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Legal news from Friday, September 14, 2007




Rights groups accuse Egypt of limiting press freedoms after court jails editors
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 14, 2007 4:12 PM ET

[JURIST] Amnesty International and Reporters without Borders [advocacy websites] Friday accused Egypt of clamping down on freedom of the press after a court sentenced the editors of four tabloids for publishing criticisms of President Hosni Mubarak [official profile] and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) [party website]. Ibrahim Issa, editor of Al Dustour; Adel Hammouda, editor of Al-Fagr [media websites]; Wael Al-Abrashi, editor of the independent newspaper Sawt Al-Umma; and Abdel-Halim Qandil, former editor of Al-Karama, were convicted of defaming the president and sentenced to a year in prison and a 20,000 Egyptian pound fine each. Reporters without Borders said [press release] that Egypt has been cracking down on critical journalists at a time when the president's succession is at issue, while Amnesty International said [press release] that the charges against the editors were part of an organized campaign to discourage criticism against the government. AP has more.

The case against the editors is only one example of what critics see as recurrent attacks on the press by Egypt's government. On Tuesday, Egyptian prosecutors said that they would put al-Dustour editor Issa on trial in a separate action for allegedly spreading "rumors" about Mubarak's health [Reuters report]. In 2006, human rights groups condemned a court decision [JURIST report] to sentence a controversial newspaper editor to a year in prison for criticizing Mubarak, and three journalists went on trial [JURIST report] for allegedly slandering a local election commission chief by alleging fraud in parliamentary elections. In 2006, the Egyptian parliament considered a new press law that including a provision allowing journalists to be imprisoned for reporting on alleged financial impropriety by public officials, but dropped that provision [JURIST report] before the law was passed.






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ICTY chief prosecutor mandate extended to year-end
Katerina Ossenova on September 14, 2007 2:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The United Nations Security Council [official website] has extended [press release] the mandate for International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte [official profile] until December 31, the war crimes tribunal announced Friday. Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general, has served two four-year terms as the ICTY chief prosecutor. She was initially expected to step-down in September [JURIST report], but in June she said she would stay until the end of the year while the UN chooses her replacement. It is expected that Serge Brammertz [UN profile], a former federal prosecutor in Belgium and former deputy prosecutor for investigations at the International Criminal Court, will serve as the next ICTY chief prosecutor [JURIST report]. Brammertz currently heads the UN investigation [JURIST news archive] into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri; that probe's mandate expires in December. Del Ponte will serve as Switzerland's ambassador to Argentina [press release; JURIST report] when her term as ICTY prosecutor expires

Del Ponte has repeatedly criticized Serbia for failing to bring to justice several accused war criminals who are believed to be hiding there, including former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder; JURIST news archive], former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic [JURIST report], and Bosnian Serb police commander Stojan Zupljanin [ICTY indictment]. On Thursday, Serbia said it will increase efforts [JURIST report] to locate and arrest these war criminals in order to receive a favorable report from Del Ponte when she advises EU officials on a pending pre-membership deal with the country. Reuters has more.






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State Department religious freedom report criticizes Iraq, other US allies
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 14, 2007 2:33 PM ET

[JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released the annual State Department Report on International Religious Freedom [text] Friday, criticizing what it considered to be sharp decreases in religious freedom and an increase in religious strife in several nations, including Iraq. The report found that Iraqis' ability to freely practice the religion of their choice is severely hampered by rising violence, mostly between Shia and Sunni Muslims but also directed against practitioners of less conservative Muslim faiths and non-Muslim religions.



Although the study said that government policy in Iraq generally does not interfere with the free practice of religion, it found that an atmosphere of lawlessness permits criminal and terrorist gangs to target outsider religious groups with impunity:

Individuals were victims of not only harassment and intimidation but also kidnapping and even killings. Women and girls were often threatened for refusing to wear the hijab, for dressing in Western-style clothing, or for failing to adhere sufficiently to strict interpretations of conservative Islamic norms governing public behavior. During the reporting period, numerous women, including Christians, reported opting to wear the hijab for security purposes after being harassed for not doing so. One Sabean-Mandaean woman reported that she was burned in the face with acid for not wearing the hijab.
The report also criticized religious violence in several other US-allied nations, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia [JURIST news archives].

The State Department assessment designated a number of states as "countries of particular concern" (CPC) for their systematic repression of religious freedom, including Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Uzbekistan [JURIST news archives]. All eight countries have previously been listed as CPC. The most recent addition to the list was Uzbekistan, which was first designated as a CPC in 2006 for a series of raids against conservative Muslims whose beliefs differed from state-sanctioned dogma. AP has more.





