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Legal news from Thursday, August 31, 2006




Israel court adjourns Hamas lawmakers trial for diplomatic immunity arguments
Joe Shaulis on August 31, 2006 8:37 PM ET

[JURIST] The Israeli military court trying Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dweik [official profile, in Arabic; JMCC profile] and 18 Hamas cabinet ministers on charges of membership in a terrorist organization [JURIST report] adjourned Thursday after granting defense lawyers two days to prepare arguments on diplomatic immunity [eDiplomat.com backgrounder]. The defense, which asked for an eight-day extension, contends that the officials should be shielded from prosecution because they were democratically elected by the Palestinians [JURIST report]. Prosecutors counter that the suspects should not receive immunity because they are members of Hamas [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive], which Israel considers a terrorist group.

Dweik was detained early this month [JURIST report] after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] surrounded his home in the West Bank. About 30 Palestinian lawmakers, including a third of the Palestinian Authority's cabinet, have been captured since the June 25 abduction of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit [Wikipedia backgrounder] in Gaza. Aljazeera has more.






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Argentina ex-president testifies now-annulled 'Dirty War' amnesty laws needed
Joe Shaulis on August 31, 2006 7:57 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Argentine President Raul Alfonsin [Wikipedia profile] has testified that amnesty laws preventing prosecution for human rights abuses during the so-called Dirty War [GlobalSecurity.org backgrounder] of the late 1970s and early 80s helped to prevent rebellion during the transition from military rule to democracy. Nevertheless, Alfonsin said he "felt pained in enacting the laws" and was "relieved" when the Argentine Supreme Court struck them down [JURIST report] last year. Alfonsin, president of Argentina [JURIST news archive] from 1983 to 1989, appeared as a defense witness Wednesday at the trial of Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz [Project Disappeared profile], former chief investigator of the Buenos Aires province police, who is charged with murder, kidnapping and torture in connection with the disappearances of six people during the Dirty War. At least 13,000 dissidents are estimated to have "disappeared" during the military junta's campaign against its domestic opponents from 1976 to 1983.

Although Etchecolatz in June became the first former official to stand trial since the amnesty laws were annulled [JURIST report], the first conviction was obtained earlier this month [JURIST report] when a former police officer was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his involvement in the disappearance of a couple and their baby daughter. The amnesty laws, known as the Full Stop Law [text] and the Law of Due Obedience [text], were passed in the 1980s by the democratically elected government that replaced the junta and were meant to prevent rebellions among the military. AP has more. From Buenos Aires, La Nacion has local coverage, in Spanish.






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Bangladesh court upholds death sentences for militants convicted of judges' murders
Joe Shaulis on August 31, 2006 7:24 PM ET

[JURIST] The Bangladesh High Court [Banglapedia backgrounder] on Thursday confirmed the death sentences that a trial court imposed [JURIST report] in May on seven Islamic militants who murdered two judges [JURIST report] in a bombing last year. The men include the leaders of two banned groups: Shayek Abdur Rahman of Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) [SATP backgrounder], which wants to turn Bangladesh into an Islamic state governed by Sharia law [CFR backgrounder], and Siddikul Islam Bangla Bhai of Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh [SATP backgrounder]. The five other men are lower-level JMB commanders. A two-judge High Court panel spent six days considering the automatic review of the death sentences.

Barring an appeal, which may be filed within 30 days, the convicts will be hanged after October 1. One remains at large, having been tried in absentia. Earlier this month, another court in Bangladesh [JURIST news archive] sentenced three JMB members to death [JURIST report] and five others to life in prison for their involvement in a series of bombings on police, court and government buildings [JURIST report; BBC report] last year. Reuters has more. The Bangladesh Observer has local coverage.






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Australia judge calls control order against released terror suspect 'farcical'
Katerina Ossenova on August 31, 2006 4:49 PM ET

[JURIST] An Australian magistrate called a control order [JURIST report] issued for terror suspect Joseph Terrence "Jihad Jack" Thomas [advocacy website] "farcical" on Thursday since, among other things, the order prohibits Thomas from contacting Osama Bin Laden [JURIST news archive]. The decision by the Australian government [ABC Australia report] to restrict Thomas from contacting Bin Laden, included among the 50 people also banned, was deemed by Magistrate Graham Mowbray as "silly" in what he considers a serious proceeding. Government officials suspect that Thomas met Bin Laden while training at Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The highly debated control order [JURIST report], issued after Thomas' original terror-related conviction [BBC report] was overturned [Australian report; judgment] by the Victoria Court of Appeal, also requires him to stay within the city of Melbourne, report to police three times a week, remain at home between midnight and 5 AM each day, and only use an approved provider to connect to telephones and the Internet. Thomas' lawyers are contesting the order but the court hearing has been adjourned until September 11.

