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Legal news from Sunday, April 16, 2006




Philippines president commutes all death sentences to life imprisonment
Katerina Ossenova on April 16, 2006 2:28 PM ET

[JURIST] Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; JURIST news archive] announced Sunday that she would commute all death sentences to life imprisonment. With the decision affecting 1,200 convicts currently on death row, Arroyo said, "I wish to announce that we are changing our policy on those who have been imposed the death penalty. We are reducing their penalty to life imprisonment." Arroyo, a devout Catholic, did not say whether she would move to abolish the death penalty, although no executions have been carried out during her term.

Critics, however, feel that the move was an effort to win over the country's powerful Catholic bishops and see Arroyo's decision as an abuse of power. The government has been trying to gain the support of the Catholic Church in their effort to amend the Philippines constitution [text] to create a parliamentary political system to replace the current presidential system. Arroyo's government believes that a parliamentary system will ease the political scandals that have plagued the country. Most recently, Arroyo declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] after discovering a coup [JURIST report] attempt earlier this year. Reuters has more. The Philippine Star has local coverage.






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Egypt arrests Muslim Brotherhood members over protest plans
Katerina Ossenova on April 16, 2006 1:54 PM ET

[JURIST] Over 100 Muslim Brotherhood [FAS backgrounder] members were detained by Egyptian police Sunday, continuing the ruling government's persecution of party members. According to a source from the Interior Ministry, these latest arrests were in response to planned demonstrations by members of the Muslim Brotherhood to protest Egypt's emergency laws. Emergency laws [EOHR backgrounder], first instituted in 1981, were enacted to fight terrorism and narcotics by granting power to the government to arrest anyone who appears to pose a threat to state security. Instead, the laws, which were renewed for another three years in June 2003, have been used by the government to repress political activities. The ruling party has promised [JURIST report] to replace the emergency laws with anti-terror legislation but has not provided a timeline for the project.

The Muslim Brotherhood is officially banned in Egypt [CSM report], so Brotherhood candidates run as independents, although their membership is well known. The Muslim Brotherhood boycotted the local elections in 2002, leaving the ruling National Democratic Party [official website, in English] in control of most localities. After the Muslim Brotherhood made a strong showing in parliamentary elections [JURIST news archive] last year, legislation backed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [official profile; BBC profile] was passed [JURIST report] to delay local elections in Egypt [JURIST news archive] for an another two years and preserve the ruling party's dominance. Reuters has more.






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Rights group urges French inquiry into alleged CIA rendition flights
Jeannie Shawl on April 16, 2006 1:46 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [advocacy website] is urging French prosecutors to open a judicial inquiry into allegations that CIA-operated rendition flights [JURIST news archive] stopped at French airports. A local French prosecutor has already opened a preliminary investigation into claims that CIA planes which landed at Le Bourget airport outside Paris carried terror suspects being transported to countries where they could be subject to torture. Following a report [PDF text] released by Amnesty International [advocacy website] earlier this month detailing the CIA's alleged use of private air carriers and "front" companies to hide its rendition practices, the FIDH is calling for an international judicial commission to look into the allegations.

US officials have repeatedly denied using rendition to allow suspects to be tortured by foreign governments, although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has acknowledged making mistakes [JURIST report] in the "war on terror." In March, the Council of Europe Secretary General issued a report [JURIST report] concluding that there was no clear evidence of any secret CIA detention facilities in Europe. Suspicions have persisted, however, with declassified Canadian memos and UK air traffic controllers [JURIST reports] suggesting that the US did use rendition to transfer suspects through their domestic airspaces. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak recently said that he is certain [JURIST report] that the United States has secret detention facilities in Europe and has demanded access to them. AFP has more. Le Monde has local coverage.






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