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Legal news from Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thailand government imposes curfew as protesters surrender
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 4:21 PM ET

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[JURIST] The government of Thailand on Wednesday imposed a curfew on Bangkok and other areas of the country in response to violence that erupted when the leader of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship [party website, in Thai], also known as the red shirts [BBC backgrounder], announced an end to the two-month long conflict in Bangkok [JURIST news archive] and surrendered to police. Members of the red shirts, known for supporting ousted [JURIST report] prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], refused to accept the end of the demonstrations and began rioting [Al Jazeera report] and setting fire to parts of Bangkok. Citizens of the areas affected by the curfew have been ordered to stay inside to ensure their own safety. The Thai military is expected to work through the night to try and reestablish order in the city.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] Navi Pillay [official profile] on Monday urged both the Thai government and anti-government protesters to seek a peaceful resolution [press release; JURIST report] to the current conflict. Last week, a Thai court sentenced 27 red shirt protesters [JURIST report] to six months in prison. Last month, Thailand's pro-government People's Alliance for Democracy Network [party website, in Thai; BBC backgrounder], known as yellow shirts, called for a declaration of martial law [JURIST report] to quell the anti-government movement spearheaded by the red shirts. Earlier in April, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that he was prepared to negotiate [JURIST report] with red shirt protesters once they cease their illegal conduct. Because of the mounting violence, Abhisit has imposed a state of emergency [JURIST report] in Bangkok and neighboring provinces.

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ICTY upholds contempt conviction of Serb nationalist leader
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 4:09 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Wednesday affirmed the contempt conviction [press release] of Vojislav Seselj [case materials; JURIST news archive], a Serbian politician and former president of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) [BBC backgrounder]. Trial Chamber II found Seselj guilty of contempt [JURIST report] last year for authoring a book revealing pertinent information about several key witnesses and sentenced him to 15 months in prison. The Appeals Chamber denied all eight of Seselj's grounds of appeal. Seselj's war crimes trial just resumed in January, after being delayed [JURIST reports] for nearly a year over fears that witnesses were being intimidated. He is currently being tried before Trial Chamber III on 14 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.

The ICTY had previously stripped Seselj of his right to defend himself after he failed to appear in court, despite an earlier appeals court ruling that he could represent himself [JURIST reports] provided he did not engage in courtroom behavior that "substantially obstruct[ed] the proper and expeditious proceedings in his case." Seselj is accused of establishing rogue paramilitary units affiliated with the SRS, which are believed to have massacred and otherwise persecuted Croats and other non-Serbs during the Balkan conflict.

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Khodorkovsky ends hunger strike in Russia prison
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 3:11 PM ET

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[JURIST] Former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday ended his two-day hunger strike after a spokesperson for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official website] indicated that Medvedev was familiar with a complaint Khodorkovsky made regarding the three-month extension of his detention. On Monday, Khodorkovsky sent an open letter to Russia's Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] contending that Russian courts are ignoring recent changes in the law that allow people charged with economic crimes to be released on bail pending the outcome of their trials. Khodorkovsky indicated the goal of his hunger strike had been achieved [press release], stating:
In a situation when it is officially declared that President Medvedev is informed about the essence of the problem, I do not consider it necessary to insist on the form of discussion within government structures. I am convinced that now the position of Chairman of the Supreme Court, which he promised to inform to the public, as well as court decisions in particular cases, will reflects position of President of the Russian Federation as the author of the bill - the guarantor of rights and freedom of citizens of Russia.
He also indicated his hunger strike was to change the judicial system going forward and not his current situation.

Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website] are currently serving eight-year prison sentences after being convicted [JURIST report] in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from an attempt to embezzle and strip their Yukos [JURIST news archive] oil company of valuable assets. They are now charged with embezzling [JURIST report] USD $25 billion worth of oil produced by Yukos. The men have pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to the current charges, and face up to 20 additional years in prison if convicted. Khodorkovsky has previously criticized the Russian legal system, questioning the fairness of trials and expressing the need for widespread reform of the Russian court system [JURIST reports].

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Pakistan government blocks Facebook over Muhammad drawing competition
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 3:11 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority [official website] on Wednesday ordered Internet service providers to block [press release] social networking site Facebook [website] in response to a competition created by a group of the website's members entitled "Draw Muhammad Day." The PTA issued the order following a decision by the Lahore High Court (LHC) [JURIST news archive] to block the website indefinitely after Pakistan officials learned the competition would take place on May 20. The court also ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] to open an investigation into why the competition was created. The government initially planned only to block access to the group's Facebook page, but after the LHC decision was issued, the Ministry of Information Technology [official website] immediately blocked the entire website.

