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Legal news from Tuesday, November 27, 2007




Blackwater guards ignored orders before Iraqi civilian killings: US lawsuit
Melissa Bancroft on November 27, 2007 7:17 PM ET

[JURIST] Blackwater security contractors who were involved in the September 16 shooting [JURIST report] of Iraqi civilians ignored a direct order from Blackwater and US State Department personnel prior to the shooting incident, according to an amended complaint [PDF text; press release] filed in US federal court Monday on behalf of several of the victims. The lawsuit [JURIST report] was brought by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which said Tuesday that the amended complaint alleges that:

Blackwater personnel who fired on the innocent civilians had ignored directives from the Tactical Operations Center ("TOC"), which was manned by both Blackwater and Department of State personnel, to stay in another area with State Department personnel they had dropped off until further instructed to leave the area.
The complaint also alleges that:
Blackwater routinely deploys heavily-armed "shooters" in the streets of Baghdad with the knowledge that up to 25 percent of them are chemically influenced by steroids or other judgment-altering substances, and fails to take effective steps to stop and test for drug use.
The allegations against Blackwater [corporate website; JURIST news archive] have caused domestic outrage in Iraq and have prompted legal controversy in the US.

Iraqi government investigators probing the killings have concluded that the Blackwater security detail's actions were unprovoked, and amounted to "deliberate murder" [JURIST report]. The US Justice Department said earlier this month that it has not yet decided whether it will file criminal charges against the Blackwater guards, though there were reports last week that a federal grand jury has opened an investigation [JURIST reports] into the shootings. The Iraqi cabinet has approved a draft law that would strip foreign security contractors of immunity from Iraqi prosecution and the US House has passed a bill that would expand US jurisdiction over the same private contractors [JURIST reports]. AP has more.





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Pakistan official says only 37 still detained under emergency rule
Melissa Bancroft on November 27, 2007 6:54 PM ET

[JURIST] Only 37 of over 5700 lawyers, rights activists, opposition figures and others arrested after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf issued a declaration of emergency rule [PDF text] earlier this month still remain in custody, Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema said Tuesday. Of those 37, 32 were arrested for violent or lawless activities and are facing pending court action. Over 2000 detainees have been released in the past week.

Cheema expressed hope that the release of the detainees would encourage whole-hearted participation in the electoral process. Several prominent lawyers recently filed nomination papers with Pakistan's electoral authorities after being freed from detention. On Sunday, the Pakistani government transferred Supreme Court Bar Association president Aitzaz Ahsan from Rawalpindi's Adiala jail to house arrest in Lahore so he could file as a candidate [Hindu report] for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. Also on Tuesday, however, ousted Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry - still under virtual house arrest in Islamabad - was cited in local news reports as urging Pakistani political parties and people to boycott the elections [Nation report] still slated to be held under the umbrella of emergency rule. Xinhua has more.






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Vietnam appeals court cuts jail terms of pro-democracy rights lawyers
Deirdre Jurand on November 27, 2007 6:46 PM ET

[JURIST] A Vietnamese court on Tuesday reduced the prison terms of two human rights lawyers sentenced for spreading propaganda against the state. The lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai, 38, and Le Thi Cong Nhan, 28, were not released from custody, but the court lowered Dai's term from five years to four and Nhan's from four years to three because neither lawyer had a prior criminal record and because their activism had not yet seriously damaged the country. Both lawyers challenged the People's Supreme Court during their appeal hearing, criticizing the government's lack of democracy and human rights.

Vietnamese officials arrested [JURIST report] the two lawyers in February after they hosted discussions on human rights law; they were convicted [JURIST report] in May for violating Article 88 of the Vietnamese criminal code by advocating a multi-party system of government in the now-communist Vietnam [JURIST archive]. Defense lawyers for the activists maintain that they were lawfully exercising the right free speech guaranteed under the Vietnamese constitution [text] and international law. AFP has more.






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Texas oil tycoon sentenced to year in prison for role in oil-for-food scandal
Devin Montgomery on November 27, 2007 6:15 PM ET

[JURIST] Texas oil tycoon Oscar Wyatt Jr. [NYT profile] was sentenced [press release, PDF] Tuesday to one year in prison and ordered to pay over $11 million dollars in restitution for his role in the Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal [JURIST news archive]. Originally accused of paying millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks to members of Saddam Hussein's regime in order to secure oil contracts with Iraq from 2000-2003, Wyatt, the founder of Coastal Corp., pleaded guilty [JURIST report] last month to one count of wire fraud for a payment of $200,000 made in December of 2001. Wyatt had agreed to serve 18 to 24 months in prison after a tape recording of a conversation he had with Hussein was presented at his trial, but US District Judge Denny Chin [official profile] ordered the reduced sentence citing Wyatt's age, military service, and letters of support written to the court. Wyatt has been ordered to begin serving his sentence no later than January 2, 2008.

