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Legal news from Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bangladesh extortion trial of ex-PM Hasina resumes
Andrew Gilmore on January 30, 2008 6:17 PM ET

[JURIST] The extortion trial of former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed [party profile; JURIST news archive] resumed Wednesday in Dhaka, after the Bangladesh Supreme Court last week rejected Hasina's appeal of the proceedings [JURIST report]. Hasina had argued that she could not be tried under the current state of emergency rules because the alleged crimes occurred before the state of emergency [JURIST report] was declared last January. Hasina was formally charged [JURIST report] earlier this month with two counts of extortion for allegedly taking nearly $1.16 million from two businessmen while in office between 1996 and 2001. In October, Hasina denied the accusations [JURIST report] during questioning by officials. If convicted, she would be banned from running for office for 10 years. Also on Wednesday, the court ruled that the detention of Tarique Rahman [JURIST report], the son of former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia [UN profile], was illegal.

The current interim government in Bangladesh, led by former central bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed [official website; TIME interview], has arrested over 170 high-profile citizens since the military-backed government declared a state of emergency due to concerns that fraud would mar scheduled national elections. Both Hasina's sister, Shaikh Rehana, and her cousin, Shaikh Selim, a former minister in her cabinet, have also been charged with extortion. AFP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

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Khodorkovsky on hunger strike to protest denial of medical care for ex-Yukos lawyer
Patrick Porter on January 30, 2008 5:37 PM ET

[JURIST] Jailed Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] said Wednesday that he would begin a hunger strike [statement, in Russian] to protest denial of medical treatment to Vasily Aleksanian [statement], an imprisoned former executive and lawyer at the now-defunct Yukos [JURIST news archive] oil company, who has AIDS. Khodorkovsky said officials were denying medical treatment to Aleksanian, whose health is deteriorating, to coerce him into making false confessions. BBC News has more. Bloomberg has additional coverage.

Aleksanian was arrested in 2006 for charges of money laundering and embezzlement and was diagnosed with HIV a few months later. Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax evasion [JURIST report] in 2005 and is currently imprisoned in Siberia. Russian prosecutors indicted Khordorkovsky on new money laundering charges [JURIST report] in early 2007. Khodorkovsky, an opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has always insisted that the charges against him are politically motivated, although Russian prosecutors say otherwise [JURIST report].

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Iran chief judge limits public executions
Deirdre Jurand on January 30, 2008 4:54 PM ET

[JURIST] Iran's chief judge issued a ban [IRNA report] Wednesday against all public executions not specially permitted by the head of the judiciary. Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi [Wikipedia profile] also banned the publication of pictures and videos of executions and ordered state prosecutors to enforce the bans. Commentators said that Shahroudi probably wants to remove executions from the public eye [BBC report] following harsh international criticism of Iran's execution practices, including stoning [JURIST report] and the execution of juveniles [JURIST report]. Shahroudi, who is a moderate conservative, was also responsible for issuing a 2002 moratorium against stoning and declaring a ban on using torture to force confessions.

Iran has reportedly hanged 20 people this year for crimes such as murder and drug smuggling, and human rights groups said that the country executed about 300 people in 2007. Last April, an Amnesty International report [text; JURIST report] named Iran as having one of the three highest execution rates in the world, along with China and Pakistan. Most executions in the country are carried out by hanging and are related to traditional capital crimes including murder and rape, although an Iranian airport customs was executed for corruption [JURIST report] earlier this week. AP has more.

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UN not meeting international justice standards in Kosovo: Amnesty report
Alexis Unkovic on January 30, 2008 4:26 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Judges and Prosecutors Programme [backgrounder] of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) [official website] has failed to meet international standards to ensure fair trials, according to a report [PDF text, press release] released Wednesday by Amnesty International [advocacy website]. The report blamed "flaws in the concept, limited resources and the low priority that international justice has been given" for systemic failures that could result in scores of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 1990s conflict in Kosovo [JURIST news archive] going unpunished.

The report concludes that "the structure and operation of the Programme have been so flawed that the example in Kosovo cannot serve as a model for internationalizing national judicial systems without major changes." UNMIK officials declined to comment on the report Wednesday. AP has more.

