government of the Netherlands to stop the broadcast of this film, and appeal for calm to those understandably offended by it. Freedom must always be accompanied by social responsibility.

The United Nations is the centre of the world's efforts to advance mutual respect, understanding and dialogue. We must also recognize that the real fault line is not between Muslim and Western societies, as some would have us believe, but between small minorities of extremists on different sides with a vested interest in stirring hostility and conflict.
The film, titled "Fitna," has not yet found a television network to air the video due to high security costs, but Wilders released the video via his website late Thursday evening. It has since been suspended by network administrators following complaints. The UN News Centre has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish cartoonists who drew the caricatures [Le Monde slideshow; JURIST news archive] of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked worldwide protests in 2005, announced plans Friday to sue Wilders for copyright infringement [JURIST report] for reproducing Westergaard's cartoon in the film. On Thursday, a lawyer lodged a police complaint [Dutch News report] against the film, arguing that it violates the law by linking the Muslim population in the Netherlands to the increasing violence in the country. Last week, a district court in the Netherlands agreed to hear a lawsuit [JURIST report] filed by the Dutch Islamic Federation seeking to ban the release of Wilders' film because it criticizes the Koran.





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Puerto Rico governor pleads not guilty to election fraud
Eric Firkel on March 28, 2008 3:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Puerto Rican Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila [official website, in Spanish] pleaded not guilty Friday to 19 counts [indictment, PDF; JURIST report] of conspiracy, false statements, wire fraud, federal program fraud and tax crimes related to campaign financing, and other crimes. The charges stem from alleged violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act [text] during Vila's 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 campaigns to become Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner in the US House of Representatives and his 2004 gubernatorial campaign. If convicted on all counts, Vila faces up to twenty years in prison. He has denied any misconduct and accused US authorities of launching a politically motivated attack against him.

Vila is a member of the Popular Democratic Party [party website, in Spanish], which does not support full US statehood for the Commonwealth. He narrowly defeated former governor and pro-statehood candidate Pedro Rossello [campaign website, in Spanish] in a disputed gubernatorial election [JURIST report] in 2004. AP has more.






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Charges dropped against US Marine in Haditha Iraqi civilian killings case
Steve Czajkowski on March 28, 2008 2:59 PM ET

[JURIST] US military prosecutors Friday dropped all charges against a US Marine charged in connection with the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive] in November 2005. Lance Cpl. Stephen B. Tatum [defense profile] had been charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and aggravated assault, but a US Marine Corps statement [press release] said the charges were dropped "in order to continue to pursue the truth seeking process into the Haditha incident."

Eight Marines were initially charged in connection to the Haditha incident, though charges [text] have since been dropped against four others. The court-martial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich [defense website], leader of the squad implicated in the killings, was postponed [JURIST report] earlier this month from an original March 3 start date. Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani [JURIST news archive] faces court-martial on April 28 for dereliction of duty and violation of a lawful order based on the allegations that he failed to properly investigate the shootings, while 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson [defense website] faces court martial in May on charges [JURIST report] that he made false official statements and obstructed justice in connection to the killings at Haditha. Reuters has more.






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Pro-Tibet protesters rally at Nepal UN building
Patrick Porter on March 28, 2008 1:37 PM ET

[JURIST] Over 100 protesters rallied near a United Nations facility in Kathmandu on Friday, demonstrating against China's recent crackdown on pro-Tibet protests [BBC backgrounder]. Nepalese police arrested around 60 protesters, while about 20 others, reportedly Tibetan high school students, scaled the walls of the compound and peacefully demonstrated inside. Police asked for the group inside the compound to be handed over, but UN officials refused. Those arrests followed the arrest of at least 400 protesters Monday and 50 more [JURIST reports] last week near the UN headquarters in Kathmandu. AP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

In a related development, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal [official website] released a report [PDF text; press release, PDF] on Friday summarizing human rights concerns arising from protests in the Terai region of Nepal last month by ethnic Madhesis who accuse the Nepalese government of treating them as second-class citizens. The report accused Nepalese police of sometimes using excessive force to quell protests, saying:

...the policing of the protests raised serious human rights concerns, particularly relating to the use of force by police, including lethal force. The enforcement of the bandh affected the freedom of movement of the population, but OHCHR was also concerned at allegations of police actions that violated individuals' rights to freedom of assembly and movement.
The UN News Centre has more.





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Chad judicial council OKs pardon for 'Darfur orphan' airlift workers
Patrick Porter on March 28, 2008 1:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Chad's Higher Judicial Council on Friday recommended that Chadian President Idriss Deby [official website, in French; BBC profile] pardon six French aid workers convicted in Chad in December of attempting to kidnap [JURIST reports] 103 African children. Deby said earlier this month that he may pardon the aid workers within weeks [JURIST report], but that he was waiting for an official request from France. Reuters has more.

The aid workers, affiliated with charity Zoe's Ark [advocacy website, in French], said they were attempting to airlift orphaned children from the war-torn Sudanese region of Darfur [JURIST news archives], but investigations revealed that most of the children were not Sudanese or orphans. In January, another aid worker was charged in French court [JURIST report] with conspiring to allow illegal residents into the country in connection with the foiled airlift.






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Former US secretaries of state recommend closing Guantanamo Bay prison
Patrick Porter on March 28, 2008 12:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Five former US secretaries of state Thursday called for the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] at a conference [UGA press release] held at the University of Georgia School of Law to discuss foreign policy issues. Colin Powell, Madeline Albright, Henry Kissinger, Warren Christopher, and James Baker III [official profiles] also agreed that the next president "should be open to taking diplomatic steps with both allies and unfriendly countries in order to further the nation's standing in the world and ease global issues in which the US is deeply involved." AP has more.

Others have also called for the closure of the Guantanamo detention center [JURIST news archive]. The leaders of 34 international bar associations and law societies last month sent a letter [PDF text] to US President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging the "immediate closure" of the facility [JURIST report]. Last October, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism Martin Scheinin called on the US to quickly prosecute or release terror suspects [JURIST report] detained at Guantanamo Bay so that the US can close the detention center. Bush himself said in August 2007 that he wants to shut down [JURIST report] the detention facility, but indicated that other countries have shown reluctance to accept detainees.






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Uganda high court rules bail not a constitutional right
Jaime Jansen on March 28, 2008 11:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Uganda [official website] ruled Thursday that bail is not a constitutional right, but also found that holding a person in police custody for more than 48 hours without charge is a violation of human rights. The finding overturns sections of several Ugandan laws, including the Trial and Indictment Act, the Uganda People's Defence Forces Act, the Police Act, and the Magistrates Courts Act relating to detention without charge and the constitutional right to a speedy trial. The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative [advocacy website], who brought the lawsuit last year, had argued that bail is a human right.

Bail became a major issue last year in Uganda after the arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye [BBC profile] and associates. Ugandan security officials rearrested six defendants who had previously been granted bail following charges that they were members of the People's Redemption Army and had aided Besigye. The arrests sparked protests and a strike [JURIST report] of the Ugandan High Court following a siege at the high court. Besigye's trial resumed [JURIST report] last June after a year-long delay due to the voluntary resignation of two high court judges. From Uganda, the Monitor has more.






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Rhode Island governor signs order cracking down on illegal immigrants
Jaime Jansen on March 28, 2008 11:10 AM ET

[JURIST] Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri [official website] signed an executive order [PDF text; press release] Thursday that will require state agencies and companies to verify the legal status of their employees when they do business with the state, and will allow state police, prison and parole officials more flexibility in finding and deporting illegal immigrants. During a news conference, Carcieri argued that the executive order is "about making sure that those who come here can realize their goals of economic security and a better quality of life." He also criticized the federal government's efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform [JURIST news archive], saying that it has not done enough to combat illegal immigration.

Under the executive order, the state Department of Administration will use E-Verify [DHS backgrounder], a federal program, to electronically verify that all government employees are legal residents, and will also require all companies doing business with the state government to use E-Verify to check on their employees. The executive order gives state agencies the authority to notify citizens when their identity has been improperly used to obtain state benefits. AP has more. The Providence Journal has local coverage.






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Muhammad cartoonist to sue Dutch anti-Islam filmmaker for copyright infringement
Jaime Jansen on March 28, 2008 10:28 AM ET

[JURIST] Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish cartoonists who drew the caricatures [Le Monde slideshow; JURIST news archive] of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked worldwide protests in 2005, plans to sue the author of an anti-Islam film for copyright infringement, Westergaard said Friday. Far-right Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders [personal website, in Dutch] reproduced Westergaard's cartoon in a controversial anti-Islam film titled "Fitna." The film has not yet found a television network to air the video due to high security costs, but Wilders released the video via his website late Thursday evening. It has since been suspended by network administrators following complaints. On Thursday, a lawyer lodged a police complaint against Wilders' film, arguing that it violates the law by linking the Muslim population in the Netherlands to the increasing violence in the country. Australia's ABC News has more. The Dutch News has additional coverage.

Last week, a district court in the Netherlands agreed to hear a lawsuit [JURIST report] filed by the Dutch Islamic Federation seeking to ban the release of Wilders' film because it criticizes the Quran. Dutch officials fear that the film could lead to protests similar to those that took place after the publication of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoons sparked renewed protests [JURIST report] last month when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Poste [media website] reprinted them after Danish police arrested three people [JURIST report] suspected in a plot to murder Westergaard.






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Zimbabwe court sentences white farmer for refusing to vacate land
Benjamin Klein on March 27, 2008 6:54 PM ET

[JURIST] A magistrate in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive] on Thursday handed down a six-month suspended jail sentence to the first white farmer convicted for refusing to vacate his farm after it was declared state property under Zimbabwe's farm seizure program [JURIST report]. Deon Theron was convicted last Tuesday of unlawfully remaining on his farm, and several other white farmers are currently facing criminal charges [JURIST report] over their refusal to obey state-sponsored eviction orders. AP has more.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] has been harshly criticized [Guardian report] for his farm seizure program, which seeks to redistribute white-owned land among the nation's native farmers. In February 2006, the Zimbabwean land minister said that, following controversial constitutional reforms that took effect in 2005, there are no longer any white farmers operating legally in Zimbabwe [JURIST reports]. The government has appropriated some 4,000 farms through the program and many attribute Zimbabwe's inflation rate, which is reportedly exceeding 5,000 percent, to these actions as previously productive farms have become barren under new inexperienced owners.






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Belarus KGB detains journalists, searches for anti-Lukashenko materials
Nick Fiske on March 27, 2008 6:52 PM ET

[JURIST] The Belarus KGB [official website] Thursday detained at least 16 journalists and searched their homes and offices for materials that allegedly libel Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko [official website; BBC profile]. The Belarus Deputy Prosecutor General said that the searches related to an animated Internet cartoon that allegedly insulted Lukashenko and had been broadcast on Belsat TV [media website], a Polish-funded satellite television channel. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) [trade website] argued that the searches were retaliation for media coverage of anti-Lukashenko protests [JURIST report] in Minsk earlier this week. AP has more. BAJ has local coverage.

The US State Department severely criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report] earlier this month. The UN General Assembly Third Committee, as well as the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports], have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses. Lukashenko has recently sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, but the US and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Belarus pending the release of all political prisoners, including opposition leader Alexander Kozulin [JURIST report].






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UN secures first-year funding for Hariri tribunal
Benjamin Klein on March 27, 2008 6:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN has raised sufficient funds to cover the first-year costs of an international tribunal with the mandate of investigating and trying suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri [JURIST news archive], UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel [official profile] said Thursday. Michel said that the UN has so far received a total of $60.3 million from the international donor community, including over $1 million from each member of the recently established Tribunal Management Committee [press release] and "very substantial" contributions from several Middle Eastern countries. The tribunal, which was unilaterally established [JURIST report] by the UN Security Council last May and is to be hosted by the Netherlands [JURIST report], is expected to cost $50 million for start-up and first year operations. The United States pledged last September to donate $5 million [JURIST report] to the tribunal.

Although Lebanese authorities have detained eight people in connection with the assassination, neither the tribunal nor the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) [authorizing resolution; UN materials], the agency spearheading the Hariri investigation, have yet to name any suspects. Reuters has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.






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Mukasey says DOJ to continue crackdown on political corruption
Nick Fiske on March 27, 2008 5:55 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Michael Mukasey [official profile] said Thursday he would personally ensure that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) does not bow to political pressure as it prosecutes government officials for corruption. In a speech [text; recorded audio] to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Mukasey said:

Public corruption can inflict damage that is not only costly but also profound. When a public servant at any level of government exploits his or her office for improper purposes, the damage is measured not just in dollars and cents but also in erosion of the public trust upon which depends the survival of our system of government.

We fight, investigate and prosecute public corruption to ensure that those who hold public office live up to the public's trust, and to build the public's confidence in the very idea of government, without which the government cannot function.

The investigation and prosecution of public corruption is therefore among the highest obligations of law enforcement, and it should come as no surprise that I consider it to be one of the top priorities of the Department of Justice. In recent years, the Department's career prosecutors and criminal investigators have been engaged in a renewed effort to pursue corruption at all levels and in all branches of government.
Mukasey emphasized that the joint efforts of the DOJ and US Attorney's offices had resulted in the convictions of 1,093 individuals [DOJ fact sheet] for corruption in 2006, including former congressmen Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Bob Ney [JURIST reports].

Mukasey's speech came only hours after a federal grand jury in San Juan, Puerto Rico charged [JURIST report] Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila [official website, in Spanish] and 12 associates with 27 counts of conspiracy, false statements, wire fraud, federal program fraud and tax crimes related to campaign financing. AP has more.





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UK troops violated human rights of Basra Iraq detainees: Defense Ministry
Katerina Ossenova on March 27, 2008 4:21 PM ET

[JURIST] UK Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne [official profile] admitted Thursday that British soldiers had violated the human rights of several Iraqi detainees in Basra in 2003, saying that the Ministry of Defence would specifically admit to substantive breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF text] at a hearing scheduled to take place Friday. Nine Iraqi men have alleged that they were tortured by British troops [JURIST report] after being arrested in a Basra hotel where British troops found weapons and suspected bomb-making materials; a tenth detainee, Baha Mousa [BBC report; JURIST news archive], died while in custody, allegedly as a result of abuse. Seven soldiers faced court-martial [BBC timeline] in connection with Mousa's death.

Of the seven soldiers charged, only one, Corporal David Payne, faced jail time after pleading guilty [JURIST reports] to a charge of inhumane treatment. All other charges were dismissed [JURIST report]. The nine former detainees are seeking damages from the UK Ministry of Defence [official website] and in August 2007, lawyers for the Iraqi plaintiffs accused the Ministry of Defence of withholding evidence [JURIST report]. The Guardian has more.






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UN council passes resolution urging Sudan to address human rights abuses
Katerina Ossenova on March 27, 2008 3:51 PM ET

[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council [official website] passed a resolution Thursday urging Sudan to address human rights violations and to prosecute perpetrators of rights abuses. The resolution, introduced by Egypt, also acknowledged that Sudan had instituted some measures to protect human rights, a concession apparently included to avoid a contentious vote. Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) [official website] released a report [PDF text] which documented human rights violations [JURIST report] by both the Sudanese military and armed militias, including rapes, looting, and the deliberate destruction of food. Reuters has more.

In May 2007, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour criticized [JURIST report] Sudan for conducting "indiscriminate and disproportionate" attacks on at least five Darfur villages. Since civil war broke out in the Darfur region in 2003, over 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced. Reports by the UNHCHR and the International Committee for the Red Cross [official website] have documented numerous violations of human rights and international humanitarian law [JURIST reports] based on interviews with refugees, rebel groups, and agencies and authorities working in the region.






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EU privacy watchdog criticizes plans for fingerprint database
Katerina Ossenova on March 27, 2008 3:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Proposals put forth by the European Commission [official website] to regulate passports and create a centralized fingerprint database fail to adequately address privacy concerns, the head of the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) [official website] said in an opinion letter released Wednesday. Peter Hustinx [official profile, PDF] said the Commission's plans do not adequately address the inherent imperfections of biometric systems, especially the specific concerns regarding children and the elderly. EUObserver has more.

In November 2007, EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security Franco Frattini [official profile] introduced a new package of counter terrorism proposals [press release] on behalf of the Commission, which included a call for the implementation [JURIST report] of an EU-wide system for the exchange of passenger name records. Frattini said in September 2007 that the European Commission was moving forward with plans to establish an EU-wide airline passenger data recording system [JURIST report] despite privacy concerns. Also in March 2007, the Commission announced plans to develop a common fingerprint database [JURIST report] that includes data collected from criminals convicted of serious crimes within member states.






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Puerto Rico governor indicted on 27 counts of election fraud
Joshua Pantesco on March 27, 2008 1:06 PM ET

[JURIST] A federal grand jury in San Juan, Puerto Rico charged Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila [official website, in Spanish] and 12 associates with 27 counts of conspiracy, false statements, wire fraud, federal program fraud and tax crimes related to campaign financing, and other crimes in an indictment [PDF text; press release] unsealed Thursday. The charges stem from the alleged improper financing of Vila's 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 campaigns to become Puerto's Resident Commissioner in the US House of Representatives and his 2004 gubernatorial campaign. Prosecutors allege that Vila and his associates violated the Federal Election Campaign Act [text] by authorizing "illegal and unreported contributions to pay off large and unreported debts" incurred during Vila's campaigns.

Vila is a member of the Popular Democratic Party [party website, in Spanish], which does not support full US statehood for the Commonwealth. He narrowly defeated former governor and pro-statehood candidate Pedro Rossello [campaign website, in Spanish] in a disputed gubernatorial election [JURIST report] in 2004. Reuters has more.






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Federal appeals court backs new sentencing hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal
Joshua Pantesco on March 27, 2008 11:54 AM ET

[JURIST] Journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal [advocacy website; Philadelphia Inquirer archive], convicted in 1982 of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner [advocacy website] after a traffic stop, may escape the death penalty after the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Thursday issued an opinion [PDF text] affirming a federal judge's allowance of a new sentencing hearing in the case. If prosecutors decline to seek a new sentencing hearing, Abu-Jamal will automatically receive life in prison.

The Third Circuit considered four issues on appeal:

(1) whether the Commonwealth's use of peremptory challenges violated Abu-Jamal's constitutional rights under Batson v. Kentucky [opinion text]...; (2) whether the prosecution's trial summation denied Abu-Jamal due process; (3) whether Abu-Jamal was denied due process during post-conviction proceedings as a result of judicial bias; and (4) whether the jury charge and sentencing verdict sheet violated Abu-Jamal's constitutional rights under Mills v. Maryland ... and Boyde v. California ... [opinion texts].
The Third Circuit agreed with the district court ruling [PDF text] on every issue:
  • Abu-Jamal did not provide sufficient evidence to prove that the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges established a pattern of selecting jurors on the basis of race, which is constitutionally impermissible.
  • Abu-Jamal's due process rights were not violated by the prosecutor's closing arguments at trial, during which the prosecutor said "of course there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final." Abu-Jamal contended that this statement undermined the juror's sense of responsibility to arrive at the correct verdict. The Third Circuit disagreed, saying instead that the comments "did not rise to the sort of egregious misconduct that amounts to a denial of constitutional due process...and they did not have a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict" (internal quotations and citations omitted).
  • The Third Circuit did not consider the merits of Abu-Jamal's claim that judicial bias deprived him of due process during the post-conviction proceedings, as such a claim is not cognizable on habeas appeal.
  • Finally, the Third Circuit agreed that the jury instructions and verdict form used at trial were constitutionally deficient, as they did not clearly explain that jurors did not have to unanimously agree on mitigating circumstances that would preclude application of the death penalty.
The case has become a notorious cause celebre for death penalty opponents, attracting the attention of artists, civil rights activists, and politicians. It is unclear whether Abu-Jamal will appeal the Third Circuit decision to the US Supreme Court. AP has more. The Philadelphia Inquirer has local coverage.





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Nigeria commission launches corruption investigation of former president
Joshua Pantesco on March 27, 2008 11:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) [official website] made good on earlier promises to investigate high-ranking governmental officials on Wednesday by formally launching an investigation into former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo [BBC profile]. An EFCC spokesperson advised the public to be patient with the pace of the investigation, which he said will take time to produce results.

The EFCC was formed in 2002 as part of an anti-corruption push by Obasanjo, who in 2007 was indicted for corruption [JURIST report]. The Commission is currently prosecuting five former state governors. Former state governor Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha was sentenced [JURIST report] in July to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to six counts of corruption and money laundering. A Human Rights Watch report issued last year warned that corruption in Nigeria [JURIST news archive] has reached a crisis level and said that government could be compared to a criminal organization [HRW report; JURIST report]. From Lagos, the Vanguard has more.






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HRW urges close UN scrutiny of Philippines extrajudicial killings claims
Joshua Pantesco on March 27, 2008 10:51 AM ET

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday urged the United Nations [press release] to scrutinize the Philippine government's response to accusations that the Philippines military has engaged in extrajudicial killings of left-wing activists since 2001. HRW's press release comes two weeks before the UN Human Rights Council [official website] is scheduled to hold the first meeting of the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines [UN backgrounder, PDF], which will consider the reports of extrajudicial killings. Human rights advocates say almost 900 people have been killed since President Gloria Arroyo [official website; BBC profile] assumed power in 2001, while more than 180 have disappeared and are thought to have been killed. The military has denied any involvement in the killings, blaming the deaths on Communist rebels.

Concern over the alleged extrajudicial killings ripened after a 2007 UN report [DOC text; JURIST report], authored by UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston, concluded that the Philippines armed forces have followed a "deliberate strategy" of killing left-wing activists. In July, Arroyo urged lawmakers [transcript; JURIST report] from both houses of Congress to pass legislation to curb extrajudicial killings and disappearances, but HRW said Thursday she has not fulfilled her promise to fully investigate the killings. AP has more.






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EU, NATO forces raid homes of Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect's family
Jaime Jansen on March 27, 2008 9:21 AM ET

[JURIST] EU and NATO forces on Thursday raided the homes of family members of wanted Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic [BBC profile; ICTY indictment], looking for information on Karadzic's location. In a sunrise raid, the forces entered the homes of Karadzic's wife Ljiljana Zelen Karadzic, his daughter Sonja Karadzic Jovicevic and alleged aide Smiljka Popov. The forces questions all three during the raid. The EU and NATO regularly conduct raids [JURIST report] on Karadzic's family and suspected aides in an attempt to locate the fugitive.

Karadzic and fellow war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic [BBC profile; ICTY indictment] are believed to have masterminded the 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims by government forces at Srebrenica. Many believe that Karadzic is hiding in the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia nearby Montenegro, and that Mladic is hiding in Serbia. Last month, new International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said he will do everything in his power to ensure that Mladic and Karadzic are arrested as soon as possible [JURIST report]. AFP has more.






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Indonesia court clears Suharto in civil corruption case
Jaime Jansen on March 27, 2008 8:41 AM ET

[JURIST] An Indonesian court cleared former Indonesian President Haji Mohammed Suharto [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his heirs Thursday of civil liability in a corruption case involving state funds allegedly stolen by a charitable foundation run by Suharto. Dismissing the $1.1 billion damage claim leveled against Suharto, the court ordered the foundation to repay $110 million out of $440 million in stolen government funds [JURIST report]. Judge Wahyono said the prosecutors failed to prove the amount of damages they claimed, and that the foundation's board of directors had been responsible for siphoning government funds rather than Suharto himself. Last month, Suharto's six children failed to appear in court [JURIST report] for a hearing, ignoring a court summons [JURIST report] to defend Suharto's estate in the civil corruption case.

Suharto, who ruled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, faced government charges that he embezzled $440 million from the Yayasan Supersemar [official website], a state-funded scholarship fund, between 1974 and 1998. He died [JURIST report] in late January. Earlier criminal corruption charges were dropped because Suharto was rendered unable to speak or write [JURIST reports] as a result of several strokes. The Canadian Press has more.






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Federal judge strikes down Michigan primary election law
Jaime Jansen on March 27, 2008 8:05 AM ET

[JURIST] A federal judge in the Eastern District of Michigan on Wednesday struck down [opinion, PDF; ACLU press release] a Michigan election law [text] that limits access to information on presidential primary voters to the Democratic and Republican parties, blocking the state from releasing the voter lists from the Jan. 15 presidential primary election to the two political parties. The ACLU of Michigan [advocacy website] had challenged [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] the law in January, alleging that Section 615c [text] of the Michigan Election Law was unconstitutional because it excludes other smaller parties, as well as individuals, citizen groups and news media, from seeing lists of voter preferences and gives preference only to the two major parties in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and 14th Amendment [Cornell Law backgrounders]. Under the law, anyone other than the two parties who obtains or uses the voter lists would be guilty of a misdemeanor, and could be fined $1,000 or sentenced to 93 days in jail.

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of the Green Party, Libertarian Party and the Reform Party of Michigan [party websites], as well as Metro Times, Inc. [media website] and David Forsmark as president of the political consulting firm Winning Strategies. The suit was filed against Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land [official profile]. The ruling comes amid a dispute over Michigan's delegation at the Democratic National Convention, and likely ended any chance of a new Democratic primary vote in the state. The Detroit News has more.






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Belarus courts sentence protesters after anti-Lukashenko rally
Deirdre Jurand on March 26, 2008 6:35 PM ET

[JURIST] Belarusian district courts Wednesday sentenced at least 55 demonstrators for participating in a banned "Freedom Day" rally [BBC report] in Minsk to protest against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko [official website; BBC profile]. "Freedom Day" first began as a celebration of Belarus' 1918 declaration of independence but has in recent years become a protest against Lukashenko's authoritarian policies. Some protesters, including journalists, were sentenced to three to 15 days in jail while others were fined as much as $500. Officials at the Belarus Interior Ministry said that a total of 70 people face charges of public disorder.

The US State Department severely criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report] earlier this month, and Belarus opposition leaders suggested that Tuesday's protests will only worsen the country's relations with the West. The UN General Assembly Third Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports] have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses. Lukashenko has recently sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, but the US and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Belarus pending the release of all political prisoners, including opposition leader Alexander Kozulin [JURIST report]. Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.






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Bush administration asks federal appeals court to rehear mercury emissions case
Andrew Gilmore on March 26, 2008 6:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The Bush administration has filed an appeal of a ruling [PDF text] by a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit invalidating new less-stringent mercury emissions rules issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website]. In February, the panel ruled [JURIST report] that the "cap-and-trade" policy, to be implemented in 2010 by the EPA to regulate electrical power plant mercury emissions, is effectively invalid. The policy would permit power plants whose mercury emissions exceed the regulatory cap to buy "credits" from other power plants whose emissions fall below the cap. The ruling also struck down the EPA's decision to remove coal- and oil-fueled power plants from the list of utilities subject to the strictest emissions controls. In a Monday filing, the Bush administration asked for an en banc review by the full US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website]. AP has more.

The original lawsuit [JURIST report] was brought by a coalition of 16 states that argued that the mercury pollution rules would endanger children living near power plants that buy credits to pollute over the EPA limit. The EPA argued that its Clean Air Mercury Rule [EPA backgrounder; JURIST report] would result in a more than 70 percent reduction in mercury emissions from utilities.






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Indonesia prosecutors ask court for life sentences for Jemaah Islamiyah leaders
Patrick Porter on March 26, 2008 5:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Indonesian prosecutors Wednesday recommended that two alleged leaders of the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive] be given life sentences if found guilty on terrorism charges. Prosecutors also asked the court to officially outlaw the group. Zarkasih and Abu Dujana [BBC profiles] went on trial [JURIST report] in December, charged with training and equipping JI members as well as conspiracy to commit terrorism.

Dujana, who was arrested [JURIST report] in June, has confessed to leading the JI's military wing, which has claimed responsibility for the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy [BBC report] in Jakarta and a series of 2005 Bali bombings [BBC report]. He has been charged with possessing explosives as well as assisting and harboring two men wanted in connection with the 2002 Bali night club bombings [GlobalSecurity backgrounder ; JURIST news archive]. Australia's ABC News has more.






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Egypt court sentences newspaper editor for Mubarak health 'rumors'
Alexis Unkovic on March 26, 2008 4:11 PM ET

[JURIST] A court in Egypt [JURIST news archive] Wednesday sentenced the former editor of weekly newspaper al-Dustour [media website, in Arabic] to six months in prison after convicting him on charges of spreading "rumors" about the health of Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak [official profile] in an August newspaper report. Ibrahim Eissa [al-Ahram profile] originally faced a maximum sentence of three years in jail when his trial began [JURIST report] in Cairo in October 2007. Eissa told AFP the sentence was "against all international human rights conventions." It was not immediately clear whether Eissa would appeal. AFP has more.