US Attorney for the Southern District of New York [official website] Michael Garcia charged and arrested Wyatt [JURIST report] and two Swiss bankers in 2005 for their involvement in the scandal. The now-defunct UN Oil-for-Food program [UN materials] allowed the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, under UN sanctions in the wake of the first Gulf War, to sell limited stocks of oil in return for foodstuffs and other humanitarian supplies. Hussein's regime nonetheless bribed foreign officials and commercial interests so it could sell oil on the black market, embezzling over $1 billion in program funds and perhaps as much another $10 billion from other sources. AP has more.






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Musharraf ready to meet opposition demands except on judges: Pakistan AG
Mike Rosen-Molina on November 27, 2007 5:45 PM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf [official website] has indicated that he may accept most of the demands put forth by opposition parties in the face of his November 3 declaration of emergency rule but that he will not reinstate ousted Supreme Court justices, Pakistan's News daily reported Tuesday. Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum and former railways minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad also told the newspaper that Musharraf will step down as head of Pakistan's army on Wednesday, a move originally announced [AFP report] by a spokesperson on Monday. The officials said that he may additionally lift the state of emergency [PDF text; JURIST news archive], withdraw his Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) [text as amended] and restore the constitution within a few days. In regard to demands by the opposition Pakistan People's Party [party website] that Musharraf reinstate former Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and other ousted superior court judges, Qayyum told the News that the recent ruling [judgment text; JURIST report] by the current Supreme Court validating emergency rule had held that all judges who refused to take the oath of allegiance under Musharraf's PCO were no longer judges and could not be reinstated. The News has more.

The Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) meanwhile unanimously voted Monday to cancel Qayyum's membership, blasting Qayyum for his role in promoting an amendment [text] to Pakistan's Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act which the bar association described as unconstitutional. The amendment promulgated by Musharraf Friday enhances the power of superior court judges appointed by the government to discipline and even disbar lawyers for "professional or other misconduct", and many Pakistani lawyers are concerned that it will be used against lawyers boycotting PCO judges. The LHCBA said that a lawyer who did not have the proper respect for the constitution should not be allowed to remain a member. The Daily Times has more. Zeenews has additional coverage.






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Geneva Conventions must be clarified on terrorism: State Dept. legal adviser
Caitlin Price on November 27, 2007 3:55 PM ET

[JURIST] US State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger III [official profile] Tuesday called [transcript] for the international community to "clarify" Geneva Convention [ICRC materials; JURIST news archive] rules pertaining to treatment of detained terror suspects. Speaking to reporters at an International Committee of the Red Cross meeting, Bellinger said:

Critics have suggested that [...] the United States is backing away from the Geneva Conventions or ignoring them, and I want to be crystal clear, the United States remains absolutely committed to the Geneva Conventions, reaffirms them. We support them, we apply them. But one does have to read what they say. They do not apply to every situation. They in fact apply to conflicts between states. So therefore the Geneva Conventions do not give you the answers about who can be held in a conflict with a non-state actor. They do not tell you how long you can hold someone in a conflict with a non-state actor. They do not tell you what countries to return people to. In a normal conflict where one is fighting one or maybe two countries, at the end of the conflict you return the combatants to those countries. In fighting al-Qaida we've found that we have detained individuals from more than two dozen countries around the world. The Geneva Conventions do not provide answers to those questions so they don't provide sufficient guidance to countries as to what law to apply.

The United States is firmly committed to the law that applies. We're also committed to working with other countries around the world to develop new legal norms in cases where existing law does not give one the answers. But what we do think is problematic is to simply suggest that the Geneva Conventions provide all of the answers in fighting international terrorism, and that countries simply need to follow the Geneva Conventions and that is the end of the matter.
Bellinger also reaffirmed US opposition to torture, citing the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 [JURIST document] and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text] as signs of continued evolution of national anti-torture law.

Bellinger also announced plans to work with new Attorney General Michael Mukasey [WH profile; JURIST news archive] on a legal review of interrogation procedures including waterboarding [JURIST news archive]. AP has more.