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Federal appeals court reverses cattle rancher victory in price manipulation case
James M Yoch Jr on January 30, 2008 4:12 PM ET

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday reversed [opinion, PDF] a controversial trial court judgment in favor of a plaintiff class of cattle ranchers claiming that defendant meat-packing companies underpaid them based on erroneous price data provided by the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) [official website]. The class action plaintiffs filed suit under the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) [text], alleging that the meat-packing companies knew or should have known that the USDA incorrectly reported the price of select and choice cuts of meat during a six-week period from April 2, 2001, to May 11, 2001. The USDA figures, which determine the prices that meat-packers pay to cattle producers, were underestimated, resulting in lower prices being offered to the plaintiffs. According to the Eighth Circuit, the trial court erred by instructing the jury that the PSA did not require the plaintiffs to show intent to manipulate prices by the defendants. Instead, the court ascertained the legislative intent behind the PSA and ruled that the liability under the PSA requires a showing of intentional manipulation or control over prices:

In the absence of a statutory definition or clear contrary legislative intent, statutory terms are given their plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning. This court often turns to a commonly used dictionary to ascertain a word's ordinary meaning. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines "manipulate" as follows: "to manage or utilize skillfully," or "to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means esp[ecially] to one's own advantage" or "to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one's purpose." "Control," according to the same dictionary, means "[t]o exercise restraining or directing influence over," or "to have power over." By using words such as "manage," "artful," "insidious," and "exercise," both definitions suggest that some culpability, such as intent, is required to violate the PSA.
The Eighth Circuit's decision vacates a jury verdict of $9.25 million in favor of the plaintiffs, and remands for a decision for the meat-packing companies, including Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, Swift Beef Company, and Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., rather than for a new trial. AP has more.

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Red Cross chief discusses terror detainees status with US officials
Alexis Unkovic on January 30, 2008 3:48 PM ET

[JURIST] Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [advocacy website], Wednesday expressed optimism [press release] after completing a two-day visit to Washington DC to speak with top US officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, about ICRC concerns regarding the status and treatment of US terror detainees. Kellenberger said that talks between the US and the ICRC had led to "tangible progress," but emphasized that some issues still remained unresolved, particularly in regard to protecting detainees' legal rights at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive]. The talks also addressed the need for the US intelligence community to interact with the ICRC, and the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, Darfur, Iraq, and Israel and the Palestinian territories. AP has more.

The ICRC is formally entrusted under the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials] with visiting prisoners of war and inspecting the conditions of their detention. The ICRC in Iraq [ICRC materials] currently has arrangements with US forces allowing access to some 20,000 detainees and with Kurdish authorities to allow visitation with another 1,500 detainees.

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Australia police chief suggests limiting media coverage in terror cases
Alexis Unkovic on January 30, 2008 3:07 PM ET

[JURIST] Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty [official profile] Tuesday called for restrictions on media coverage of terrorism cases, saying that media disclosure should be delayed until judicial proceedings have been completed. In a speech [transcript] entitled "Terrorism: Policing's New Paradigm" delivered to the Sydney Institute [official website], Keelty said:

In the United Kingdom, to provide a contrast with Australia, contempt of court laws prevent journalists from reporting proceedings in open court. In fact, even reporting information that has previously been in the public domain might also not be exempt from contempt of court laws. Although in the UK there is debate around when exactly proceedings become active, it is understood to be at the time a person is arrested; a warrant is issued for the arrest of a person or a person is charged with a crime. This media blackout remains in place until after the case is disposed of, abandoned, discontinued or withdrawn.

I am not saying that correct processes and procedures should be cast aside, nor should public institutions be immune from public accountability in the discharge of their public service, but I am saying that a public discussion about them should be delayed, in deference to judicial process. Not subjugated, not quashed, not silenced; just delayed, until the full gamut of judicial process has been exhausted.

If charges are laid, the right of the alleged offender to the presumption of innocence should take precedence over the public interest in knowing how the investigation was conducted and a person’s right to freely discuss elements of the crime and its investigation. Information about the investigation and wider discussion about elements of the crime become available as part of the open court processes or after the legal process has been completely exhausted.
Critics have objected to Keelty's comments, saying that the length of some terrorism trials would mean that vital information could be kept out of public knowledge for years. Reuters has more.