In June 2006, Eissa was sentenced [JURIST report] to one year in prison for publishing a report critical of Mubarak, but an appeals court reduced the sentence to a $4,000 fine. Under Egyptian law, citizens may file lawsuits against individuals who make statements that harm society, and the accused can face criminal punishment if found guilty. Mubarak has previously pledged to decriminalize press offenses [JURIST report] in Egypt, but has yet to do so.






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Supreme Court hears arguments in self-representation, bankruptcy cases
Alexis Unkovic on March 26, 2008 2:57 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Wednesday in Indiana v. Edwards [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-208, a case in which the Court is considering whether states may adopt a higher standard for measuring competency to represent oneself at trial than for measuring competency to stand trial. Specifically, the Court is weighing whether the Indiana Supreme Court correctly ruled [opinion, PDF] that a court which found a schizophrenic defendant competent to stand trial could not subsequently deny that defendant the right to represent himself under the Sixth Amendment [text]. During arguments Wednesday, several justices suggested that the constitutional right to self-representation is not absolute, while Justice Antonin Scalia took issue with the contention that courts may be able to find a defendant competent to stand trial but not to mount his own defense. AP has more.

The Court also heard arguments [transcript, PDF] Wednesday in Florida Dept. of Revenue v. Piccadilly Cafeterias [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-312, a statutory interpretation case in which the Court is expected to whether an exemption from state and local transfer taxes, provided under the federal bankruptcy code for reorganization plans confirmed in court, applies only after the plan has been approved by a bankruptcy court. The case is on appeal from an April 2007 Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling [opinion, PDF]; a decision in the case could help resolve a difference of interpretation between the Eleventh Circuit and the Third and Fourth Circuits.






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Congo militia leader denies war crimes accusations
Katerina Ossenova on March 26, 2008 2:12 PM ET

[JURIST] A former army general and warlord in the Democratic Republic of Congo [JURIST news archive] denied allegations of war crimes in an interview published Wednesday in Dutch newspaper Trouw [media website, in Dutch]. Laurent Nkunda [BBC profile], the Tutsi leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People, is accused of masterminding an anti-government insurgency in the province of Nord-Kivu, in apparent violation of a peace accord signed in January. In February, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] said he was investigating crimes committed in eastern Congo, but did not specifically name Nkunda as a suspect; Trouw reported Wednesday that the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] is now gathering evidence against Nkunda. AFP has more.

Nkunda would not be the first Congolese militia leader to face ICC investigation. Union of Patriotic Congolese leader Thomas Lubanga [ICC materials; BBC profile] became the first war crimes defendant to appear before the ICC after he was taken into ICC custody [JURIST reports] in March 2006. The ICC has also taken steps to prosecute Germain Katanga [BBC report; ICC materials], a Congolese militia leader who has also been accused of using child soldiers.






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Canada Supreme Court hears Khadr appeal on government documents access
Katerina Ossenova on March 26, 2008 1:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] argued before the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] Wednesday that the Canadian government should be compelled to turn over confidential documents [JURIST report] that they say led to Khadr's charges and are therefore necessary for a fair trial. Khadr is seeking documents that Canada allegedly provided to US authorities, along with videotapes of Khadr's 2003 interrogations at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] and uncensored transcripts. In May 2007, the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal overruled a lower court decision [judgment text] barring Khadr's access to documents compiled by Canadian officials following interviews with Khadr. In October 2007, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal by Canadian Justice Department lawyers opposing the access.

Khadr, now 21, faces life imprisonment after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002. He was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. Khadr is one of four [JURIST report] Guantanamo detainees prosecuted under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text]. On March 13, a US military judge ruled [JURIST report] that some correspondence between US and Canadian government officials regarding Khadr must be turned over to Khadr's defense team. In an affidavit released earlier this month, Khadr said that US interrogators in Afghanistan threatened him with rape, physically abused him, and forced him to swear to false statements [JURIST report]. CBC News has more.






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Thailand ruling party to amend new constitution
Katerina Ossenova on March 26, 2008 1:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Thailand's ruling political party announced plans Wednesday to amend the nation's newly adopted constitution [JURIST report]. The People Power Party (PPP), which which won 233 out of 480 parliament seats in the first election [JURIST report] since the current interim military-backed government took power in a September 2006 bloodless coup [JURIST report], intends to make sweeping changes, including stripping the Election Commission of Thailand [official website, in Thai] of its power to request the dissolution of political parties, allowing government officials and their families to hold positions in state companies, and mandating that military government-appointed bodies reveal their assets. There has not yet been agreement on whether the proposed amendments should drop amnesty for the military government responsible for seizing power from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive].

The new constitution [text; JURIST report], adopted by national referendum and enacted by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej [BBC report] in August 2007, replaces Thailand's 1997 charter. The government has praised the constitution as a step toward democracy, but supporters of Shinawatra have said that it decreases populist influence [JURIST report] and transfers more power to bureaucrats and the military. AFP has more.






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China ignoring human rights in Tibet: UK annual rights report
Brett Murphy on March 26, 2008 12:29 PM ET

[JURIST] China is denying human rights, including basic religious freedom, to Tibetans, according to an annual report [PDF text, FCO backgrounder] released Tuesday by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office [official website]. The report found:

Violations of human rights continue in Tibet. We regularly raise our concerns, including individual cases...We continue to make clear our view that the best way to improve the situation in Tibet is through meaningful dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama and his representatives, without preconditions, to achieve a long-term peaceful solution acceptable to the people of Tibet.
In a speech to mark the report's release, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that the UK would push for greater human rights in China [speech text]. China has said that it will not engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama until he stops encouraging "separatist activities" [JURIST report].

The UK FCO reports are issued annually as an assessment of the human rights situation in nations of concern. Tuesday's report also criticized Russia [JURIST news archive] for clamping down on opposition politicians and failing to protect journalists, including two killed last week [JURIST report]. AP has more.





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Nebraska legislature rejects death penalty ban
Brett Murphy on March 26, 2008 11:39 AM ET

[JURIST] A Nebraska bill [LB 1063, PDF] that would have banned the death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life in prison without parole, failed in the Nebraska Legislature [official website] on Tuesday, receiving only 20 of the 25 necessary votes to move forward. Last month, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that execution by electric chair, the only method authorized in the state, was "cruel and unusual" punishment and therefore prohibited by the Nebraska constitution [text]. Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman on Tuesday voiced support for the death penalty [press release], saying that the the legislature should decide on a new means of execution that can pass constitutional muster.

In February, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Brunning filed a motion for rehearing [JURIST report] on the ban of the electric chair. Nebraska is the only state to solely rely on the electric chair for capital punishment. AP has more. The Omaha World-Herald has local coverage.






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Bali nightclub bombers file new appeal of Indonesia death sentences
Leslie Schulman on March 26, 2008 8:48 AM ET

[JURIST] Three Indonesian Islamic militants sentenced to death for their roles in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings [BBC backgrounder] filed a new appeal Wednesday, after withdrawing an earlier appeal [JURIST report] this week following refusal of the Cilacap district court to grant a change of venue and transport the militants to a district court in Bali. According to defense lawyers, the appeal is being brought because they were not provided with an effective presentation of their case in the lower court. The three men - Mukhlas, Amrozi, and Imam Samudra [BBC profiles] - face execution by firing squad if their appeal is not successful.

In February, the Supreme Court of Indonesia ordered the lower district court [JURIST report] to assemble a panel of judges to review the merits of the militants' appeal. The Supreme Court rejected the Bali bombers' first appeal in December, but accepted a second appeal [JURIST reports] to determine whether the bombers should have been tried under retroactive laws that were not in effect when the bombings took place. AFP has more.






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Hollinger settles civil fraud lawsuit with SEC for $21.3M
Leslie Schulman on March 26, 2008 8:14 AM ET

[JURIST] Hollinger Inc. [corporate website], the Canadian holding company with an interest in former newspaper publisher Hollinger International [corporate website], has agreed to pay the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) [official website] $21.3 million to settle claims [press release] that from 1999 to 2003 it violated securities law by failing to disclose to investors payments and other transactions that benefited the executives to the detriment of the company. The settlement [PDF text] stems from a lawsuit filed by the SEC in November 2004 against former Hollinger International chairman Conrad Black, former Hollinger president David Radler [JURIST news archives], and Hollinger Inc. Under the terms of the settlement, Hollinger Inc. has agreed to be permanently enjoined from committing future securities laws violations. The settlement must still be approved by US District Judge William T. Hart [official website] before it becomes final.

Radler was sentenced in December to 29 months in prison for one count of mail fraud, after pleading guilty [JURIST reports] and agreeing to serve as a witness against Black. Black was convicted in July of mail fraud and obstruction of justice and sentenced to 78 months in prison; he began serving his sentence earlier this month after a federal appeals court rejected his request to remain free on bail [JURIST reports] while his appeal is pending. Radler, Black and other Hollinger executives were prosecuted in the United States in connection to allegations [indictment, PDF] that they diverted more than $80 million from Hollinger International [JURIST report], now Sun-Times Media Group, and its shareholders during the company's $2.1 billion sale of several hundred Canadian newspapers. CBC News has more.






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Maryland General Assembly backs death penalty review commission
Leslie Schulman on March 26, 2008 7:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The Maryland General Assembly [official website] has passed legislation to establish the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which would study the implementation and execution of the death penalty in that state. The state House approved HB 1111 [text] by a 89-48 vote on Monday, and the Senate later approved SB 614 [text] by a 32-15 vote. The Commission will focus its study on racial and socioeconomic factors in giving death penalty sentences, the risk of executing innocent persons, and the economic differences in administering the death penalty versus imprisoning somebody for life. A complete report by the Commission is to be provided to the General Assembly by December 15.

The Maryland debate over the death penalty [JURIST news archive] has been fueled by a December 2006 Maryland Court of Appeals decision, which held [JURIST report] that lethal injection procedures are subject to the state's Administrative Procedures Act and therefore must be developed under the guidance of the Maryland attorney general and a legislative committee, with review and comment by the public. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) [official profile] has been an outspoken critic of Maryland's use of capital punishment, and last year urged [JURIST report] the General Assembly ahead of a death penalty repeal vote to abolish the practice because it is "inherently unjust," ineffective as a deterrent and a drain on resources. The repeal failed [JURIST news archive] in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee [official website] in a 5-5 tie vote. A second repeal bill is currently pending before the Senate, and is expected to again fail [Baltimore Sun report]. AP has more.






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UN rights envoy urges Guatemala Congress against reinstating death penalty
Kiely Lewandowski on March 25, 2008 6:20 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions [official website] Philip Alston [NYU Law profile] Tuesday urged [press release] Guatemalan lawmakers not to override a presidential veto of a bill that would restore the country's death penalty in a way he said would be contrary to international human rights law. Alston said:

This law can only be intended as an end-run around the requirements of international human rights law. If the Congress is so keen to uphold the rule of law by reinstating the death penalty it should do so in accordance with the international rule of law and not ignore the rulings of both the UN Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights directed at Guatemala.
Decree 06-2008 [AI backgrounder] would have given Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom [official profile, in Spanish] the authority to decide whether to grant clemency and commute the sentences of the 34 inmates currently on death row to 50 years in prison or to order their executions to take place. The Congress of Guatemala [official website, in Spanish] passed the bill in February by a vote of 140 out of 158. Colom vetoed the bill [JURIST report] earlier this month, but Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds supermajority vote. The UN News Centre has more.

The last execution in Guatemala took place in 2000. In 2002, then-President Alfonso Portillo directed the Constitutional Court [official website] to set a capital punishment moratorium in the country, concluding that a 1892 law permitting commutation was unclear as to which part of the government had jurisdiction to grant clemency. The Constitutional Court granted the moratorium, stating that it was Congress' job to amend the law.





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Germany right-wing politician charged with inciting racial hatred
Deirdre Jurand on March 25, 2008 6:16 PM ET

[JURIST] German prosecutors Tuesday charged [press release, in German] the chair of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) [party website, in German] with libel and inciting racial hatred for comments he made about a German soccer player. Udo Voigt [party profile, in German] and two other party officials allegedly published a pamphlet and circulated online messages before the 2006 World Cup saying that soccer player Patrick Owomoyela [team profile] should not be on the German soccer team because he is black. The NPD has called the charges "absurd" [NPD press release, in German].

Voigt has been under scrutiny for racial remarks since August 2007, when he nominated a Nazi officer for the Nobel Peace Prize [Spiegel report]. In 2005, the president of Germany's Constitutional Court [official website] said that despite the failure of past government efforts, the NPD could still be banned under German law [JURIST report], renewing interest in outlawing the controversial group. To date the Federal Ministry of the Interior has banned [backgrounder] 24 right-wing extremist groups. Reuters has more. Spiegel Online has local coverage.






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Bush issues 15 pardons, commutes sentence
Devin Montgomery on March 25, 2008 5:55 PM ET

[JURIST] US President W. George Bush on Tuesday issued presidential pardons [DOJ materials] to 15 people convicted of crimes that ranged from drug offenses to wire fraud to violations of fish and wildlife regulations. He also commuted the sentence of a woman convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack-cocaine.

Bush has issued a total of 157 pardons in his seven years as president, among the fewest of any president [US DOJ clemency statistics] since World War II. Former Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Reagan issued 457, 77, and 406 respectively during their terms in office. Former President Truman granted the most pardons, at 2,031. AP has more.






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Bush administration seeks to exempt Libya from state-sponsored terror lawsuits
Caitlin Price on March 25, 2008 3:57 PM ET

[JURIST] The Bush administration has asked Congress to shield Libya [JURIST news archive] from a measure in the newly-passed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 [HR 4986 materials; JURIST report] that would allow victims of state-sponsored terrorism to sue for that country's assets held in the US. The military spending law, signed by US President George W. Bush [Specter press release] in January with bipartisan support, contains a provision - Section 1083 - which allows private lawsuits against countries designated by the US as a state sponsor of terror. Bush rejected a previous version [press release] that made the provision applicable to Iraq, but ultimately signed the law after it was updated to allow a presidential waiver [WH memorandum] to exempt that country. A March 18 letter from top administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to Congressional leaders seeks an additional waiver for Libya.

In 2004, Bush lifted decades-old sanctions [JURIST report] against Libya after it agreed to dismantle its weapons programs and to acknowledge its history of state-sanctioned terror, including an agreement to accept responsibility [US DOS press release] for the 1988 bombing of Pam Am flight 103 [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and to compensate the victims' families. In January, a US federal court ruled that the Libyan government and six Libyan officials should pay more than $6 billion in damages [plaintiff press release; JURIST report] to families of seven Americans who died in the 1989 bombing of French passenger jet UTA Flight 772 [BBC backgrounder], having previously found that Libya was responsible for the bombing. Proponents of the National Defense Authorization Act provision argue that allowing seizure of Libyan assets in the US will permit just compensation to terror victims. AP has more






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Federal appeals court strikes down New York airline passenger rights law
Caitlin Price on March 25, 2008 3:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Tuesday overturned [opinion, PDF] a New York law requiring airlines to provide passengers on seriously delayed flights with basic amenities, ventilation, and waste removal, holding that federal law preempts state airline regulation. Last August, New York became the first state to pass an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights [text; press release] prompted by delays at Kennedy International Airport that saw passengers held on board without food or water for up to 10 hours. The Air Transport Association of America (ATA) [trade website] challenged the law, arguing that "a patchwork of laws by states and localities would be impractical and harmful to consumer interests." The court ruled that the New York law is preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act [49 USC 41713(b)(1) text], which bars state regulation "related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation." The ATA praised the decision [press release] as a victory for airlines and passengers. AP has more.

In 2006, the European Court of Justice upheld an air passengers' rights law that requires airlines to pay compensation to passengers [JURIST reports] as well as provide food, lodging or a trip back to the point of departure in the event of long flight delays, overbooking and cancellation on flights to and from the European Union. The International Air Transport Association and the European Low Fares Airline Association [trade websites] had challenged the EU regulation, arguing the law was too costly to implement and some conditions were outside of the airlines' control. The court ruled [text] that the regulation did not violate the Montreal Convention [text] and did not violate the principle of proportionality.






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Supreme Court weighs federal habeas rights of US citizens held by military in Iraq
Joshua Pantesco on March 25, 2008 2:20 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Tuesday in the consolidated cases of Munaf v. Geren and Geren v. Omar [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-1666, and 07-394, where the Court is considering whether federal courts have jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions filed by American citizens detained by US military personnel operating under a multinational force. The cases also present the issue of whether a federal court would have jurisdiction over a habeas petition filed by an American citizen if a foreign court convicted the citizen of a crime, but the citizen is still in the physical custody of American authorities. Mohammad Munaf [JURIST news archive] was convicted and sentenced to death for the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Baghdad, and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in April 2007 that it lacked authority to interfere [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] with the Iraqi court case. Two months earlier, however, the same court ruled that Shawqi Omar [JURIST news archive], arrested for allegedly harboring insurgents in Iraq, has a right to argue his case in US courts. The appeals court blocked Omar's transfer to Iraqi courts [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. Earlier this month, Munaf's conviction was overturned [JURIST report] by an Iraqi appeals court. Lawyers for the detainees argued that because they are in US custody, they should have access to US courts, but several justices seemed to reject that argument, noting that could lead to any Multi-National Force-Iraq detainee challenging their arrest in US courts. AP has more.

The Court also heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] in United States v. Ressam [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-455, where "millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam is challenging his conviction under 18 USC § 844(h)(2) [text], which authorizes a mandatory minimum ten year jail term for anyone carrying explosives while committing a felony. In Ressam's case, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the count [PDF opinion] as the underlying felony - lying on customs papers - was not related to the explosives charge. Ressam has been sentenced to 22 years in prison [JURIST report] for plotting to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999. US Attorney General Michael Mukasey argued the case on behalf of the government. AP has more.

ALSO ON JURIST

 Op-ed: No Refuge from Habeas: Protecting US Citizens Held by US Forces | Comment: Oral arguments in Munaf and Omar





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Guatemala adoption agency lawyers on trial in 'human trafficking' case
Lisl Brunner on March 25, 2008 1:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for Guatemalan adoption agency Casa Quivira [agency website] have been charged with human trafficking [JURIST news archive] as a result of irregularities discovered in the agency's records, the defendants' lawyers said Monday. The investigation began in August, when government authorities raided the premises of Casa Quivira and removed 46 infants who were awaiting adoption by families in the United States. Prosecutors discovered that at least five of the children's mothers had provided false identities when offering their children for adoption, raising doubts as to whether the children may have been kidnapped. Reports by the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission [advocacy website] have said that child trafficking is on the rise [PDF text] in Guatemala and have urged the passage of laws regulating the adoption process.

The lawyers, whose trial officially began on Monday, claimed that they had no way of determining whether the identification provided by adoption mothers was authentic; they also accused prosecutors of improperly influencing the judge. Guatemala [JURIST news archive] is the second most popular destination after China for US families seeking to adopt children, and nearly 25,000 Guatemalan children have been sent to the United States since 1990. AP has more. Univision has additional coverage, in Spanish.






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Nepal police arrest 100 more protesters as pro-Tibet rallies continue
Leslie Schulman on March 25, 2008 12:54 PM ET

[JURIST] Nepalese police arrested at least 100 Tibetan monks, refugees, and other protesters near the Chinese Embassy [embassy website, in English] in Kathmandu Tuesday as demonstrations continued against China's recent crackdown against pro-Tibet protests [BBC backgrounder]. The new arrests follow the arrest of at least 400 protesters Monday and 50 more [JURIST reports] last week. Since demonstrations began earlier this month, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] has criticized Nepal [press release, PDF] for its actions against protesters and for restricting the right to peaceful assembly.

Rights groups have criticized China for ongoing human rights violations [HRW materials] targeted at Tibetans, and many call for the total independence [advocacy website] of the currently "semi-autonomous" region. The Dalai Lama, who accused China last week of committing "cultural genocide" [JURIST report] in Tibet, has encouraged the protests but said he will step down [AFP report] if the violence in the region worsens. AP has more.






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Saudi Arabia should adopt written penal code: HRW
Leslie Schulman on March 25, 2008 12:26 PM ET

[JURIST] Saudi Arabia should enact a written penal code to protect the rights of criminal suspects and minors, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said Tuesday in two reports [press release] released after a year-long HRW investigation into the Saudi Arabian justice system uncovered numerous human rights violations. One report [text] documented widespread use of arbitrary arrests and vague charges for behavior which is often not designated as criminal. The other report [text] cited the routine arrests of children for actions such as running away from home or being alone with a member of the opposite sex. HRW called on Saudi Arabia [JURIST news archive] to enact widespread reforms to its criminal justice system, including providing protections for the exercise of freedom of expression and speech, ending the death penalty for offenders under the age of 18, and reinforcing the abolition of arbitrary arrests and due process violations.

Last month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women [official website] called for Saudi Arabia to abolish laws that give men complete guardianship over women [JURIST report]. Under current Saudi law, women have few or no rights with respect to marriage, divorce, child custody, and property ownership. According to Saudi officials, the government is in the process of creating a written penal code. Reuters has more.






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Zimbabwe police arrest opposition party officials ahead of presidential election
Leslie Schulman on March 25, 2008 12:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabwe police arrested [MDC press release] a pilot and several members of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website, in English] as they were arriving at Harare International Airport to deliver campaign materials, a MDC spokesman said Tuesday. The MDC has previously accused the government of using arbitrary arrests and "trumped up charges" to block it from participating in presidential elections scheduled for Saturday. Last Sunday, the MDC accused [JURIST report] Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of plotting to commit election fraud by printing millions of surplus ballot papers in advance of Saturday's vote.

Mugabe, now 84 years old, has served as the head of government in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive] since 1980, when the country attained independence from Britain. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] raised doubts about the upcoming election in a report [text] last week, suggesting that it was likely to be "deeply flawed." Despite concerns about fairness, analysts project that the election poses the biggest threat to Mugabe's rule since he took office. Reuters has more.






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South Korea human rights commission to investigate North Korea
Michael Sung on March 25, 2008 10:28 AM ET

[JURIST] The South Korean National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) [official website, in English] said Tuesday that it will begin an official investigation of alleged human rights violations by North Korea, adding that it will begin the investigation by interviewing North Korean defectors in April. NHRCK spokesperson Lee Myung-jae said the organization has been annually collecting information from defectors from North Korea since 2004.

Earlier this month, the US State Department heavily criticized the rights record of North Korea [JURIST report], categorizing it as one of the world's top rights violators and accusing the North Korean regime of controlling almost all aspects of citizens' lives, denying freedom of speech, press assembly, and association, and restricting freedom of movement and workers' rights. In January, UN special rapporteur Vitit Muntarbhorn said that the North Korean regime has shown no improvement in its human rights record [JURIST report] and continues to systematically torture its citizens. AP has more.






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Supreme Court rules in federally mandated ICJ compliance, arbitration review cases
Jeannie Shawl on March 25, 2008 10:11 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] handed down decisions in two cases Tuesday, including Medellin v. Texas [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], where the Court ruled that President Bush does not have the authority to direct a state court to comply with a ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Jose Ernesto Medellin [ASIL backgrounder], a Mexican national sentenced to death in Texas for raping and murdering two teenage girls, appealed a November 2006 ruling [text; JURIST report] from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that President Bush "exceeded his constitutional authority" by ordering state court rehearings [JURIST report] for 51 Mexican nationals convicted in US courts. The president's February 2005 memorandum [text] instructed the Texas courts to follow a March 2004 ICJ decision [materials] that held that Medellin and the other Mexican nationals tried in US courts had been denied their Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [PDF text] right to contact the Mexican consulate for legal assistance and that the US was obligated to grant review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences. The Supreme Court upheld the Texas court's decision in the case, holding that "neither [the ICJ decision] nor the President's Memorandum constitutes directly enforceable federal law that pre-empts state limitations on the filing of successive habeas petitions." Read the Court's opinion [text] per Chief Justice Roberts, along with a concurrence [text] from Justice Stevens and a dissent [text] from Justice Breyer. AP has more.

In Hall Street v. Mattel [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], the Court held that parties cannot contractually agree to supplement terms defining when a court can modify or vacate an arbitration award under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) [USC Title 9 text]. Hall Street Associates leased property to toy manufacturer Mattel and filed suit after Mattel failed to clean up contaminates from its on-site factory. The parties initially agreed to arbitrate the dispute, subject to judicial review of findings of fact and conclusions of law. Sections 10 and 11 of the FAA restricts judicial review of arbitration decisions for the purpose of vacating, modifying or correcting an award to limited instances, such as fraud, and the Court wrote that the statutory grounds found in those sections are exclusive:

The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA or Act), 9 U. S. C. §1 et seq., provides for expedited judicial review to confirm, vacate, or modify arbitration awards. §§9–11 (2000 ed. and Supp. V). The question here is whether statutory grounds for prompt vacatur and modification may be supplemented by contract. We hold that the statutory grounds are exclusive.
In the lower court decision [PDF text], the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit came to a similar conclusion on the exclusivity of terms, but the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the appeals court decision "for consideration of independent issues." Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Souter, along with a dissent [text] from Justice Stevens and a second dissent [text] from Justice Breyer. AP has more.





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ABA president expresses 'grave concern' over military commission process
Michael Sung on March 25, 2008 9:50 AM ET

[JURIST] American Bar Association (ABA) [profession website] President William H. Neukom said in an op-ed [text] published on the ABA website Monday that American lawyers are "deeply troubled by six death penalty cases" being tried by the military commissions process at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]:

The defendants are charged with horrific crimes — assisting in the September 11 terror attacks. Those who are guilty must answer for the murder of thousands of Americans.

But it must also be clear, when the final gavel is struck, that their trials have been fair, impartial and just.

As a lawyer with 40 years' experience in criminal and civil cases, and as the head of a bar association that includes tens of thousands of prosecutors and defense lawyers, I have grave concerns about the process by which Guantanamo detainees will be tried.

Detainees cannot seek habeas corpus review — an 800-year-old process by which judges determine whether a defendant's imprisonment is appropriate. The Guantanamo defense office is understaffed, and restricted in its ability to meet confidentially with defendants.

Moreover, Pentagon and Justice Department officials have ruled that hearsay testimony and coerced confessions are admissible — even when obtained through techniques, such as "waterboarding," that are now illegal for military interrogators to apply.

No one questions the conscientious men and women who will try the Guantanamo detainees. But if basic due process is abridged this way, especially in death penalty cases, such trials are likely to leave a cloud of doubt and distrust, in the United States and abroad.
In February, Neukom sent a letter [PDF text] to US President George W. Bush, offering the ABA's assistance to ensure that the military commissions provide sufficient due process for enemy combatants charged with a capital crime. The ABA Journal has more.

Last month, military prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty [JURIST report] against the six defendants [DOD materials] charged in the Sept. 11 attacks. Earlier this month, US Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he hoped those accused in the Sept. 11 attacks would not receive the death penalty [JURIST report] because it would make them martyrs.





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Dallas suburb enforced ordinance targeting illegal immigrants despite injunction
Michael Sung on March 25, 2008 8:51 AM ET

[JURIST] An city official with Farmers Branch, Texas [official website; JURIST news archive] said Monday that city officials have accidentally issued several city rental license applications designed to enforce an anti-immigration measure [Ordinance 2952, PDF], sending out the applications requiring landlords to verify the legal residency of prospective tenants. Opponents of the measure, who have obtained a temporary restraining order against its enforcement, are filing a contempt of court motion and plan to ask the federal court to sanction Farmers Branch.

The ordinance, passed [JURIST report] by the Dallas suburb's City Council in January, is being challenged for being passed in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act [PDF text] because the City Council passed it quickly and secretly during a meeting to discuss legal challenges against a previous measure, Ordinance 2903 [DOC text]. The Dallas Morning News has local coverage.






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Supreme Court hears voting rights, sentencing enhancement, Tucker Act cases
Andrew Gilmore on March 24, 2008 7:48 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in Riley v. Kennedy [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-77, a voting rights case where the Court is considering whether the state of Alabama and Alabama Governor Bob Riley must seek federal government approval in order to appoint a Republican to a vacant county commission seat in a primarily black, Democratic district. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 [DOJ backgrounder] requires several states, including Alabama, to obtain federal approval from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) before changing election procedures that were in effect on November 1, 1964 and that impact minority voters. Riley appointed Republican Juan Chastang to a vacant seat on the Mobile County Commission [official website]. Local Democrats challenged the appointment, and argued that a special election should have been held to fill the empty seat. In January 2007, the DOJ found that Chastang's appointment appeared to weaken minority voters and the US District Court for the Middle District of Alabama subsequently vacated the appointment. Several justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seemed during arguments to side with Riley in the dispute. AP has more.

