[JURIST] Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil [advocacy website] was released on Monday following four years of imprisonment on charges of insulting Islam and causing sectarian strife on his blog [website, in Arabic]. Nabil, a former law student, was convicted in 2007 [JURIST report] for posting statements critical of Islamic authorities and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [BBC profile], calling him a dictator. Nabil also allegedly called his university, Al-Azhar University [academic website, in Arabic], "the university of terrorism." Charges against him included inciting sedition, insulting Islam, harming national unity and insulting the president. Nabil's four-year sentence had ended on November 5, but he was held by authorities for 10 more days for unknown reasons. Following the expiration of his prison sentence, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called on Egyptian authorities to immediately investigate allegations of mistreatment [press release] and to explain the reasons for his continued detention. On Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders [advocacy website] praised his release [press release], criticizing Egyptian authorities for what the rights group described as poor conditions of his detention, "physical mistreatment" and torture. Egyptian authorities have yet to release a statement. Nabil's supporters have said that government repression and censorship have become more prevalent in recent years, as the US has let up political pressure for reforms. Nabil's case was the first in which a blogger has been charged with a crime.
The Egyptian government has faced ongoing criticism from international human rights groups for its treatment of prisoners. On Tuesday, AI called for Egyptian authorities to promptly and thoroughly investigate [JURIST report] the death of 19-year-old Ahmed Shaaban who was allegedly tortured in police custody. Sidi Gaber police officers are also currently under investigation for another incident in which a man was dragged out of a cafe and publicly beat to death [HRW report]. According to the US State Department's Human Rights Report for Egypt, in 2009, there were 30 reported instances of torture in police custody [DOS report]. Egyptian authorities investigated some of these, and, in several of the cases, punished the responsible officers and made them pay compensation to the victims. In 2008, it suspended 280 police officers [JURIST report] alleged to have abused their power and committed human rights violations.
[JURIST] International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official websites] said Wednesday that the court will not use testimony from three Kenyan witnesses who claim they were bribed to provide false evidence against a high-ranking government official. Ocampo also said that the ICC is looking into additional claims [CP report] of witness intimidation and bribery. While Ocampo did not name the politician in his report, the statement was most likely in reference to former Cabinet minster William Ruto. Last week, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) [advocacy website] accused [JURIST report] Ruto of interfering with the ICC investigation into the 2007 post-election violence [JURIST news archive], denying accusations of bribing witnesses. Two witnesses, Ken Braziz Wekesa and William Kepkemboi Rono, claimed earlier that week that they were bribed by the KNCHR [Daily Nation], a government-funded human rights group, to testify to the ICC against Ruto. Rono and Wekesa claimed they were bribed by KNCHR commissioner Hassan Omar Hassan [KNCHR profile] with money, entry into safe houses and an eventual promise to be moved out of Kenya. The KNCHR, admitting they housed the prospective witnesses [Daily Nation], requested an investigation into Ruto's influence on the witnesses to change their testimonies. The KNCHR also wants the police to arrest Wekesa and Rono and charge them with perjury. Although the two witnesses gave statements to the ICC, they were not slated to testify at the tribunal.
[JURIST] Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] filed a petition with Myanmar's High Court on Tuesday seeking to reinstate her opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) [party website]. Myanmar's military government formally abolished [BBC report] the NLD in May for failing to register for elections, which took place earlier this month. Suu Kyi had filed an appeal while under house arrest for the dissolution of her party under a controversial election law [JURIST reports]. Suu Kyi asked the court to annul the part of the election law that bars political prisoners [JURIST report] from participating in elections and also to establish a parliament of lawmakers who won in the 1990 elections. Suu Kyi originally filed suit with the court in April, but her claim was rejected [JURIST report]. The dissolution was seen as political move by the military government in order to keep the NLD from participating in Myanmar's 2010 elections, the first in 20 years.