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Italy court acquits ex-PM Berlusconi of false accounting
Katerina Ossenova on January 30, 2008 2:40 PM ET

[JURIST] Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] was acquitted of false accounting by a Milan court on Wednesday. The charges were related to Berlusconi's membership in a group trying to buy the SME state food conglomerate in the 1980s, but the court found that the allegations against Berlusconi did not amount to a crime under amendments made to the criminal law in 2002 while Berlusconi was in power. Despite his legal woes, the former prime minister hopes to return to office and has been pushing for early elections since Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi [official profile] resigned last week after losing a vote of confidence [BBC report] in the upper house of parliament.

Berlusconi, a media mogul and Italy's richest man, has faced trial on at least six occasions involving charges of false accounting, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and giving false testimony [JURIST reports]. In October, Italy's highest court of appeal upheld Berlusconi's April acquittal [JURIST reports] on bribery charges. That trial was initially blocked in 2004 by a bill drafted by Berlusconi ally and later defense lawyer Gaetano Pecorella but went ahead after the bill was struck down as unconstitutional. Berlusconi has continually maintained his innocence, accusing prosecutors of conducting a political vendetta against him. AP has more.

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Kenya opposition leader condemns police 'shoot to kill' order as illegal
Katerina Ossenova on January 30, 2008 2:14 PM ET

[JURIST] Kenyan opposition candidate Raila Odinga [campaign profile] has condemned as illegal the latest "shoot to kill" order given to Kenyan police in response to continued violence across the country after last month's disputed presidential election [JURIST report], according to Wednesday media reports. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in the country to help mediate [JURIST report] the conflict between supporters of Odinga and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile], says he hopes the political issues can be resolved within four weeks and that the country can heal from this latest crisis within a year. Speaking Wednesday on the sidelines of a conference in Ethiopia, however, US Undersecretary of State Jendayi Frazer claimed that the violence had constituted "ethnic cleansing."

The controversial presidential vote has sparked simmering ethnic tensions in Kenya [JURIST news archive], where Kibaki has long been accused of using his position to favor members of the Kikuyu tribe. Fueling accusations of malfeasance, Kibaki won the December 27 election despite early opinion polls that placed rival candidate Odinga in the lead. Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets following the election, which prompted the government to temporarily ban public rallies and institute a curfew in Nairobi, the capital city. In all, almost 1,000 people have been killed and 250,000 displaced since protests began. Thirteen nations, including several European Union members and the United States, have threatened to cut off aid [JURIST report] to Kenya's government until the crisis is resolved and democracy is restored. Odinga's opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement [party website] earlier this week filed a formal complaint [JURIST report] with the International Criminal Court [official website], alleging that Kibaki's administration has committed crimes against humanity while using force against demonstrators. The Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights [official site] on Saturday launched an official investigation [KNCHR brief; Standard report] into the alleged human rights violations. AFP has more.

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Israel high court upholds Gaza supply cuts
Katerina Ossenova on January 30, 2008 1:35 PM ET

[JURIST] The Israeli Supreme Court [official website] ruled Wednesday that the Israeli government can continue to cut supplies of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder], rejecting legal challenges [press release; JURIST report] by human rights groups that the blockade deprived Gaza residents of basic humanitarian needs in violation of international law. Israeli officials say that withholding fuel and energy supplies is the only option open to the Israeli government aside from a full-scale military operation against Hamas [BBC backgrounder], which has refused to halt indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli positions from Gaza. In its ruling [unofficial English translation, PDF], the court held that Israel is required to act against terror organizations in accordance with the norms of international law but that the reduced supplies currently allowed into Gaza "fulfill the vital humanitarian needs of the Gaza Strip at this time." In November 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court blocked government plans to cut electricity [JURIST report] in the Gaza Strip, while allowing fuel supply cuts. Israel currently supplies all of Gaza's fuel and more than two-thirds of its electricity.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council [official website] adopted a resolution [draft text, PDF; JURIST report] criticizing Israel for recent military attacks and a week-long blockade against the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip that the Council said amounted to human rights violations. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour [official profile] has also said that Israel's policy of collective punishment, disproportionate use of force and targeted killings, coupled with the Palestinian militant practice of indiscriminate firings of bombs and rockets, has led to the current crisis [transcript; JURIST report] in the Gaza Strip. The latest Israeli blockade began mid-January, when Israel closed crossings into Gaza and cut off electricity, fuel and emergency aid to the area after more than 45 rockets hit Israeli towns. AP has more.