Thomas was the first Australian incarcerated under the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Act 2002 [text] after having been found guilty in February of receiving $3,500 from a senior al Qaeda member and of carrying a fake passport. His conviction was overturned [JURIST report] because authorities were found to have interviewed Thomas against his will and without access to a lawyer when he was arrested in Pakistan in 2003. AFP has more.






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ICTY prosecutors seek life sentence for former Bosnian Serb parliament speaker
Katerina Ossenova on August 31, 2006 4:15 PM ET

[JURIST] Prosecutors in the war crimes case against Momcilo Krajisnik [ICTY case backgrounder], a former Bosnian Serb speaker of parliament and the right hand man to former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [ICTY case backgrounder; BBC profile], have called for a life sentence for Krajisnik due to the seriousness of his alleged crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [official website] has charged Krajisnik with two counts of genocide and five counts of crimes against humanity for atrocities committed during the 1991-1995 Bosnian war. A verdict in Krajisnik's trial is expected before the end of September. Krajisnik was initially indicted together with Biljana Plavsic [ICTY case backgrounder], the former Bosnian Serb president, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2003 after testifying against Krajisnik.

Karadzic and former army chief Ratko Mladic [ICTY case backgrounder; JURIST news archive] are still wanted by the ICTY for alleged crimes committed during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, including organizing the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica [JURIST news archive]. Their continued fugitive status has been a sticking point [JURIST report] in Serbia's membership negotiations with the European Union [JURIST report; EU materials]. AP has more.






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China court sentences Singapore reporter to five years for espionage
Katerina Ossenova on August 31, 2006 3:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Ching Cheong [advocacy website; Wikipedia profile], chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times [media website], was sentenced to five years in jail by a Chinese court on Thursday after being convicted on charges of selling state secrets and spying for Taiwan [BBC report]. In addition to the prison sentence, the court ordered the confiscation of $37,500 worth of Ching's property and the suspension of his political rights for one year. Ching's wife, Lau, maintains her husband's innocence and suspects that he has been accused of stealing state secrets because he obtained politically sensitive unpublished interviews with late Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang [Wikipedia profile], who was purged for opposing the 1989 Tiananmen massacre [BBC backgrounder]. Ching's family is considering an appeal.

The two week long trial [JURIST report], held behind closed doors, sparked concern among human rights groups and journalists who see this as yet another high-profile step taken by Chinese authorities in recent months in an effort to silence dissent in China [JURIST news archive]. The actions include the conviction [JURIST report] of Zhao Yan [HRIC profile, PDF], a former New York Times researcher, on fraud charges but who was also initially indicted for providing state secrets [JURIST report] to foreigners, a crackdown on US Internet companies that prompted them to be accused [JURIST report] in the West of complying with so-called "Internet oppression", and the jailing of Chinese journalists [JURIST report] for inciting subversion. Aljazeera has more.






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Uganda to ask ICC to retract war crimes indictments for LRA rebels
Katerina Ossenova on August 31, 2006 3:11 PM ET

[JURIST] The Ugandan government [official website] said Thursday that it will ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] to withdraw its plans to arrest [JURIST report] leaders of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) [BBC backgrounder]. If the indicted LRA leaders agree to the terms of the ongoing truce, reached by a government team in Juba, southern Sudan, and sign a comprehensive peace agreement, Ugandan officials will appeal [JURIST report] to the ICC to retract its arrest warrant for rebel leader Joseph Kony [BBC profile] and four other rebel leaders. Instead, Uganda [JURIST news archive] plans to use its national justice system to prosecute those who have committed crimes during the conflict.

