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Legal news from Monday, October 12, 2009




Chile reconsidering Easter Island tourism after court ruling
Ximena Marinero on October 12, 2009 2:51 PM ET

[JURIST] The Chilean government will begin a non-binding consultation process [El Mercurio report, in Spanish] on Tuesday to survey the indigenous inhabitants of Easter Island on tourism influx and immigration into the island. The consultation comes as the Chilean Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] ruled [press release, in Spanish] last week that a measure requiring all visitors to Easter Island to fill out Special Visitor's Cards (TEV's) with information about the length of and reason for their trip is unconstitutional. The high court reasoned that the TEV's, required for all visitors since September 15, infringed on Article 19 of the Chilean Constitution [text, PDF], which guarantees the right to personal freedom, including the right to move or remain in any place in the country, and ordered that the TEV's could only be requested on a voluntary [La Nacion report, in Spanish] basis. The results from Tuesday's consultation will be used in the Chilean Parliament to debate [Radio Universidad de Chile report, in Spanish] another proposed measure, one that would amend the constitution to enable local Easter Island authorities to exert more control over visitors and immigration to the island. To consult the Rapa Nui, Easter Island's indigenous residents, Subsecretary of the Interior Patricio Rosende announced that the Chilean government will develop [Terra report, in Spanish] workshops across the island, use media to engage residents, and will conduct a plebiscite-like vote on October 24.

Tuesday's consultation is part of a series of measures that the Chilean government has undertaken in response to recent demands and protests [La Nacion report, in Spanish] by Rapa Nui groups. They fear that tourism will ruin [Economist report] Easter Island's resources as the number of annual visitors continues to climb from 14,000 in mid-1990s to 70,000 last year. One of the islanders' organizations, then Rapa Nui Parliament, has staged protests [El Mercurio report, in Spanish] and has threatened to remove all non-indigenous residents from the island.






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Sudan court again sentences 4 men to death for murder of USAID workers
Jay Carmella on October 12, 2009 2:09 PM ET

[JURIST] A Sudanese court again sentenced four men to death on Monday for the January 2008 murder of two US Agency for International Development (USAID) [official website] employees. The men were previously convicted [JURIST report] and sentenced to death in June for the murders of John Granville and Abdelrahman Abbas Rahama, but their sentences were vacated after Abbas's father forgave them. The sentences were reinstated at the request of both victims' families, as Sudanese law permits victims' families to forgive the murderer, demand compensation, or request execution. Following the original conviction, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile] welcomed the convictions as an "important step in bringing justice for" Granville and Rahama. A controversy developed over the issue of whether a Muslim can be sentenced to death for the killing of a non-Muslim. The judge ruled that under Sudanese and Islamic law, all men are equal.

The trial for the men began [JURIST report] last August. Following the shooting, a previously-unknown extremist group calling itself Ansar al-Tawhid claimed responsibility [VOA report] for the shootings. Granville was the first US diplomat killed in Sudan since the deaths of US Ambassador Cleo Noel and US Embassy staffer George Curtis Moore [Arlington Cemetery memorials] in 1973. Tense diplomatic ties between the US and Sudan have been strained by the on-going conflict in the country's western Darfur [JURIST news archive] region.






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UAE court convicts US citizen for terrorist activities
Jay Carmella on October 12, 2009 1:05 PM ET

[JURIST] The Federal Supreme Court of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) [JURIST news archive] on Monday convicted an American citizen of engaging in terrorist activities and sentenced him to 18 months in prison. Naji Hamdan, who confessed to the terrorist activities while being tortured, pleaded not guilty [AP report] at the trial. Hamdan consistently denied the charges, claiming his confessions were coerced through torture. Hamdan expressed disappointment at the conviction, which cannot be appealed. His family said they expect his release soon [AFP report], as he has already been in prison for 14 months.

Hamdan faced three separate charges of terrorism, including providing financial support for attacks against Israel and being connected to al-Qaeda in Iraq. Despite being of Lebanese descent, Hamdan lived for 20 years in the US. The FBI questioned Hamdan [BBC report] in 1999 regarding his connection to terrorist organizations. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [official website] suspected the US government of pushing the case onto UAE officials because it did not have enough evidence to charge Hamdan. The ACLU asked for the US government to intervene [press release], but the request was denied in August.






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China court sentences 6 to death for Xinjiang riot killings
Safiya Boucaud on October 12, 2009 11:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi in China's Xinjiang province on Monday sentenced to death [Xinhua report] six men convicted of murder and other crimes such as arson and robbery for their roles in July's violent demonstrations [JURIST news archive] that left about 200 people dead and many more injured. A seventh man was given life imprisonment because he confessed to his crime and aided the police in finding the other culprits. Although the mens' ethnicities were not publicized, their names suggest that they are all Uighurs. The verdict comes after Chinese officials said Saturday that 21 people will be put on trial [JURIST report] for crimes such as arson, robbery, and murder. Since the riots, more than 100 people have been charged. The seven men sentenced Monday were the first to be convicted in connection with the riots.

In early July, violence broke out [NYT report] in Urumqi between Han Chinese and Uighur residents. After two days of rioting, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for restraint [JURIST report] from all sides and a respect for due process in arrests and prosecutions. The Chinese government claims [Xinhua report] that the majority of the 197 killed and 1,600 injured in the violence were Han residents killed by protesters, although Uighur advocacy groups maintain that many protesters were killed by authorities but not included in the official death toll. Chinese officials have acknowledged [JURIST report] that 12 protesters were killed by police. The Uighur population, which is Muslim, is opposed [BBC backgrounder] to China's restrictive bans on religious practice and says that the recent influx of Han Chinese has disenfranchised non-Chinese-speaking Uighurs.






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Gay rights activists march in DC after Obama pledges support
Safiya Boucaud on October 12, 2009 9:45 AM ET

[JURIST] Tens of thousands of gay rights activists participated in the National Equality March in Washington, DC on Sunday to demand equal rights, one day after US President Barack Obama pledged his support [transcript, video] to the gay and lesbian community. At a Human Rights Campaign [advocacy website] event on Saturday, Obama spoke directly to gay Americans, vowing to repeal the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy [10 USC § 654 text; HRC backgrounder], which subjects openly gay individuals to discharge from the military:

We are moving ahead on Don't Ask Don't Tell. We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country. We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we're fighting two wars.

We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills we need to fight any more than we can afford — for our military's integrity — to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromised by having to live a lie. So I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership, and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. Legislation has been introduced in the House to make this happen. I will end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's my commitment to you.
Obama also mentioned his desire for Congress to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive], which bars recognition of same-sex marriage. HRC President Joe Solomonese said, "[t]his was a historic night when we felt the full embrace and commitment of the President of the United States. It's simply unprecedented."

Last month, legislators introduced [JURIST report] a bill to repeal the 1996 DOMA. In July, the US Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] announced [JURIST report] that it would hold hearings this fall to review the US military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In June, the US Supreme Court [official website] denied certiorari [JURIST report] to review the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In November 2008, more than 100 retired admirals and generals of the US military called for a repeal [JURIST report] of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In June 2008, he US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld [JURIST report] "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The First Circuit's decision stands in stark contrast to a May 2008 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held [JURIST report] that a soldier could not be dismissed on the basis of sexual orientation alone.





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