The Court also heard arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in Burgess v. United States [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-11429, a sentencing enhancement case in which the Court is attempting to resolve an ambiguity in federal drug statutes. Keith Burgess pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a drug offense, and was sentenced according to a federal sentencing enhancement provision that sets a mandatory minimum of 20 years' imprisonment if the defendant had a previous felony drug conviction. Burgess had previously been convicted of possession of cocaine in South Carolina, which is a misdemeanor offense in that state, punishable by two years' imprisonment. There are two conflicting definitions of "felony" in the relevant federal code, one which defines a felony as a crime classified as such by federal or state law, and the other which defines a felony as any drug offense punishable by more than one year of imprisonment. Burgess has asked the Court to find the federal law to be ambiguous regarding the definition of a felony, and to apply the rule of lenity to resolve the ambiguity in Burgess' favor.

Additionally, the Court heard arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in United States v. Clintwood Elkhorn Mining [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-308, a tax refund case in which the Court is considering whether a taxpayer who was barred from bringing an action in federal court to obtain a tax refund may file a direct action under the US Constitution through the Tucker Act [text]. The Tucker Act allows any claim against the United States which is founded upon the US Constitution, federal legislative acts, or other means to be brought directly in the United States Court of Federal Claims [official website].






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Russia court sentences Bolshevik activists to prison for 'hooliganism'
David Frueh on March 24, 2008 6:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The Tagansky District Court in Moscow on Monday sentenced seven members of the banned National Bolshevik Party [party website, in Russian] to prison for "armed hooliganism." The sentences ranged from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years. The charges stem from an April 2006 protest outside the Tagansky District Court, in which Bolshevik demonstrators clashed with pro-Kremlin youth while the Tagansky court considered whether the National Bolshevik Party should be banned. Defense lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky said he would appeal the case to [the European Court of Human Rights [official website] in Strasbourg. AP has more. The Moscow Times has local coverage.

In April 2007, a Moscow City Court judge heard arguments [JURIST report] on whether to grant the chief prosecutor's request to label the National Bolshevik Party as an extremist organization and ultimately outlawed the party [Reuters report]. Prosecutors had requested the ban [JURIST report], which entails a mandatory suspension of party activity, in March 2007.






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Federal judge sentences engineer to over 24 years in China espionage case
Alexis Unkovic on March 24, 2008 3:51 PM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge Cormac J. Carney of the Central District of California Monday sentenced former Chinese-American engineer Chi Mak [CI Centre backgrounder] to over 24 years in prison [press release] for conspiring to commit espionage, attempting to violate export control laws, failing to register as an agent of a foreign government, and making false statements to federal agents. Mak went to trial [JURIST report] in March 2007 and was convicted [BBC report] in May 2007 of conspiring to smuggle sensitive naval intelligence data to China. He allegedly stole computer disks from his employer, defense contractor Power Paragon [corporate website], copied sensitive information and attempted to send it to the Chinese government through an intermediary before his arrest at Los Angeles International Airport in October 2005. Mak's lawyer said Monday he plans to appeal his client's sentence within the next 10 days.

Three of Mak's relatives, including his brother Tai Mak, Tai Mak's wife Fuk Li and their son Billy Mak, pleaded guilty to related charges [JURIST report] as part of a plea agreement [New York Sun report] in June 2007. They were sentenced to 10 years in prison, three years probation, and time already served, respectively. Chi Mak's wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, is also currently serving a three-year prison sentence after she pleaded guilty to one espionage-related count prior to her trial last year. AP has more.






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Cambodia genocide tribunal seeks additional $114 million to fulfill mandate
Alexis Unkovic on March 24, 2008 2:53 PM ET

[JURIST] Officials from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] made a formal request to the United Nations [official website] Monday for $114 million in additional funds to allow the court to continue operation past its originally scheduled completion date in 2009 until March 2011. An ECCC planning document [JURIST report] reported by AP last month indicated the court would ask for the increase; if granted, it would raise the court's budget from $56.3 million to $170 million. The ECCC currently has five former Khmer Rouge [JURIST news archive] leaders in custody charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in the Communist regime of the 1970s. AP has more.

The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] who died between 1975 and 1979. The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [text as amended in 2005, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials, but to date, no top officials have faced trials. In December 2007, Cambodian students and Buddhist monks held protests [JURIST report] over concerns that the trials were moving too slowly and that many former Khmer Rouge leaders in UN custody could die before facing justice. The ECCC has cited disputes with the Cambodian Bar Association [JURIST report] over membership fees for foreign lawyers, as well as procedural issues [JURIST report] and the language barrier for delays in moving to the trial stage.






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Nepal police arrest hundreds as pro-Tibet protests continue
Caitlin Price on March 24, 2008 2:35 PM ET

[JURIST] Nepalese police arrested at least 400 Tibetan exiles, monks, and other protesters near the Nepalese UN headquarters [official website] in Kathmandu Monday as demonstrations continued against China's recent crackdown against pro-Tibet protests [BBC backgrounder]. Police reported that an additional 155 arrests were made near governmental offices in Singhadurbar. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] has criticized Nepal [press release, PDF] for its actions against protesters and for restricting the right to peaceful assembly.

Rights groups have criticized China for ongoing human rights violations [HRW materials] targeted at Tibetans, and many call for the total independence [advocacy website] of the currently "semi-autonomous" region. The Dalai Lama, who accused China last week of committing "cultural genocide" [JURIST report] in Tibet, has encouraged the protests but said he will step down [AFP report] if the violence in the region worsens. AP has more.






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Supreme Court to hear gun possession, Fourth Amendment cases
Caitlin Price on March 24, 2008 1:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] Monday agreed to hear two cases [order list, PDF], including US v. Hayes (07-608) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], in which the Court will consider whether a federal law [18 USC 922(g)(9) text] banning the possession of firearms by anyone convicted of a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" would bar a man convicted of "general battery" against his wife from owning firearms. Randy Edward Hayes was prosecuted under the federal statute when police found firearms at his home 10 years after he was convicted under West Virginia law of misdemeanor battery against his wife. In April 2007, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed the federal charge [opinion, PDF] against Hayes because his prior conviction did not specifically mention he was in a domestic relationship with the victim and thus did not qualify as a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." That decision held that to decide otherwise would "subject individuals to prosecution and possible conviction under the Possession Statute without fair warning." AP has more.

The Court also agreed to hear Pearson v. Callahan (07-751) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], in which it will review a July 2007 ruling [opinion, PDF] by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit allowing individuals to directly sue police officers who enter their home without a search warrant to conduct a search and seizure. The Court will consider whether there exists a "consent once removed" exception to the Fourth Amendment which would allow police to enter a home without a warrant when an undercover informant inside the home signals that a drug sale is in progress. Lawyers for the defense say that in such a case, the officers are protected by qualified immunity as they did not violate clearly established law. AP has more.






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Federal judge allows Connecticut campaign finance law challenge to proceed
Alexis Unkovic on March 24, 2008 11:05 AM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge Stefan Underhill of the District of Connecticut [official website] has ruled [opinion, PDF; ACLU-CT press release] that a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] challenging the constitutionality of certain portions of Connecticut's campaign finance law [PDF text] could proceed. Connecticut's Green Party, Libertarian Party, and American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in July 2006, arguing that the law made it impossible for minor party candidates to qualify for public financing of their campaigns. In a ruling issued last week, Underhill specifically dismissed a First Amendment challenge to the law, but said he will consider arguments that the law is unfair to smaller candidates.

The Connecticut General Assembly [official website] originally passed [JURIST report] the campaign finance law on December 1, 2005, and Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell [official website] subsequently signed the bill into law [press release]. The campaign finance law bans political contributions from lobbyists, their spouses, and state contractors, limits contributions of political action committees, and closes a loophole that previously allowed unregulated corporate donations. AP has more.






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Tibet government-in-exile says 130 killed in pro-independence protests
David Frueh on March 24, 2008 10:15 AM ET

[JURIST] The Tibetan government-in-exile [official website] said Monday that 130 people have been confirmed dead after skirmishes between pro-Tibet protesters [BBC backgrounder] and Chinese authorities, 31 more than an earlier estimate of 99. China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported the official death toll at 22 on Saturday. China [JURIST news archive] has continued its crackdown against pro-independence demonstrators; on Saturday, it urged people to turn in rioters on a published list of 21 "Most Wanted" from last week's protests in the city of Lhasa. A Saturday editorial [text] in the People's Daily newspaper [media website] denounced the independence movement and called for strong action to end the violence:

We must see through the secessionist forces' evil intentions, uphold the banner of maintaining social stability, safeguard the socialist legal system and protect people's fundamental interests, and resolutely crush the "Tibet independence" forces' conspiracy and sabotaging activities so as to foster a favorable social environment for reform and development and for people's happiness and welfare.
Reuters has more. AP has additional coverage.

The protests, which began earlier this month, have escalated into violence as protesters attacked police vehicles, non-Tibetans migrants, and businesses and have prompted the Chinese government to block Internet access [JURIST report] to the video-sharing website YouTube after videos of the government crackdown appeared on the site. Rights groups have criticized China for ongoing human rights violations [HRW materials] targeted at Tibetans, and many call for the total independence [advocacy website] of the currently "semi-autonomous" region. The Dalai Lama, who accused China Sunday of committing "cultural genocide" [JURIST report] in Tibet, has encouraged the protests but said he will step down [AFP report] if the violence worsens.





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New Pakistan PM seeking immediate release of ousted judges from house arrest
Michael Sung on March 24, 2008 10:07 AM ET

[JURIST] Newly elected Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani [BBC profile] said Monday that he will ask President Pervez Musharraf to immediately lift house arrest orders against former Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] and other judges. Gilani, addressing the parliament shortly after his election, added that he will also support a parliamentary resolution requesting a UN investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive].

The new coalition government, formed by the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, has vowed to establish a fully independent judiciary and work together to reinstate judges [JURIST reports] ousted by Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule [proclamation, PDF; JURIST report]. Last Tuesday, Pakistani Attorney General Malik Qayyum said that reinstating the judges would require a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] with a two-thirds majority vote. AP has more.

1:59 PM ET - A Pakistani official said Monday that Gilani's request "has been implemented and all deposed judges are free to move." From Islamabad, the News has more.






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Turkish politician charged over alleged involvement with secular extremist group
Michael Sung on March 24, 2008 9:37 AM ET

[JURIST] Turkish authorities Monday charged Turkish Workers' Party [party website, in Turkish] leader Dogu Perincek [personal website, in Turkish] for his alleged involvement with a secular extremist group suspected of plotting to overthrow the ruling government headed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. Percincek, a staunch Turkish nationalist who was convicted [JURIST report] last March by a Swiss court for denying that the mass killing of 1.5 million Armenians [ANI backgrounder] constituted genocide, was charged along with several other suspects, including a former military official and a lawyer. AP has more.

The AKP, which emerged in 2001 from a banned Islamist party, holds the offices of the prime minister and president, and dominates the 550-seat parliament with 340 lawmakers. The Constitutional Court of Turkey is currently deciding whether to consider a bid [JURIST report] by Turkish Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya [official profile, in Turkish] to disband the AKP for violating constitutional obligations to keep the government secular. On Monday, an AKP official said that the party expects to introduce constitutional changes [Reuters report] in parliament this week that would prevent the party from being dissolved.






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China rights activist sentenced to 5 years for subversion
Joshua Pantesco on March 24, 2008 9:14 AM ET

[JURIST] A Chinese court sentenced land rights activist Yang Chunlin [Amnesty profile] to five years in prison Monday on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" [JURIST report] for circulating a petition declaring "we want human rights, not the Olympics," which was signed by over 10,000 people before Yang was arrested in July 2007. The Beijing Olympics [official website] are scheduled to begin in August 2008. A Chinese human rights group reported that police used electric batons to restrain Yang as he attempted to communicate with family members after the sentencing hearing. Yang, a former factory worker, is also known for his support of a legal case brought against the government by more than 40,000 local farmers who say that their land was taken by the government without compensation. AP has more.

In August 2007, Human Rights Watch reported that China, fearing that activists will embarrass the ruling Communist party by highlighting political and social problems during the Games, is clamping down on human rights activists [press release; JURIST report] and other political dissidents as well as silencing independent media coverage. Rights group Dui Hua [advocacy website] reported in November 2007 that the number of political arrests in China more than doubled in 2006 [JURIST report].






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Bali nightclub bombers withdraw second appeal of death sentences
Michael Sung on March 24, 2008 9:09 AM ET

[JURIST] Three Indonesian Islamic militants sentenced to death for their roles in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings [BBC backgrounder] withdrew their second appeal [JURIST report] Monday, after the Cilacap district court refused to grant a change of venue and transport the militants to a district court in Bali. The Indonesian Attorney General's Office said that the militants, Mukhlas, Amrozi, and Imam Samudra [BBC profiles], could still petition for clemency.

In February, the Supreme Court of Indonesia ordered the lower district court [JURIST report] to assemble a panel of judges to review the merits of the militants' appeal. The Supreme Court rejected the Bali bombers' first appeal in December, but accepted a second appeal [JURIST reports] to determine whether the bombers should have been tried under retroactive laws that were not in effect when the bombings took place. AAP has more.






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Pakistan court clears Bhutto husband in judge assassination
Michael Sung on March 24, 2008 8:46 AM ET

[JURIST] A Pakistani court has cleared Asif Ali Zardari [BBC profile] of charges related to his alleged involvement in the 1996 assassination of a retired judge and his son due to lack of evidence, a government prosecutor said Monday. Zardari, the new leader of the Pakistan People's Party [party website] and widower of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive], was charged in 2002.

Zardari had also been charged in several corruption cases, but courts have dropped the charges [JURIST report] and released Zardari's assets pursuant to a "reconciliation ordinance" [JURIST report] signed last October by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [official profile; JURIST news archive]. The ordinance granted amnesty to Bhutto and Zardari for corruption charges and cleared the way for Bhutto's return to Pakistan from exile last year. AP has more.






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East Timor parliament again extends state of emergency
Joshua Pantesco on March 24, 2008 8:37 AM ET

[JURIST] The National Parliament of East Timor [official website] voted Sunday in favor of a further extension of the national state of emergency imposed after assassination attempts against President Jose Ramos Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao [BBC profiles]. Horta was critically wounded and rebel leader Alfredo Reinado was killed during the attacks, but Gusmao escaped unharmed. Acting President Fernando Lasama de Araujo called for the extension of the state of emergency, which prohibits public gatherings and establishes a curfew, saying some parts of the country remain unstable following the assassination attempts. The parliament initially extended the state of emergency for one month [JURIST report] at the end of February.

A suspect in the assassination attempt surrendered [JURIST report] to authorities earlier this month and an additional four suspects [ABC Australia report] surrendered over the weekend. Horta, the second president since the small island nation gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, was discharged from an Australian hospital [BBC report] last week. He had been in a coma after sustaining several gunshot wounds during the attacks.

Gusmao was the first named president of East Timor [JURIST news archive] following a 1999 UN-sponsored referendum in which the country voted for independence from Indonesia. He was appointed Prime Minister by Horta in 2007. In 2006, East Timor descended into violence and a state of emergency rule when former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri [BBC profile] dismissed 600 striking members of the armed forces, causing riots [BBC report] in April and continued violence throughout May [JURIST report] which left 37 dead. Alkatiri resigned in June 2006 and an independent United Nations commission later recommended criminal investigations [JURIST report] into Alkatiri and other government officials for their role in the violence. AP has more.






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Mahmudiya rape-murder case against ex-US soldier belongs in federal court: prosecutors
Joshua Pantesco on March 24, 2008 8:22 AM ET

[JURIST] Former US Army Pfc. Steven D. Green [JURIST news archive] should be prosecuted in civilian court under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act [text], and not under the military system of justice as urged by the defense, federal prosecutors argued in a motion filed late Friday night. Green faces capital charges for his role in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl [JURIST news archive] and the murder of her family in Mahmudiya (also "Mahmoudiya"). His civilian trial is currently scheduled for April 13, 2009 [JURIST report]. Green's lawyers have argued that he should have been tried under the military system because the alleged acts occurred while Green was enlisted; Green told his commanding officer about the incident twice while still enlisted; Green was honorably discharged due to a psychiatric disorder diagnosis after the Army knew of the Mahmudiya incident; the Army did not follow proper procedures in discharging Green, and thus Green's discharge was not valid; and the Army rejected Green's offer to re-enlist in the Army and face a court-martial for murder and rape charges. Green's lawyers argued that the circumstances amount to a violation of Green's due process rights. In their motion, federal prosecutors countered Green's factual assertion that Green was not discharged in accordance with standard military procedure, and further argued that the evidence supports a death penalty charge.

Four soldiers [JURIST report] from the 101st Airborne Division have already been convicted in military court for crimes stemming from the Mahmudiya incident. Spc. James P. Barker and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez [JURIST reports] received prison sentences of 90 and 100 years respectively after they pleaded guilty to participating in the attack. Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, who stayed at the soldiers' checkpoint but had prior knowledge of the plan, was sentenced to 27 months after pleading guilty [JURIST report] in March to conspiracy to commit rape and premeditated murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Pfc. Jesse Spielman was sentenced to 110 years in prison after being convicted [JURIST report] on four counts of felony murder, rape, conspiracy to commit rape, and housebreaking with intent to commit rape. All four will be eligible for parole in 10 years. AP has more.






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Zimbabwe president accused of election fraud plan
Benjamin Klein on March 23, 2008 3:10 PM ET

[JURIST] Zimbabwean opposition group Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website, in English] on Sunday accused President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] of plotting to commit election fraud by printing millions of surplus ballot papers in advance of the March 29 presidential vote. MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti said that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [official website] leaked information showing that at Mugabe's request, 9 million paper ballots were printed for the country's 5.7 million registered voters; 600,000 of those ballots were designated as "postal ballots" for police officers, soldiers and civil servants living abroad, a group which Biti estimates to total no more than 50,000. Biti accused Mugabe of "stealing" the 2002 election [BBC report], which he won by a margin of 350,000 votes. Judge George Mutandwa Chiweshe, chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission since his appointment by Mugabe in January 2005, has rejected all suggestions that the extra papers might be misused.

Mugabe, now 84 years old, has served as the head of government in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive] since 1980, when the country attained independence from Britain. Human Rights Watch [advocacy site] raised doubts about the upcoming election in a report [text] last Wednesday, suggesting that it was likely to be "deeply flawed." Despite concerns of fairness, analysts project that the election poses the biggest threat to Mugabe's rule since he took office. CNN has more. BBC News has additional coverage.






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Japan protesters call for tighter controls on US troops after latest rape allegations
Devin Montgomery on March 23, 2008 3:00 PM ET

[JURIST] An estimated 6,000 protesters rallied on the island of Okinawa, Japan, Sunday calling for tighter controls on US military personnel in Japan [USFJ website] in the aftermath of the alleged rape [BBC report] of a local 14-year-old girl by a US Marine in February. The rally's executive committee authored a resolution calling for a drastic revision of the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) [PDF text], signed in 1960 to govern US forces stationed in the county, in order to give Japanese authorities greater jurisdiction over US soldiers. Organizers plan to lobby Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda [official website; BBC profile] next month to change the agreement, though both the Japanese and US governments have expressed reluctance to do so. Japan has urged the US [JURIST report] to take measures to prevent future incidents, saying failure to do so would weaken the countries' alliance. The soldier accused of rape, 38-year-old Tyrone Hadnott, was arrested by Japanese police in February but has been returned to US custody for further investigation following the girl's decision to drop charges against him.

The US-Japan SOFA was last revised in 1995 [MOFA materials] following a similar incident in which three US servicemen were convicted of raping a 12-year-old Okinawan girl [CNN report]. Communities surrounding US bases in Japan have long complained [advocacy backgrounder] of crimes committed by soldiers stationed there. As a result of the 1995 agreement, the base on Okinawa is scheduled to be moved to a less populated area of the island; after the latest incident, the US military has taken a no-tolerance stance on sexual-assaults [Guardian report], including implementation of an indefinite 24-hour curfew on troops stationed there. Reuters has more. Kyodo News has local coverage.






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New Malaysia law minister promises judicial independence reform
Eric Firkel on March 23, 2008 9:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Malaysia [JURIST news archive] will institute reforms to ensure an independent judiciary in an effort to restore trust in the nation's courts, newly appointed Malaysian Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim [firm profile] told the New Straits Times Sunday. Zaid said he will work to institutionalize the appointment and promotion of judges through an independent body, and to ensure greater transparency in the process. He also said that the government will consider issuing an apology to the victims of Malaysia's 1988 judicial crisis, including ousted former chief justice Salleh Abbas. Zaid's proposals were immediately backed by the Malaysian Bar Council [NST report].

The comments come after Malaysia's March 8 elections saw the ruling National Front (BN) [party website] lose its two-thirds parliamentary majority in the coalition's biggest defeat in its over 50 years of existence. The results were widely considered a major setback for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi [official website; BBC profile], who recently shook up his cabinet [Bernama report] after rejecting calls to resign [BBC report]. Abdullah succeeded former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad [BBC profile], who set off the judicial crisis of the late 1980s after removing high court justices and introducing constitutional changes that curbed judicial power, ensuring government decisions would be free from judicial review. Reuters has more.






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Taiwan referendums on UN membership fail
Nick Fiske on March 22, 2008 3:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The Taiwanese Central Election Commission [official website] said Saturday that two national referendums [JURIST report] on whether to proceed with a proposed bid for United Nations (UN) [official website] membership have failed. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) [party website], headed by outgoing Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian, put forth one of the referendums which sought reinstatement to the UN under Taiwan's own name as a means of asserting the island's independence. The other referendum, supported by the opposing Kuomintang [party website; Global Security backgrounder], would have sought membership for the country under its official name, the Republic of China, or another unspecified alternative. Neither proposal received the roughly 8.5 million votes required to pass.

The referendums were held in conjunction with Taiwan's national presidential elections on Saturday. Former Kuomintang party chairman Ma Ying-jeou received about 58 percent of the popular vote to defeat the DPP candidate and win the presidency. Taiwan [JURIST news archive] was kicked out of the UN by General Assembly Resolution 2758 [PDF text] and replaced by the People's Republic of China [JURIST news archive] as the representative of China in 1971. Taiwan has applied for reinstatement to the UN for each of the last 15 years though each application for membership has been rejected [JURIST report]. AP has more.






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Bangladesh veterans urge war crimes trials for 1971 independence war
Steve Czajkowski on March 22, 2008 1:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Hundreds of Bangladesh veterans who took part in the 1971 War of Independence [Global Security backgrounder] issued a call Friday for war crimes trials against those Bangladeshis who assisted Pakistani forces in the war. Veterans and commanders from the war gathered in the city of Dhaka, under the banner of the Bangladesh Liberation War Sector Commanders' Forum [advocacy website], to urge Bangladesh's interim government [JURIST report] to at least initiate the tribunals. Among those included in the call are leaders of Bangladesh's largest political party, Jamaat-e-Islami [party website], who at the time of the war, opposed the separation of Pakistan. To this day the party has said that there was not a war of independence in 1971, instead calling it a civil war and denying any involvement. A possible reason for the timing of the demands is that the veterans want to ban Jamaat-e-Islami from taking part in the elections that are to be held in December. Top interim government officials have said that it is too busy with other issues, including the year-end elections, to respond to the war crimes issue.

According to government records, around three million people were killed during the war. Bangladesh has never held trials for war crimes as earlier governments have said that trials would harm national unity. BBC News has more. The Khaleej Times has additional coverage.






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Serbia war crimes prosecutor investigating alleged organ trafficking
Kiely Lewandowski on March 22, 2008 11:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The Office of Serbia's War Crimes Prosecutor [official website] said Friday that it is investigating "informal statements" it has received from investigators at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] that dozens of imprisoned Serbs were killed by Albanian rebels in 1999 so that their organs could be used in an international trafficking operation. Former ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] will reportedly release a book in early April alleging approximately 300 Serbs were killed for organ trafficking. In discussions in The Hague on Thursday [press release], current ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz [official profile] and the Serbian delegation focused on the importance of cooperation among the states in ongoing efforts to bring fugitives to justice but the ICTY has not commented officially on the alleged organ trafficking. AP has more.

Brammertz took over the court's leadership in January, saying that he would continue his predecessor's tough stance on Serbian cooperation [JURIST report] with the tribunal. During her tenure as chief prosecutor, Del Ponte often criticized Serbia for its apparent reluctance to cooperate with the ICTY. The EU has made Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY a key element of its membership negotiations [EU accession materials].






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Mukasey urges compromise on new surveillance bill
Nick Fiske on March 22, 2008 10:16 AM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Michael Mukasey [official profile] said Friday that he was willing to compromise with Congress on legislation amending the Foreign Intelligence Security Act [text; JURIST news archive] but that the legislature would have to provide a "workable bill". Mukasey said that the bill passed [JURIST report] by the US House of Representatives last week, which did not provide retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive], did not meet this threshold. Last month, the Senate passed [JURIST report] a version of the bill that did provide retroactive immunity to the companies. Mukasey stopped short of urging the House to adopt that version of the bill, however, and instead expressed hope that a compromise could be reached between the House bill and the Bush administration, which supports the immunity provision.

Mukasey's comments come roughly a week after President Bush said again that he would veto any FISA amendment legislation that did not include the immunity provision [transcript]. The House bill would defer the issue of immunity to the courts [JURIST report] to be resolved on a case-by-case basis, but would also allow the cases to be heard in closed-door hearings. Last month, Mukasey and US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said that vital intelligence had been lost [JURIST report] while telecommunications companies circumvented wiretapping orders as they waited for word on whether the immunity provision would be included in the new legislation. Mukasey said that the relationship between the private companies and the government had since been repaired and that intelligence gathering activities were now running smoothly. Reuters has more.






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Ousted Pakistan chief justice says constitution supreme after February vote
Steve Czajkowski on March 22, 2008 10:07 AM ET

[JURIST] Ousted Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] has characterized Pakistan's February parliamentary elections which resulted in the victory of opposition parties now joined in a coalition government as a popular verdict in favor of the country's constitution, abrogated in November when President Pervez Musharraf proclaimed emergency rule in the country and deposed its superior court judges. Speaking Thursday by phone to a meeting of the Lahore Bar Association, Chaudhry said that Pakistan's judiciary is no longer under pressure since "the people have rejected the dictatorship and supported independent judges." According to a report [text] Friday by Pakistani newspaper Dawn, Chaudhry went on to say that the former Supreme Court's November 3 decision against the declaration of emergency rule [proclamation, PDF; JURIST report] and the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) [text as amended] is still authoritative.

A decision violative of the Constitution, neither has constitutional and legal significance nor required a fiat for setting it aside. It should be ignored completely... the SC in its decision had restrained superior court judges from taking the oath under the PCO. Therefore, the judges who took the oath under the PCO on Nov 3 could not undo the verdict of the seven-members bench against the Nov 3 emergency."
Chaudhry also used the call to pay tribute to those who did not take oaths under the PCO, by saying that had remained true to the Constitution. UPI has more.

The new coalition government formed by the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League has vowed to establish a fully independent judiciary, saying that they will work together to reinstate the ousted judges [JURIST reports].





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Bulgaria parliament approves EU reform treaty
Steve Czajkowski on March 21, 2008 4:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The National Assembly of Bulgaria [official website] Friday voted 195-15 to approve the new EU reform treaty [JURIST news archive], properly known as the Treaty of Lisbon [official website; PDF text]. Ten members of the nationalist Ataka party [party website] and five independent MPs voted against ratification, calling instead for a nationwide referendum. Bulgaria is the sixth EU member to ratify the treaty, after Romania, Malta, France, Hungary, and Slovenia [JURIST reports].

Leaders from the 27 countries that make up the European Union signed the reform treaty [JURIST report] in December, but all member countries must ratify the document before it can take effect. AP has more. The Sofia Echo
has local coverage.






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Dutch court to hear challenge against film criticizing Islam
Steve Czajkowski on March 21, 2008 3:02 PM ET

[JURIST] A district court in the Netherlands agreed Friday to hear a lawsuit filed by the Dutch Islamic Federation seeking to ban the release of a film that criticizes the Quran. Dutch right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders [personal website, in Dutch] plans to release a 15-minute movie titled "Fitna," said to depict Islam in a highly negative light. Dutch officials fear that the movie could lead to protests similar to those that took place after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive]. The complaint is set to be heard March 28.

It is unclear how the movie will be aired as no television stations have agreed to carry it due to high security costs. Wilders reserved a website for the film, but YouTube [corporate website] and other video-sharing websites have not yet said whether they will carry the movie as Wilders has not released the contents. Last month, Pakistan blocked access to YouTube's website [JURIST report] because it had posted a movie trailer [video] for Wilders' film. AP has more.