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Iran leader says 'war criminal' Bush should be tried before international court
Mike Rosen-Molina on September 14, 2007 2:08 PM ET

[JURIST] Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [official website] said Friday that US President George W. Bush was a "war criminal" comparable to Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein and that he would eventually be brought before an international tribunal to answer for his actions. In a sermon at Tehran University marking the start of Ramadan, Khamenei accused the US of working to dominate the Middle East and to undermine the legitimate governments of various countries in the region. He also insisted that US efforts to impose sanctions on Iran for continuing its nuclear program [IAEA backgrounder] will not weaken the country. IRNA has more. Haaretz has additional coverage.

Relations between Iran and United States have recently been strained because of Iran's refusal to abandon its nuclear program. Last year, Iran announced strong opposition to the Iran Freedom Support Act [HR 6198 text, PDF], a bill later signed into law [JURIST report] by President Bush that authorizes US sanctions against foreign governments that provide support for Iran's nuclear program or contribute towards the country's armament.






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Iraq still facing legal challenges: White House report
Katerina Ossenova on September 14, 2007 1:34 PM ET

[JURIST] The White House submitted a new Benchmark Assessment Report [PDF text] on Iraq to Congress Friday, noting that little progress had been made by the Iraqi government toward accomplishing 18 "benchmarks" thought to be essential to Iraq's stability. The Initial Benchmark Assessment Report [PDF text; JURIST report], submitted to Congress in July, had reported that the Iraqi government was making satisfactory progress toward meeting eight of 18 goals and unsatisfactory progress on eight others; two of the goals could not be rated for performance. The assessment issued Friday found that the Iraqi government had only met one new benchmark - allowing former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party [party website] to hold government positions:

The Government of Iraq has made satisfactory progress toward enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification reform. The fact that legislation has not yet passed the COR should not diminish the significance of the agreement reached by the leaders or the re-integration of former Baathists taking place on the ground. The overarching goal of de-Baathification reform is political accommodation between the Shi’a and Sunni communities. The leaders’ agreement combined with the return of former Baathists to civic life is a significant step in that regard. Debate on this draft law in the COR is an integral part of developing the broad political acceptance needed to promote real reconciliation.
President Bush, in a televised address [transcript] on Thursday, said this about the Iraq government's progess:
The government has not met its own legislative benchmarks - and in my meetings with Iraqi leaders, I have made it clear that they must. Yet Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done. For example, they have passed a budget. They're sharing oil revenues with the provinces. They're allowing former Baathists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions. Local reconciliation is taking place. The key now is to link this progress in the provinces to progress in Baghdad. As local politics change, so will national politics.
Friday's report claims that meeting the 18 benchmarks required of the Iraqi government will advance reconciliation within Iraqi society, improve the security of the Iraqi population, provide essential services to the population, and promote the country's economic well-being.

Some of the benchmarks already met by the Iraqi government include the formation of a Constitutional Review Committee [JURIST report] and completion of a constitutional review, enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification reform [JURIST news archive] and enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions [JURIST news archive]. The Iraqi government has far failed at the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources [JURIST report], increasing the number of Iraqi security forces able to operate independently and ensuring that Iraqi political officials are not undermining or making false accusations against foreign forces. Two benchmarks, amnesty legislation and militia disarmament, were not ready to be assessed. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.





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China to release jailed NYT researcher sentenced for fraud
Katerina Ossenova on September 14, 2007 12:58 PM ET

[JURIST] Zhao Yan [JURIST news archive], a New York Times researcher who was sentenced to three years in prison [JURIST report] for fraud in August 2006, is to be released on Saturday, according to Chinese prison officials. A Chinese court convicted Zhao of taking $2,500 from a village official, but dismissed more serious charges of illegally leaking state secrets to foreigners. If Zhao had been convicted on those charges, he could have faced an additional 10-year sentence in a high-security prison. Zhao was formally indicted [JURIST report] in December 2005 after a 2004 New York Times report [text] revealed the resignation of Jiang Zemin as head of the military before it was formally announced by the government. The charges were dropped in March 2006, but Chinese authorities continued to detain Zhao and eventually reinstated the charges, a process which Chinese officials maintained was legal [JURIST reports]. Human rights groups and journalism advocacy organizations have criticized the proceedings against Zhao for being politically motivated and without merit [CPJ alert]. During his trial, Zhao’s lawyers were not allowed to call witnesses on his behalf or permitted to cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution.

