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Legal news from Friday, May 18, 2007




Ukraine presidency rejects court authority after new chief justice named
Mike Rosen-Molina on May 18, 2007 5:34 PM ET

[JURIST] Head of the Ukrainian presidential secretariat Viktor Baloha said Friday that the Constitutional Court of Ukraine [official website; JURIST news archive] has lost its authority with Thursday's appointment of Valeri Pshenischny as chief justice after former Chief Justice Ivan Dombrovsky abruptly resigned [JURIST report] Thursday. The 18-judge court made the replacement appointment while continuing deliberations over the constitutionality of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's April 2 decree [text; JURIST report] dissolving parliament and calling for new elections. Baloha said Pshenischny cannot serve as chief justice because he was previously dismissed [JURIST report] from the court by Yushchenko in April. Because of this, with Pshenischny as acting chair, "no judgment of the judicial instance will be effective in the legal or moral senses," Baloha said.

In April, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yiktor Yanukovich [BBC profile] and leaders of Parliament filed a legal challenge to Yushchenko's decrees [JURIST report], seeking to block the dissolution of parliament. Yushchenko has subsequently dismissed three Constitutional Court judges for alleged oath and ethics violations [JURIST report], and appointed replacement judges without consultation [JURIST report] with either Yanukovich or the Justice Ministry. Interfax has more.






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Convicted terror supporter denied new trial on allegations of jury prejudice
Gabriel Haboubi on May 18, 2007 3:55 PM ET

[JURIST] Convicted terrorist and California resident Hamid Hayat [JURIST news archive] was denied a new trial Thursday, when a federal judge rejected his claims [opinion, PDF] that the jury foreman engaged in misconduct and made prejudicial statements. Judge Garland E. Burell Jr. [official profile] of the US Eastern District of California [official website] rejected testimony by one juror that the jury foreman continuously made "hangman" motions mocking the tying of a noose around his neck and made statements indicating that he was inclined to side with the government even if he did not believe Hayat was guilty.

Hayat was found guilty [JURIST report] on three counts of making false statements to the FBI and one count of providing material support to terrorists, and faces up to 39 years in prison. It was alleged that Hayat attended an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan. In August of last year, two of Hayat's relatives were prevented from re-entering the United States [JURIST report] after a trip to Pakistan unless they submitted to questioning by the FBI. Hayat's father Umer Hayat pleaded guilty last year [JURIST report] to a charge of attempting to smuggle $28,000 into Pakistan and was sentenced to time served. AP has more.






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Federal appeals court upholds DOD collective bargaining agreement ban
Gabriel Haboubi on May 18, 2007 3:20 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Department of Defense (DOD) has the right to decide which issues it will negotiate [opinion, PDF] with labor unions, according to a Friday decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website]. The court held that Congress granted to the DOD "expansive authority to curtail collective bargaining through November 2009" when enacting the National Defense Authorization Act, codified in 5 USC Sec. 9902 [text].

In response, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) [union website], who brought the suit against the Pentagon, urged the Senate [press release] to pass a bill similar to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill [HR 1585 summary] passed by the House on Thursday. The House bill passed 397-27 [roll call], despite the threat of a White House veto [policy statement, PDF], and included language that would strike down collective bargaining bans. AP has more.






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EU leaders press Putin on Russia human rights at summit
Michael Sung on May 18, 2007 3:17 PM ET

[JURIST] German Chancellor Angela Merkel [official website] and other European Union (EU) leaders criticized Russia's human rights record [JURIST news archive] in a series of exchanges at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website] Friday, marking the end of a summit between the EU and Russia. Merkel, speaking to reporters, raised concerns about Russia's democratic freedoms with reports that Russian officials have detained protesters traveling to the city of Samara, where the summit was being held. Putin dismissed the reports, insisting that all protests violently dispersed by police were illegal demonstrations not staged "in accordance with the law."