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Armenia lifts state of emergency imposed after disputed election
Eric Firkel on March 21, 2008 3:01 PM ET

[JURIST] Protests resumed in the Armenian capital city of Yerevan after the government Friday lifted a 20-day state of emergency [JURIST report] imposed earlier this month in the wake of the country's contested presidential election. Armenian President Robert Kocharian [official website] declared the state of emergency after protesters demonstrated against the result of the February 19 presidential election in which Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan [official profile], a Kocharian ally, was declared the winner [BBC report]. Supporters of opposition candidate and former president, Levon Ter-Petrosian [official website], alleged fraud, and held daily rallies [IHT report] to force a new vote.

Earlier this month, the Constitutional Court of Armenia rejected a challenge [JURIST report] brought by Ter-Petrosian against the election results, ruling that although polling discrepancies existed they did not affect the election's outcome. The National Assembly of Armenia [official website] Monday voted in an emergency session to place restrictions on rallies and demonstrations [JURIST report]. Last week, Kocharian issued a decree lifting some media restrictions [JURIST report] put in place during the state of emergency. Many media restrictions remain in place, however, and the government is accused of censoring material deemed to be critical of its policies [RFE/RL report]. AP has more.






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Russia prosecutors open murder investigations after 2 journalists killed
Patrick Porter on March 21, 2008 1:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Russian prosecutors have opened separate murder investigations after two journalists were found dead Friday. Ilyas Shurpayev [personal blog], a correspondent for Russia's state-run Channel One [media website, in Russian], was found dead with stab wounds and a belt around his neck when firefighters responded to a fire, apparently set after the attack. Hours before his death, Shurpayev reportedly made a blog post complaining that he had been banned from writing columns for a newspaper in Dagestan and saying "I am now a dissident." AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Also Friday, the head of Dagestan's state TV and radio company Gadzhi Abashilov was killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his car. Russian Prosecutor General Yury Chaika [official website, in Russian] said he would take "personal" charge of the Abashilov investigation. It was not clear whether the two cases were related. RIA Novosti has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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Federal appeals court dismisses lawsuit over Florida Democratic primary
Patrick Porter on March 21, 2008 12:57 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Friday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee[party website] for refusing to seat Florida's Democratic delegation at its national convention. Florida Democratic Party activist Victor DiMaio brought the lawsuit in September 2007, arguing that under Article II and the Fourteenth Amendment [texts] of the US Constitution he had a right to have his vote counted in the party's nomination of a presidential candidate. Friday's judgment affirmed a district court ruling [opinion, PDF] that DiMaio lacked standing to bring the lawsuit, because he had not yet voted in the primary and had suffered no injury. The ruling leaves open the possibility for DiMaio to bring a new case now that he has voted in the January primary.

The DNC refused to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan as a penalty for moving their primaries to dates earlier than party rules allowed, a measure the party defends as appropriate. AP has more.






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Cambodia still obtaining criminal confessions through torture: rights group
Brett Murphy on March 21, 2008 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] A quarter of criminal defendants in Cambodian courts are tortured or coerced into giving confessions, a statistic that has not changed since last year, according to an annual report [PDF text] released Thursday by Center for Social Development (CSD) [advocacy website]. The report found that:

Although duress is prohibited in Cambodia, CSD found a significant number of cases where defendants alleged of being victim of this inhuman practice to extract confession. At the six courts monitored by CSD, including the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court, 25.3% of defendants whose cases were monitored claimed having been coerced by judicial police officers...

Judges rarely followed up on these allegations. Adequate follow-up would include conducting further inquiry into the allegation or to prosecute perpetrator. At Phnom Penh Court, for example, with only five defendants out of a total of 292 defendants alleging coercion did the trial judges request the prosecution to prove that the confession was given freely and voluntarily.
Speaking at a Thursday meeting to mark the report's release, US Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli criticized [speech text] Cambodian courts for not meeting procedural justice standards, saying that "there remains a good deal to be done before the people of the judicial system will earn the trust of the people of Cambodia."

The judicial review annual report is part of the CSD Court Watch Project [CSD backgrounder], which monitors courts to assure compliance with Cambodian and International standards of fair trial. DPA has more.





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China tightens controls on video-sharing websites
Brett Murphy on March 21, 2008 10:07 AM ET

[JURIST] Chinese officials have ordered the closure of 25 video-sharing websites in a recent crackdown on Internet content considered pornographic, violent, or a threat to national security, the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film and Television [official website, in Chinese] said Friday. Under rules that went into effect earlier this year, Chinese video-sharing websites must delete and report any content that falls into one of the prohibited categories. Chinese officials also plan to penalize 32 other websites that violated these rules, including the popular Chinese video-sharing website Tudou [corporate website].

On Sunday, China blocked access [JURIST report] to the video-sharing website YouTube [corporate website] after videos of a recent government crackdown [YouTube videos] on Tibetan protesters challenging Chinese rule were posted on the website. AP has more.






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Sudan army violated human rights in Darfur attacks: UN report
Benjamin Klein on March 20, 2008 6:27 PM ET

[JURIST] Attacks carried out by the Sudanese Army in four Darfur villages earlier this year constituted human rights violations, according to a report [PDF text; press release] released Thursday by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) [official website]. The attacks, ostensibly meant to drive back the rebel Justice and Equality Movement [group website, in English], left at least 115 dead and some 30,000 displaced. The UN report documented human rights violations by both the Sudanese military and armed militias, including rapes, looting, and the deliberate destruction of food reserves:

Military attacks in [the villages], involved aerial bombardments by helicopter gunships and fixed-wing aircraft, accompanied by ground offensives by militia and SAF. Consistent information gathered by UNAMID Human Rights Officers (HROs) indicated that these actions violated the principle of distinction stated in international humanitarian law, failing to distinguish between civilian objects and military objectives. Moreover, the scale of destruction of civilian property, including objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population, suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy. Information on extensive pillaging during and after the attacks was also gathered. In addition, consistent and credible accounts of rape committed by armed uniformed men during and after the attack in Sirba were collected.
The UN News Centre has more.

In May 2007, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour criticized [JURIST report] Sudan for conducting similar "indiscriminate and disproportionate" attacks on at least five Darfur villages. Since civil war broke out in the Darfur region in 2003, over 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced. Reports by the UNHCHR and the International Committee for the Red Cross [official website] have documented numerous violations of human rights and international humanitarian law [JURIST reports] based on interviews with refugees, rebel groups, and agencies and authorities working in the region.





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Bangladesh releases Muhammad cartoonist
Nick Fiske on March 20, 2008 6:10 PM ET

[JURIST] Bangladeshi authorities Thursday released a cartoonist detained for allegedly insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad after the police official pressing charges against him repeatedly failed to appear in court. Arifur Rahman was arrested [RSF report; JURIST report] in September after the magazine Alpin, a subsidiary of Prothom Alo [media website, in Bangladeshi], published a cartoon that he created depicting a young boy and his "Muhammad cat." The cartoon sparked protests by Bangladeshi Muslims who demanded that the cartoonist, editor and publisher be arrested. AP has more. E-Bangladesh has local coverage.

Separate cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive] sparked controversy last month when Danish newspaper Jyllands-Poste [media website] reprinted a cartoon [image; JURIST report] drawn by Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. Westergaard was one of 12 cartoonists who published cartoons [Le Monde slideshow] of the Muslim prophet Muhammad in 2005 that led to widespread protests across the Islamic world. In January, a former newspaper editor in Belarus was sentenced to three years in prison [JURIST report] for reprinting the cartoons in the Zhoda newspaper. On Wednesday, a tape recording allegedly made by Osama bin Laden was released, threatening retaliation against European Union countries [Reuters report] for reprinting the cartoons.






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Canada Supreme Court to hear arguments on legality of Khadr detention
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 20, 2008 5:17 PM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] Thursday ruled [order] that lawyers for Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] could present evidence before the Court that the US is detaining Khadr in violation of international law. At a hearing scheduled for next week, Khadr's lawyers are also expected to argue that Canadian officials have acted contrary to Canadian law by cooperating with the US and not pushing for Khadr's extradition. Khadr is also seeking the release of key documents [JURIST report] on his detention allegedly held by the Canadian government; the Canadian Justice Department [official website] has appealed an appellate court ruling [text] ordering it to hand over the documents. CBC News has more.

Khadr, now 21, faces life imprisonment after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002. He was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. Khadr is one of four [JURIST report] Guantanamo detainees prosecuted under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text]. Last week, a US military judge ruled [JURIST report] that some correspondence between US and Canadian government officials regarding Khadr must be turned over to Khadr's defense team. In an affidavit released earlier this week, Khadr said that US interrogators in Afghanistan threatened him with rape, physically abused him, and forced him to swear to false statements [JURIST report].






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Libby disbarred by DC appeals court after CIA leak perjury conviction
Caitlin Price on March 20, 2008 5:15 PM ET

[JURIST] The District of Columbia Court of Appeals [official website] Thursday issued a disbarment order [PDF text] for former vice-presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [JURIST news archive], banning him from practicing law in the District of Columbia. The DC Bar's Board on Professional Responsibility [official site] found that Libby's March 2007 conviction [JURIST report] on perjury and obstruction of justice charges constituted crimes involving moral turpitude per se, and recommended Libby's disbarment if an appeals court affirmed his conviction. In December, Libby announced that he had moved for voluntary dismissal of his appeal [JURIST report] before the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, leading the district court to rule Thursday that disbarment is "mandatory" under DC Code Section 11-2503(a). Libby was licensed to practice in the District of Columbia in 1978. AP has more.

Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison [JURIST report] and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine in connection with the investigation into the Valerie Plame CIA leak [JURIST news archive]. US President George W. Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence [JURIST report] last July, saying that the jury sentence was "excessive." Libby is still required to pay the fine and is also subject to two years of probation. Bush has previously said that he may pardon Libby [JURIST report] before he leaves office, but did not include Libby in his 2007 year-end pardons [JURIST reports].






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Russia prosecutors investigating Berezovsky for assassination plot claim
Caitlin Price on March 20, 2008 4:31 PM ET

[JURIST] The Russian Office of the Prosecutor-General [official website, in Russian] has opened a criminal investigation into allegations that exiled business tycoon Boris Berezovsky [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] falsely claimed the country's secret service had targeted him for assassination, an office spokesperson told the Itar-Tass news agency Thursday. Prosecutors are investigating whether Berezovsky violated Article 306 of the Russian Criminal Code [text]. Itar-Tass has more.

Berezovsky, who resides in the UK as a political refugee, has previously been accused of plotting a coup [JURIST report] against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last November, Berezovsky was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison after being found guilty of embezzling 214 million rubles from Russian national airline Aeroflot; a Moscow City Court rejected his appeal [JURIST reports] last month. Berezovsky has denied all charges, which he says are politically motivated.






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Former Milberg Weiss partner to plead guilty in class action kickback scheme
Caitlin Price on March 20, 2008 3:50 PM ET

[JURIST] Milberg Weiss [firm website] partner and co-founder Melvyn Weiss on Thursday agreed to plead guilty [statement, PDF; firm statement, PDF] to federal charges stemming from a long-running US Attorney investigation into an alleged kickback scheme. Weiss was indicted last year for conspiracy, racketeering, obstruction of justice and making false statements and initially pleaded not guilty [JURIST reports] in October 2007. Under the plea deal, Weiss will receive an 18-33 month sentence, some of which may be served as home confinement, and must pay $10 million in fines and penalties. Weiss will also resign from the firm, to be renamed Milberg LLP, where he had remained of counsel since the indictment. Reuters has more.

The indictment alleged that since 1984, Milberg Weiss paid up to $11.3 million in illegal kickbacks under a scheme where individuals agreeing to serve as lead plaintiffs in class action and shareholder derivative lawsuits were promised 10 percent of the attorney fees eventually gathered by the firm. Last month, former Milberg Weiss partner William Lerach was sentenced to two years in prison for his part in the scheme; he pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to obstruct justice after reaching an agreement [JURIST reports] with prosecutors in September. Three individuals pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme in May 2006 after a federal grand jury indicted [JURIST reports] the firm. Partner David J. Bershad pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to conspiracy charges in July 2007.






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Cuba, Venezuela criticize US for failing to extradite anti-Castro militant
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 20, 2008 3:42 PM ET

[JURIST] Representatives of Cuba and Venezuela Wednesday criticized the US during a UN Security Council meeting [press release] for failing to turn over anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles [JURIST news archive; case materials], saying that the US is bound by international treaties, including the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation [texts], to extradite Carriles. Carriles, a Venezuelan-born Cuban citizen, is wanted in both Cuba and Venezuela on terrorism charges relating to the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airline [Aviation Safety Network backgrounder]. A senior US diplomat denied that the US is acting contrary to law, saying that US actions are "consistent with international law as well as our domestic legal framework, which provides for due process and various constitutional safeguards." AP has more.

Carriles was arrested in 2005 [JURIST report] for illegally entering the United States and had been under the custody of immigration officials until his release on bail [JURIST report] in April 2007. Cuba criticized Carriles' release, and accused the United States of violating international anti-terrorism treaties by freeing him and dismissing charges [JURIST reports] against him. Also in April 2007, Venezuela announced plans to challenge the US [JURIST report] before the Organization of American States [official website] and other international forums for refusing to prosecute or extradite Carriles for the terrorist bombing. The US government has thus far denied Cuban and Venezuelan requests [JURIST report] for Carriles' extradition, citing the UN Convention Against Torture as Carriles may face torture in Cuba or Venezuela.






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China makes arrests in Tibet protests
Brett Murphy on March 20, 2008 11:35 AM ET

[JURIST] China [JURIST news archive] has arrested 24 suspects in Tibet for their role in pro-Tibet protests [BBC backgrounder] that erupted throughout the region last week, the Tibet Daily reported Thursday. The suspects are charged with endangering national security, among other crimes, and many more are expected to be detained in the near future. Some groups maintain, however, that hundreds more have already been arrested. Deputy Chief Prosecutor in Lhasa Xie Yanjun said that evidence against the suspects is solid, and placed blame on the exiled Dalai Lama [personal website] for organizing the riots. Reuters has more.

Also on Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] appealed to the government of Nepal to end its crackdown on Tibetan protesters in that country. On Tuesday, Nepalese police arrested 50 protesters [JURIST report] after roughly 200 Tibetan exiles demonstrated near the country's UN headquarters in Kathmandu, demanding a UN investigation into China's recent crackdown against the protests. HRW urged Nepal to "stop doing Beijing's bidding," saying that:

The government of Nepal should cease arbitrary arrests and detentions, harassment, and the use of excessive force to silence Tibetan protesters, activists and journalists, Human Rights Watch said today. Nepal's government, which came to power after protests against the rule of King Gyanendra, should reaffirm its commitment to freedom of assembly, association, and expression.
According to HRW, when asked about the crackdown on protests, Nepali officials say that it is against state policy to allow protests against China. AP has more.

The protests, which began last Monday, escalated into violence Friday as protesters attacked police vehicles, non-Tibetans migrants, and businesses. On Sunday, the Chinese government blocked Internet access [JURIST report] to the video-sharing website YouTube after videos of the recent government crackdown appeared on the site. Rights groups have criticized China for ongoing human rights violations [HRW materials] targeted at Tibetans, and many call for the total independence [advocacy website] of the currently "semi-autonomous" region. The Dalai Lama, who accused China Sunday of committing "cultural genocide" [JURIST report] in Tibet, has encouraged the protests but said he will step down [AFP report] if the violence worsens.

2:32 PM ET - Chinese state media reported Thursday that Chinese police opened fire "in self defense" on four protesters earlier in the week, wounding the protesters. The shootings took place in Sichuan province, in an area with many ethnic Tibetans. Reuters has more.





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ECCC denies Khmer Rouge second-in-command bid for pre-trial release
Brett Murphy on March 20, 2008 11:16 AM ET

[JURIST] The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday rejected a request by former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [PBS backgrounder] to be released from provisional detention [JURIST report]. Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder], was arrested and charged [JURIST report] in September and has since been held by the ECCC. Nuon Chea's lawyer had argued that the judges investigating the case did not follow proper criminal procedure and said that Nuon Chea was not a flight risk, but the court held that he must remain in detention until trial.

In February, a Cambodian genocide survivor testified against Nuon Chea [JURIST report] at a pre-trial hearing, marking the first time that a victim has ever taken the stand against a former Khmer Rouge official. The ECCC said it plans to try as many as eight suspects [JURIST report] on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their role in the Khmer Rouge, which is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] who died between 1975 and 1979. AP has more.






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Former Chile police officers convicted for Pinochet-era rights abuses
Brett Murphy on March 20, 2008 10:58 AM ET

[JURIST] A Chilean court convicted 24 former Chilean police officers of human rights violations on Wednesday for their role in the 1973 murders of 30 leftist prisoners. A woman who survived the incident, which took place during the regime of former dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archive], testified that the officers tortured and shot some 30 inmates, and then dumped their bodies into a river. The officers received sentences ranging from four to 20 years, with one receiving a sentence of life in prison. AP has more. From Santiago, La Nacion has local coverage, in Spanish.

In January, a Chilean appeals court sentenced [JURIST report] General Manuel Contreras, the secret police chief under Pinochet, to 10 years in prison for his role in the kidnapping of seven neighborhood leaders from La Legua in December 1973. In November 2007, Chile's Supreme Court affirmed seven convictions and overturned one [JURIST report] in cases involving murders committed by state agents during Pinochet's 1973-90 regime. The court based its decision on the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials], finding that Chile was in a state of internal armed conflict when the murders occurred.






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Chinese Uighur Guantanamo detainee pleads for release in letter
Brett Murphy on March 20, 2008 10:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Seventeen Chinese Uighur Muslims detained at Guantanamo Bay for six years have still not been told why they are being held at the military facility, according to a letter [DOC text] written by one of the detainees and released by his lawyers Wednesday. According to Abdulghappar Turkistani, he and other Uighur detainees hoped that the US would soon release them to a safe country; lawyers say that they would face persecution [BBC report] for their Muslim faith [HRW backgrounder] if returned to China. Turkistani said that the detainees were told they would be released as early as 2005, but US authorities have said that they have so far been unsuccessful in finding a country willing to provide refuge to the men. BBC News has more. AP has additional coverage.

In 2006, five Chinese Uighur detainees were released to Albania [JURIST report], where officials reviewed applications for asylum. The transfer, which was criticized by China, ended a court challenge against the detainees' indefinite detention [JURIST report]. In December 2006, lawyers for seven Uighur detainees filed a lawsuit [JURIST report], arguing that the process by which they were determined to be enemy combatants was flawed.






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US military judge rules Hamdan lawyers can question Guantanamo detainees
Deirdre Jurand on March 19, 2008 6:18 PM ET

[JURIST] US military judge Navy Capt. Keith Allred has affirmed [ruling, PDF] a prior ruling [PDF text; JURIST report] that lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] may send written questions to Khalid Sheik Mohammed [BBC profile] and other alleged high-level al Qaeda detainees. In a Friday ruling made public Wednesday, Allred found that questioning the detainees could lead to the discovery of evidence on the issue of whether Hamdan was an al Qaeda agent who conspired in the USS Cole or Sept. 11 attacks or whether he simply worked as Osama bin Laden's driver and had no involvement in the attacks.

In a motion [PDF text] filed in January, Hamdan's lawyers requested face-to-face interviews, but in February Allred limited the discovery to written questions, which must be reviewed by an independent security officer. Any answers will be censored according to national security concerns. Also in February, Hamdan's lawyers urged Allred to drop the charges [JURIST report] against Hamdan. In December, Allred denied [JURIST report] a request by Hamdan's lawyers for immediate access to top terrorism suspects, citing security concerns that he addressed in his later rulings. The Miami Herald has more.






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UN rights report urges Kenya against amnesty for human rights violators
Alexis Unkovic on March 19, 2008 4:26 PM ET

[JURIST] Kenya [JURIST news archive] should not grant amnesty to anyone who committed human rights violations in the wake of December's disputed presidential election [JURIST report], according to a report [PDF text; press release] issued Wednesday by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website]. The report offered nine recommendations for re-establishing stability in the country, including establishing a Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, passing institutional reforms, and enforcing victim and witness protection. The five-member team reached its conclusions after conducting a three-week fact-finding mission in the country in February. Reuters has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.

On Tuesday, the Parliament of Kenya voted unanimously [JURIST report] to approve a power-sharing agreement [JURIST report] between Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] and opposition leader Raila Odinga [campaign profile]. The Kenya Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008 [text], intended to end violence sparked by the country's controversial 2007 presidential election, names Odinga as the nation's first Prime Minister. The agreement has been praised by the US State Department and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who helped broker the deal.






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Iraq Presidency Council withdraws objections to local elections law
Alexis Unkovic on March 19, 2008 3:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Iraq's Presidency Council Wednesday withdrew its objections [JURIST report] to a provincial elections law detailing the relationship between Iraq's central and local governments. In a statement issued Wednesday, the three-member Presidency Council, comprised of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi [BBC profiles], and Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi [personal website, in Arabic; EPIC profile, PDF], indicated that the law may now take effect without any changes. The election law represents one of the 18 benchmarks [JURIST report] identified by the White House last year as important steps towards stability in Iraq. The New York Times has more.

The draft local elections law was part of a package of legislation approved [JURIST report] by the Council of Representatives earlier in February that also included the 2008 budget and an amnesty bill [JURIST report] that will lead to the release of roughly 5,000 prisoners. The Presidency Council approved both the budget and the amnesty bill on February 27.






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Supreme Court hears arguments in California labor, paralegal fees cases
Alexis Unkovic on March 19, 2008 3:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Wednesday in Chamber of Commerce v. Brown [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-939, a case where the Court is reviewing the constitutionality of a 2000 California law [Assembly Bill 1889 text] that prohibits employers from using certain funds they receive from the state to influence union elections. During arguments Wednesday, Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts took issue with the contention that the California law is neutral, while Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg indicated support for the view that California should be able to limit how employers spend state-provided funds. In 2006, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld [PDF text] the California law, ruling that it was neither preempted by the National Labor Relations Act [text] nor rendered unenforceable by the US Constitution's Supremacy Clause. The Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in November 2007. AP has more.

The Court also heard arguments [transcript, PDF] Wednesday in Richlin Security Service v. Chertoff [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-1717, a case where the considered whether paralegal services can be recovered at the market rate when determining the payment of attorneys' fees. The Court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in November, and a decision in this case would resolve a split among the circuit courts of appeal. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Equal Access to Justice Act [text] permits only the reimbursement of paralegal services as the cost of the expense to the attorneys rather than as fees at the market rate.






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Michigan affirmative action ban ruled constitutional
Andrew Gilmore on March 19, 2008 2:56 PM ET

[JURIST] US District Judge David Lawson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on Tuesday dismissed with prejudice [opinion, PDF] a constitutional challenge to Proposal 2 [text; JURIST news archive], an amendment to the Michigan Constitution [PDF text] banning affirmative action in public employment, public education, and state contracting. The case was a consolidation of two lawsuits filed after the approval of Proposal 2 [JURIST report] in November 2006. The first action [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] was brought by a number of advocacy groups, including By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) [advocacy website], and alleged that Proposal 2 violated the US Constitution. The second action [complaint, PDF; ACLU press release] was brought by students and advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union against state officials and Michigan public universities and colleges, alleging that Proposal 2 was unconstitutional as it applied to public colleges and universities. Lawson found that Proposal 2 was "facially neutral" regarding racial discrimination and did not violate the US Constitution. BAMN has said it will appeal the ruling [press release]. AP has more. The Detroit Free Press has local coverage.

In 2003, the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal constitution permits the University of Michigan to consider race as a factor in the admissions process [JURIST symposium], upholding the University law school admissions policy [Grutter opinion text], while rejecting the more rigid undergraduate admissions system as discriminatory [Gratz opinion text].






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Italy judge orders CIA rendition trial to resume
Brett Murphy on March 19, 2008 10:55 AM ET

[JURIST] Italian Judge Oscar Magi on Wednesday ordered the continuation of the trial of 26 Americans [JURIST news archive] and several former Italian intelligence officials for the 2003 abduction and rendition [JURIST news archive] of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr [JURIST news archive]. Magi suspended [JURIST report] the trial in October pending a ruling from the Constitutional Court of Italy [official website] on a petition [JURIST report] filed by the Italian government to dismiss all charges against the defendants. Magi resumed the trial after months of inaction from the high court, saying that the continuation of the trial will not harm the defense in any way.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized on the streets of Milan by CIA agents with the help of Italy's Military Intelligence and Security Service. He was then allegedly transferred to Egypt and turned over to Egypt's State Security Intelligence, where he said he was tortured before being released [JURIST reports] in February 2007. The 26 Americans, most of whom are CIA agents, are being tried in absentia. Reuters has more.






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Federal magistrate orders White House response on e-mail backups
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 19, 2008 10:40 AM ET

[JURIST] US Magistrate Judge John Facciola Tuesday ordered [PDF text; CREW press release] the White House to explain why it should not be required to create forensic copies of all e-mails passed through computers in the Executive Office of the President [official website] between March 2003 to October 2005. In his order, Facciola referred to a January admission by the White House that it had recycled back-up computer tapes of e-mails [JURIST report] prior to October 2003, meaning that some of the e-mails may be lost, and suggested that an order to create duplicates would prevent similar losses in the future. White House officials have until Friday to respond. AP has more.

In November 2007, US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy ordered [JURIST report] the White House to preserve all of its e-mail records after private advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) [advocacy website] and the independent National Security Archive [institute website] requested a temporary restraining order [JURIST report] to stop deletion. The issue of missing e-mails has been an ongoing controversy in the Bush administration, arising first during the CIA leak investigation into the revelation of Valerie Plame's identity, and again during controversy over the firings of eight US Attorneys [JURIST news archives]. If e-mails were in fact erased, the White House may have violated the Presidential Records Act [text], which requires the preservation of documents that fall into the categories of federal or presidential records.






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Supreme Court overturns Louisiana death sentence in race-based jury challenge case
Jeannie Shawl on March 19, 2008 10:09 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Wednesday that a Louisiana death sentence should be overturned because the trial judge "committed clear error" in ruling on the defendant's objection to a prosecution peremptory jury challenge, which the defendant argued was based on race. The ruling came in Snyder v. Louisiana [LII case backgrounder; JURIST report], where Allen Snyder was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder. The Supreme Court reversed the Louisiana Supreme Court's decision [PDF text] to let Snyder's conviction stand.

The Snyder case gained notoriety when the prosecutor drew comparisons between the proceeding and the trial of OJ Simpson [CourtTV case materials] during sentencing when urging the jury to impose the death penalty. Snyder had argued that the prosecutor improperly used the comparison to create a race-based rationale for imposing the death penalty, but that issue was not addressed by the Supreme Court. Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Alito, along with a dissent [text] from Justice Thomas. AP has more. SCOTUSblog has additional coverage.






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Germany high court blocks data-collection law
Brett Murphy on March 19, 2008 9:39 AM ET

[JURIST] Germany's Federal Constitutional Court [official website] on Wednesday placed an injunction [ruling; press release, both in German] on a federal law that gave the government the ability to access and collect Internet and telephone data. The law, which went into effect in January, allowed the government to collect information such as e-mail addresses, numbers dialed, and lengths of calls from service providers. The injunction permits the data to be saved, but requires that the government have a warrant to access the information and may only do so in extreme situations.

In February, the Constitutional Court ruled that a 2006 North-Rhine Westphalia [state government website, in German] law authorizing intelligence agents to search personal computers, networks, and Internet communications was unconstitutional [ruling, in German; JURIST report]. Last year, the German Federal Court of Justice [official website, in German] ruled [text, in German, JURIST report] that police in Germany were not permitted to secretly access computer and Internet data stored on suspects' computers without proper authorization. DPA has more.






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Fiji government defends coup as legal in court hearing
Brett Murphy on March 19, 2008 9:26 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for the current acting Fijian government argued in court Wednesday that the December military coup [JURIST report] was legal because Fijian President Ratu Josefa Iloilo [official profile] had reserve powers that permitted the president to dismiss the government and appoint new leaders. Former Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase [BBC profile] brought the lawsuit [JURIST report] against the acting government, saying that the coup that ousted him was illegal, and that it was orchestrated by armed forces chief and current self-appointed prime minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama [BBC profile]. Lawyers for the acting government say that Bainimarama sought and received permission from Iloilo to dismiss Qarase as prime minister, but Qarase argues that Bainimarama threatened Iloilo with a complete takeover if he did not agree to the dismissal.

Less than two days after December's coup, an interim Prime Minister installed by the military characterized the coup as "illegal" [JURIST report], but defended it as necessary. The case was to be heard by a three-judge panel led by Acting Chief Justice Anthony Gates, who was appointed [press release] after Bainimarama suspended former Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki [JURIST report]. AFP has more.