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Supreme Court considers state water boundary, trust tax cases
Caitlin Price on November 27, 2007 2:57 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Tuesday in New Jersey v. Delaware [case backgrounder; merit briefs], 134, Orig., to revisit a century-old water boundary dispute between the two states. In 2005, New Jersey filed suit [JURIST report] against Delaware over British Petroleum's (BP) plans to build a liquefied natural gas plant on New Jersey's side of the Delaware River. Delaware refused to approve construction of a 2,000-foot pier that would serve the facility. Under boundary determinations settled by the Supreme Court in 1934 in New Jersey v. Delaware, Delaware controls the river up to the mean low-tide mark on the New Jersey shore, but New Jersey has asked the Court to declare that a 1905 interstate compact gives it the right to control riparian access and structures on its side of the river, even if they extend across the border. Earlier this year, a Court-appointed Special Master found [report, PDF] that Delaware has the authority to block the pier. AP has more.

The Court also heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Tuesday in Knight v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue [LII case backgrounder; merit briefs], 06-1286, concerning whether investment-advice fees incurred by a trust may be fully deducted on the trust's income tax return under 26 USC 67 [text].






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Malaysia may invoke indefinite detention law to deter protests: PM
Alexis Unkovic on November 27, 2007 1:48 PM ET

[JURIST] Authorities in Malaysia [JURIST news archive] may rely on the country's controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) [HRW backgrounder] to halt protests, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi [official website; BBC profile] said Tuesday after Sunday demonstrations [TIME report] in Kuala Lumpur by thousands of the nation's ethnic Indians. The ISA is a preventive detention law that allows the Malaysian government to detain suspects for two years without trial and to renew the detention indefinitely.

The Sunday rally was sparked by complaints that the predominantly Malay Muslim government economically discriminates against ethnic Indians and other minorities. Three Hindu activists originally arrested before the protest and charged with sedition have subsequently been released [BBC reports]. Earlier this month, Malaysian police previously cracked down [JURIST report] on demonstrators participating in an unauthorized election reform rally held by the electoral rights group Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections [advocacy website], firing tear gas and water cannons at protesters. AP has more.






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Dutch court allows Srebrenica lawsuit against UN, Netherlands to proceed
Alexis Unkovic on November 27, 2007 1:01 PM ET

[JURIST] A court in the Netherlands ruled Tuesday that the families of approximately 8,000 Bosnian Muslims who were killed in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [BBC timeline; JURIST news archive] can proceed with their class action lawsuit [JURIST report; case backgrounder] against the United Nations and the Netherlands filed June 4, according to lawyer Marco Gerritsen, who represents approximately 6,000 family members of victims in the lawsuit. Gerritsen said the court ruled the case can proceed in spite of the UN's claim of immunity [JURIST report; press briefing transcript] under Article 2 Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [PDF text], which says that the UN's property and assets "shall enjoy immunity from every form of legal process except it has expressly waived its immunity." The thousands of Srebrenica survivors who filed the lawsuit allege that both the Netherlands and the UN are liable for their failure to protect civilians, many of whom were refugees that relocated to the Srebrenica enclave declared [S/Res 819, PDF] to be a "safe area" by the UN Security Council in 1993.

Tom Karremans, commander of the Dutch peacekeepers, testified [JURIST report] in 2005 that Dutch troops could not intervene to protect the refugees because early phases of the massacre had initially been represented as an "evacuation." An independent report [text] by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation [official website] found that Bosnian Muslims had been mistakenly advised by Dutch troops to depart from the Srebrenica enclave, although it absolved the Dutch troops of blame because the peacekeepers were outnumbered, lightly armed, insufficiently supplied, denied air support, and under rules of engagement that permitted only self-defense. Several of the 161 suspects indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] remain fugitives, including Ratko Mladic [ICTY case backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic [ICTY case backgrounder; BBC profile], both of whom are wanted for their alleged role in the Srebrenica massacre. Reuters has more.






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ECHR rules Belgium police violated rights of journalist investigating EU fraud
James M Yoch Jr on November 27, 2007 11:42 AM ET

[JURIST] The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] Tuesday ruled [DOC text, in French; press release] that Belgian police violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF text] by searching the home and office of German journalist Hans Martin Tillack [Stern blog] in 2004 after he reported on allegations of fraud in the European Union (EU) [official website]. The ECHR found that the searches and seizures violated Tillack's right to freedom of expression because they were meant to uncover confidential sources.

In 2004, Tillack investigated and wrote two articles for the German weekly Stern [media website, in German] based on confidential documents from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) [official website] alleging fraud involving EU officials. OLAF subsequently investigated Tillack under suspicion that he bribed EU officials for access to the confidential information. The searches and seizures by Belgian police followed the announcement of the inquiry. The magnitude of the seizures, which included 16 crates of paper, two computers and four mobile phones, influenced the ECHR's decision. The court ordered Belgium to pay Tillack 10,000 euro in damages and 30,000 euro for court expenses. Tillack has denied that he bribed any EU officials. AP has more.