Putin in turn criticized the EU for not responding to the death of a Russian citizen in Estonia [Reuters report] during a clash between ethnic Russians and police over removal of a Red Army war memorial [IHT report]. AP has more.






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Kazakhstan parliament removes term limits for president
Gabriel Haboubi on May 18, 2007 2:13 PM ET

[JURIST] Kazakhstan's parliament [official website] removed term limits on the rule of President Nursultan Nazarbayev [official website, BBC profile] Friday, effectively allowing him to remain president for life. The measure only applies to Nazarbayev, and subsequent presidents would have to abide by the law limiting them to two terms in office. Another constitutional change, supported by Nazarbayev [statement, in English], reduced the length of a president's term from 7 years to 5. Nazarbayev must still approve the move for it to become law.

Nazarbayev has been in power since 1989, but the country has never had elections considered fair and free by western monitors. He was last elected [BBC report] in December 2005 with 91 percent of the vote, but international observers raised concerns of fraud [JURIST report]. Opposition parties challenged the results [JURIST report], to no avail. Reuters has more.






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White House reiterates 'full confidence' in Gonzales as GOP support slips
Gabriel Haboubi on May 18, 2007 1:23 PM ET

[JURIST] The White House reiterated President Bush's "full confidence" in embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [JURIST news archive] at Friday morning's press gaggle [transcript]. White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that the administration considers next week's proposed Senate vote of no-confidence in Gonzales [JURIST report] a political stunt, and that Gonzales can continue to serve without the support of Congress. Fratto's comments came as a fifth Senate Republican, Norm Coleman (R-MN), called for Gonzales to resign [statement]. Gonzales has been under fire for the allegedly political firings of nine federal prosecutors [JURIST news archive].

When questioned about recent testimony [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey [official profile] before the Senate Judiciary Committee that then-White House Counsel Gonzales attempted to pressure a hospitalized then-Attorney General John Ashcroft into reauthorizing the warrantless domestic wiretap program and whether President Bush ordered the visit, Fratto refused to answer, citing issues of national security. AP has more.






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Ohio gay marriage ban may limit anti-discrimination measures: governor
Gabriel Haboubi on May 18, 2007 12:43 PM ET

[JURIST] Ohio Governor Ted Strickland [official website] said Thursday that he believes the state's 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage [JURIST report] could prevent the state from outlawing sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in the private sector. Strickland created protections in the public sector by signing Executive Order 2007 - 10S [press release and text], banning those forms of discrimination against state government employees under his control. The measure will expire when Strickland leaves office.

Although Strickland said that he would like to support private sector protections for homosexual and transgendered workers, the 2004 marriage amendment, which he did not support, could prevent him from doing so. As governor, he said it is his duty to not support legislation that would be contrary to the constitution. If such a private sector anti-discrimination bill were proposed, he would have to determine if it met the amendment's definition of 'approximating' marriage. AP has more.






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State-mandated Internet censorship on the rise: report
Michael Sung on May 18, 2007 12:36 PM ET

[JURIST] A study released Friday by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) [advocacy website] has found a "substantial growth in the scale, scope and sophistication" of Internet censorship [JURIST news archive] worldwide. The study, focusing on state-mandated censorship, found evidence of content filtering in 25 of 41 countries tested. The study found that states generally justified censorship as protecting property rights and national security, preserving cultural and religious values, and fighting pornography and child exploitation. Internet censorship was noted in the following states: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.

The ONI is a collaborative partnership of academics from the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto; the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School; the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme, University of Cambridge; and the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University [university websites]. BBC News has more.






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Afghanistan journalists sentenced for violating mass media law, disobeying AG
Michael Sung on May 18, 2007 11:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Authorities in Afghanistan [JURIST news archive] have sentenced two Tolo Television [network website] journalists for "violating mass media law" and disobeying orders of the attorney general, according to state-controlled Afghanistan National Television (ANTV) Wednesday. In April, Afghan Attorney General Abdul Jabbar Sabet ordered a raid on the television network to bring in reporter Hamid Haidary. Sabet said Haidary had misquoted him and summoned him because he had reported that Sabet wanted to execute several convicts.

