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Legal news from Monday, July 7, 2008




Ontario appeals court rules aboriginal mining protesters' sentences too severe
Andrew Gilmore on July 7, 2008 6:13 PM ET

[JURIST] The Court of Appeal for Ontario [court website] ruled Monday that sentences imposed on seven aboriginal protesters in March for opposing mining company operations on community land were too severe. In February, Robert Lovelace, a member of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation (AAFN) [official website], was sentenced to six months in jail for contempt after he refused to comply with a court order allowing Frontenac Ventures Corporation [corporate website] to prospect for uranium on traditional AAFN lands in Ontario. In March, six members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation (KIFN) [official website] were sentenced [order, PDF] to six months' imprisonment each for contempt of court after they impeded the access of Platinex Inc. [corporate website], an oil drilling company, to exploration property on traditional First Nations land. Lovelace and the so-called "K6" were released in May after their sentences were reduced to time served. In Frontenac Ventures Corporation v. Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, released Monday, the court explained [judgment, PDF] that:

[I]mprisonment, far from being a meaningful sanction for the community, had the effect of pitting the community against the justice system. That the court found it necessary to imprison the leaders of the AAFN simply serves to emphasize the gulf between the dominant culture’s sense of justice and this First Nation’s sense of justice. ... In summary, the appellants’ character and circumstances, their actual conduct, and the difficult legal context within which it occurred, should have counted as significant mitigation when sentences were imposed on them.
The court applied the same reasoning in its decision to release the six protestors in Platinex, Inc. v. Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation [judgment, PDF]. Canadian Press has more.

The Frontenac and Platinex cases both involve mineral exploration activities on traditional aboriginal lands falling outside the First Nations' federally-recognized territory. In June 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled a series of reforms [JURIST report] designed to address a backlog of claims from aboriginal groups seeking redress for land seized by the Canadian government. In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled [JURIST report] that Canadian governments must consult with the Assembly of First Nations [official website] before developing land claimed by aboriginal groups.





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Thailand protesters accuse authorities of stalling ex-PM corruption trial
Devin Montgomery on July 7, 2008 3:26 PM ET

[JURIST] More than 3000 members of the People's Alliance for Democracy rallied outside of the Royal Thai Police Headquarters in Bangkok on Monday, calling for a speedy resolution to the corruption trials of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive].   According to a Bangkok Post report, the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) [official website] has also expressed impatience with delays in Thaksin's trials. The Commission has said that it may bring charges against him without waiting for Office of the Attorney General [official website, in Thai] to file additional indictments. AP has more. TNA has local coverage.

Despite the delays, Thaksin has already been indicted on several counts of corruption. In June, the Committee recommend that two new charges be brought [AP report] against Thaksin, one for using his position to secure a $127 million loan to benefit a company owned by his family, and another for corruption related to the purchase of approximately $43 million worth of rubber trees. In March, Thaksin pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to separate corruption charges stemming from a 2003 land purchase by his wife Pojamarn from a government-directed institution despite a ban on officials making business deals with government agencies. In February, Thaksin returned to Thailand from self-imposed exile to face corruption charges laid against him after he was ousted in a military coup [JURIST reports] in September 2006.






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ICC suspends release of Congo ex-militia leader Lubanga
Mike Rosen-Molina on July 7, 2008 2:39 PM ET

[JURIST] The International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Monday granted [decision, PDF; press release] the suspensive effect of the prosecutors' appeal [PDF] against the release of Congolese ex-militia leader Thomas Lubanga [ICC materials; BBC profile]. The granting of the appeal means that Lubanga will not be released until a final decision is made by the ICC. Late last month, the ICC imposed an indefinite stay [order, PDF; JURIST report] on Lubanga's war crimes trial due to prosecutorial misconduct, concluding that Lubanga would be unable to receive a fair trial. The court subsequently ordered Lubanga set free [JURIST report] but agreed to suspend his release for five days, giving the prosecution time to appeal. AFP has more.