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Illinois pharmacists ask state high court to overturn emergency contraception rule
Brett Murphy on March 19, 2008 9:01 AM ET

[JURIST] A lawyer representing a group of Illinois pharmacists asked the state supreme court Tuesday to strike down a 2005 emergency rule [press release] issued by Illinois Governor Rod Blogjevich which requires pharmacies to fill prescriptions for contraceptives, including emergency contraception. During oral arguments [recorded video], the pharmacists' lawyer argued that the rule requires them to dispense drugs contrary to their personal morals, or risk losing their license, in violation of the state Health Care Right of Conscience Act [text]. Lawyers for the state said that the pharmacists do not have standing because none of them have been penalized under the rule, nor have they shown that they are at risk of such penalties.

Last year, a separate group of Illinois pharmacists agreed to settle similar claims [JURIST report] under a deal that would permit them to refuse to fill prescriptions for the drug, so long as the pharmacy works with another pharmacist by phone to dispense the contraceptive. Final approval of the settlement is still pending. In a different ongoing Illinois lawsuit for monetary damages [JURIST report] brought by four pharmacists against Walgreens [corporate website], the pharmacists say they were illegally fired after refusing to sign a pledge to dispense the "morning-after" pill. Washington state has a similar law requiring pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives; a federal judge suspended the Washington law [JURIST report] late last year. AP has more.






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Inter-American rights court to hear Mexico 'dirty war' case
Leslie Schulman on March 19, 2008 8:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights [advocacy website] has filed a complaint [press release, PDF] with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States [official websites], against Mexico, alleging that the Mexican government failed to adequately respond to the 1974 disappearance of guerrilla sympathizer Rosendo Radilla during Mexico's so-called "dirty war" [National Security Archive backgrounder] against leftist activists in the 1960s and 70s. According to the complaint, filed Saturday, Mexico has failed in its response to investigate Radilla's disappearance and to bring to justice those responsible. This is the first time an international court will hear a case brought against Mexico for disappearances during its "dirty war."

Similar cases have been brought in local courts, stemming from Mexico's "scorched-earth" campaign in the 1960s and 1970s which, according to a 2006 report [JURIST report], resulted in crimes against humanity, including genocide, torture, executions and disappearances. The report outlines alleged crimes committed by Mexican military and security forces under three different presidents during the nation's 18-year campaign, including the execution of hundred of citizens and suspected guerrillas, and an attempt to deny food to residents where leftist guerrillas operated. AP has more.






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US Education Department relaxing some No Child Left Behind rules
Leslie Schulman on March 19, 2008 7:58 AM ET

[JURIST] US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings [official profile] Tuesday announced [speech text] a new pilot program [press release] under the federal No Child Left Behind program [official website] that is aimed at narrowing statewide education reform to focus on schools most in need of "dramatic intervention":

One thing we know for sure is that we must take dramatic action to improve our lowest-performing schools. We also know that not all struggling schools are alike, and that many states have identified a wide range of schools for improvement. That's why today, I'm announcing a new pilot that will help states improve underperforming schools. This "differentiated accountability" program will invite up to 10 states to create more nuanced ways of distinguishing between schools in need of dramatic intervention, and those that are closer to meeting goals.

In keeping with previous efforts, we will give preference to states that have been pioneers for reform - as Maryland, North Dakota, Louisiana, and South Dakota have been leaders on accountability, and Massachusetts has been a leader on standards. We will also prioritize applications from states that have identified many schools for improvement.

The goal is to help educators act now to help schools in every stage of improvement. We can't afford to let struggling students continue to slide downhill.

This is not one-sided flexibility. To be eligible, states must commit to taking serious action. They must have approved assessment systems to measure student achievement. They must publish timely, transparent information about educational progress and challenges, as well as options for parents. And they must commit to building their capacity for reform, and focusing their most significant actions around their lowest-performing schools, such as the so-called "dropout factories" that produce up to half of high school dropouts. By evaluating participants annually, my department will help identify proven methods for others to follow.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act [text], signed into law in 2002, nearly one-tenth of the nation's schools have been designated as "in need of improvement," overwhelming state resources. The new program would give states more flexibility to concentrate resources on schools most in need of improvement and reduce state accountability for schools that only marginally fail to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Several teachers' organizations, including the National Education Association (NEA) [advocacy website; press release], welcomed the new program, which is similar to amendments proposed to the Act by Democrats last year. In 2005, the Education Department eased some of the law's rules [JURIST report], allowing schools to base credit on the academic growth of individual students, as opposed to measuring the progress of all students against a federally mandated standard. The New York Times has more.





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US Marine charged with murder in Fallujah detainee death
Leslie Schulman on March 19, 2008 7:24 AM ET

[JURIST] A US Marine sergeant was charged [press release] Tuesday with one count of murder and one count of dereliction of duty for his involvement in the shooting of a detained Iraqi insurgent during the Multinational National Force-Iraq's November 2004 offensive [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in Fallujah [USMC timeline; JURIST news archive]. Sgt. Ryan Weemer, who was a corporal at the time of the battle [CNN report], admitted during a polygraphed job interview in 2006 with the US Secret Service that he had witnessed indiscriminate killings in Fallujah, which spurred investigations of at least 10 Marines [JURIST report] by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) [official website]. Weemer had completed his active duty and was promoted to sergeant in 2006 as a reservist but was reactivated earlier this week, which permits the military to subject him to full court-martial. If convicted, Weemer faces life in prison.

The charges against Weemer follow December charges against Marine Sgt. Jermaine A. Nelson for murder and dereliction of duty, and August charges [JURIST reports] against former Marine Sgt. Jose Nazario for voluntary manslaughter in connection with the same incident. Nazario has been charged in federal court. Military journalist Nathaniel Helms has allegedly corroborated the account, reporting that he saw the Marines execute subdued Iraqi prisoners, whose bodies were later buried under rubble from an air strike. AP has more.






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Kenya parliament approves power-sharing agreement in bid to end violence
Devin Montgomery on March 18, 2008 7:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The Parliament of Kenya [official website] Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a power-sharing agreement [JURIST report] between Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] and opposition leader Raila Odinga [campaign profile]. The Kenya Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008 [text], intended to end violence sparked by the country's disputed 2007 presidential election [JURIST report], names Odinga as the nation's first Prime Minister. The agreement has been praised by the US State Department and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who helped broker the deal. Reuters has more. CNN has additional coverage.

The controversial presidential vote sparked simmering ethnic tensions in the country, where Kibaki has long been accused of using his position to favor members of the Kikuyu tribe. Fueling accusations of malfeasance, Kibaki won the December 27 election despite early opinion polls that placed rival candidate Odinga in the lead. Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets following the election, which prompted the government to temporarily ban public rallies and institute a curfew in Nairobi, the capital city. Human Rights Watch reports that over 1,000 people have been killed and 500,000 displaced since protests began. Odinga's opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement filed a formal complaint [JURIST report] in January with the International Criminal Court [official website], alleging that Kibaki's administration committed crimes against humanity while using force against demonstrators.






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Nepal police arrest 50 in pro-Tibet protest
Deirdre Jurand on March 18, 2008 6:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Nepalese police arrested 50 protesters Tuesday after roughly 200 Tibetan exiles demonstrated near the country's UN headquarters in Katmandu, demanding a UN investigation into China's recent crackdown against pro-Tibet protests [BBC backgrounder]. The protesters, who were arrested after refusing to leave the site, began a hunger strike early Tuesday and were later joined by monks, forming the third demonstration this week [AP report] by Tibetan exiles against Chinese rule. Chinese state media later reported that 105 protesters in Tibet itself had surrendered to police [AP report].

The protests, which began last Monday, escalated into violence Friday as protesters attacked police vehicles, non-Tibetans migrants, and businesses. On Sunday, the Chinese government blocked Internet access [JURIST report] to the video-sharing website YouTube after videos of the recent government crackdown appeared on the site. Rights groups have criticized China for ongoing human rights violations [HRW materials] targeted at Tibetans, and many call for the total independence [advocacy website] of the currently "semi-autonomous" region. The Dalai Lama, who accused China Sunday of committing "cultural genocide" [JURIST report] in Tibet, has encouraged the protests but said he will step down [AFP report] if the violence worsens. AP has more.






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Pakistan AG says constitutional change needed to reinstate ousted judges
Kiely Lewandowski on March 18, 2008 6:21 PM ET

[JURIST] Judges ousted by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after his declaration of emergency rule [text; JURIST report] last November can only be reinstated if the newly elected members of the National Assembly of Pakistan [official website] strike down constitutional changes Musharraf introduced following the dismissals, Pakistani Attorney General Malik Qayyum said Tuesday. Qayyum said that reinstating the judges would require a constitutional amendment with a two-thirds majority vote. Reuters has more.

The new coalition government [JURIST report] formed by the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League [party websites] has vowed to establish a fully independent judiciary, saying that they will work together to reinstate judges [JURIST reports] who were dismissed by Musharraf last year, with legislation to be brought forward within 30 days of parliament's opening.






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Guantanamo detainee Khadr accuses US interrogators of threats, physical abuse
Devin Montgomery on March 18, 2008 6:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] said in an affidavit released Tuesday that US interrogators in Afghanistan threatened him with rape, physically abused him, and forced him to swear to false statements. The 63-item statement, signed by Khadr on February 22, was heavily redacted by the US military before its release, omitting many of the specific details of his alleged mistreatment. Khadr's Navy-appointed military lawyer said the abuse allegations cast doubt on the validity of statements Khadr made during interrogation. It was revealed last week that one of Khadr's interrogators was a already pleaded guilty [JURIST reports] to charges related to the mistreatment of another detainee In Afghanistan who died. AP has more. The Canadian Press has additional coverage.

Khadr, now 21, faces life imprisonment after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002. He was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. Khadr is one of four [JURIST report] Guantanamo detainees that have been prosecuted under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text].

ALSO ON JURIST

 Comment: Detained like me: the Guantanamo ordeal of Omar Khadr [Moazzam Begg]





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Bosnia war crimes court indicts former soldier for crimes against humanity
Kiely Lewandowski on March 18, 2008 5:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The War Crimes Chamber [HRW backgrounder] of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina [official website] Tuesday indicted [press release; case materials] a Bosnian Serb ex-soldier for crimes against humanity allegedly committed against Muslims in the Bosnian war of the early 1990s. Miodrag Nikacevic is accused of raping two Muslim women in April and June 1992, and is also alleged to have participated in the abduction and unlawful detention of a Muslim civilian in the Foca Correctional Facility. Nikacevic was ordered into custody [press release] in February. Reuters has more.

Last month, the War Crimes Chamber convicted two former prison officials [JURIST report] for the systematic abuse of detainees at the Foca prison during the Bosnian war. The War Crimes Chamber was set up to alleviate the caseload of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [official website], and will continue to hear cases as the ICTY winds down in 2010.






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Germany state court upholds teacher headscarf ban
Deirdre Jurand on March 18, 2008 5:32 PM ET

[JURIST] A German state administrative court Tuesday upheld [press release, in German] a ban on teachers wearing religious headscarves [JURIST news archive] during school. The court in the federal district of Baden-Wuerttemberg [government website] ruled that the teacher who brought the lawsuit had violated her obligation to keep religious expression out of the classroom by wearing a headscarf in class. The ruling overturns a 2006 ruling [JURIST report] by a lower court that held Muslim teachers could wear headscarves since Catholic nuns could wear habits while teaching. Deutsche Welle has more.

Headscarves are prohibited in nine of the 16 German states, including in Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria [JURIST reports]. Baden-Wuerttemberg initially banned headscarves from schools in 2004 [JURIST report], becoming the first state in Germany to do so.






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Federal appeals court denies ex-Enron execs appeal against remaining charges
Caitlin Price on March 18, 2008 4:50 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] Tuesday rejected an appeal by three former Enron Broadband Services [JURIST news archive] executives seeking the dismissal of remaining charges after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts in their 2005 fraud trial. Former VP Scott Yeager, former senior VP Rex Shelby, and former CEO Joseph Hirko [Houston Chronicle profiles] were initially indicted [PDF text] by federal prosecutors on 164 criminal counts for allegedly overstating the value of the broadband division's software and network to inflate the value of Enron's stock. They were acquitted [JURIST report] on various charges in 2005, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts, and prosecutors later re-indicted [JURIST report] the defendants. Defense lawyers argued [JURIST report] that there is no basis for the remaining charges or for a retrial, but the Fifth Circuit ruled that a jury could find the men guilty of other charges despite their acquittals.

Yeager was acquitted of conspiracy, wire fraud, and security fraud, while Shelby and Hirko were acquitted of some insider trading and money laundering charges. Federal prosecutors may seek to pursue the remaining insider trading and money laundering charges against Yeager, and, in a separate case, conspiracy, wire fraud, and security fraud charges against Shelby and Hirko. The Houston Chronicle has more.






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Afghanistan must do more to stop human rights abuses: UN official
Caitlin Price on March 18, 2008 4:01 PM ET

[JURIST] Chief Human Rights Officer Norah Niland of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan [official website] Tuesday called on the Afghan government to do more to protect human rights and see that human rights violators are brought to justice. Speaking at a press conference [transcript] in Kabul, Niland said a general sense that human rights violators could operate with impunity was undermining Afghans' faith in the state. He also urged the international community to take a more active role in addressing underlying problems in Afghanistan, including poverty, gender inequality and violence against women, and violence against civilians in war zones:

As elsewhere, the key ingredients for progress on human rights include vision, leadership, and the commitment of all concerned stakeholders. The relationship between the citizen and the state is the key, but everyone has a role to play in advancing human rights. Building an environment that is conducive to respect for human rights is fundamental to a peaceful and democratic society.

...

The first issue addressed in the report is the profound level of poverty that blights the lives of many Afghans. Everyone has the right to a dignified life. Poverty is disempowering. It is often rooted in oppressive and abusive practices and structures. Poverty can be crippling and it often puts lives at risk. We are all aware of the statistics here in Afghanistan that throw a harsh light on the human rights deficit in this country. Of course it is clear that there have been some helpful gains such as gains in the right to education or health or improved prospects of employment, including women outside their homes and these are of course most welcome. However it is clear that we need much more stronger commitment - investment of political will and resources – are needed to reduce, for example, maternal mortality and infant mortality rates which pose a big challenge to the right to life.

Grinding poverty is an issue for large segments of Afghan society; it is of particular concern in relation to Afghan women and girls. Life is better for some Afghan women and girls. It is better for those who are now able to go to school, can work outside the home, or have access to basic health care. However, deep-rooted social, economic and political discrimination persists. It takes time everywhere to achieve gender equality but the severity of the situation here in Afghanistan, demands much stronger commitments and more concerted action than is currently the case. High levels of violence against women and girls is a major concern, challenging such patterns should be a high priority of everyone, not just the concern of those who are directly victimised.
Niland said Afghan citizens had a "very strong commitment" to justice. Reuters has more.

Niland's comments followed similar urgings [text] by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] after a November 2007 visit to Afghanistan, in which she noted that human rights violations continued to be a major problem hindering security in the war-torn country.





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China rights activist put on trial for subversion
Brett Murphy on March 18, 2008 3:19 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial [HRW case history] of Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia [advocacy blog] began Tuesday on charges of inciting subversion of state power [JURIST news archive]. Hu was formally charged last month after he made public [JURIST reports] letters and recordings from Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng alleging that Gao was tortured into confessing to subversion charges. Two local lawyers told AP that they were not allowed into the hearing due to the "sensitive" nature of the case. Foreign diplomats were also declined entry. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

Hu supporter Teng Biao, a lawyer who has defended political dissidents, was released by the Chinese government earlier this month after spending two days in custody. In September 2007, Teng and Hu wrote an open letter [text] requesting that the international community investigate China's promises to improve its human rights record. In November 2007, rights group Dui Hua [advocacy website] reported that the number of political arrests in China more than doubled in 2006 and the country has been harshly criticized in recent months for cracking down on human rights activists and political dissidents [JURIST reports] ahead of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.






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Rights groups call for release of Cuban political prisoners held since 2003
Caitlin Price on March 18, 2008 3:06 PM ET

[JURIST] Rights groups Tuesday marked the anniversary of a March 2003 crackdown on dissidents in Cuba by calling for the release of political prisoners detained during that round-up. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) [advocacy website; CPJ report], Human Rights First (HRF) [advocacy website; press release] and other groups urged new Cuban President Raul Castro [JURIST report] to release 55 detainees still in custody. Seventy-five journalists, librarians and freedom activists were origially detained; 16 were later released for medical reasons in 2004 and four were released to Spain [JURIST reports] last month. CPJ called on Cuba to

- Immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned journalists.
- Vacate the convictions of the nine journalists who were released on medical parole since the 2003 crackdown.
- Ensure the proper care of all journalists in government custody. We hold the government responsible for the health and welfare of those incarcerated.
- Fully meet its commitments under the recently signed International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by allowing journalists to work freely and without fear of reprisal.
Fidel Castro's administration had defended the 2003 arrests as protection against "mercenaries" working with the United States.

Last month, Raul Castro's government signed two international human rights treaties [JURIST report] and said that Cuba would begin allowing UN observers to monitor its human rights performance [VOA report] beginning in 2009. A January report [JURIST report] from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation noted that although the number of political prisoners in Cuba has decreased from 283 at the end of 2006 to 234 at the end of 2007, human rights abuses continue. Last week, the US State Department criticized Cuba [JURIST report] for its rights record as apart of its annual worldwide human rights survey. AP has more.





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France court orders release of 'rogue trader' while bank fraud probe continues
Brett Murphy on March 18, 2008 2:45 PM ET

[JURIST] French "rogue trader" Jerome Kerviel [BBC profile] was released from prison Tuesday after a French court ordered that he be freed while the investigation continues into fraudulent activity allegedly conducted by Kerviel while employed at French Bank Societe Generale [corporate website]. The court ordered Kerviel not to leave the country or communicate with a number of former colleagues. The New York Times has more.

Kerviel had been in custody [JURIST report] since February 8 when the Paris appeals court granted a request by prosecutors to hold Kerviel in "provisional detention." Societe Generale, which lost $7 billion when it was forced to unload the fraudulent positions, described the methods Kerviel supposedly used to commit the fraud in an explanatory note [PDF text]. Kerviel has maintained that he acted alone, but also says that he is being made a scapegoat [Telegraph report] by the bank, which he alleges was aware of his activities. Additionally, BusinessWeek reports [text] that the Eurex derivatives exchange [exchange website] warned Societe Generale in November about Kerviel's unauthorized transactions. A second banker was detained [JURIST report] last week in connection with the investigation.






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Guantanamo lawyers ask court to restrict prosecution contact with detainees
Brett Murphy on March 18, 2008 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for four Kuwaiti Guantanamo Bay detainees have asked the US Court of Military Commission Review [official website] to order prosecutors not to speak to detainees without the consent of their lawyers. In an emergency petition filed with the court last week, the lawyers accused prosecutors of violating ethics rules that require a lawyer to gain the opposing lawyer's permission before speaking with their clients. Chief Prosecutor Army Col. Lawrence Morris [official profile] said that prosecutors may contact the Kuwaiti detainees because the lawyers do not represent them before the military commissions system. AP has more.

Last week, the US Department of Defense charged [JURIST report] Afghan Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Kamin [DOD materials] with providing material support to terrorism, making him the fourteenth detainee to be charged under the 2006 Military Commissions Act [PDF text].






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Bear Stearns hit with lawsuits over stock value, proposed merger
James M Yoch Jr on March 18, 2008 2:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Beleaguered investment bank Bear Stearns [corporate website] was hit with two major lawsuits Monday in the wake of its announced acquisition [press release] by JPMorgan Chase [corporate website]. The first suit [complaint, PDF], filed in US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website], alleged that some of the company's officers and directors - including Chairman James Cayne, CEO Alan Schwartz and former CEO Alan Greenberg - publicly misrepresented Bear Stearns's financial health, which artificially inflated the company's market value and caused real economic loss to investors in violation of Sections 10(b) and 20(a) and Rule 10b-5 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 [text]. It additionally requested class action status on behalf of all stockholders who purchased Bear Stearns stock between December 14, 2006 and March 14, 2008. The complaint identified several public statements by the company or its executives during the class period allegedly misrepresenting the "truth about Bear Stearns' exposure to mortgage-related liability, its profitability and its actual business prospects going forward," including an August 3, 2007 press release that addressed Standard & Poor's outlook for Bear Stearns.

Also on Monday, a Bear Stearns employee seeking class action status filed a complaint in the same court alleging that directors breached their fiduciary duties to the company's employees in connection with its employee stock ownership plan. The lawsuit claimed that the directors offered Bear Stearns stock as an option for plan participants and invested retirement funds in Bear Stearns stock despite knowing that the company's stock price was inflated and would result in substantial losses. The complaint also claimed that the company failed to disclose information that employees needed in order to make informed decisions about their participation in the retirement plan. Bloomberg has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Bear Stearns stock dropped precipitously last week after it was announced that the US Federal Reserve had provided it with emergency funds to avoid insolvency; on Sunday, JPMorgan Chase announced that it had reached a deal with the company to buy it out [merger agreement text, PDF] for $236 million, about $2 per share, a fraction of its prior market price.






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Supreme Court considers DC handgun ban
Jeannie Shawl on March 18, 2008 1:40 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments Tuesday in District of Columbia v. Heller [Duke Law case backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-290, a case where the Court considered whether the Second Amendment [text] to the US constitution prohibits the District of Columbia from banning private handgun possession. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled against the handgun ban [PDF text; JURIST report] last year, saying that the 30-year-old ban was unconstitutional. The Washington, DC mayor and attorney general appealed [JURIST report] the federal appeals court ruling to the US Supreme Court.

The justices seemed to agree Tuesday that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to possess guns rather than only for service in a militia, but there was less consensus on whether the District of Columbia's ban passes constitutional muster. Heller represents the first time the Supreme Court has analyzed the Second Amendment in nearly 70 years. The Court last directly addressed the Second Amendment in 1939 in US v. Miller [text]. AP has more.

4:40 PM ET - The transcript [PDF text] of Tuesday's oral argument is now available.






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Armenia parliament votes to restrict public demonstrations
Brett Murphy on March 18, 2008 12:02 PM ET

[JURIST] The National Assembly of Armenia [official website] voted during an emergency session [press release] Monday to place restrictions on rallies and demonstrations. By a vote of 90-6, the parliament empowered the government to ban rallies if a "trustworthy" report indicates that a demonstration would pose a risk to "national security, public order, or violate citizens' constitutional rights." Opposition members say that the new measures are directed at stifling their rallies against the recent presidential election, which they say was plagued by fraud.

Last week, Armenian President Robert Kocharian [official website] issued a decree lifting media restrictions put in place during a state of emergency [JURIST reports] declared after last month's contested election. Many media restrictions remain in place, however, and the government is accused of censoring material deemed to be critical of its policies [RFE/RL report]. Kocharian declared the state of emergency on March 1 after protesters demonstrated against the result of the February 19 presidential election in which Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan [official profile], a Kocharian ally, was declared the winner [BBC report]. Earlier this month, the Constitutional Court of Armenia rejected a challenge [JURIST report] brought by opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian [campaign website] against the election results, ruling that although polling discrepancies existed they did not affect the election's outcome. Reuters has more.






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Ship pilot faces environmental charges in San Francisco Bay oil spill
Michael Sung on March 18, 2008 10:30 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California [official website] filed charges [PDF text; press release] on Monday against San Francisco Bay maritime pilot John Joseph Cota for allegedly causing the negligent discharge of approximately 58,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil in San Francisco Bay. Cota, who was piloting the M/V Cosco Busan on November 7, 2007 when it collided with the San Francisco Bay bridge, is accused of failing to pilot a collision free course; failing to adequately review navigational charts, the ship's navigational equipment, and the location of the Bay's aids to navigation with the ship's captain and crew prior to departure; failing to proceed at a safe speed during the voyage in limited visibility; and other acts of negligence. Cota is facing two counts under the Clean Water Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act [texts].

The US Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board [official websites] launched investigations [JURIST report] last November following the accident. A Coast Guard captain said that a preliminary investigation indicated that the ship collided with the Bay Bridge due to human error. AP has more.






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Supreme Court rules Washington state primary election system constitutional
Jeannie Shawl on March 18, 2008 10:13 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Tuesday that Washington's system for primary elections does not violate the First Amendment right of freedom of association. The decision came in the consolidated cases of Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party and Washington v. Washington State Republican Party [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], challenges to Initiative 872 [PDF text], which instituted a "top two" primary system in 2004. The system allows voters to select any candidate in the primary, with the top two vote-getters facing off in the November election, even if they are from the same party.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [PDF text] that the initiative violated First Amendment rights of state political parties, but the Supreme Court reversed:

Because I–872 does not on its face impose a severe burden on political parties' associational rights, and because respondents' arguments to the contrary rest on factual assumptions about voter confusion that can be evaluated only in the context of an as-applied challenge, we reverse.
The Court went on to conclude:
Respondents ask this Court to invalidate a popularly enacted election process that has never been carried out. Immediately after implementing regulations were enacted, respondents obtained a permanent injunction against the enforcement of I–872. The First Amendment does not require this extraordinary and precipitous nullification of the will of the people. Because I–872 does not on its face provide for the nomination of candidates or compel political parties to associate with or endorse candidates, and because there is no basis in this facial challenge for presuming that candidates' party-preference designations will confuse voters, I–872 does not on its face severely burden respondents' associational rights. We accordingly hold that I–872 is facially constitutional.
Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Thomas, along with a concurrence [text] from Chief Justice Roberts, and a dissent [text] from Justice Scalia. AP has more.





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FBI submitted inaccurate data to terrorist watch list: DOJ report
Michael Sung on March 18, 2008 9:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has submitted incomplete and inaccurate information to be added to the US government's consolidated terrorist watchlist [FBI FAQ] over the last three years, according to a report [PDF text] released Monday by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) [official website]. The audit, conducted between June and October 2007, found that:

the FBI was not always providing updated nominations when new information became known about a nominated individual. We also found that the FBI was not always removing records from the watchlist when it was appropriate to do so. Moreover, FBI headquarters officials reported that watchlist nomination submissions from field offices were often incomplete or contained inaccuracies, headquarters officials reported that watchlist nomination submissions from field offices were often incomplete or contained inaccuracies, which caused delays in the processing of nominations. We concluded that the FBI should require its Supervisory Special Agents (SSA) to review all nominations submitted by their case agents for accuracy and completeness. These individuals should also be responsible for helping to ensure that case agents create nominations for all individuals who meet the FBI's threshold for nomination.
The audit also found that FBI field offices have previously bypassed FBI headquarters and directly submitted nominations to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) [official website] for inclusion to the list, potentially bypassing quality review and affecting the completeness of the FBI's records. In response to the audit, FBI Assistant Director John Miller said that the agency is working with the DOJ and other partner agencies [press release] to "ensure the proper balance between national security protection and the need for accurate, efficient, and streamlined watchlist processes."

Last October, the US Government Accountability Office [official website] said that the US terror watchlist has increased to over 755,000 names [JURIST report], growing by about 200,000 names per year since 2004. Critics have warned that the rapidly increasing size of the list undermines its authority and throws its accuracy into question. AP has more.





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Palestinian Authority can be sued for involvement in terrorism: Israel
Michael Sung on March 18, 2008 9:01 AM ET

[JURIST] The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] has ruled that the Palestinian Authority (PA) [JURIST news archive] does not enjoy sovereign immunity and can be sued in Israeli courts for its alleged involvements in terrorism. The ministry, in a statement [text] released Sunday, said that Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni [BBC profile] made the findings and that the Foreign Ministry's legal advisor has submitted the necessary paperwork to allow 55 different cases against the Palestinian Authority to proceed. PA Foreign Minister and government spokesperson Riad Malki criticized the ruling, saying that Israeli courts did not have jurisdiction over the PA. Malki also condemned the ruling as being contrary to the peace process and negotiations.

In April 2006, an Israeli district court ruled that Israeli courts did not have legal jurisdiction over the PA [JURIST report] because it met the requirements necessary for state status. The Israeli Supreme Court later ruled that the Foreign Ministry should determine whether the PA is entitled to immunity from prosecution. The PA has been criticized for its prolonged and systematic failure to uphold and enforce the law [JURIST report] and prevent repeated attacks against Israeli targets. AP has more.






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UN police recapture courthouse occupied by Serbian protesters
Brett Murphy on March 18, 2008 6:57 AM ET

[JURIST] UN special police forces on Monday retook the UN courthouse recently occupied by Serbian protesters demonstrating against Kosovo's declaration of independence [text; JURIST report] last month. The Serbian group took control [JURIST report] of the courthouse in the northern city of Mitrovica on Friday, demanding a deal with UN authorities. Thousands of protesters gathered outside the courthouse Monday to continue demonstrations against an independent Kosovo, prompting clashes with police. Over 50 protesters were arrested [CBC report] in connection with the occupation of the courthouse.