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Mukasey refuses to pass judgment on waterboarding during Senate hearing
Katerina Ossenova on January 30, 2008 1:11 PM ET

[JURIST] US Attorney General Michael Mukasey [official profile] on Wednesday refused to provide the Senate Judiciary Committee an opinion on whether waterboarding constitutes an illegal form of torture. Wednesday's hearing [SJC materials] is Mukasey's first appearance before the Judiciary Committee since being sworn in as attorney general in November. On Tuesday, Mukasey sent a letter to the committee confirming that he has completed his investigation [JURIST report] into CIA interrogation methods used on terror suspects and found that the agency's current methods to be legal. Despite criticism from committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] on his non-answer, Mukasey refused to characterize waterboarding [JURIST news archive] as torture, saying that, since the technique was not currently in use by the CIA, it would be not be responsible for him to make a final decision on its legality.

Waterboarding was a major issue during Mukasey's confirmation hearings last year when he refused to take a stance on whether the practice constitutes torture [JURIST report]. In the midst of the hearings, he wrote in a letter [PDF text; JURIST report] to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not know if waterboarding was illegal, and that it would be "irresponsible" of him to provide a legal opinion on any specific interrogation technique without an in-depth analysis of relevant laws and more information about its use. Earlier this month, both former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge [official profile] and US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell [official profile] expressed their opinions that the controversial interrogation technique should be considered torture [JURIST report]. AP has more.

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UK Law Lords allow lawsuit against lottery-winning rapist after limitations period
Brett Murphy on January 30, 2008 10:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The judicial panel of the UK House of Lords unanimously ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that a sexual assault victim could sue a convicted attacker who later won £7 million in the National Lottery even though the six-year limitation for bringing compensation claims had expired. The Lords held that the victim could bring the claim against Iorworth Hoare [Wikipedia profile]. Writing in favor of the appeal, Baroness Hale od Richmond wrote:

the injustice to a claimant who may be deprived of his claim, perhaps as a result of the very injuries which gave rise to it, can be balanced against the injustice to a defendant who may be called upon to defend himself a long time after the event when important evidence may no longer be obtainable ... A fair trial can be possible long after the event and sometimes the law has no choice. It is even possible to have a fair trial of criminal charges of historic sex abuse. Much will depend upon the circumstances of the particular case ... Nor are the difficulties faced by a defendant, whose breach of a strict statutory duty may have resulted in some insidious industrial disease, necessarily less deserving of consideration than the difficulties faced by a defendant, whose deliberate and brutal actions towards a vulnerable person in his care may have resulted in immediate physical harm and much later serious psychiatric sequelae.
The Law Lords also allowed four additional appeals on the same issue, some of which involved children.

Known as the Lotto rapist, Hoare had been convicted of several sexual assaults, including rape, during the 1970s and 1980s before being convicted of the attempted rape at issue in the present case. Hoare was released from prison [BBC News report] under strict conditions after winning a share of a £21 million lottery prize. In 2005, a High Court judge rejected a compensation claim by Hoare's victim, finding that it had been brought after the six-year statute of limitations had expired; an Appeal Court affirmed that decision. After Wednesday's decision by the Law Lords, that compensation case against Hoare, as well as the four other appeals, will now go to the High Court for possible hearing on the issue of actual abuse compensation. BBC News has more.

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Ousted Pakistan chief justice slams Musharraf for deposing judges
Brett Murphy on January 30, 2008 9:31 AM ET

[JURIST] Ousted Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry [JURIST news archive] labeled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an "extremist" on Wednesday, chiding Musharraf for deposing 60 judges, slandering judges, and keeping Chaudhry under house arrest [JURIST report]. The government of Pakistan has kept Chaudhry and several other judges and lawyers under preventative detention since Musharraf declared emergency rule [text; JURIST report] on November 3. According to a letter [DOC] released by lawyers on behalf of Chaudhry, as part of the house arrest, barbed-wire has been placed around Chaudhry's home, phone lines have been disconnected, and the family has been unable to go onto their front yard.