Once the leader of the Union of Patriotic Congolese [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], Lubanga is charged with using child soldiers [JURIST report; BBC report] in his militia, which is believed to have committed large-scale human rights abuses in Congo's violent Ituri district [HRW backgrounder]. He became the first war crimes defendant to appear before the ICC after he was taken into custody [JURIST reports] in March 2006. Lubanga's long-delayed trial [JURIST report] is scheduled to be the ICC's first since its creation in 2002.






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Russia Bolshevik party forms political prisoner coalition
Devin Montgomery on July 7, 2008 1:41 PM ET

[JURIST] A new association of political prisoners formed by Russia's National Bolshevik Party (NBP) [party website, in Russian] will advocate for prisoners' rights and call attention to the plight of political prisoners in the country, party spokesman Alexander Averin said Sunday. Averin also called on the Russian government to release 25 alleged political prisoners, but government officials denied that they held any such prisoners in custody. Rights groups have also accused Russia of holding political prisoners and have petitioned for their release [advocacy report]. Averin said NBP plans to hold a rally on September 14 and called for Russians to protest the detentions. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

The NBP, lead by writer Eduard Limonov [NYT backgrounder], has been repeatedly labeled as an extremist group and was banned by the Russian government. Last week, 12 NBP members held a protest [RT report] in the county's foreign ministry office before being arrested. In March, the Tagansky District Court in Moscow sentenced seven members of NBP to prison [JURIST report] for "armed hooliganism." In April 2007, a Moscow City Court judge heard arguments [JURIST report] on whether to grant the chief prosecutor's request to ban NBP.






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East Timor police use tear gas on students protesting government spending
Mike Rosen-Molina on July 7, 2008 12:44 PM ET

[JURIST] A UN spokesperson said that East Timor [JURIST news archive] police used teargas on a group of 200 students who were demonstrating before the National Parliament [official backgrounder] on Monday. Police reportedly used force against the students and arrested 21 protesters who disregarded police instructions to disperse. The protesters had accused the government of spending over $2 million on luxury cars for legislators, using funds that the protesters argued should be spent on alleviating poverty and subsidizing rising oil prices. AFP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

Monday's protest comes amid rising tensions in East Timor, prompting comparisons to the run-up to the 2006 clashes between soldiers and police [BBC backgrounder] that killed 21 and displaced thousands. Earlier this year, the National Parliament declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] in response to the attempted assassination of President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao [BBC profiles] by rebel forces. In June 2006, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan [official website] asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] to establish an independent commission to investigate a surge in violence [JURIST reports] in East Timor. The UN sent more than 2,000 international peacekeepers to the Timorese capital of Dili in a month-long mission to help quell the violence.






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Former intern sues DOJ for partisan hiring practices
Devin Montgomery on July 7, 2008 11:53 AM ET

[JURIST] Former US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] intern Sean Gerlich is seeking class action status for a suit he has filed against the DOJ for discrimination based on political affiliation [PDF complaint]. In the suit, Gerlich alleges that he was denied a position in the department's Honors Program [DOJ materials] because of his earlier work with a human rights group and a democratic campaign. Daniel Metcalfe [faculty profile], a law professor and former DOJ lawyer [Legal Times interview], is representing Gerlich and has said that in 2006 as many as 359 applicants to the program may have been similarly dismissed in violation of the Civil Service Reform Act [statute text], the Privacy Act [text], and their Constitutional rights. The Office of Special Counsel [official website] has also announced that it will be conducting an investigation into whether or not disciplinary measures are warranted for employees involved in the illegal screening of applicants. The Washington Post has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

Both the lawsuit and investigation stem from a June report [PDF text; JURIST report] released by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General [official website] which found that the DOJ had improperly granted preferential treatment to conservative candidates in assessing job and summer internship applications under 2002 and 2006 screening programs. The report found that political officials played a significant role in the department's hiring processes, supporting accusations that the Bush administration has politicized the supposedly nonpartisan department. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned [JURIST report] last year amidst related allegations concerning the alleged firing of US Attorneys for political reasons [JURIST news archive].