A regional UN representative initially held talks with Serb leaders over the situation, but those talks broke down over the weekend. Kosovo Serbs had been holding daily protests in front of the courthouse since Kosovo declared its independence in February. Serbs consider the territory of Kosovo to be Serbia's historic and religious heartland and the Serbian government in Belgrade has insisted that Kosovo's declaration of independence is illegal under international law. AP has more.

11:00 AM ET - KFOR [official website], the Kosovo peacekeeping force led by NATO, put Mitrovica under "military law" Tuesday after a UN police officer was killed during Monday's riots. Reuters has more.






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Supreme Court hears arguments in Philippines assets, right to counsel cases
Andrew Gilmore on March 17, 2008 7:36 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in Philippines v. Pimentel [LII case backgrounder; ABA merit briefs], 06-1204 [docket], where the Court considered whether some 9,000 plaintiffs seeking to recover assets held by former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos [official profile] can be awarded assets claimed by the government of the Philippines. The Republic of the Philippines and the Philippine Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) [official website] claim ownership of funds improperly moved out of the Philippines by Marcos and invested with US investment bank Merrill Lynch, as does Mariano Pimentel, the representative of a class of 9,539 people holding an unsatisfied human rights judgment [opinion] against Marcos' estate. In 2000, the Philippines asked Merrill Lynch to transfer the funds in question to the Philippine National Bank. Merrill Lynch initiated the interpleader action to settle ownership of the funds, listing the Philippines, PCGG, and Pimentel, among others, as claimants. The Philippines and PCGG asserted their sovereign immunity from the suit and moved to dismiss the entire action, arguing that they are indispensable parties under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b) [text]. The Supreme Court is considering "Whether a foreign government that is a 'necessary' party to a lawsuit under Rule 19(a) and has successfully asserted sovereign immunity is, under Rule 19(b), an 'indispensable' party to an action brought in the courts of the United States to settle ownership of assets claimed by that government." Several justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, seemed sympathetic to the group trying to enforce the judgment against Marcos' estate, but other justices, including Justice Antonin Scalia, suggested that arguments that the situation is "unfair" to Marcos' victims were ineffective as the sovereign immunity doctrine "always has unfairness." AP has more.

The Court also heard arguments [transcript, PDF] Monday in Rothgery v. Gillespie County [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 07-440, [docket], a Sixth Amendment case in which the Court is considering whether the right to counsel of a person arrested without a warrant is triggered by his initial appearance before a magistrate and prior to the filing of a criminal indictment against him.






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Federal appeals court orders new trial for Qwest ex-CEO
David Frueh on March 17, 2008 7:25 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on Monday ordered [PDF text] that former Qwest Communications [corporate website] CEO Joseph Nacchio [JURIST news archive] should be retried before a new federal judge. Nacchio had appealed his April 2007 insider trading conviction [JURIST report] for selling $52 million of Qwest stock in 2001. The court found that US District Judge Edward Nottingham improperly excluded testimony from defense witness Daniel Fischel [academic profile], a corporate law and markets expert who would have explained public disclosure requirements on Nacchio's stock sales.

Federal prosecutors indicted Nacchio in December 2005 on 42 counts of insider trading [JURIST report]. He and other former Qwest executives still face civil fraud charges [JURIST reports] brought by the US Securities and Exchange Commission on allegations that Qwest improperly reported approximately $3 billion in revenue that eased its 2000 merger with US West. AP has more.






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Federal appeals court rules Minnesota violent video game law unconstitutional
David Frueh on March 17, 2008 7:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on Monday upheld [PDF text] a lower court decision blocking a Minnesota law [text; JURIST news archive] imposing fines on minors who purchase adult-rated video games. A US district judge had blocked [JURIST report] the law that would impose a $25 fine on people under 17 found buying or renting mature or adult-rated video games. The Entertainment Software Association [trade website] had argued [press release] that the law violated the First Amendment [text] rights of consumers, while Minnesota argued that children do not have a First Amendment right to violent games. The court found that violence in video games was constitutionally protected:

Indeed, a good deal of the Bible portrays scenes of violence, and one would be hard-pressed to hold up as a proper role model the regicidal Macbeth. Although some might say that it is risible to compare the violence depicted in the examples offered by the State to that described in classical literature, such violence has been deemed by our court worthy of First Amendment protection, and there the matter stands.
CNET News has more.

Judges have struck down or delayed similar laws in California, Illinois, Louisiana and Michigan [JURIST reports]. Massachusetts is set to consider a similar bill [text] restricting sales of video games to minors.





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Pakistan lawyers promise protests if top court blocks reinstatement of judges
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 17, 2008 6:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani lawyers will hold nationwide protests if the reconstituted Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website], now packed with judges loyal to President Pervez Musharraf, tries to prevent a parliamentary reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and other superior court judges Musharraf ousted [JURIST report] last year, Pakistani Supreme Court Bar Association President Aitzaz Ahsan [PILDAT profile; JURIST news archive] said Monday. Ahsan made the comments at the end of a Supreme Court session that is thought to have been convened to issue a stay to block parliament from passing any resolution to reinstate the dismissed judges. The court is expected to issue its ruling, which may hold that parliament needs a two-thirds majority to pass the resolution, on Tuesday. Reuters has more.

The new coalition government [JURIST report] formed by the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League [party websites] has vowed to establish a fully independent judiciary, saying that they will work together to reinstate judges [JURIST reports] who were dismissed by Musharraf last year. Leaders of the new coalition government say a resolution to that effect will be passed within 30 days of the new parliament's first meeting, which took place Monday.






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Japan asks Peru to ensure fair trial for ex-president Fujimori
Alexis Unkovic on March 17, 2008 4:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda asked Peruvian President Alan Garcia during talks in Tokyo Monday to ensure that former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] is treated fairly during his ongoing trial on murder and kidnapping charges [JURIST report], which stem from the military killings of 25 people in 1991 and 1992. In response, Garcia said he would see that Fujimori, who is also a Japanese citizen, receives an "objective and fair trial."

In December, Fujimori apologized [JURIST report] during the trial for his role in two massacres which occurred during his administration in the early 1990s. The victims included a professor and nine students killed during the so-called La Cantuta massacre [backgrounder] at Lima's La Cantuta University, along with 15 people killed in Lima's Barrios Altos neighborhood. Fujimori claimed that he did not authorize and did not have any knowledge of the killings, which were likely part of a war on Shining Path rebels [FAS backgrounder] in the country. AP has more.






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Australia MP introduces bill to set independent review of terror laws
Alexis Unkovic on March 17, 2008 4:01 PM ET

[JURIST] An Australian parliamentarian Monday introduced a bill [text] in the Parliament of Australia [official website] that would call for the appointment of an independent reviewer to evaluate Australia's counterterrorism laws. Petro Georgiou [official profile] of the Liberal Party [party website] noted that more than 30 counterterrorism measures have been introduced in Australia [JURIST news archive] in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, and said that an independent reviewer will help safeguard civil liberties. Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland [official website] has not yet had an opportunity to review the proposed legislation, a spokesperson said. Australia's ABC News has more.

Australia's current anti-terror laws [ANS materials], including the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 [JURIST document; JURIST report], give police greater search and seizure powers and also allow them to detain terror suspects for up to two weeks without charge.






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UK chief justice blasts Musharraf for undermining rule of law in Pakistan
Caitlin Price on March 17, 2008 2:27 PM ET

[JURIST] Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] sharply criticized Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in a Monday address to the Indian Supreme Court and its bar, saying that Musharraf's ouster of Pakistani Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] and other superior court judges in November after proclaiming emergency rule was "a serious blow to the rule of law" in Pakistan. Phillips praised Pakistani lawyers and the public for protesting the ousters, and said that judicial independence and the rule of law are essential elements of democracy. He said that an independent judiciary must be able to review government actions "without fear or favor." IANS has more.

Pakistani lawyers renewed their protests [JURIST report] against the regime earlier this month to mark the one-year anniversary of Chaudhry's ouster. The coalition government [JURIST report] newly formed by the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League [party websites] has vowed to establish a fully independent judiciary, saying that they will work together to reinstate the judges [JURIST reports] dismissed by Musharraf last year.






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Supreme Court agrees to hear broadcast indecency, Confrontation Clause cases
Alexis Unkovic on March 17, 2008 2:06 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday agreed to hear eight cases [Order List, PDF], including FCC v. Fox Television Stations (07-582) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], where the Court will review a June 2007 ruling [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which vacated [opinion, PDF] a determination [FCC order] by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] that two Fox Television broadcasts violated the FCC's indecency and profanity prohibitions. The appeals court ruled that the FCC's "fleeting expletives" standard "represented a significant departure from positions previously taken by the agency and relied on by the broadcast industry," and violated the Administrative Procedure Act [text] because the FCC failed to articulate a reasoned basis for its change in policy. The two alleged indecency violations were unscripted expletives uttered during the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards. When the case is heard in the fall, it will mark the Court's first major examination of broadcast indecency in 30 years. AP has more.

The Court also agreed to hear Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (07-591) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], a case presenting the issue of whether the Confrontation Clause [LII backgrounder] as set forth in Crawford v. Washington [opinion] requires that a forensic expert who prepared a lab report testify at trial as to his methods or whether prosecutors can present the report at trial without requiring its author to be available for live testimony. AP has more.

The Court also granted certiorari in Bartlett v. Strickland (07-689) [docket; cert. petition, PDF] in which it will consider whether a racial minority group that comprises less than 50 percent of a district's population can file a vote dilution claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 USC § 1973 [text]. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Act only applies to districts where the minority population constitutes 50 percent or more of voters. AP has more.

The Court also agreed to hear Waddington v. Sarausad (07-772) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], in which it will consider whether a ruling [PDF text] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit correctly overturned the murder conviction of a driver in a 1994 Seattle drive-by shooting on the grounds of incorrect jury instructions on accomplice liability. AP has more.

In Negusie v. Mukasey (07-499) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether an Eritrean man who was forced against his will into military service in his home country during a war between Eritrea and Ethiopia and made to participate in persecution can be denied asylum for those actions.

In Vaden v. Discover Bank (07-773) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether federal courts have jurisdiction in a lawsuit seeking to enforce an arbitration agreement under state law.

In Jimenez v. Quarterman (07-6984) [docket], the Court will consider whether the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit correctly allowed an appeal by an inmate seeking an extension to file a federal habeas corpus challenge, after he had been denied review in state courts.

Finally, in Oregon v. Ice (07-901) [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether it is unconstitutional for a judge to order a man to serve consecutive rather than concurrent sentences for burglary and sex offense convictions when a judge rather than a jury determined that the crimes arose out of separate offenses. SCOTUSblog has more on all of Monday's cert. grants.






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Egypt appeals court rejects release of opposition leader on medical grounds
Caitlin Price on March 17, 2008 1:51 PM ET

[JURIST] Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court on Monday upheld a July 2007 decision refusing to grant medical release [JURIST report] to jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour [advocacy website; JURIST news archive]. The court reportedly held that Nour, who suffers from heart disease and diabetes, can receive adequate medical treatment in prison and that his health is therefore not in danger. Nour was convicted [JURIST report] in 2005 of forging signatures on documents registering his Al-Ghad Party [party website] for presidential elections. He was sentenced to five years in jail.

Last May, an Egyptian criminal court rejected [JURIST report] a plea by a public prosecutor for Nour's early release. Nour has said the charges against him were politically motivated and his wife has accused the Egyptian police of abusing Nour [Reuters report] in custody. In 2005, the United States said it was "deeply troubled by the conviction" and urged Egypt to release Nour [WH press release]. International rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, called his trial unfair and flawed [HRW report]. AP has more.






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Kenya election violence planned by local leaders: HRW report
Caitlin Price on March 17, 2008 1:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The violence that wracked Kenya after the nation's disputed 2007 presidential election [JURIST report] was carefully organized by "local leaders, politicians, and businessmen from all sides," according to a report [HRW materials; press release] released Monday by Human Rights Watch [advocacy website]. Based on over 200 interviews with witnesses and perpetrators of the violence, the report found that attacks on supporters of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile], largely members of the Kikuyu tribe, were planned and organized by local leaders. Reprisal attacks by Kikuyu militias were similarly organized:

The Kikuyu militias who struck in late January were organized, paid, and directed by local leaders, businessmen, and, in some cases, [Party of National Unity (PNU)] councillors and mobilizers. The extent to which the local organizers were in touch with senior PNU politicians or members of the government is unclear. But circumstantial evidence suggests that senior members of the government may have been aware of what was going on.
HRW also reported that Kenyan police had used excessive force and unlawful killings to quell demonstrations. HRW applauded Kibaki's plan to establish an investigatory panel [JURIST report] to review the election's outcome as part of a power-sharing deal [JURIST report] negotiated between Kibaki and opposition candidate Raila Odinga [campaign profile] last month.

Kibaki has long been accused of using his position to favor members of the Kikuyu tribe. Fueling accusations of malfeasance, Kibaki won the December 27 election despite early opinion polls that placed rival candidate Odinga in the lead. Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets following the election, which prompted the government to temporarily ban public rallies and institute a curfew in Nairobi, the capital city. HRW reports that over 1,000 people have been killed and 500,000 displaced since protests began. Odinga's opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement filed a formal complaint [JURIST report] in January with the International Criminal Court [official website], alleging that Kibaki's administration committed crimes against humanity while using force against demonstrators. BBC News has more.





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Iraq human rights situation 'disastrous:' Amnesty
Michael Sung on March 17, 2008 10:18 AM ET

[JURIST] The human rights situation in Iraq is "disastrous" [press release] five years after the US-led invasion of the country, according to a report [PDF text] from Amnesty International [advocacy website] released Monday. According to the report's introduction:

Five years after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussain, Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Hundreds of people are being killed every month in the pervasive violence, while countless lives are threatened every day by poverty, cuts to power and water supplies, food and medical shortages, and rising violence against women and girls. Sectarian hatred has torn apart families and neighbourhoods that once lived together in harmony.

Despite the heavy US and Iraqi military and police presence, law and order remain a distant prospect. The US-led Multinational Force (MNF) and the Iraqi government formed from political parties that gained from or emerged out of the 2003 invasion have failed to institute the rule of law, uphold human rights, bring peace and security, or end impunity.
Amnesty criticized the reintroduction of the death penalty in 2004, saying that at least 33 Iraqis were executed in the past year, often after procedurally flawed trials. Women's rights have also suffered since the 2003 invasion, as more women have been forced to wear Islamic dress or have been targeted for abduction, rape or killing. AFP has more.

Also Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross [official website] released a report [PDF text; press release] deploring the humanitarian situation in Iraq. The ICRC expressed particular concern with "insufficient access to clean water, sanitation and health care" and urged "all those involved in the conflict and those who can influence them must do everything possible to ensure that civilians, medical staff and medical facilities are not harmed," saying that "This is an obligation under international humanitarian law that applies to all parties to an armed conflict – both States and non-State actors." CBC News has more.





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Turkish top court may hear case seeking to ban ruling party
Michael Sung on March 17, 2008 9:55 AM ET

[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of Turkey [official website, English version] on Monday said it will decide whether to consider a bid to disband the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] within ten days, adding that the court is in the process of appointing a rapporteur to investigate the case. Chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya [official profile, in Turkish] petitioned the court last week to disband the AKP and bar Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul [BBC profiles] from political office. Yalcinkaya alleges that the AKP is the "focal point of anti-secular activities" and that the party "has tried to chip away at the principles of secularism."

On Saturday, Erdogan criticized the bid to disband the AKP [JURIST report], saying it was a "step against the national will." The AKP, which emerged in 2001 from a banned Islamist party, took 47 percent of the vote in the national parliamentary elections last July. The AKP controls the offices of the prime minister and president, and dominates the 550-seat parliament with 340 lawmakers. The Constitutional Court has banned several Islamist parties in the past, including the Welfare Party, which led Turkey's first pro-Islamist government for nearly a year, for violating constitutional obligations to respect Turkey's strict secular principles. AKP has long been at odds with Turkey's secular establishment; the party prompted backlash from the Republican People's Party [official website] most recently for the passage of a constitutional amendment easing a ban on Islamic headscarves [JURIST report] in universities. Reuters has more.






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Dalai Lama accuses China of 'cultural genocide' in Tibet after protest crackdown
Michael Sung on March 17, 2008 8:56 AM ET

[JURIST] Exiled Tibetan spiritual and political leader Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama [personal website; BBC profile] on Sunday accused China of committing "cultural genocide" [recorded video] in Tibet, and said he will not call for an end to ongoing protests [BBC backgrounder] in the region. He reiterated the right of Tibetans to protest peacefully and urged that an international investigation be launched into China's tactics in suppressing the protests, sparked by concerns that non-ethnic Tibetan migrants are threatening to dilute the traditional Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama also refused to ask protesters to surrender to Chinese authorities by midnight on Monday, the deadline set by government authorities.

The protests, which began last Monday, escalated into violence Friday as protesters attacked police vehicles, non-Tibetans migrants, and businesses. On Sunday, the Chinese government blocked Internet access [JURIST report] to the video-sharing website YouTube after videos of the recent government crackdown appeared on the site. The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after the failure of a Tibetan rebellion, currently advocates Tibetan autonomy rather than Tibetan independence from China. The Chinese government has long faced criticism for financial neglect of the region, religious persecution, the destruction of Buddhist temples, and brutality towards Tibetan dissidents, though concerns eased somewhat after "Open Door" reforms were implemented in the 1980s under international pressure. Even with the marginal gains, rights groups still criticize the China for ongoing human rights violations [HRW materials] targeted at Tibetans, and many call for the total independence [advocacy website] of the currently "semi-autonomous" region. The New York Times has more.






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Newly sworn-in Pakistan parliament will weigh reinstatement of ousted judges
Brett Murphy on March 17, 2008 8:35 AM ET

[JURIST] Newly elected members of the National Assembly of Pakistan [official website] took their oaths of office Monday, marking a shift in power to a new majority opposed to Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Though neither party won an outright majority in February's parliamentary elections, the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League [party websites] have formed a coalition government and have vowed to establish a fully independent judiciary, saying that they will reinstate judges [JURIST reports] who were dismissed by Musharraf last year. The new government will begin considering legislation later this month.

The two coalition government parties signed an agreement [text; JURIST report] earlier this month outlining priorities for the new parliamentary session. Under the agreement, parliament will vote within the next month on the reinstatement of judges. AP has more.








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Ukraine court convicts former police officers in journalist murder
Brett Murphy on March 17, 2008 8:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Three former police officers have been convicted and sentenced to jail by a Ukrainian court for their roles in carrying out the murder of prominent Ukraine opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze [BBC report]. Mykola Protasov was sentenced Saturday to 13 years, while Valeriy Kostenko and Oleksandr Popovych each received a 12-year sentence. The trial of the former police officers began in 2006 [JURIST report], but those who ordered the murder have yet to be found, and authorities are still searching for former Interior Ministry surveillance chief Oleksiy Pukach who is wanted for his role in the murder.

Gongadze was an outspoken critic of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma [BBC profile], who was later implicated in the murder [JURIST report] through secret recordings, but denies any involvement. AP has more. AFP has additional coverage.






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RIAA facing racketeering, fraud, spying claims over anti-piracy tactics
Devin Montgomery on March 16, 2008 4:47 PM ET

[JURIST] The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) [trade website] is facing allegations of racketeering, fraud, and illegal spying after an Oregon woman on Friday added claims [amended complaint] to an existing lawsuit against the RIAA, several recording companies, and data investigation company MediaSentry [corporate website] for tactics the entities used as part of an RIAA anti-piracy campaign. The woman, Tonya Anderson, originally filed a countersuit [claim materials, PDF] to an RIAA lawsuit against her for alleged illegal downloading of copyrighted material, but is now seeking to have her case up-graded to a nationwide class action suit to include others whom the RIAA had threatened with litigation. The RIAA's own suit against Anderson has been already dismissed by a federal judge, and her attorney says she is maintaining and expanding her suit to force the companies to reveal how widespread the investigations have been.

In the suit, Anderson alleges that the defendants violated private investigation laws by electronically searching her private information, used illegal methods of seeking payment for data she had allegedly downloaded, pursued litigation even though they should have known that the investigations were illegal, and intentionally caused her emotional distress through slander and the malicious prosecution. Anderson's lawsuit has been hailed [advocacy blog] by groups critical of RIAA's campaign to charge file-sharing Internet users for copyrighted material they have illegally downloaded. AP has more.






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China blocks YouTube access after Tibet protests
Devin Montgomery on March 16, 2008 2:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese government on Sunday blocked Internet users in the country from accessing the video-sharing website YouTube [corporate website] after videos of a recent government crackdown [YouTube video] on Tibetan protesters challenging Chinese rule were posted on the site. The protests [BBC backgrounder] over degradation of Tibetan culture and a flood of new Chinese immigrants into the region escalated into violence in the capital Lhasa on Friday with reports that as many as 80 protesters had been killed. Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama [personal website] on Sunday deplored [press release] the use of violence by both the protesters and the government, but said that the region is facing "cultural genocide".

In an earlier statement [text] he wrote:

For nearly six decades, Tibetans in the whole of Tibet known as Cholkha-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo) have had to live in a state of constant fear, intimidation and suspicion under Chinese repression...

In Tibet today, due to the Chinese government's numerous actions, driven as they are by a lack of foresight, the natural environment has been severely damaged. And, as a result of their policy of population transfer the non-Tibetan population has increased many times, reducing native Tibetans to an insignificant minority in their own country. Moreover, the language, customs and traditions of Tibet, which reflect the true nature and identity of the Tibetan people are gradually fading away. As a consequence, Tibetans are increasingly being assimilated into the larger Chinese population. In Tibet, repression continues to increase with numerous, unimaginable and gross violations of human rights, denial of religious freedom and the politicisation of religious issues. All these take place as a result of the Chinese government's lack of respect for the Tibetan people. These are major obstacles the Chinese government deliberately puts in the way of its policy of unifying nationalities which discriminate between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples. Therefore, I urge the Chinese government to bring an immediate halt to such policies.
China has occupied Tibet [BBC backgrounder] since 1950, and has remained significantly unchallenged in its rule since a failed 1959 uprising after which more than 125,000 Tibetans fled to surrounding countries.

The Chinese government has long faced criticism for financial neglect of the region, religious persecution, the destruction of Buddhist temples, and brutality towards Tibetan dissidents, though concerns eased somewhat after "Open Door" reforms were implemented in the 1980s under international pressure. Even with the marginal gains, rights groups still criticize the China for ongoing human rights violations [HRW materials] targeted at Tibetans, and many call for the total independence [advocacy website] of the currently "semi-autonomous" region. AP has more. CBC News has additional coverage.





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Venezuelan prosecutors summon ex-president over 1986 student killings
Andrew Gilmore on March 16, 2008 12:55 PM ET

[JURIST] Prosecutors in Venezuela [JURIST news archive] have ordered former Venezuelan President Jaime Lusinchi [CIDOB backgrounder, in Spanish] to appear in court in connection with the killings of nine leftist students in the western Venezuelan town of Yumare in 1986. The Venezuelan prosecutor's office [official website, in Spanish] stated that Lusinchi was summoned for "presumably being linked to the act", according to AP. The killings were described at the time as the result of a clash between state security forces and the remnants of a band of leftist guerrillas. Leftist critics, however, characterized the killings as executions. The controversy over the killings, which have become known as the Yumare Massacre, was dormant for decades before coming to prominence during the 2006 Venezuelan presidential election, in which Hugo Chavez [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] was re-elected. The case was reopened by the Venezuelan prosecutor's office after pleas by members of the victims' families. Reportedly, thirteen other officials are also being summoned in relation to the killings.

Lusinchi was President of Venezuela from 1984 to 1989. In 1991, the Senate of Venezuela voted to hold Lusinchi responsible for "multi-billion dollar fraud." His current whereabouts are unknown. AP has more.






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Federal judge 'hopeful' of resolution in California prison overcrowding case
Andrew Gilmore on March 16, 2008 11:39 AM ET

[JURIST] Judge Thelton Henderson [official profile] of the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] told the Sacramento Bee Saturday he was "hopeful" that a court battle between the state of California and inmate advocacy groups over state prison conditions could be resolved before trial. Henderson is a member of a panel of three federal judges [JURIST report] considering motions filed by lawyers in class action suits relating to medical and mental health care in the prisons. In an interview following a speech in San Francisco, Henderson expressed his satisfaction with the work of J. Clark Kelso, the newly appointed prison medical receiver, and also supported plans by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] for early release of thousands of prisoners [JURIST report]. The Sacramento Bee has local coverage. The San Francisco Chronicle has additional coverage.

The problem of overcrowding in the California prison system is being monitored by the federal panel as a result of two class action lawsuits filed on behalf of California prisoners by the Prison Law Office [advocacy website]. In those two suits, Coleman v. Schwarzenegger and Plata v. Schwarzenegger [opinions, PDF], the US District Courts for the Eastern and Northern Districts of California, respectively, found that the overcrowding of the California prison system amounted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight Amendment of the US Constitution. Henderson assumed oversight of the California prison health care system [JURIST report] in 2005. In July 2007, the court ordered the formation of a special three-judge panel to supervise and reduce California's prison population after finding that California's prison overcrowding was preventing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] from adequately providing mental health care. The receivership held by Kelso was designed to oversee the development of remedies for the systematic constitutional violation and to monitor implementation of court-approved remedies.






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Federal appeals court rules online community not liable for discriminatory housing ads
Andrew Gilmore on March 16, 2008 10:43 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that the online community craigslist [community website] is not liable for third-party postings to its website which attempt to discriminate against people seeking housing. The plaintiffs in the case, the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. (CLCCRUL) [advocacy website] had alleged [complaint, PDF] that some postings on craigslist violated provisions of the Fair Housing Act [text] banning advertisements that state a preference or limitation, or discriminate against anyone seeking housing. The Seventh Circuit rejected the claim, however, holding that under section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 [text, PDF], an online information system such as craigslist, "'must not be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by' someone else." AP has more.

The Seventh Circuit's decision affirmed a lower court ruling [opinion]. In a memo supporting the CLCCUL's position in the case, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) [official website] had urged the court [memo, PDF] to require online communities that host solicitations for housing to screen and filter user submissions in order to ensure Fair Housing Act compliance.






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Turkish PM assails prosecutor bid to ban ruling party for 'anti-secular' activities
Benjamin Klein on March 15, 2008 4:05 PM ET

[JURIST] Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] said Saturday that a bid by the country's top prosecutor to disband his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] and to bar him and President Abdullah Gul [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] from political office was a "step against the national will." Chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya [official profile, in Turkish] petitioned the Constitutional Court of Turkey [official website, English version] on Friday for the banishment of the party, which controls the offices of the prime minister and president and dominates the 550-seat Parliament with 340 lawmakers. Yalcinkaya accused the AKP of being "the focal point of anti-secular activities," writing in his indictment that the party "has tried to chip away at the principles of secularism." The Islamist-leaning AKP has long been at odds with Turkey's secular establishment, prompted backlash from the Republican People's Party [official website] most recently for the passage of a constitutional amendment easing a ban on Islamic headscarves [JURIST report] in universities.

The AKP, which emerged in 2001 from a banned Islamist party, took 47 percent of the vote in the national parliamentary elections last July. The Constitutional Court has banned several Islamist parties in the past, including the Welfare Party, which lead Turkey's first pro-Islamist government for nearly a year, for violating constitutional obligations to respect Turkey's strict secular principles. The court will meet Monday to decide whether to accept the prosecutor's complaint. AFP has more. AP has additional coverage.






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'High value' detainee transferred to Guantanamo from CIA custody
Benjamin Klein on March 15, 2008 2:58 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense (DOD) announced [press release] Friday that an alleged top al-Qaeda operative has been transferred from CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay. Muhammad Rahim, a former messenger for Osama bin Laden said to have helped the terrorist leader escape from Afghanistan in 2001, was captured by local authorities in Pakistan last summer and turned over to the CIA in August. Rahim is the second detainee to be transferred to military custody since the administration confirmed [JURIST report] 18 months ago that it had maintained a network of secret CIA prisons to interrogate key suspects. The DOD statement did not say where the CIA had held Rahim prior to his transfer. The last transfer of a "high-value" CIA detainee to Guantanamo was that of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi [DOD profile, PDF], which occurred last April [JURIST report]. Neither the CIA nor the DOD have disclosed the details of Rahim's capture, or revealed how he was interrogated. The New York Times has more.