In April, more than 100 Afghan journalists gathered in front of parliament in Kabul to protest the police raid [JURIST report] and call for Sabet's resignation. The journalists condemned the raid as an infringement on freedom of speech. In June of last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said rules promulgated by the Afghan government aimed at curbing negative reports on the country's failing security situation violated free speech principles and should be repealed [JURIST report]. RFE/RL has more.






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House calls for Guantanamo shutdown plan in defense spending bill amendment
Michael Sung on May 18, 2007 10:45 AM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives voted 220-208 [roll call] Thursday to pass an amendment [PDF text, via CR] to the FY'08 Defense Authorization Bill [PDF text; HR 1585 summary] to require the Office of the Secretary of Defense to develop a report within 60 days after the bill is signed into law, identifying the "current capacity at Department of Defense (DOD) facilities in the United States to securely hold and try before a military commission the detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." The amendment, introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) [official profile; press release], will require the DOD to identify the number of detainees that will be charged with a crime, subject to a release or transfer, or held without being charged with a crime, and also seeks to ensure that detainees scheduled for release are "released no later than December 31, 2007." Moran characterized the detentions at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] as "a stain on our reputation as a nation - governed by the rule of law - that respects justice and democracy," and said that "the policy options before the President and Congress should not be limited by a lack of information." The House passed the appropriations bill by a 397-27 vote [roll call]. The Senate must still pass its version of the legislation, and the bills will need to be reconciled.

Pentagon officials say that they plan to try approximately 80 of the 385 detainees designated as "enemy combatants" [JURIST news archive] under the framework created by Military Commission Act of 2006 [PDF text], and plan to transfer around 80 detainees to other countries. The remaining detainees are in legal limbo. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court heard arguments [JURIST report] brought by detainees challenging their designation as "enemy combatants." Last Tuesday, three US lawmakers introduced legislation to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST report]. Reuters has more.






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Nigeria unions plan strikes to protest election fraud
Michael Sung on May 18, 2007 10:23 AM ET

[JURIST] Nigerian union leaders Thursday called for a two-day national strike to protest the May 29 inauguration of president-elect Umaru Yar'Adua [BBC profile], who they say was elected fraudulently. The strike, which will involve both blue-collar and white-collar unions, is expected to begin with rallies on May 28 to protest Nigeria's April 21 elections [JURIST news archive], which were the target of sharp criticism [JURIST report] from the European Union and NGO observers. Allegations of fraud include multiple voting, stuffing and missing ballot boxes, as well as violence at the polls. The elections in Nigeria [JURIST news archive] were intended to facilitate the first civilian government transition in Africa's most populous country.

On Monday, Nigeria's Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal ruled that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) [official website] must provide "certified true copies" of ballots [JURIST report] from the elections to embattled candidate and current Vice President Atiku Abubakar [official website; JURIST news archive]. AP has more.






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India court hands down first sentences in 1993 Mumbai bombing case
Michael Sung on May 18, 2007 9:53 AM ET

[JURIST] A court in India [JURIST news archive] sentenced five people to three years in prison and a fine of $610 each Friday for their role in the deadly 1993 Mumbai bombings [BBC backgrounder] that killed 257 people and injured more than 700 in India's financial center. The five defendants had each been found to be guilty of transporting weapons and ammunition on fishing vessels and Judge Pramod Kode said that the defendants were spared from the maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison because they were unaware of the contents of the containers they smuggled. Other defendants, convicted of charges ranging from covering conspiracy, illegal possession of arms and explosives, aiding terrorist acts, and waging war against the state, face maximum sentences ranging from five years to life in prison for their role in the bombings.