Last week, Pakistani lawyers demonstrated in Islamabad [JURIST report] to protest Chaudhry's continued detention. Also last week, a report [text] by Pakistan's The News suggested the government may be skirting constitutional limits on detentions [JURIST report]. The Pakistani constitution requires that preventative detention be limited to 90 days unless a review board has extended the detention. The detention period will expire as of January 31, but the government has not referred Chaudhry's case to a review board, instead saying that because Chaudhry and other deposed judges are not being held under court-ordered detention they therefore do not qualify for review. AP has more.

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Prosecutors ask for 2-year sentence for former Milberg Weiss partner
Brett Murphy on January 30, 2008 9:03 AM ET

[JURIST] The US Attorney's Office for the Central District of California [official website] has recommended that former Milberg Weiss [firm website] partner William Lerach receive two years in prison for his part in the firm's illegal kickback scheme. Lerach pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to obstruct justice after reaching an agreement [JURIST reports] with prosecutors in September. In court documents filed Monday, the US Attorney's Office disagreed with a 15-month recommendation by probation officers, saying that it would inadequately deter others. Sentencing is scheduled for on February 11.

In October, Milberg Weiss co-founder Melvyn Weiss pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to federal charges of conspiracy, racketeering, obstruction of justice and making false statements. In May 2006, a federal grand jury indicted [JURIST report] the firm and two name partners, David J. Bershad and Steven G. Schulman, on charges of conspiracy to make false statements and obstructing justice. Lerach was named as "Partner B" in the indictment [PDF text]. As part of the scheme, certain individuals who agreed to serve as class action representatives were promised 10 percent of the attorney fees eventually gathered by Milberg Weiss. Three individuals pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in connection with the scheme in May 2006, and Bershad pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to conspiracy charges in July. Reuters has more.

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Khmer Rouge second-in-command requests removal of ECCC judge
Leslie Schulman on January 30, 2008 8:06 AM ET

[JURIST] Lawyers for former Khmer Rouge official Nuon Chea [GenocideWatch report] on Wednesday filed a motion with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] requesting the removal of Cambodian military court chief Ney Thol from Nuon Chea's scheduled February 4 pre-trial hearing and all future proceedings relating to war crimes and crimes against humanity charges [statement, PDF] against Nuon Chea because of alleged impartiality. According to the motion, Ney Thol, who is a member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) [party website, in English], sentenced an opposition leader to jail in a questionable 2005 trial which was biased against the defense. The opposition leader was later pardoned. The motion claims that Ney Thol's "participation in highly questionable judicial decisions" indicates his biases and justifies his removal.

The Khmer Rouge is generally held responsible for the genocide of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians [PPU backgrounder] who died between 1975 and 1979. Nuon Chea was known as Brother Number Two in the Khmer Rouge, indicative of his high position in the communist movement led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998 having never been prosecuted for alleged war crimes. He was arrested and charged [JURIST report] in September and said that he was never in the position to order the deaths attributed to him, but that he will cooperate with the ECCC [JURIST report]. The ECCC was established by a 2001 law [text as amended 2005, PDF] to investigate and try surviving Khmer Rouge officials, but to date, no top officials have faced trials. The first trials are expected to begin this year. AP has more.

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UN SG urges measures to combat use of child soldiers
Leslie Schulman on January 30, 2008 7:17 AM ET

[JURIST] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] on Tuesday issued a report [text] pushing for the enforcement of sanctions against more than 12 countries who continue to use child soldiers in armed combat. According to the report, child soldiers continue to be used in African and Asian countries, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Sudan and Sri Lanka, in violation of international laws that protect children in armed conflict. Ban noted that the use of child soldiers violates in particular the Geneva Convention of 1949 and its 1997 protocols, the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 and its optional protocol, and the International Labour Organization Convention No. 182 [texts].

Ban listed several recommendations for the Security Council [official website] in combating child soldier recruitment in the listed countries, including imposing sanctions against those who continue to recruit children for combat. Also in his report, Ban identified ongoing abuses committed against children, including sexual assaults, abductions, and the denial of humanitarian aid, food and education. The report urges the Security Council to "give equal weight to all categories of grave violations" against children. Ban also urged individual UN member states to crack down on parties in their countries that systematically use child soldiers or commit abuses against children. Reuters has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.

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