The 2006 US Department of State Country Report [text; JURIST report] on China denounced repeated government threats to and arrests of journalists, especially those using the Internet. In addition to Zhao Yan's case, the report also cited the imprisonments of journalists Ching Cheong [JURIST news archive], Shi Tao, and Lu Jianhua [JURIST reports]. The New York Times has more.






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Iraqis sue Australian exporter alleged to have paid oil-for-food kickbacks to Saddam
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 11:37 AM ET

[JURIST] Victims of Saddam Hussein's government filed a class action lawsuit against the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) [corporate website; JURIST news archive] and its US subsidiary in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website], AWB officials said Friday. The suit alleges that AWB contributed to injuries and damages suffered by Iraqi citizens by giving substantial assistance to Hussein's government, relating to crimes perpetrated between 1996 and 2003. AWB has not yet been served the lawsuit, which also names France-based bank BNP Paribas [corporate website], but AWB has vowed to "vigorously defend" any legal challenge. The lawsuit is a result of a report released last year by the Cole Commission [official website], which concluded that AWB paid roughly $220 million in kickbacks to Hussein's former regime to secure $2.3 billion in grain contracts under the now-defunct UN oil-for-food program [JURIST news archive]. The Commission last year recommended that criminal charges be filed [CC materials; JURIST report] against 12 AWB executives.

AWB is facing other class action lawsuits relating to government kickbacks to the Hussein regime. Last year, several Iraqi citizens filed a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] against AWB and BNP under RICO [text], the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [DOJ materials] and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act [PDF text]. AAP has more.






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Kurdish government demands Iraq oil minister resign over contracts comments
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 11:15 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) [official website] Thursday called for the resignation of Iraq Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani in response to Shahristani's remarks that oil contracts signed by the KRG with several global companies are illegal. At a Tuesday meeting [press release] of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) [organization website], Shahristani contended the contracts are illegal because the Iraqi Parliament has not yet passed a controversial oil law [JURIST news archive]. The KRG last month adopted the "Kurdistan Oil and Gas Law" [JURIST report] after KRG Prime Minister Nechervan Idris Barzani [official profile] signed legislation that will allow the Kurdish government to control its own oil resources and select its own foreign investors. The Kurdish government says that the law, which requires the KRG to share oil revenues with the Iraqi federal government and other regions, is consistent with the Iraqi constitution [JURIST news archive].

The national draft oil revenue bill has been delayed by successive legislative boycotts and is a source of tension [JURIST reports] between different ethnic factions in the Iraqi parliament. Sunni politicians have pushed for federal control over oil revenues and approval rights for foreign development, while Kurds have been adamant about retaining domestic control over oil resources. AFP has more.






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Fair use of copyrighted material benefits US economy: report
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 10:22 AM ET

[JURIST] The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) [advocacy website] released a report [PDF text; press release] Wednesday saying that fair use exceptions [US Copyright Office backgrounder] to US copyright laws create more than $4.5 trillion in revenue in the US annually, employ millions of workers, and represented one-sixth of the total US GDP in 2006. The report, released at a briefing on Capitol Hill, indicates that media firms, educational establishments and software developers that benefit from the fair use of content contribute more than three times the amount that copyright-controlled industries do to the US economy.

The Fair Use exception [text] to US copyright law [text] says that limited unauthorized use of copyrighted material for scientific, educational, journalistic, or research purposes is not a violation of the copyright; the exception permits a broad range of technology businesses to benefit. Ed Black, President and CEO of CCIA, said:

Fair use protects competition by guaranteeing that companies can reverse engineer software so that their products will work and 'inter-operate' with the products of their competitors. Fair use guarantees journalists, scholars and ordinary citizens the right to quote and abstract from others' writings, and so buttresses basic rights of free expression. And fair use guarantees that technological innovations such as the Internet itself, whose very function is to copy information from one place to another, can operate normally without running afoul of copyright law. Fair use thus helps to ensure that the benefits of copyright accrue to the public. It produces a multiplier effect without which we would all be poorer.
Vnunet.com has more.





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Google pushes for international Internet privacy guidelines
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 9:44 AM ET

[JURIST] Google [corporate website] called for new international laws to protect personal information online [speech text] at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website; conference materials] conference Friday, urging that an international body such as the UN or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) [official websites] create the guidelines. Google global privacy attorney Peter Fleischer [personal blog] noted that the existing guidelines on privacy and personal data are out of date, with OECD guidelines dating back to 1980 and European Commission guidelines dating back to 1995, both prior to the widespread use of the Internet. Google suggested that a Privacy Framework [PDF text] created by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) [official website] in 2004 could serve as a model for new international guidelines. The Financial Times has more.