Suu Kyi's visit to the High Court marked her first visit to Rangoon since the Myanmar Police Force [official website] released [JURIST report] her on Saturday after almost eight years of house arrest. Her release came days after the Myanmar Supreme Court rejected an appeal [JURIST report] challenging the conditions of her house arrest. Though the challenge was originally scheduled to be heard in October, the court waited until after the controversial elections [JURIST report] to issue its ruling. It is anticipated that Suu Kyi will assist in a challenge [AP report] against the election results in which the ruling party maintained its hold on power, but the military government has warned [Telegraph report] against any kind of action by the opposition.
[JURIST] Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] said in an interview [video] Wednesday that he will not sign the execution order for former foreign minister Tariq Aziz [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Aziz, who served in the government of Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] as both the foreign minister and deputy prime minister, was sentenced to death [JURIST report] last month by the Iraqi High Criminal Court. The sentence was rendered on charges that Aziz, while serving in his governmental roles, was involved in the persecution of various Iraqi religious parties. In the interview, in which Talabani also answered questions regarding the recent formation of a new government [JURIST report], he cited his political beliefs as the main justification underlying his refusal to sign the execution order. He stated, "I will not sign the order to execute Tariq Aziz, I cannot sign an order of this kind because I'm a socialist, I feel compassion for [him]."
Aziz is currently serving a 15-year sentence [JURIST report], which is the result of a prior conviction in March 2009. However, the death sentence based on this most recent conviction cannot be carried out in the absence of the approval of the Presidency Council.
In July, the US transferred 26 Saddam-era Iraqi officials [JURIST report], including Aziz, from Camp Cropper [JURIST news archive] to the Iraqi-controlled Kadhimiya prison in Baghdad. That month, Aziz was also charged with additional crimes alleged to have occurred during Hussein's regime, with his lawyer contending that the current Iraqi government was attempting to find a reason to execute him. Aziz's family has called for his release on health grounds, based on claims he has had two heart attacks in addition to having suffered a stroke [JURIST report] in January. In August 2009, Aziz was convicted of forcing Kurdish displacement [JURIST report] from northeast Iraq during the late 1980s, and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Prior to his March conviction for the 1992 murders of 42 merchants accused of price-gouging during a period of UN-imposed sanctions, Aziz was acquitted of charges [JURIST report] in connection with the 1999 killing of protesters who rioted in Baghdad and Amarah following the alleged assassination of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr.
[JURIST] Trials began Wednesday in Kyrgyzstan for former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and his administration officials who have been charged with mass murder. The charges stem from an April 7 incident [JURIST report] in which police fired on a crowd of anti-government demonstrators, killing more than 85 people. The crowd eventually overwhelmed security forces, ultimately overtaking the Kyrgyz government and forcing Bakiyev into exile. Families of the victims held an angry demonstration [Reuters report] during the trial in the capital city of Bishkek, calling for the accused men to be punished. Human rights activists in the country have argued that the accused men will not receive a fair trial [BBC report] because of prevalent bias. Bakiyev, who now lives in Belarus and will be tried in absentia, maintains that police only shot at the protesters after the crowd began firing on Kyrgyz government headquarters. Kyrgyzstan's interim government, led by Roza Otunbayeva [Telegraph profile], charged [JURIST report] Bakiyev with murder in April. Otunbayeva has pledged [JURIST report] to bring Bakiyev and other members of the former government to justice.
The country's new parliament, elected last month amid ongoing unrest, held its first assembly last week [VOA report] and discussed the possibility of a coalition government. Last month's parliamentary elections were the first since a new constitution took effect in July after being approved by voters [JURIST reports] in a nationwide referendum. In September, a court in Kyrgyzstan issued the first convictions [JURIST report] in connection with the June 2010 ethnic violence [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive] against Uzbeks in primarily the southern cities of Osh and Jalal'abad. The conflict is believed to have been linked to Bakiyev's overthrow. In August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, JURIST report] that Kyrgyzstan armed forces played a role in instigating and at times taking part in the attacks against ethnic Uzbeks. The group called on the international community to ensure the effective and speedy deployment of an international police force and to support efforts for an international investigation.