LRA leaders rejected [JURIST report] an earlier offer of amnesty from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni [official website; BBC profile], saying that accepting amnesty "presupposes surrender". Kony was indicted by the ICC [JURIST report; PDF arrest warrant] along with four LRA lieutenants last October on charges that they orchestrated the killing of thousands of civilians and the enslavement of thousands more children over two decades of conflict with Museveni's government. Xinhua has more.






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German leaders debate proposed anti-terrorism measures
Holly Manges Jones on August 31, 2006 2:26 PM ET

[JURIST] German politicians are debating a wave of new anti-terrorism proposals after terrorists attempted to blow up two trains [BBC report] in the country one month ago. Despite recently-passed legislation expanding state intelligence powers and allowing the prosecution of foreign terrorists in Germany [JURIST news archive], legislators backing other proposals for increased security are likely to face an uphill battle. German Chancellor Angela Merkel [official website, in German; BBC profile] has rejected a call for armed train marshals, while politicians continue to debate the contents of an anti-terrorist database.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger [official website, in German], a deputy parliamentary leader of the opposition Free Democratic Party [party website; Wikipedia backgrounder], has suggested that authorities only be able to view which agencies have information on a suspect, but will not have access to details of that information unless investigators request it formally. Deputy parliamentary leader of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union [official website; Wikipedia backgrounder], Wolfgang Bosbach [official website], has proposed that the database also house information such as a suspect's religion, which has been criticized by liberals and rights groups. A judicial challenge to the database is expected, and earlier this year the German Constitutional Court [official website, in German] ruled [JURIST report] that German police may not trawl databases to identify possible terrorists without a specific threat to national security, human life or freedom. The debate over the database and personal privacy has been colored by memories of German state power in Nazi era, which still evokes popular unease, especially among members of minority groups in the country. AP has more.






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US appeals court rules selection of NY judges by conventions unconstitutional
Holly Manges Jones on August 31, 2006 12:39 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] has upheld [opinion, PDF] a lower court ruling that the selection process for New York Supreme Court [official website] judges is unconstitutional. US District Court Judge John Gleeson [official profile] ruled [opinion, PDF] in January that the state's system of nominating its elected state trial court judges in political conventions [NY Election Law s. 6-106, PDF] rather than through primaries for trial level judges resulted in only friends of political powers having their names placed on the ballots. The federal appeals court on Wednesday agreed that the means of electing the New York Supreme Court judges was merely a "ceremonial" process.

The case was brought in 2004 by a group of judicial candidates and a watchdog group who claimed the convention system in New York violated the First Amendment rights of both candidates and voters. Gleeson had originally stayed his ruling [JURIST report] in the case until after the 2006 elections, to which all parties agreed. AP has more.






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US will not seek death penalty against Marine in Hamdania killing
Holly Manges Jones on August 31, 2006 11:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The US government will not pursue the death penalty against US Marine Corps [official website] Pfc. John Jodka III in the death of an Iraqi civilian in Hamdania, according to a military prosecutor during Article 32 [JAG backgrounder; UCMJ text] hearings [JURIST report] Wednesday to determine if Jodka and another soldier should face courts-martial for the killing. Jodka is accused of firing deadly shots at Hashim Ibrahim Awad [Wikipedia profile], while Cpl. Marshall Magincalda is charged with kidnapping and binding the man's feet. Jodka and Magincalda are among seven Marines and a Navy corpsman who have been charged [JURIST report] with murder and other crimes related to Awad's death. AP has more.

The prosecution is relying on alleged confessions to the murder by involved soldiers, but defense attorneys said they will fight to have the statements suppressed, accusing military investigators of obtaining them via coercive techniques. The other members of the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment [official website] are expected to face preliminary court-martial hearings in the coming weeks. AP has more.






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Missing Iraq judge found shot to death
Holly Manges Jones on August 31, 2006 11:27 AM ET

[JURIST] The body of missing Tikrit judge Turky al-Dulaimi has been found by Iraqi police near Baghdad, according to a police source speaking on the condition of anonymity Thursday. Dulaimi disappeared four days ago after being transferred from a court in Tikrit to one in Abu Ghraib. The source said Dulaimi was found on a street north of Baghdad near Samarra and had been shot several times in the head and chest.