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Iraq to join chemical weapons treaty
James M Yoch Jr on November 27, 2007 11:04 AM ET

[JURIST] Iraq will join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) [materials] and become a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) [official website], according to a Monday statement from the office of Iraqi President Jalal Talibani [BBC profile]. According to the statement, the Presidency Council of Iraq Monday agreed to back a law passed by the Iraqi Parliament that would make the country a signatory of the agreement. The CWC prohibits the use or undeclared storage of chemical weapons by member nations. Talabani's office said that joining the convention will allow Iraq to seek help from other members in eradicating environmental problems caused by the use of chemical weapons during the 1988 Anfal campaign [HRW backgrounder] against ethnic Kurds.

The OPCW has 182 members [OPCW list], including Iran, but several Arab countries have so far refused to accede to the CWC because Israel has not signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) [PDF text]. The OPCW was formed by the CWC in 1997. Under the convention, banned weapons, including nerve and mustard gases, must be destroyed by June 2007, though countries may apply for a five-year extension. Six countries [OPCW list] have signed the CWC but have not yet ratified it. AFP has more.






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Iran high court orders new probe into Canadian journalist death
James M Yoch Jr on November 27, 2007 10:41 AM ET

[JURIST] The Iranian Supreme Court [official website] has ordered a new probe in the case of murdered Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi [CBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] on an appeal of a lower court order that the case be reopened, a representative of the court said Tuesday. Kazemi died under suspicious circumstances in 2003 while under the custody of Iranian officials for photographing a demonstration outside a Tehran prison. Her family has repeatedly requested a new investigation into Kazemi's death since evidence surfaced that she may have been tortured and raped [JURIST report] before her death. In November 2005, an Iranian appeals court ordered that the murder investigation be reopened [JURIST report], and upheld the acquittal of the intelligence officer tried for Kazemi's murder, due to the possibility that others may have been involved in her death.

The case has severely strained relations between Iran and Canada. In 2005, Iran denied Canada's demands for her body [JURIST report], saying Canada had no authority since Iran does not recognize dual nationality. In addition, Canadian observers were denied access to the original trial in which the intelligence officer was acquitted [JURIST report] and the court ruled Kazemi's death an accident [JURIST report]. CBC News has more.






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Peru high court sentences former Fujimori ministers for aiding 1992 power grab
Michael Sung on November 27, 2007 10:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Peru [official website, in Spanish] Monday sentenced 10 former cabinet officials from the government of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for their involvement in the government's seizure of power from Congress and the judiciary in 1992. The court sentenced former Interior Minister Juan Briones Davila to 10 years in prison, while handing out suspended sentences to nine other former officials. Fujimori suspended the Supreme Court and dissolved Congress in 1992, saying it was necessary to counter the terrorist threat posed by the Shining Path [MIPT backgrounder].

Fujimori was transferred [JURIST report] to Peru for trial after the Supreme Court of Chile allowed the extradition [ruling, PDF; JURIST report] in September. Fujimori is currently awaiting trial on human rights charges for the 1992 murder of 25 people, and faces up to 30 years in prison and a $33 million fine. Fujimori's trial is scheduled to begin on December 10 [JURIST report]. He also faces abuse of power and corruption charges in separate proceedings. Reuters has more. BBC News has additional coverage.






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North Korea increasing public executions: rights group
Michael Sung on November 27, 2007 9:30 AM ET

[JURIST] The North Korean government is stepping up the use of public executions, South Korean aid agency Good Friends [advocacy website, in Korean] said Monday. Good Friends said that the regime is targeting public officials accused of crimes such as drug trafficking or embezzlement. Public executions in North Korea had previously been on the decline since 2000 under pressure from the international community.

The government of North Korea has long been accused of using the death penalty against its political enemies, among other human rights violations. In September, the US State Department designated North Korea amongst a list of "countries of particular concern" for its systematic repression of religious freedom in its annual Report on International Religious Freedom [text; JURIST report]. North Korea has also been accused of human trafficking, press repression, and "actively committing crimes against humanity" [JURIST reports]. AP has more.






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US appeals court upholds border checks of Muslims back from religious conference
Michael Sung on November 27, 2007 8:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled [PDF text] Monday that the US Bureau of Customs and Border Protection [official website] did not violate the First and Fourth Amendments by subjecting individuals returning from an annual international religious conference [conference website] in Canada to lengthy security checks. The ruling comes in a lawsuit [NYCLU materials] brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several US citizens who were among dozens of people searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and held for hours after attending the conference in 2004. The court also dismissed allegations that the government violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [text].