[JURIST] The National Assembly of Hungary passed a bill on Tuesday limiting the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court [official websites, in Hungarian] on state budget and taxation matters. The law, which passed 261-103, eliminates the court's ability to examine the recent "crisis taxes" imposed on banks, energy companies, foreign retail and telecommunication firms. Once the law is signed by President Pal Schmitt [EP profile], the court will only be able to invalidate tax and budget legislation if it infringes on basic human rights like the right to privacy and the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Critics argue that the legislation threatens democratic freedoms. The Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ) [party website, in Hungarian] controlled legislature decided to restrict the power of the court after it issued a decision last month striking down a 98 percent retroactive tax [press release, in Hungarian] on public severance payments.
Hungary faces a growing budget deficit and is on the verge of a severe economic crisis. The National Assembly is currently debating the 2011 budget and adopted the series of unconventional taxes and budget policies in order to conform to the EU's Excessive Deficit Procedure for Hungary [materials]. The Fiscal Council of Hungary [official website, in Hungarian] forecasts that the "crisis taxes" [No. T/1374] are expected the increase budget revenues [report, in Hungarian] and satisfy the Pay-As-You Go rule. Without the "crisis taxes" Hungary would not be able to meet next year's budget deficit target of less than 3 percent GDP. In 2007, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor [JURIST report] of a proposed referendum on unpopular economic reform proposals advanced by former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany [BBC profile]. The high court ruling reversed a prior ruling by the National Election Committee [official website], which barred the referendum on the grounds that it would have affected the budget in violation of Article 28C-5a of the Hungarian Constitution [text].
[JURIST] Guinean presidential candidate and former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo announced Monday that he would take to the Supreme Court to challenge his defeat [press release, in French] in the West African nation's November 7 runoff election. The election, Guinea's first since it gained independence from France in 1958, took place amid ethnic clashes [AP report] between the country's two major ethnic groups, the Malinke and the Peul Although election supervisors said the vote was largely peaceful, more civil unrest followed [Reuters report] when it was announced that opposition leader Alpha Conde of the Rally of Guinean People (RPG), a Malinke, had won with 52.5 percent of the vote. Shortly thereafter, Diallo, a Peul and the head of the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UDFG) [party website, in French] declared himself the winner [press release, in French]. Now Diallo is alleging that the election was the result of "fraud on a massive scale" in the runoff, including "computer manipulation" of votes, ballot stuffing and systematic suppression and intimidation of ethnic Peuls in UDFG stronghold districts. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon Monday urged the people of Guinea to accept the election results [press release] and "resolve any differences through legal means." He also "call[ed] on the international community to provide Guinea with concrete support as the country embarks on a new phase towards peace, consolidation and development" and congratulated the nation on its first "peaceful, orderly" democratic transfer of power.
November's election ended two years of military rule under a transitional government formed by military captain Moussa Dadis Camara [BBC profile], who staged a coup in the wake of the death of former president Lansana Conte [Guardian profile], the nation's ruler for 24 years. In September, two Guinean election officials were convicted of election fraud [JURIST report] and sentenced to a year in jail in connection with irregularities that arose in the June presidential primary election, one incident in a string of controversies responsible for multiple delays of the runoff, which was initially scheduled for July [Reuters report]. In May, the International Criminal Court (ICC) sent a delegation from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) [official websites] to Guinea to further investigate the killing [JURIST report] of more than 150 pro-democracy protesters in Conakry [BBC backgrounder] in September 2009. The protesters had rallied against Camara, who announced in October that he intended to push elections forward three months and stand for election, breaking a promise not to run made shortly after he took power. Camara was ultimately forced into exile two months later after being shot in the head in an assassination attempt staged by one of his aides.
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