Under the Geneva Conventions [text], the International Committee of the Red Cross must be permitted to visit with Rahim and the other 277 detainees in Guantanamo. The Bush administration continues to differ with the Red Cross over how quickly such visits are required and has refused to allow its delegations inside the CIA's secret prisons. This past week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking to compel the US government to release unredacted transcripts of military hearings for 14 of the "high value" detainees, during which the prisoners allegedly described torture and abuse experienced while confined in CIA secret prisons. None of the "high value" detainees, including Rahim and al-Iraqi, have been been formally charged with any crime.






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Executing 9/11 suspects would make them martyrs: Mukasay
Steve Czajkowski on March 15, 2008 12:01 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Michael Mukasey [official profile; JURIST news archive] told an audience in London Friday that he hopes those accused in the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive] do not receive the death penalty if found guilty because it would make them martyrs. Mukasey made the comment in response to a question after a speech [prepared text] at the London School of Economics on Anglo-American law enforcement. Mukasey did say the punishment would be fitting if they are convicted of the crime, but he believes it would allow the accused to portray themselves as victims. He emphasized that he was merely expressing a personal opinion, not stating US government policy.

The US is planning military commission trials of the six men currently accused in the attacks at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. Those six include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, and Mohammed al-Qahtani. Mukasey defended the military commission process in his remarks Friday, saying:

The military commissions established by our Congress are closely modeled on tribunals that the United States uses in courts-martial to try U.S. citizens in uniform. They include all the protections that we regard as fundamental, they exceed those used at Nuremberg, and they compare favorably with international war crimes tribunals.

Under the Military Commissions Act, for example, the accused enjoys the right to counsel; the presumption of innocence unless guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt; and the right to a trial before impartial military judges—the same military judges who preside at courts-martial—and an impartial jury. The accused enjoys the right to see all of the evidence presented against him—including any classified evidence presented to the members of the military commission. And the act ensures that the military judge deems statements admitted to be reliable and in the interest of justice.

Moreover, there will be no secret trials—rather, all trials will be open and public, with only a narrow exception to protect national security. Finally, for those convicted, the Military Commissions Act provides several levels of appeal, including to our civilian courts, and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. Like many of the rights provided in the act, this access to our domestic courts for direct appellate review is an unprecedented protection for convicted war criminals.

We recognize that the use of military commissions has been regarded as controversial by some of our allies. But we hope that as the trials go forward—and the first of them, of a man named Hamdan, who served among other things as Osama bin Laden's driver, is scheduled to begin this Spring—some of the misimpressions about the system will laid be to rest, and the world will see not only the crimes of al Qaeda put upon display, but also a justice system fully consistent with our shared Anglo-American legal tradition as well as the standards of international law. That's why international conversations like this one are important, because they provide the opportunity for a discussion grounded in fact.
Military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty [JURIST report] for those charged in the 9/11 trial, but a convening authority overseeing the trial must decide whether to accept it and then decide whether those charged are eligible. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.





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Kosovo Serbs take over UN courthouse in secession protest
Steve Czajkowski on March 15, 2008 12:00 PM ET

[JURIST] Hundreds of Serbs took control of a UN courthouse in the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica Friday in an apparent protest against Kosovo's recent declaration of independence [text; JURIST report] from Serbia. The group initially demanded a deal with UN authorities, but it was not immediately clear what the details of those demands were. The regional UN representative held talks with Serb leaders over the situation but those broke off during the night. Joachim Ruecker [official profile], head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) [official website], said in a statement [press release]:

Those who turned to violence in North Mitrovica have crossed one of UNMIK’s red lines. This is completely unacceptable. I have instructed UNMIK Police to restore law and order in the North and to ensure that the Court House is again under UN control.
Kosovo Serbs had been holding daily protests in front of the courthouse since Kosovo declared its independence last month. Serbs consider the territory of Kosovo to be Serbia's historic and religious heartland and the Serbian government in Belgrade has insisted that Kosovo's declaration of independence is illegal under international law. AP has more.





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Norway government proposes law extending rights of same-sex partners
Steve Czajkowski on March 15, 2008 10:57 AM ET

[JURIST] The Norwegian government [official website] brought forward a draft law Friday that would grant same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, replacing a 1993 law which merely granted gay couples the right to enter into civil unions. The proposal would allow gay couples to be married in a church but does not require a minister or religious organization to perform the ceremony. It also gives lesbians the right to assisted pregnancies and allows gay couples to be considered adoptive parents. It is unclear whether the measure, supported by Minister of Children and Equality Anniken Huitfeldt [official profile], will pass the parliament without changes.

Denmark became the first country to allow gays to enter into civil unions in 1989. The Netherlands was the first country to give gay couples the full right of marriage in 2001. AP has more. The International Herald Tribune has additional coverage.






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Guatemala president vetoes death penalty bill
Steve Czajkowski on March 15, 2008 10:12 AM ET

[JURIST] Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom [official profile] vetoed a bill [press release, in Spanish] Friday that would have restored the country's death penalty [AI backgrounder]. Decree 06-2008 [AI backgrounder] would also have given Colom, sworn into office just last month [AP report] the power to decide whether to grant clemency and commute the sentences of the 34 inmates currently on death row to 50 years in prison, or to order their executions to take place. In vetoing the measure Colom said cases in the United States showed that the death penalty did not deter crime, and that strengthening security institutions was the best way to fight crime in Guatemala. The Guatemalan Congress [official website], which passed the bill in February with 140 out of 158 lawmakers supporting it, can override the veto with a two-thirds supermajority vote.

The last execution Guatemala took place in 2000. In 2002, then-President Alfonso Portillo directed the Constitutional Court [official website] to set a capital punishment moratorium in the country, concluding that a 1892 law permitting commutation was unclear as to which part of the government had jurisdiction to grant clemency. The Constitutional Court granted the moratorium, stating that it was Congress' job to amend the law. AP has more.






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Khadr military judge orders US to turn over interrogation materials
Leslie Schulman on March 14, 2008 4:45 PM ET

[JURIST] US military judge Col. Peter Brownback on Friday ruled that interrogation materials, including names of interrogators, relevant to the case of Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] must be turned over to Khadr's defense team. Earlier in the week it was unintentionally revealed [CP report] that one of Khadr's interrogators was Sgt. Joshua Claus, a US interrogator who later pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to maltreatment and assault of an Afghan detainee known as Dilawar [NYT report] who died in US custody. Brownback Friday also postponed a May 5 military commission trial date and compelled a US commander expected to testify on behalf of the government to be questioned by the Khadr defense team for alleging altering a combat report. On Thursday, Brownback ruled [JURIST report] that some correspondence between the US and Canadian government officials regarding Khadr had to be turned over to the defense. Prosecutors had argued that they had found no such correspondence in US State Department records, but Brownback ordered that they conduct another search. The Miami Herald has more.

Khadr, now 21, faces life imprisonment after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed US Sgt. Christopher Speer and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002. He was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. Khadr's military lawyer disclosed Thursday in preliminary proceedings that a US commander known only as "Lt. Col. W" changed key facts in a July 28, 2002 report on the incident in order to strengthen the government's case against Khadr. The original report said that the person who killed Speer was subsequently killed by US troops; the report was later altered to indicate that Speer's killer was merely "engaged" by US troops, and not killed. The report has been used to support the murder charges against Khadr. The Globe and Mail has more.






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Federal appeals court remands Guantanamo detainee bid to block Algeria transfer
Leslie Schulman on March 14, 2008 4:22 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Friday remanded [PDF text] to district court a bid by Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Belbacha [BBC profile] to obtain a preliminary injunction barring his transfer back to his home country of Algeria. The court in January had initially stayed [JURIST report] his transfer against the urging of the Bush administration. Belbacha has been cleared for release from Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], but says he will be tortured or killed by either the government or al Qaeda if returned to Algeria.

The US Supreme Court in August denied [PDF text] Belbacha's emergency request to stay his transfer to Algeria [JURIST report]. Belbacha filed the emergency application for a stay [PDF text] after the DC Circuit appeals court lifted an earlier stay [order, PDF; JURIST report] on Belbacha's transfer. The court instead put the case on an expedited schedule. US District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled [AP report] in July the court lacked jurisdiction to block Belbacha's transfer. AP has more.






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Former CIA 'ghost detainee' describes interrogation abuses in Amnesty report
Nick Fiske on March 14, 2008 3:34 PM ET

[JURIST] A former CIA "ghost detainee" [JURIST news archive] detailed torture and abuse by agency interrogators at Iraq's Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive] prison and a secret CIA facility in Afghanistan in an Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] report [text] released Friday. Khaled Abdu Ahmed Saleh al-Maqtari, a Yemeni national, was held for a total of 32 months after being arrested in Fallujah in January 2004. He was flown from Afghanistan to another secret CIA prison believed to be in Eastern Europe before he was returned to Yemen and released in May 2007. Al-Maqtari says that while in US custody he was exposed to, among other things, beatings, sleep deprivation, and near freezing water meant to induce hypothermia.

Amnesty International said that at no time was al-Maqtari told why or where he was being held. Amnesty says that the US violated international human rights laws when al-Maqtari was barred from contacting his family, a lawyer, or the International Committee of the Red Cross. AFP has more.






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House passes FISA amendment bill without telecom immunity as veto looms
Bernard Hibbitts on March 14, 2008 2:11 PM ET

[JURIST] A controversial bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Security Act [JURIST news archive] narrowly passed the US House of Representatives Friday in the face of a White House threat to veto it. By 213-197 [roll call] House Democrats pushed through new surveillance regulations [HR 3773 text as amended; summary] that would extend government power to eavesdrop on individuals within the United States under judicial oversight but not grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that had previously allowed the government to eavesdrop on their lines as part of its warrantless wiretapping program. Fearing that telecoms would balk at future intelligence requests, the White House has repeatedly called for such a provision, and on Thursday President Bush said again that he would veto any FISA amendment legislation that did not include that [transcript]. The approved bill would defer the issue of immunity to the courts [JURIST report] to be resolved on a case-by-case basis.

The vote on the bill followed a rare closed session of the House on Thursday evening as members of Congress discussed security-sensitive issues in secret for the first time in 25 years. The House measure now goes to the Senate, which previously passed [JURIST report] similar legislation [comparison of terms] including the immunity provision. AP has more.






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Bush executive order weakens intelligence oversight watchdog
Leslie Schulman on March 14, 2008 1:15 PM ET

[JURIST] A new executive order [text] weakens much of the authority of the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) [official backgrounder], the independent committee of private citizens which since 1976 has been responsible for reporting illegal US intelligence activities to both the president and the attorney general. The order, signed February 29, removes the IOB's oversight authority over each US intelligence agency's inspector general and general counsel, and also eliminates the requirement that each agency head file a report to the IOB every three months. The order now gives greater deference to intelligence agencies, permitting them to file reports to the IOB only if and when they think necessary. The executive order also narrows the scope of IOB reporting of agency violations, permitting it now only when other officials are not already "adequately" addressing the illegal activity.

The Board, whose members are appointed by the president, was vacant for the first two years of Bush's presidency. Last July, the Washington Post reported that the IOB sent no reports of illegal agency activity to the attorney general during the first 5 and a half years of Bush's presidency, even though the FBI alerted the board to hundreds of legal violations by its agents after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Boston Globe has more.






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UK control orders in force against 11: Home Office minister
Bernard Hibbitts on March 14, 2008 10:37 AM ET

[JURIST] UK Home Office minister Tony McNulty [official profile] told members of Parliament in a written statement [text] to the House of Commons Thursday that control orders [JURIST news archive] limiting movement and restricting the rights of uncharged individuals are currently in force against 11 people suspected of terrorist activity, down from a previous 15. The names of the suspects were withheld for security reasons. Only four of the control order subjects are British citizens. He reported that three orders against individuals who absconded [JURIST report] last year have expired and have not been renewed. An additional order was revoked after that individual received a prison sentence for an unrelated offense.

McNulty said:

Control orders continue to be an essential tool to protect the public from terrorism, particularly where it is not possible to prosecute individuals for terrorism-related activity and, in the case of foreign nationals, where they cannot be removed from the UK.

As stated in previous quarterly statements on control orders, control order obligations are tailored to the individual concerned and are based on the terrorism-related risk that individual poses. Each control order is kept under regular review to ensure that obligations remain necessary and proportionate. The Home Office continues to hold control order review groups (CORGs) every quarter, with representation from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, to keep the obligations in every control order under regular and formal review and to facilitate a review of appropriate exit strategies.
Last month the Commons approved a measure [JURIST report] extending until March 2009 the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 governing control orders.

Control orders [BBC backgrounder] allow the British government to impose house arrest and electronic surveillance on suspects and to forbid them from using mobile phones and the Internet when there is not enough evidence to prosecute. They were first introduced [JURIST report] by the government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and, apart from being politically controversial, have already run into problems in the courts [JURIST report]. The UK Law Lords ruled [JURIST report] in a series of decisions in October that the government can continue to impose control orders on terror suspects in lieu of detention, but said that some elements of the orders violate human rights. AP has more.





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Myanmar opposition group urges citizens to vote down draft constitution
Nick Fiske on March 14, 2008 10:20 AM ET

[JURIST] Myanmar opposition group 88 Generation Students [Asia Times backgrounder] urged Burmese voters Friday to reject the country's new draft constitution in an upcoming national referendum [JURIST reports]. The group said in a public statement that the new constitution would only further legitimize military rule and that the procedures set in place to govern the referendum are a "sham". The statement also urged voters not to fear repercussions, saying that government authorities have no right to arrest voters. The group contends that the military government picked the drafters of the constitution and barred opposition groups from providing input during the drafting process. Supporters of the new constitution say that it is an integral step towards establishing a democratic Myanmar.

The constitution-drafting process has come under fire [JURIST report] from both local and international critics, including supporters of detained Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile], who have stopped just short of calling for a boycott. The 88 Generation Students staged massive protests [JURIST report] against the military government last April which resulted in the arrest of the group's leader and the death of another demonstrator. The country has been governed without a constitution since the military regime took power in 1988 and talks on a new national charter [JURIST report] have been underway for 14 years. Last week the military government rejected a UN proposal [JURIST report] that the referendum be observed by independent monitors, saying that it would infringe on the country's sovereignty. AP has more.






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Roberts, Thomas urge Congress to approve pay hike for federal judges
Nick Fiske on March 14, 2008 9:34 AM ET

[JURIST] US Chief Justice John Roberts [Oyez profile] and Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas [LII profile] told a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday that Congress should pass a bill to raise the pay of federal judges in an attempt to close the pay gap between the federal judiciary and their colleagues in private practice. If passed, the Federal Judicial Salary Restoration Act of 2007 [S 1638 materials] would mark the first significant raise federal judges have received since 1991. The bill stops judicial pay from being set at the same level as members of Congress and would raise salaries for district judges to $218,000 per year; federal appeals judges would earn $231,000 per year and associate Supreme Court justices would earn $267,900. The Chief Justice would earn $279,900.

Roberts has called for a federal judiciary pay raise [JURIST report] since he began his tenure on the Court, arguing that experienced district court judges receive salaries comparable to first year associates at many law firms. In January, Roberts used his 2007 year-end report [PDF text] on the federal judiciary to press his point on inadequate pay.

Roberts and Thomas also urged Congress not to pass the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2007 [S 352 text] which would permit the Supreme Court to televise all open sessions, unless there is a majority vote amongst the justices that coverage in a particular case is determined to be a violation of the due process rights of any party. The Justices argued that the determination should be left solely to the judiciary and that televised proceedings would place undue emphasis on oral arguments over written court documents. In April 2006, Thomas spoke out against cameras in the Supreme Court [JURIST report], countering the Senate Judiciary Committee's call for greater transparency in court proceedings. AP has more.






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UN SG urges Israel to end 'disproportionate' attacks in Gaza Strip
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 13, 2008 5:19 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] Thursday condemned Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] and called on Israel to end its use of "disproportionate and excessive force" against Palestinians. Speaking at a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference [group website] in Senegal, Ban said [transcript]:

Let me use this opportunity to once again urge Israel and the Palestinian Authority, together with their regional partners and the Quartet, to take urgent measures to ease the suffering in Gaza and give hope to its people.

As I told the Security Council when I briefed them earlier this month, Israel's disproportionate and excessive use of force has killed and injured many civilians, including children. I condemn these actions and call on Israel to cease such attacks. Israel must fully comply with international humanitarian law and exercise utmost restraint.

At the same time, I also condemn the rocket attacks directed against Israel and call for the immediate cessation of such acts. They serve no purpose, endanger Israeli civilians and bring misery to the Palestinian people.
Haaretz has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.

Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] called on Israel [press release; JURIST report] to conduct an impartial investigation into the deaths of Palestinians during the attacks. In January, Arbour criticized [JURIST report] an Israeli blockade of Gaza, saying that the Israel's policy of collective punishment, disproportionate use of force and targeted killings had helped precipitate problems in the area. Israeli troops began to withdraw from Gaza last Monday after an incursion last month, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [JURIST news archive] warned that strikes would continue [Haaretz report] against local Hamas targets.





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ACLU sues for full hearing transcripts for 14 'high-value' Guantanamo detainees
Leslie Schulman on March 13, 2008 5:18 PM ET

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] Thursday seeking to compel the US government to release unredacted transcripts of military hearings conducted at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] in early 2007 for 14 "high-value" prisoners [DNI profiles, PDF], during which the prisoners allegedly described torture and abuse sustained during detention in CIA secret prisons [JURIST report]. The complaint argues that revealing the detainees' descriptions of their treatment while in CIA custody will "cause no harm to national security," and asserts that the government has withheld the information to hide illegal interrogation activity by US officials and to protect the government from "embarrassment and criticism." The abuse is alleged to have taken place before the detainees were transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

The 14 detainees include alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed [BBC profile], as well as Abu Zubaydah [BBC profile] and Majid Khan [GlobalSecurity profile]. The ACLU has previously filed Freedom of Information Act requests [ACLU archive] for release of documents relating to treatment of detainees while in CIA custody. Last April, in an affidavit submitted to a military review panel convened to determine whether Khan was an "enemy combatant", Khan's father accused CIA officials [JURIST reports] of torturing his son. The Department of Defense later said that all 14 had been determined to be enemy combatants [JURIST report]. The Miami Herald has more.






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Kenya president appoints commission to investigate election results
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 13, 2008 4:20 PM ET

[JURIST] Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] has established a panel to investigate the December 2007 disputed presidential election [JURIST report] that sparked mass violence in the country, according to a Thursday statement from his office. The panel is expected to probe the election's outcome, as well as the independence of the Electoral Commission of Kenya [official website]. Tensions have settled somewhat as Mwai and opposition candidate Raila Odinga [campaign profile] tentatively negotiated a power-sharing deal [JURIST report] last month, although disagreements still remain. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement [party website] said on Thursday that any attempt to interpret the agreement in a way to divide power unequally could lead to renewed violence. The Parliament of Kenya [official website] met last week to discuss the power-sharing deal [JURIST report], but has yet to approve the agreement. Reuters has more.

Kenya's controversial presidential vote has sparked simmering ethnic tensions in the country, where Kibaki has long been accused of using his position to favor members of the Kikuyu tribe. Fueling accusations of malfeasance, Kibaki won the December 27 election despite early opinion polls that placed rival candidate Odinga in the lead. Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets following the election, which prompted the government to temporarily ban public rallies and institute a curfew in Nairobi, the capital city. In all, over 1,000 people have been killed and 250,000 displaced since protests began. Thirteen nations, including several European Union members and the United States, have threatened to cut off aid [JURIST report] to the Kenyan government until the crisis is resolved and democracy is restored. Odinga's opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement filed a formal complaint [JURIST report] in January with the International Criminal Court [official website], alleging that Kibaki's administration has committed crimes against humanity while using force against demonstrators.






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DOJ review finds improper FBI use of national security letters increased in 2006
Leslie Schulman on March 13, 2008 4:09 PM ET

[JURIST] The FBI has continued to improperly use so-called national security letters (NSLs) [FAS backgrounder; example, PDF], with the number of violations increasing in 2006 over previous years, according to a US Department of Justice follow-up review [PDF text] released Thursday. Last March, the DOJ found in its initial review on NSL abuse [PDF text; JURIST report] that NSL violations similarly rose between 2003 through 2005. In response, the FBI published new draft guidelines [JURIST report] on the use of NSLs in June 2007, requiring FBI agents to identify the specific information being requested and justify its necessity pursuant to an investigation. Thursday's report praised recent efforts by the FBI to implement reforms, but noted that full compliance with new FBI measures and elimination of all NSL problems would take more time.

The DOJ Office of the Inspector General [official website] conducted both reviews under the terms of the 2005 Patriot Act [JURIST news archive] renewal legislation. The report follows testimony [JURIST report] by FBI Director Robert Mueller before the US Senate Judiciary Committee last week that the latest review indicated the FBI had continued to inappropriately access private citizens' communication and financial records in 2006 through NSLs. Some 20,000 national security letters are issued by the FBI each year, authorizing agents to seize telephone, business and financial records without prior judicial approval. Alleged abuses and overreaching with the letters spurred provisions in the 2005 Patriot Act renewal to provide for greater Congressional oversight of the practice. After the report was released Thursday, the FBI issued a response [press release], noting recent measures it has taken to comply with the 2007 review and asserting its commitment to improve national security while protecting civil liberties of citizens. AP has more.






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ICC delays trial of Congo militia leader until June
Leslie Schulman on March 13, 2008 3:03 PM ET

[JURIST] The trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Thursday postponed the trial date [press release] of former Union of Patriotic Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga [ICC materials; BBC profile] until June 23, 2008. Lubanga's trial was originally scheduled to begin March 31 [JURIST report]. Lubanga is charged [JURIST report] with enlisting child soldiers in the violence-plagued Ituri district [HRW backgrounder]. He has denied the charges against him. Lubanga's trial will be the first for the ICC since it was etablished six years ago.

Lubanga became the first war crimes defendant to appear before the ICC after he was taken into ICC custody [JURIST reports] in March 2006. The ICC has also taken steps to prosecute Germain Katanga [BBC report; ICC materials], a Congolese militia leader, who has also been accused of using child soldiers. AFP has more.






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US military judge orders disclosure of US-Canada correspondence on Khadr
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 13, 2008 2:37 PM ET

[JURIST] A US military judge ruled Thursday that some correspondence between the US and Canadian government officials regarding Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] must be turned over to Khadr's defense team. Prosecutors argued that they had found no such correspondence in US State Department records, but military judge Army Colonel Peter Brownback ordered that they conduct another search. The defense made over a dozen discovery motions on Thursday, including requests for statements made by Khadr shortly after his initial 2002 arrest and the deposition of a military officer who wrote two reports on the skirmish in which Khadr was captured. Brownback is expected to rule on some motions Friday. The Globe and Mail has more.

Khadr, now 21, faces life imprisonment after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed one US soldier and wounded another while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002. He was charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] in April 2007 with murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, as well as spying. Defense lawyers, a UN representative [JURIST reports], and rights groups have said if the US proceeds with the military trial, the US will be in violation of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [text], which gives special protection to children under 18 involved in armed conflicts.






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Armenia president eases media restrictions imposed during state of emergency
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 13, 2008 2:15 PM ET

[JURIST] Armenian President Robert Kocharian [official website] Thursday issued a decree lifting media restrictions put in place during a state of emergency [JURIST report] declared after last month's contested presidential election. The decree is set to take effect Friday, but restrictions on rallies and public gatherings will still be in force. AP has more.

Kocharian declared a state of emergency earlier this month after protesters demonstrated against the result of the February 19 presidential election in which Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan [official profile], a Kocharian ally, was declared the winner [BBC report]. Supporters of the opposition candidate and former president, Levon Ter-Petrosian [official website], alleged fraud, and held daily rallies [IHT report] to force a new vote. Last week, the Constitutional Court of Armenia rejected a challenge [JURIST report] brought by Ter-Petrosian against the election results, ruling that although polling discrepancies existed they did not affect the election's outcome.






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DOD investigation uncovers at least 50 videotaped terror interrogations: NYT
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 13, 2008 12:11 PM ET

[JURIST] An ongoing Pentagon investigation into the videotaping of terror suspect interrogations has uncovered at least 50 videotaped interrogations, the New York Times reported Thursday. Most of the videotaped interrogations involved two terror detainees, Jose Padilla [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and Ali al-Marri [New York Times profile]. Officials denied that any of the tapes depict interrogation tactics that would qualify as torture, although one does show al-Marri being gagged with duct tape. The investigation, launched in January, was meant to clarify the rules surrounding military interrogations, but officials say it has been hindered by inconsistent practices in the field. The preliminary findings are the first time that the military has acknowledged filming some terror interrogations.

The investigation was launched after controversy surrounding the CIA's admission that it destroyed videotapes [JURIST report] of the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah [BBC profile] and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The military is currently holding tens of thousands of detainees in custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], and a Pentagon spokesman said that taping interrogations was not a widespread practice. The tapings of Padilla and al-Marri both occurred at a Navy Brig in South Carolina. Padilla has since been transferred to civilian custody and is serving a 17-year sentence on terrorism charges, while al-Marri continues to be held by the Defense Department as an "enemy combatant." He has challenged his detention [Brennan Center materials], and his case is currently being considered [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The New York Times has more.






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China slams US rights record in response to US State Department report
Brett Murphy on March 13, 2008 10:57 AM ET

[JURIST] The Chinese State Council said Thursday that a US Department of State report [text] critical of the Chinese human rights record is hypocritical given the number of human rights problems in the US. In a report entitled the Human Rights Record of the United States in 2007 [text; JURIST report], the Chinese detail alleged human rights violations by the US, saying that:

The United States has always adopted double standards on human rights issues. It frequently exerts pressure on other countries to invite the UN special rapporteur to exam and report on the status of their human rights status, but itself has never done so. The United States requests others to obey the UN norms that allow special rapporteurs to visit any place and talk with any one without interference or surveillance, but itself has rejected such norms and has turned down the request for a joint visit to the military base at Guantanamo Bay from several special rapporteurs.
Russia also condemned [AP report; press release] that US State Department's report on human rights in Russia [text] as biased, suggesting that "the State Department just hand-picked material to fit pre-articulated conclusions."

The US State Department country report on China, released Tuesday, said that the Chinese human rights situation in 2007 "remained poor," as China tightened controls on freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the treatment of political dissidents. The State Department prepares Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [materials] each year in compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 [PDF text], which requires such reports on countries receiving US assistance and countries that are members of the UN. AP has more. Xinhua has local coverage.





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EPA announces stricter smog rule
Brett Murphy on March 13, 2008 10:25 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Environmental Protection Agency [official website] said Wednesday that a stricter air quality rule [PDF text; press release] on ground-level ozone and smog will go into effect in May, requiring some 345 US counties [map, PDF] to reduce air pollution in order to come into compliance with the new standard. The revisions [fact sheet, PDF] to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards For Ozone were based on the results of over 1,700 studies showing that the old standards on smog levels still created a risk of negative health effects. Counties that do not comply with the new standards include the cities of Los Angeles, Jacksonville, El Paso, and Cleveland.

The EPA has the power to monitor ozone levels under the Clean Air Act [text]. The EPA is required to review ozone standards every five years, and the standards were last adjusted in 1997. AP has more.






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Afghan Guantanamo Bay detainee charged with supporting terrorism
Brett Murphy on March 13, 2008 9:55 AM ET

[JURIST] Afghan Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed Kamin [DOD materials] was charged [PDF text; DOD press release] Wednesday with providing material support to terrorism. In its announcement of the sworn charges, the US Defense Department said:

The charges allege that between January and May of 2003, Mohammed Kamin provided material support to terrorism by joining the terrorist organization al Qaeda and receiving training at al Qaeda training camps on making remote detonators for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), in modifying military ammunition, and on use of small arms for attacks against American and Coalition forces.

It is further alleged in the charges that Mohammed Kamin conducted surveillance on U.S. military bases, placed explosive devices under a bridge along the route to Zaina Khail Village in Afghanistan, placed missiles near the Khowst Customs House to launch into a U.S. or Coalition base and installed missiles near Khowst, Afghanistan. The charges also allege that Mohammed Kamin launched the missiles toward Kwhost, then occupied by the United States and Coalition armed forces.
The charges fall under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [PDF text; JURIST news archive] and must now be approved by Convening Authority Susan J. Crawford, who will decide whether to refer the charges to military commission.

Kamin is now the fourteenth detainee to be charged under the military commission system. On Wednesday, Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad [DOD materials], charged with attempted murder and intentionally causing serious bodily harm for allegedly throwing a grenade at US soldiers, said that he has been mistreated in custody and asked to boycott [JURIST report] his upcoming trial. Jawad's comments came during his first pretrial hearing before a military commission. Reuters has more.