Abductions and killings of political and judicial figures have continued to occur in Iraq [JURIST news archive] with kidnappers demanding large ransom sums or other requests in exchange for released victims. Earlier this week, Sunni Iraqi legislator Tayseer al-Mashhadani was released [JURIST report] after her captors had previously demanded the freedom of all Shiite prisoners [JURIST report], an end to airstrikes against Iraqi mosques, and a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. Xinhua has more.






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Bush federal appeals court nominations prompt criticism
Brett Murphy on August 31, 2006 9:33 AM ET

[JURIST] President Bush [official website] announced [press release] on Wednesday the nominations of five people to serve as federal appeals court judges on the US Courts of Appeals for the Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits. The nomination of the five conservatives has already caused concern among Senate leaders with a spokesman for Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid [official profile] labeling the announcement "extremely divisive" and criticizing Bush for not attempting to work with both parties on the issue of judicial nominations. The Alliance for Justice [advocacy website] President Nan Aron [profile] also criticized the president, saying in a prepared statement [text] that "Rather than playing politics with our nation's courts, the president should send up nominees who are fair, just and qualified." Bush maintained that "we need people on the bench who will strictly interpret the Constitution and not use the bench to legislate."

Among the nominees are North Carolina Judge Terrence Boyle [White House profile], whom the president had previously nominated last year [JURIST report] and William James Haynes II [White House profile], who helped create the Bush administration's controversial policy toward detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Lead Democrats have already stated that the party will attempt to filibuster Boyle's nomination [JURIST report]. Haynes, currently general counsel for the Defense Department, has also previously been nominated and has faced strong opposition [JURIST report] from a group of retired military officers as well as Senate Democrats. AP has more.






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Iran rejects UN call to cease nuclear program as deadline passes
Brett Murphy on August 31, 2006 9:12 AM ET

[JURIST] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [official profile; BBC profile] on Thursday once again said that Iran will not cease its uranium enrichment program, despite an August 31 deadline [JURIST report] set by UN Security Council Resolution 1696 [PDF text], stating that "the Iranian nation will not accept for one moment any bullying, invasion and violation of its rights." Non-compliance with the deadline may lead to economic and political sanctions for Iran under the resolution, but is currently unclear what those sanctions might entail. President Ahmadinejad dismissed the resolution [JURIST report] immediately after its passage, citing Iran's right to peaceful use of nuclear fuel.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China have separately offered a package of commercial incentives aimed at persuading Iran to end nuclear enrichment. Iranian officials have continuously asserted that it is Iran's right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to continue with its nuclear program [JURIST report], which they insist is peaceful [UN Iran Mission backgrounder, PDF] and not directed at the production of nuclear weapons. AP has more.

11:25 AM ET - The International Atomic Energy Agency [official website] has confirmed that Iran shows no signs of stopping its enrichment program and, according to a report obtained by AP, started work on a new batch of uranium last week. The IAEA report to the Security Council clears the way for the council to impose sanctions on Iran [JURIST news archive]. AP has more.






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Anti-mercenary bill passed in South Africa lower house
Jeannie Shawl on August 31, 2006 8:56 AM ET

[JURIST] The South African National Assembly [official website], the lower house of the country's parliament, has passed the Prohibition of Mercenary Activity and Regulation of Certain Activities in Areas of Armed Conflict Bill [PDF text], legislation that would prevent South African citizens from serving in foreign armies or security forces abroad without first receiving permission from the South African government. The bill, which still must be approved by the upper house of parliament, the National Council of Provinces [official website], was designed to prevent South Africans from serving as mercenaries in neighboring African countries, but its opponents say that the bill could prevent citizens from pursuing legitimate job opportunities.

South Africa in recent years has acquired a reputation as a base for mercenaries, who according to South African Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota [official profile], work to subvert democracy and "are the scourge of poor areas of the world." Last year, eight men were charged [JURIST report] in South Africa for violating anti-mercenary laws under the Foreign Military Assistance Act [text]. The men were charged after serving time [JURIST report] in Zimbabwe for participating in an alleged coup attempt [BBC backgrounder] against Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Mark Thatcher [BBC profile], son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was found to be in violation of South Africa's anti-mercenary law [JURIST report] in connection with the same plot. After agreeing to help investigators, Thatcher's jail sentence was suspended and he was fined [JURIST report]. BBC News has more.






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