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Sudan parliament passes election law in preparation for democratic transition
Mike Rosen-Molina on July 7, 2008 11:49 AM ET

[JURIST] The Sudanese parliament Monday passed a long-anticipated electoral law that is expected to ease the country's transition to democracy. The law establishes that 60 percent of parliamentary seats will be chosen by majority voting, while the remaining 40 percent will be filled by a proportional representation of political parties. Of the proportional representation seats, 25 percent will be reserved for women. Critics, including the National Democratic Alliance [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], argued that the draft law would marginalize some political groups. AFP has more. The Sudan Tribune has local coverage.

Under the country's 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement [PDF text; UN press release], Sudan is scheduled to hold its first democratic elections by 2009. Following the adoption of a peace treaty [BBC report], the approval of a new constitution, and the installation of a new government, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir lifted the country's state of emergency [JURIST reports], except in Darfur and a region on the eastern border.






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Equatorial Guinea court convicts British ex-officer for coup attempt
Andrew Gilmore on July 7, 2008 11:37 AM ET

[JURIST] A court in Equatorial Guinea Monday convicted British national Simon Mann [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] for his involvement in an alleged 2004 coup attempt [BBC backgrounder] against President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo [BBC profile]. Mann was sentenced to 34 years in prison, to be served at Blackbeach prison in Malabo. The sentence is longer than the 31 years of imprisonment that Equatoguinean prosecutors had sought. Last month, Mann admitted his involvement in plotting the attempted coup, and expressed remorse for his actions. At his trial, Mann testified that Sir Mark Thatcher [BBC profile], the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was involved in the plot and that Mann was "only a junior member" [JURIST report] in the organization plotting to overthrow Mbasogo. Reuters has more. BBC has additional coverage.

Mann, a former British military officer with the elite Special Air Service [BBC backgrounder], was arrested four years ago after a plane carrying him and approximately 60 mercenaries landed in Zimbabwe. Mann was sentenced [JURIST report] in 2004 in Zimbabwe for plotting the coup, and was deported [JURIST report] to Equatorial Guinea in secret in February 2007 before his appeal process against extradition in Zimbabwe was complete. His lawyers argued that Mann would face torture and possibly the death penalty if extradited, but the Zimbabwe High Court ruled against his appeal [JURIST report] this past January, finding that there was enough evidence of his involvement to carry out extradition, and that the defense failed to show a sufficient likelihood of torture.






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Italy judges threaten strike over proposed budget cuts
Andrew Gilmore on July 7, 2008 9:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Italy's National Association of Magistrates [organization website, in Italian] voted Saturday to proclaim [text, in Italian] a "state of agitation," preparing for a possible strike over anticipated judicial budget cuts by the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Judges argued that the proposed cuts would drastically reduce the judiciary's ability to combat lawlessness. The judges also expressed frustration over government efforts to finalize legislation that would suspend ongoing corruption proceedings [JURIST reports] against Berlusconi. AFP has more.

The Italian government also plans to propose a bill that would protect high-ranking government officials from prosecution during their terms in office. Berlusconi, thought to be 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 2007, Italy's highest court of appeal upheld Berlusconi's April 2007 acquittal [JURIST reports] of 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 denied guilt and accused prosecutors of pursuing a political vendetta against him.






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Turkey arrests two ex-generals for alleged coup plot
Devin Montgomery on July 7, 2008 8:32 AM ET

[JURIST] Turkish police Sunday arrested [Turkish Daily News report] former generals Sener Eruygur and Hursit Tolon, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the country's current regime. The country's majority Islamic Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish] has alleged that the generals belong to secular extremist group Ergenekon [Turkish Daily News backgrounder], which is suspected of involvement in bombings, political assassination plots, and the death of journalist Hrant Dink [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive]. Lawyers for the former army officials deny the charges, and critics say the investigation is designed to intimidate government opponents. The generals' arrests are the latest in an ongoing investigation into Ergenekon. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

In March, Turkish Workers' Party [party website, in Turkish] leader Dogu Perincek [personal website, in Turkish] was also arrested [JURIST report] for his alleged ties to the group. Critics allege that the AKP has improperly investigated secular groups as part of a drive to impose Islamist principles in violation of the country's secular constitution [text]. In March, Turkish Chief Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya petitioned the country's Constitutional Court to disband the AKP [JURIST report] for allegedly working to undermine the nation's secular principles.






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