The trial, which began in 1995, included testimony from 757 witnesses and has resulted in the conviction of over 100 defendants [JURIST report], a figure that public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam described as unprecedented. Thirty-five suspects, including the alleged mastermind of the bombings, Dawood Ibrahim [BBC profile], remain at large. AP has more.






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US and allies circulate Security Council resolution for Hariri tribunal
Michael Sung on May 18, 2007 8:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The United States, France, and the United Kingdom circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution Thursday, which if approved will unilaterally establish a tribunal under Chapter VII of the UN Charter [texts] to investigate and try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri [JURIST news archive]. According to AP, the resolution would enforce an agreement [JURIST report] reached between UN negotiators and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora [BBC profile] but which has failed to be approved by Lebanon's Parliament due to a deadlock. The proposed resolution was discussed at a closed-door meeting with representatives from the five permanent Security Council members, and the resolution's backers are optimistic that it will not face strong opposition because the resolution enforces an existing agreement and does not impose a new UN tribunal without Lebanese input.

On Monday, Siniora sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, formally requesting that the Security Council unilaterally create an ad hoc tribunal [JURIST report] to investigate the Hariri assassination. The Hariri tribunal has been a source of major disagreement in Lebanon's deeply sectarian political arena. The pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emile Lahoud [official profile] and Speaker of the National Assembly, Nabih Berri [official profile], oppose the Hariri tribunal, and Berri has refused to convene the National Assembly to prevent ratification of the agreement establishing the tribunal. Lahoud responded to Siniora's letter Tuesday, saying that a Security Council resolution "would imply a full bypass of the constitutional mechanisms in Lebanon" and would "hamper the court's judicial capacities to hold an impartial trial." AP has more.






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Former Guantanamo military lawyer convicted of leaking detainee names
Michael Sung on May 18, 2007 8:37 AM ET

[JURIST] US Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew M. Diaz, a former staff judge advocate stationed at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], was convicted Thursday of one count of communicating secret information that could be used to injure the United States and three counts of leaking information to unauthorized persons. Prosecutors had argued during Diaz's court-martial [JURIST report] that he endangered the lives of detainees and of US soldiers in the war on terror. Diaz's lawyers had argued that the information was not marked classified and that Diaz had no reason to believe that the names of the detainees "could be used to injure the United States."

In February 2005, Diaz mailed Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] human rights lawyer Barbara Olshansky printouts of approximately 550 detainee names, months before AP forced the Department of Defense to officially release the detainee lists [JURIST report] through Freedom of Information Act requests. AP has more.

BREAKING NEWS: Diaz has been sntenced to six months in prison. AFP has more.
ALSO ON JURIST

 Text: Diaz Guantanamo names court-martial documents






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El-Masri ordered to German mental hospital after arson arrest
Michael Sung on May 18, 2007 7:59 AM ET

[JURIST] Khaled El-Masri [JURIST news archive], the German citizen allegedly kidnapped by the CIA in 2003, is suspected of arson at a wholesale market in Germany and has been ordered by a judge to be admitted to a psychiatric institution, according to the German police Thursday. Manfred Gnjidic, El-Masri's lawyer, told AP that his client had suffered "a complete nervous breakdown" and added that Gnjidic had been trying unsuccessfully to get El-Masri into a therapy program since 2004. AP has more. Der Spiegel has local coverage, in German.

El-Masri sued [ACLU materials] former CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA officials in 2005, arguing that they violated international human rights law by their involvement in the alleged kidnapping and extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] of El-Masri to Afghanistan. A US federal appeals court upheld [JURIST report] the dismissal of that lawsuit in March 2007, deciding that the case could not be heard in a US court because of the government's state secrets privilege [Sourcewatch backgrounder]. El-Masri says he was first detained by Macedonian officials and subsequently held by the CIA while vacationing in Macedonia in December 2003. He was released in Albania in May 2004 without apology or funds to return to Germany.






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