Google's attitude towards privacy has seen a dramatic shift in the last year. In June, Google announced that it will retain user search data for 18 months [JURIST report], down from its previous policy of retaining data for 18-24 months. Google's policy revision came in response to an announcement [JURIST report] by the European Commission [official website] in May that the EU's independent advisory panel would investigate [press briefing] Google to determine whether it complies with EU privacy rules [EU Data Protection website]. In April, numerous Internet privacy groups in the United States filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint [PDF text; JURIST report] against Google, following reports that the company was planning to buy Internet advertising company DoubleClick [corporate website]. The groups requested that the FTC block the proposed merger [agreement text; SEC press release] until the agency conducts an investigation, saying that the merger would allow Google to match users' personal information with their Internet usage history and habits.






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China high court puts new limits on capital sentences
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 9:09 AM ET

[JURIST] China's Supreme People's Court [official website] handed down anticipated new guidelines [JURIST report] for capital punishment [JURIST news archive] cases Thursday, saying that swift executions should only be imposed on people who have committed heinous crimes, with "ironclad evidence that result in serious social damage." In less serious capital punishment cases, the court said convicted persons should be given a two-year reprieve with the possibility of commuting the sentence to life in prison upon good behavior. The court added that crimes of passion and white collar crimes should not automatically receive death sentences, and offenders who help recover damages for family members of victims or money related to white collar crimes should receive lighter penalties. AP has more. Xinhua has local coverage.

The order is part of an ongoing effort by the the court to drastically reduce the number of executions in China [JURIST report], a country that reportedly executes more citizens [JURIST news archive] than all other countries combined. In response to wrongful convictions and international criticism, China implemented reforms [JURIST report] at the beginning of this year requiring that all death sentences be approved [JURIST report] by the high court. High court vice-president Jiang Xingchang [official profile] was recently quoted as saying that fewer people were sentenced to death in 2006 [JURIST report] than at any point in the previous decade, and that the reforms have extended the declining numbers into 2007.






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Former Pakistan PM Bhutto facing corruption charges on return
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 8:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto [BBC profile] will be allowed to return to Pakistan to campaign for office but will face corruption charges [JURIST report], the Pakistani government said Friday. Bhutto, who left the country in 1999 under the cloud of corruption allegations after her government collapsed, will return October 18, according to her party; her supporters have been in talks with President Pervez Musharraf [BBC profile] that may allow her to share power with Musharraf after Pakistan's upcoming presidential election, but the two have failed to agree on terms relating to Bhutto's corruption charges, Musharraf's possible re-election, and Bhutto's push to pass a constitutional amendment allowing her to seek a third term as prime minister. Observers say, however, that Bhutto risks losing substantial support from the Pakistani public and even her own Pakistani Peoples Party [party website] if she reaches any kind of agreement with Musharraf, who ousted a democratically elected government led by Bhutto successor Nawaz Sharif in a military coup.

The government's announcement on Bhutto comes at the heels of its refusal [JURIST report] to allow former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [BBC profile] to return to Pakistan on Monday. Sharif was initially served with an arrest warrant on corruption charges of his own when he arrived on a flight from London, but was later deported to Saudi Arabia. Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim explained the distinction between the two cases by saying that Bhutto had always been allowed to return to Pakistan, whereas Sharif had "an undertaking with the Saudi government" that forced him to return to exile in Saudi Arabia. Sharif had supposedly agreed to stay out of the country for 10 years after his ouster. He has since appealed [JURIST report] his deportation to the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website], which previously ruled that he was allowed to return as a citizen of Pakistan. AP has more.






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US boycotts terrorism conference to protest exclusion of Chechen rights group
Jaime Jansen on September 14, 2007 7:52 AM ET

[JURIST] A US delegation walked out of a conference on victims of terrorism [OSCE materials] hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] Thursday, protesting the OSCE's refusal to allow the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society [advocacy website], a small NGO that reported on human rights violations and disappearances in the Northern Caucasus, to participate in the talks. Chris Sibilla, a political officer at the US Mission to the OSCE, filed a formal protest [text] at the beginning of the conference, saying the Friendship Society is a "reputable" group and that peaceful NGOs such as the Friendship Society should be allowed to participate. An OSCE spokesperson said the Friendship Society had been banned from the conference because Russia objected to its participation. AP has more.

In January,the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a Russian lower court order to shut down the Society [JURIST report] pursuant to a new law [JURIST report; JURIST news archive] supported by President Vladimir Putin that bans NGOs headed by persons with criminal records. One month after the enactment of the law, RCFS co-founder Stanislav Dmitriyevsky was convicted of inciting racial hatred [JURIST report].






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