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Guantanamo Bay detainee asks to boycott trial at preliminary hearing
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 12, 2008 6:49 PM ET

[JURIST] An Afghan Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee alleged that he has been mistreated in custody and asked to boycott his upcoming trial at his first pretrial hearing before a military commission Wednesday. Mohammed Jawad [DOD materials] is charged [press release] with attempted murder [charge sheet, PDF] and intentionally causing serious bodily harm for allegedly throwing a grenade at two US soldiers and an interpreter in their vehicle on December 17, 2002 in Kabul. Jawad did not enter a plea Wednesday. A judge said that he could still be tried and convicted in absentia should he refuse to attend future proceedings. AP has more.

Jawad was the fourth Guantanamo detainee to be formally charged with war crimes under the 2006 Military Commissions Act [PDF text]. Military commission cases [DOD materials] have now been initiated against 14 current or former detainees.






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Canada judge rules Afghan detainees have no rights under Charter
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 12, 2008 5:36 PM ET

[JURIST] Justice Anne Mactavish of the Federal Court of Canada ruled [judgment, PDF; summary, PDF] Wednesday that the protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text] do not extend to Afghan detainees captured by Canadian soldiers. Amnesty International Canada and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association [advocacy websites] had filed complaints against the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal (CFPM) [official website] in Federal Court in February 2007, alleging complicity in torture by Canadian personnel serving in Afghanistan as part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Amnesty alleged that Canada was violating its 1982 rights charter by turning Afghan detainees over to Afghan authorities without any protection against later cruel and unusual punishment. Mactavish held that:

I have concluded that while detainees held by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan have the rights accorded to them under the Afghan Constitution and by international law, and, in particular, by international humanitarian law, they do not have rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Furthermore, although the actions of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan in relation to the detention of non-Canadian individuals are governed by numerous international legal instruments, and may also be governed by Canadian law in certain clearly defined circumstances, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to the conduct in issue in this case.
Also Wednesday, the Canadian Military Police Complaints Commission [official website], which has been tasked with investigating the Canadian military's detainee transfer process, said that it was unable to complete its investigation because several departments in the Canadian government were refusing to hand over key information. Commission head Peter Tinsley said that the commission would hold public hearings, so that it could issue subpoenas to compel disclosure. CBC News has more.

The transfer scandal erupted in April 2007 when the Toronto Globe and Mail reported [text] that more than 30 terrorism suspects had been tortured by Afghan investigators after being transferred from Canadian custody. Following public outcry, Canada signed a new agreement regarding detainee transfers [JURIST report] with the Afghan government, giving Canada the right to inspect detainees following their transfer. The Canadian military announced last month that it had resumed transfers of Afghan detainees to Afghan authorities [JURIST report].





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France authorities detain second banker in massive fraud case
Kiely Lewandowski on March 12, 2008 3:27 PM ET

[JURIST] A second employee of French bank Societe Generale [corporate website] has been detained in connection with the investigation into fraudulent activity allegedly committed by rogue trader Jerome Kerviel [BBC profile], the bank said Tuesday. A Societe Generale spokesperson did not name the man but did confirm that he is not the same banker questioned in late February [JURIST report]. Bloomberg reported that an official involved in the investigation had identified the second banker as Manuel Zabraniecki.

Kerviel has been in custody [JURIST report] since February 8 when the Paris appeals court granted a request by prosecutors to hold Kerviel in "provisional detention" to prevent him from fleeing the country or communicating with any possible accomplices during the investigation. Societe Generale, which lost $7 billion when it was forced to unload the fraudulent positions, described the methods Kerviel supposedly used to commit the fraud in an explanatory note [PDF text]. Kerviel has maintained that he acted alone, but also says that he is being made a scapegoat [Telegraph report] by the bank, which he alleges was aware of his activities. Additionally, BusinessWeek
has reported [text] that the Eurex derivatives exchange [exchange website] warned Societe Generale in November 2007 about Kerviel's unauthorized transactions. Bloomberg has more. BBC News has additional coverage.






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ICTR appeals chamber increases Rwanda Catholic priest sentence to life in prison
Kiely Lewandowski on March 12, 2008 2:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] Wednesday upheld the conviction of Catholic priest Father Athanase Seromba [case materials] for genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and increased his sentence to life in prison [press release]. Seromba, who was acquitted of the lesser charge of conspiracy to commit genocide, was in charge of a parish church where some more than 1,000 Tutsis sought refuge from Hutu forces. He was found to have ordered the bulldozing of the church and the shooting of all those who tried to escape. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2006, but in November 2007 prosecutors appealed the sentence [JURIST reports] as too lenient.

The ICTR appeals chamber ruled [PDF text]:

The Appeals Chamber considers that the crimes for which Mr. Seromba has been convicted are egregious in scale and inhumanity. The Appeals Chamber stresses that Mr. Seromba knew that approximately 1,500 refugees were in the church and that they were bound to die or be seriously injured as a consequence of his approval that the church be bulldozed, knowing that the refugees had come to the church seeking safety.
Seromba was the first priest convicted by the ICTR, which sits in Arusha in neighboring Tanzania. AFP has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.





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Former Liberia militia commander testifies at Taylor war crimes trial
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 12, 2008 2:23 PM ET

[JURIST] A former militia commander testified Wednesday before the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] at the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], describing scare tactics used by Taylor to intimidate the population and frighten his enemies. Joseph Marzah said that Taylor had ordered him to kill civilians and told him that the way to instill fear into enemies was to "play with human blood." Marzah also testified that he had been involved in an abortive assassination attempt ordered by Taylor on then-Liberian President Samuel Doe [profile]. AP has more. The Mail and Guardian has additional coverage.

Taylor is generally deemed responsible for masterminding and funding intertwined civil wars in Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone through the sale of so-called "blood diamonds." He has been charged [indictment, PDF; summary] by the SCSL with 11 counts of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and other violations of international humanitarian law. The specific counts include murder, rape, and the use of child soldiers. His trial, moved to The Hague for security reasons, resumed [JURIST report] in January after a multiple-month delay to allow Taylor's defense team more time to prepare.






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Spitzer resignation casts shadow over law reforms
Bernard Hibbitts on March 12, 2008 1:43 PM ET

[JURIST] The resignation [statement text] of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer [JURIST news archive] Wednesday following disclosure of his involvement with a prostitution ring subject to a federal wiretap [criminal complaint, PDF] has interrupted and potentially compromised a series of law reform initiatives championed by the former state attorney general. Among the most prominent of those is a bill to legalize gay marriage in New York passed by the state Assembly [JURIST report] last June but still stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Also affected is the Spitzer-sponsored Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act [JURIST report; NY Daily News report] that would affirm and advance abortion rights in the state. The future of Spitzer proposals on state campaign finance laws and legislative districts is similarly uncertain. Spitzer's resignation also retrospectively casts a shadow over his vigorous but controversial campaign against corporate fraud [WSJ report], mostly conducted during his term as attorney general from 1998-2006. The New York Times has more.

One piece of legislation that may now ironically stand out as an unanticipated highlight of Spitzer's administration is a statute on human trafficking [text] that went into effect November 1. Among other things, the law increased the state penalty for persons patronizing a prostitute [NYT report] to a year in jail up from a maximum of three months. Spitzer signed the legislation last year shortly after taking office as governor. He has not yet been charged with any crime under state or federal law [Mann Act text].






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Egypt courts rule Muslim Brotherhood members can register for local elections
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 12, 2008 1:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Several provincial Egyptian courts ruled Tuesday that members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood [party website; FAS backgrounder] must be allowed to register as candidates in the upcoming local council elections in April, even as Egyptian police continued arrests of group members. Egyptian police arrested at least 10 Brotherhood members on Wednesday, adding to the 54 members arrested last Tuesday and the 26 last Thursday [JURIST reports]. Across the country, only about 50 or 60 Brotherhood members have been able to register to stand in the election, and the group has accused the Egyptian government of systematically harassing members and obstructing their registration. Minister of Legal Affairs Moufid Shehab admitted that "mistakes or bureaucracy" had marred the registration process, but said that the court rulings "would be enforced immediately."

The provincial council elections were originally scheduled for 2006, but the Egyptian legislature passed a law [JURIST report] delaying the election for two years after the Muslim Brotherhood made a strong showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Muslim Brotherhood members officially run as independents in elections as the organization has been banned in Egypt [JURIST news archive] since 1954. The Egyptian government has accused the group of trying to create an Islamic theocracy through violence. Reuters has more.






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UN torture investigator denied access to US prisons in Iraq
Devin Montgomery on March 12, 2008 12:26 PM ET

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak [UN profile] said Tuesday that US officials have refused to grant him access to US prisons operating in Iraq when he travels to the country later in the year. Nowak told reporters in Geneva that US officials told him the facilities were outside his purview because of the ongoing military conflict in the country. A US State Department [official website] official told AP that Nowak was denied access for operational reasons and that only the International Committee of the Red Cross [official website] has been allowed access [JURIST report] to US facilities because of security concerns.

Nowak said he had received credible reports that conditions in US prisons in Iraq have been improving and expressed surprise that the US did not want to take advantage of an opportunity to show that the practices uncovered at Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive] were not ongoing at US facilities. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.






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Thailand ex-PM pleads not guilty to corruption charges
Devin Montgomery on March 12, 2008 11:18 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] Wednesday pleaded not guilty to charges [JURIST report] of abuse of power for personal gain, conflict of interest violations, and dereliction of duty for personal gain in corruption proceedings before the Supreme Court of Thailand. The charges stem from a 2003 land purchase by his wife Pojamarn from the government-directed Financial Institutions Development Fund [official website], in violation of a law prohibiting government officials and their spouses from having business dealings with state-run agencies. Thaksin's next hearing will be held on April 29, but he will be required to report back to the court on April 11, following court-approved leave to travel outside the country. AP has more. The Bangkok Post has local coverage.

On Monday, Thai prosecutors filed separate corruption charges [JURIST report] against Thaksin, accusing him and other officials of illegally approving and operating funds from the state lottery. The government is seeking $500 million in compensation and has frozen more than $2 billion [JURIST report] of Thaksin and his family's assets. In February, Thaksin returned to Thailand from self-imposed exile to face corruption charges laid against him after he was ousted in a military coup [JURIST reports] in September 2006. Thai authorities immediately arrested Thaksin upon his return and later released him on bail.






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US House passes resolution to create independent ethics panel
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 12, 2008 11:00 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] Tuesday voted 229-182 [roll call] to pass a resolution [HRES 895 materials] creating an independent ethics panel to investigate allegations of malfeasance against House lawmakers. The Office of Congressional Ethics will consist of six non-House members of "exceptional public standing." This represents the first time that the House has delegated the authority to investigate alleged ethics violations to non-House members. Supporters said that the independent panel would help restore public confidence, while opponents worried that it would encourage frivolous investigations. The New York Times has more.

Government watchdog groups praised the outcome of the vote, saying that it showed the House was serious about dealing with ethics violations. Common Cause [advocacy website] called the move a "tremendous improvement to the current system," and noted that the panel would help to improve the House's image [press release] after a series of corruption scandals, including those involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham [JURIST news archives].






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US House leaders propose compromise on telecom surveillance immunity
Jeannie Shawl on March 12, 2008 10:50 AM ET

[JURIST] Telecommunications companies who have assisted the government in its warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive] would not be provided retroactive immunity from prosecution under the latest version of proposed surveillance legislation being considered by the US House of Representatives. The companies, however, would be allowed to present classified evidence in their defense without granting access to plaintiffs. Democratic Party leaders outlined the new proposal [statement, PDF] Tuesday, and said that it could come up for a vote on the House floor as early as Wednesday. The proposal is intended to resolve differences between the House, Senate and the White House on whether to include immunity for telecommunications companies in legislation that will supplement the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text]. The Senate passed the FISA Amendments Act [S 2248 materials; JURIST report] in mid-February; the Senate bill would grant telecommunications companies full legal immunity from civil suits for any involvement in wiretapping program between Sept. 11, 2001 and January 2007. The House version [HR 3773 materials; JURIST report], approved in November 2007, does not include the immunity provisions. The Bush administration has urged [JURIST report] the House to adopt the Senate version of the legislation, but House members have been reluctant to accept the proposed immunity grant.

The administration quickly expressed concern [statement, PDF] with the latest House proposal, with the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence saying Tuesday:

We are concerned with several reported features of the new proposed legislation. First, we understand that the House leadership may introduce a bill that would require prior court approval before allowing surveillance targeting certain foreign terrorists and other national security threats located outside the United States. ...

Second, we understand that the new House bill may not address the issue of providing liability protection for those private-sector firms that helped defend the Nation after the September 11 attacks. Any FISA modernization bill must include such liability protection. Through briefings and documents, we have provided Congress with access to the information that shows that liability protection is the fair and just result. In addition, private party assistance is necessary and critical to ensuring that the Intelligence Community can collect the information needed to protect our country from attack. The Senate Intelligence Committee has stated that "the intelligence community cannot obtain the intelligence it needs without assistance" from electronic communication service providers. The Committee also concluded that "without retroactive immunity, the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful Government requests in the future without unnecessary court involvement and protracted litigation. The possible reduction in intelligence that might result from this delay is simply unacceptable for the safety of our Nation." Senior intelligence officials also have testified regarding the importance of providing liability protection to such companies for this very reason. Exposing the private sector to continued litigation for assisting in efforts to defend the country understandably makes the private sector much more reluctant to cooperate. Without their cooperation, our efforts to protect the country cannot succeed.

Finally, we understand that there are a number of other provisions in the proposal that indicate it does not provide the needed tools to ensure our national security. ...
US Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Rep. Selvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, respectively, responded [statement]:
The administration, which has refused to even attend negotiation sessions between the House and the Senate, has now apparently launched another round of scare tactics and falsehoods. The American people expect government officials to wrestle with these difficult issues and reach common sense solutions that protect Americans from terrorism and preserve our civil liberties. Unfortunately, the president's advisors seem more inclined to issue "my way or the highway" press releases concerning a bill the administration hasn't even read. The Congress will continue to give this issue the careful consideration it deserves and we hope the administration will change course and join us in this effort.
The surveillance legislation being debated by Congress is meant to replace the now-defunct Protect America Act [S 1927 materials; JURIST report], which expired earlier this month before Congress could reach an agreement on legislation to replace it. The Washington Post has more.





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Indonesia rights panel investigating Suharto-era abuses
Jeannie Shawl on March 12, 2008 10:29 AM ET

[JURIST] A member of the National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia [official website] said Tuesday that the commission has launched an investigation into human rights abuses committed during the regime of former Indonesian President Haji Mohammad Suharto [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], telling AP that four separate teams will work until mid-May to gather evidence into killings, kidnappings and other abuses allegedly committed by Suharto's security forces. Ridha Saleh told AP that the time period of the investigations could be extended if necessary. After the commission completes its inquiry, evidence will be turned over to the country's attorney general, who will make the decision whether to file charges. Some observers have suggested that the attorney general could establish a special ad hoc rights court to prosecute those suspected of crimes under Suharto's dictatorial regime, but such a court would have to be approved by the House of Representatives and current Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono [official profile], who served as a military officer under Suharto.

Suharto, who ruled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, died [JURIST report] in late January. He presided over what is considered to be one of the most brutal dictatorships of the 20th century with as many as one million political opponents killed during his time in power. In recent years, Indonesian prosecutors attempted to bring criminal corruption charges against Suharto, but the case was dropped because Suharto was rendered unable to speak or write [JURIST reports] as a result of several strokes. Prosecutors are still pursuing civil corruption charges [JURIST report] against his estate and are hoping to recover $440 million in diverted state funds and $1.1 billion in damages from Suharto's estate. AP has more.






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UK MPs back EU reform treaty
Jeannie Shawl on March 12, 2008 10:10 AM ET

[JURIST] The UK House of Commons voted 346-206 Tuesday in favor of the EU reform treaty [JURIST news archive], properly known as the Treaty of Lisbon [official website; PDF text]. MPs adopted the European Union (Amendment) Bill [text; bill materials], which will incorporate the Treaty of Lisbon into UK law, after the bill's third reading [debate transcript]. The bill now goes to the House of Lords for approval.

Earlier this month, the House of Commons rejected a national referendum [JURIST report] on ratification of the EU treaty, though supporters of that proposal are hoping that the House of Lords will back a popular vote on the treaty, rather than allowing parliamentary ratification. The treaty must be ratified by all 27 EU member states before it can take effect, though each country may choose the method of ratification. Ireland, the latest country to announce its ratification plans, said Tuesday that Ireland will hold a referendum in June [EUobserver report]. Five countries have ratified the reform treaty, and so far, Ireland is the only EU member state that has chosen to hold a referendum on the issue. AFP has more.






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US House fails to override Bush veto of waterboarding ban
Devin Montgomery on March 12, 2008 9:51 AM ET

[JURIST] Democrats in the US House of Representatives Tuesday failed to secure enough votes to override President George W. Bush's veto [JURIST report] of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008 [HR 2082 materials], which would have prohibited the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] from using waterboarding [JURIST news archive] and other interrogation techniques not explicitly authorized by the 2006 Army Field Manual. Even with a final vote of 225-188 [roll call] in favor of the bill, supporters still fell 51 votes short of the two-thirds majority required to overcome a presidential veto.

Democrats and rights groups have denounced Bush's veto, saying the use of coercive techniques was ineffective and inhumane. Field Manual 2-22.3 [PDF text; press release], Human Intelligence Collector Operations, explicitly prohibits the use of waterboarding, electrocution, sensory deprivation, inducing hypothermia, or depriving the subject of food, water, or medical care. The 2006 manual also specifies that the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials] apply to all detainees [JURIST report] and eliminates separate standards for the questioning of prisoners of war and enemy combatants. In announcing his veto, Bush said [radio address transcript; recorded audio] that techniques outside those allowed in Army Field Manual were crucial to the effective interrogation of terror suspects, and that banning them would put the country at higher risk of attack. Bush had previously indicated his plans to veto the bill [JURIST report] in a BBC interview [transcript; recorded video] in February. AP has more.






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Federal appeals court blocks contempt fine against anthrax reporter
Jeannie Shawl on March 11, 2008 6:55 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday granted [PDF text] a request [JURIST report] filed by former USA Today reporter Toni Locy [profile] to block a daily contempt of court fine while Locy appeals the district court decision to impose sanctions against her for refusing to disclose government sources who provided information about former US Army germ-warfare researcher Dr. Steven J. Hatfill [Washington Post profile]. In a ruling last week, US District Judge Reggie Walton found Locy in contempt of court [PDF text; JURIST report] and ordered that, beginning Tuesday, Locy pay a fine of $500 a day; the fine was due to increase to $1000 a day after one week and then up to $5000 a day after two weeks. Hatfill refused to delay the sanctions until Locy can file an appeal and also ruled that Locy cannot accept reimbursement for the monetary sanctions. The appeals court, however, ruled that monetary sanctions should be stayed while Locy pursues an appeal.

Locy, now a journalism professor at West Virginia University, has refused to cooperate in Hatfill's suit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its alleged violation of the US Privacy Act [text], arguing that the information Hatfill is seeking has not been demonstrated to be central to the lawsuit. Hatfill was identified as a "person of interest" in the investigations of the 2001 anthrax attacks [GWU backgrounder]. He contends that FBI and DOJ officials violated federal privacy laws [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] by providing personal information and information about the investigation to journalists. Locy and former CBS reporter James Stewart have refused to comply with orders to reveal their sources. Locy has said that she no longer has notes from her reports and that she cannot recall who gave her the information. Walton has not yet decided whether to hold Stewart in contempt. AP has more.

Editor's Note: Toni Locy served as a JURIST student staff member while pursuing her MSL at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2006-07.






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Uganda president says LRA leaders to stand trial at home, not at ICC
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 11, 2008 5:31 PM ET

[JURIST] Leaders of Uganda's rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) [MIPT backgrounder; JURIST news archive] will stand trial in Uganda rather than at the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] at The Hague, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told AP Tuesday. Museveni said that the Ugandan government and LRA had reached a deal to try some LRA members under a traditional mediation system. Other Ugandan officials have said a special war crimes court will be established [JURIST report] to try LRA members accused of crimes against humanity. The government has previously said that rebel leader Joseph Kony [BBC profile] was willing to face trial at home [JURIST report], but not at the ICC.

Previously, the LRA has refused to sign a final peace agreement with the Ugandan government unless the ICC withdraws its indictments [ICC materials; JURIST report] of LRA leaders. Museveni denied that the decision to deal with LRA members domestically was linked to the peace agreement, instead saying that local communities most victimized by LRA fighting had called for the rebel leaders to be tried in Uganda. AP has more.






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State Department deplores rights records of North Korea, Iran, in annual reports
Jeannie Shawl on March 11, 2008 4:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The US State Department Tuesday heavily criticized the right records of North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Sudan Tuesday in its annual report on worldwide human rights observance. In the introduction [text] to the its 2007 Reports on Human Rights Practices [index], the Department noted that "Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remained the world’s most systematic human rights violators." The State Department summed up the record of its top three violators in these terms:

The repressive North Korean regime continued to control almost all aspects of citizens’ lives, denying freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association, and restricting freedom of movement and workers’ rights. Reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and arbitrary detention, including of political prisoners, continued to emerge from the insular country. Some forcibly repatriated refugees were said to have undergone severe punishment and possibly torture. Reports of public executions also continued to emerge.

Burma’s abysmal human rights record continued to worsen. Throughout the year, the regime continued to commit extrajudicial killings and was responsible for disappearances, arbitrary and indefinite detentions, rape, and torture. In September, security forces killed at least 30 demonstrators and detained over 3,000 others during a brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, including monks and pro-democracy protesters. Despite promises of dialogue, the regime did not honor its commitment to begin a genuine discussion with the democratic opposition and ethnic minority groups. Defying calls from the UN Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for the early release of all political prisoners, the regime continued to hold opposition leaders under incarceration, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who remained under house arrest.

The Iranian regime violated freedom of speech and assembly, intensifying its crackdown against dissidents, journalists, women’s rights activists, labor activists, and those who disagreed with it through arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, abductions, the use of excessive force, and the widespread denial of fair public trials. The regime continued to detain and abuse religious and ethnic minorities. Authorities used stoning as a method of execution and as a sentence for alleged adultery cases despite a government moratorium in 2002 banning the practice. The regime continued to support terrorist movements and violent extremists in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon and called for the destruction of a UN member state.
The Department additionally condemned Sudan for a "horrific" record and criticized Russia [Reuters reports] for restrictions on the media, harassment of NGOs, and "corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law." Among close US allies, the State Department flagged ongoing human rights problems in Pakistan, Iraq, amd Afghanistan.

China - whose own human rights record was labelled "poor" this year - regularly responds to the State Department's annual report with its own generally negative assessment of America's rights record [JURIST report]. The State Department addressed criticism of US human rights practices this way:
As we publish these reports, the Department of State remains mindful of both international and domestic criticism of the United States' human rights record. The U.S. government will continue to hear and reply forthrightly to concerns about our own practices, including the actions we have taken to defend our nation from the global threat of terrorism. Our laws, policies, and practices have evolved considerably in recent years, and we continue to strive to protect innocent civilians from attack while honoring our longstanding commitment to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. As part of this effort, the United States submits reports to international bodies in accordance with its obligations under various human rights treaties to which it is a party.

We take all of our human rights commitments seriously and, in our good faith efforts to meet those commitments, we value the vital role played by civil society and independent media. We do not consider views about our performance voiced by others in the international community to be interference in our internal affairs, nor should other governments regard expressions about their performance as such. Indeed, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the right and the responsibility of "every individual and every organ of society to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance."
AP has more.





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Belgium government, banks to pay $170M to Holocaust survivors
Deirdre Jurand on March 11, 2008 4:01 PM ET

[JURIST] A Belgian government commission on restitution for Holocaust victims issued its final report [PDF text, in French] Tuesday, finding that Holocaust survivors, victims' families and the general Jewish community should receive $170 million to compensate for the money and goods they lost during World War II. The Belgian government and Belgian banks Tuesday agreed to pay the figure; $54 million will go to individual claimants and the remainder will go to the Jewish community in trust. BBC News has more. AP has additional coverage.

The Belgian government created the Jewish Community Indemnification Commission [official website; overview of findings, in French] by decree in May 2003 to establish "the facts and possible responsibilities of the Belgian authorities in the persecution and the deportation of the Jews in Belgium during the Second World War." Last year, the commission found that the Belgian government had been complicit [JURIST report] in Nazi persecution of the Jewish population during the Holocaust and the country's courts failed to hold Belgian authorities accountable for persecuting and deporting Jews after World War II.






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Kansas top court rules against law banning funeral picketing
Deirdre Jurand on March 11, 2008 2:56 PM ET

[JURIST] The Kansas Supreme Court ruled [text] Tuesday that the state's anti-funeral picketing law [PDF text; supplemental note, PDF] is unconstitutional, finding that it violates the separation of powers doctrine implied by the Kansas constitution [text]. The court ruled that the law's judicial trigger provision [JURIST report], which said the law could not be enforced until it was declared constitutional by a state or federal court, invalidated the entire law as it would make the courts an "advisory panel" to the legislature. AP has more. The Kansas City Star has local coverage.

The law was passed in response to picketing at military funerals by members of the Westboro Baptist Church [WARNING: readers may find material at this church website offensive; JURIST news archive], who claim that US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. More than 30 states have passed similar laws in response to the group, and a federal law [JURIST report] restricting protests at Arlington National Cemetery and other federal cemeteries has also been passed.






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Philippines president urges Congress to pass new anti-corruption law
Deirdre Jurand on March 11, 2008 2:11 PM ET

[JURIST] Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo [official website] asked the Philippine Congress Tuesday to work with her administration to pass a comprehensive anti-corruption reform act [press release] to fight the corruption she said has plagued the country for decades. Arroyo noted that the country's 2008 budget [press release] dedicates more money than previous budgets to anti-corruption efforts. Reuters has more.

Corruption has long been a problem in the Philippines. A recent survey by Political and Economic Risk Consultancy [corporate website] showed that the Philippines' economy is seen as the most corrupt in Asia [Manila Times report], and Transparency International [advocacy website] ranked the nation 131 out of 179 countries [TI materials] for most corrupt in its 2007 survey.






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Zuma asks South Africa constitutional court to exclude evidence in corruption case
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 11, 2008 1:10 PM ET

[JURIST] South African politician Jacob Zuma [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] launched a legal challenge Tuesday in the South African Constitutional Court [official website] seeking to have evidence excluded from his upcoming corruption trial. Zuma argued that evidence seized in 2005 raids by the Directorate of Special Investigations [official backgrounder; BBC report], also known as "The Scorpions," should be thrown out because the raids violated his rights to privacy and fair trial. Last November, the South African Supreme Court of Appeal upheld [JURIST report] the validity of the search warrants used for the raids. AFP has more.

Zuma has been facing corruption allegations [BBC timeline] and other charges for several years; he was first charged with corruption in 2005, but those charges were later dismissed [JURIST report] because prosecutors failed to follow proper procedures. In December 2007, South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority [official website] served an indictment [JURIST report] on Zuma, charging him with corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering related to alleged bribes received from arms manufacturer Thint, a subsidiary of the France-based Thales Group [corporate website]. His trial is scheduled to begin in August. Zuma is the leader of the ruling African National Congress [party website], putting him in position to become the country's next president.






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Military commissions undermined by 'evidence tainted by torture': rights group
Mike Rosen-Molina on March 11, 2008 12:04 PM ET

[JURIST] The legitimacy of military commissions of Guantanamo Bay detainees will be undermined by "the admission of evidence tainted by torture," according to a report [PDF text; press release] released Monday by Human Rights First [advocacy website]. The report cites the cases of six Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees who have alleged that they were tortured in US custody, and says that so-called harsh interrogation techniques have no track record of producing reliable information. It further argued that admitting evidence obtained through controversial techniques like waterboarding [JURIST news archive] has thrown the legitimacy of the military commissions into doubt:

A question of legitimacy hangs over the detention and legal proceedings at Guantanamo. Defense lawyers and human rights groups are not alone in their indictment of the military commission process. Many law enforcement and military officials are critical of the MCA's evidentiary rules. These officials know that the reliance on coerced testimony will only serve to tarnish the military commission proceedings at home and in the international community, jeopardize the government's ability to secure convictions that can withstand scrutiny on appeal, and perpetuate the use of abusive interrogation techniques.
A Defense Department spokesman dismissed the report's findings for making "ill-founded assumptions" about the nature of evidence that military prosecutors will use during detainees' military commissions. AFP has more.

The report was released two days after President George W. Bush vetoed [JURIST report] an intelligence funding bill [HR 2082 materials] that would restrict CIA interrogators to using only interrogation techniques explicitly authorized by the 2006 Army Field Manual. Though the US Senate approved [JURIST report] the measure on February 13, it failed to approve it by the two-thirds majority necessary to override a presidential veto. The US House agreed to the measure [JURIST report] in December. Field Manual 2-22.3 [PDF text;