The appeals court upheld the December 2005 district court ruling that the searches were not illegal [JURIST report], though District Court Judge William Skretny wrote that the searches were understandably frustrating. The additional measures were put in place because the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection said it had received intelligence that the conference would serve as a meeting place for terrorists. Although the NYCLU generally expressed disappointment [press release] with Monday's ruling, the advocacy group did note:

In dismissing the case, however, the court rejected the government's contention that American citizens have few if any First Amendment rights at the border. Rather, the court expressly held that border actions targeting First Amendment activity are subject to strict scrutiny, which means the government will have to go to great lengths to justify future border operations that implicate the First Amendment.

"It's deeply disappointing that the court refused to vindicate the rights of innocent Americans treated as terrorists simply because they attended a religious conference," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "Nonetheless, there is a silver-lining in the court's rejection of the government's claim of unfettered discretion at the border to interfere with the lawful expressive and religious activities of U.S. citizens."
AP has more.





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Sudan suing French charity involved in 'Darfur orphans' airlift
Jaime Jansen on November 27, 2007 7:58 AM ET

[JURIST] The government of Sudan [JURIST news archive] is planning a lawsuit against French charity Zoe's Ark [advocacy website, in French; BBC backgrounder] for its involvement in last month's attempt to airlift 103 children [JURIST news archive] alleged to be Darfur orphans from neighboring Chad to Europe. Sudanese Interior Minister Zubair Bashir Taha also said Monday that the government will sue a French base in Chad for allegedly allowing Zoe's Ark to use its airport for the attempted airlift. Taha said that Zoe's Ark violated international laws, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child [text], by allegedly trying to take children away from their villages and refugee camps.

Earlier this month, Chad released three Spanish air crew and a Belgian pilot [JURIST report] held in Chad in connection with the attempted airlift. Chadian authorities also freed [JURIST report] seven Europeans in early November, including three French journalists and four Spanish flight attendants, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Chad to personally intervene with the Chadian government over its handling of the case. Six Europeans still remain in Chadian custody. Four Chadian nationals also face criminal charges [JURIST report] over their alleged involvement in the attempted airlift, including the mayor, secretary-general, deputy governor and neighborhood chief of the Chadian border town of Tine. AP has more. SUNA has local coverage.






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Iran ex-nuclear negotiator acquitted of espionage charges
Jaime Jansen on November 27, 2007 7:31 AM ET

[JURIST] An Iranian court has acquitted Hossein Mousavian, a former key nuclear negotiator, of espionage charges [JURIST report] but convicted him of "propagating" against the Islamic government, judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi said Tuesday. Mousavian was arrested in May on suspicions that he passed classified information to the British embassy and other foreigners. While the court suspended Mousavian's sentence, Mousavian could still face prison time if prosecutors object to the suspension. Mousavian is closely allied with former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani [official website, in Persian; BBC profile], a political opponent of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [official profile, BBC profile].

Mousavian worked for the Foreign Policy Committee of the Supreme Council for National Security in Iran until 2005, under then-top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Larijani resigned [AFP report] in October due to alleged disagreement with Ahmadinejad, a move that many feared would further strengthen the president's control of nuclear policy. AP has more.






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Pakistan minister apologizes for ordering ousted judges to vacate government housing
Jaime Jansen on November 27, 2007 7:00 AM ET

[JURIST] Pakistani Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz apologized Tuesday for demanding [JURIST report] that that all of the Supreme Court of Pakistan [official website] judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf when he declared emergency rule [JURIST report] in early November vacate their government-provided accommodations by Friday and return to their own homes. Nawaz's apology followed comments from Justice Rana Bhagwandas [JURIST news archive], who said the Interior Ministry had "no right" to demand that the deposed judges leave the Judges Enclave in Islamabad and argued that only the Supreme Court can order the deposed judges to leave their official residences. Bhagwandas noted that he has not received any notice from the Supreme Court telling the deposed judges to vacate the Judges Enclave.

Last week, Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Igbal Cheema said that the ousted judges, who had been under virtual house arrest, were "free to move" [JURIST report] and leave their homes. Deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] was, however, prevented from leaving his official residence [JURIST report] Wednesday and Bhagwandas said he and his colleagues still faced heavy restrictions on their mobility. On Friday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour urged Pakistan to reinstate all of the judges [JURIST report] dismissed under Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule before parliamentary elections slated for January. From Pakistan, the News has more.






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