Depicting the Prophet Muhammad is considered blasphemous by Muslims, and has been a source of international controversy since 2005 when a Danish newspaper published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a series of cartoons [JURIST news archive]. Earlier this month, a Danish public prosecutor for the Utrecht District Court filed an appeal [JURIST report] against an April ruling [JURIST report] acquitting the Arab European League (AEL) of hate speech charges stemming from posting an inflammatory cartoon on their website insinuating that the Holocaust was fabricated. The court ruled that publishing the cartoon was not a criminal offense because it was intended to be a contribution to public debate regarding a perceived double standard in the distribution of the Danish Muhammad cartoons. The prosecutor is appealing in order to determine if the cartoon was "unnecessarily offensive," stating that the court failed to rule on this issue. The prosecutor also found fault with the court's agreement that the cartoon pointed out a double standard, saying that the controversy surrounding the Danish cartoon depicting Muhammad does not equate with the publishing of the AEL's cartoon. The group depicted in the Muhammad cartoon was a "criminal group," the prosecutor said, but the Jewish people "still have no share in the above social debate."

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Obama reaffirms support for federal immigration reform
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 2:18 PM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official website] on Wednesday reaffirmed his commitment to comprehensive federal immigration reform, calling the recently passed Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive] "misguided." Obama held a joint press conference with Mexican President Filipe Calderon [official website, in Spanish] where he expressed concern [remarks] that the law could be applied in a discriminatory fashion and indicated the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] is considering bringing legal action to prevent enforcement of the law. Calderon condemned the Arizona bill but also indicated [remarks] that both countries must work together in order to develop a comprehensive approach to immigration that will benefit the entire region. Obama's stance on the Arizona law reflects his administration's immigration policy [official website] that aims "to bring people out of the shadows."

The Arizona bill, signed into law [JURIST report] in April by Governor Jan Brewer, has caused intense controversy. Proponents of the law argue that it will discourage illegal immigration, while opponents contend it will lead to discriminatory police practices based on race. On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] seeking an injunction against implementation of the law. That lawsuit joined two others filed last month [JURIST report] questioning the constitutionality of the law. Earlier this month, a group of UN human rights experts indicated the measure may violate international standards [JURIST report] that are binding on the US.

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ICTY upholds acquittal of Macedonia ex-interior minister
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 1:46 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Wednesday affirmed the acquittal [judgment, PDF] of former Macedonian interior minister Ljube Boskoski [case materials], while upholding the sentence imposed against Macedonian police officer Johan Tarculovski for alleged war crimes. In 2008, Boskoski was found not guilty [JURIST report] of neglecting his responsibility as a superior to punish subordinates who committed crimes during and after a 2001 police raid against ethnic Albanians in the the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Tarculovski, a former police officer in FYROM, was convicted of war crimes for having ordered, planned, and instigated crimes committed against ethnic Albanians during the raid. The Appeals Chamber held that the Trial Chamber was correct in its findings of fact and law against Tarculovski, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that his police force knew or should have known that the victims were taking not active part in the hostilities and that the prominent objective of the raid was to indiscriminately attack ethnic Albanians and their property. Tarculovski will remain in the Tribunal's Detention Unit pending finalization of arrangements for his transfer to the country where he will serve the rest of his 12-year sentence.

Boskoski and Tarculovski are the only Macedonians to be indicted by the ICTY. The two men jointly went on trial [JURIST report] in 2007 after being charged [amended indictment, PDF; case backgrounder, PDF] with murdering seven ethnic Albanian civilians in the village of Ljuboten [HRW backgrounder] during a 2001 conflict between local ethnic Albanian guerrillas and Macedonian government security forces. Tarculovski was accused of directing the attack on the village and Boskovski was accused of having command and control over the armed forces at the time of the alleged massacre. The two men surrendered [JURIST report] to the ICTY in 2005 after being charged with war crimes. Boskovski has also been in prison for charges relating to the murder of seven immigrants while he was the interior minister in 2002.

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France Cabinet approves legislation to ban burqa
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 12:56 PM ET

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[JURIST] The French Cabinet on Wednesday approved legislation [materials, in French] that would make it illegal to wear the Islamic burqa [JURIST news archive] or other full face veils in public. Under the bill, women who wear the veil can be required by police to show their face, and, if they refuse, they can be forced to attend citizenship classes or be charged a USD $185 fine. The proposed legislation would also make it a crime [Al Jazeera report] to force a woman to cover her face, with a penalty of one year in prison and a fine of USD $18,555. French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French] indicated he was pleased with the bill [press release, in French] and that its passage is an important step toward insuring the fundamental value of human dignity, but the proposed legislation has also been met with criticism. Amnesty International [advocacy website] has called on French lawmakers to reject the ban [press release], saying would violate freedom of expression. Others have indicated they will challenge [AP report] the constitutionality of the ban [JURIST report] if the bill becomes law. The legislation is scheduled to be voted on by the National Assembly in July and the Senate [official websites, in French] in September.

Many jurisdictions are currently considering legislation that would ban the burqa. On Tuesday, hearings began [CBC report] in Quebec's legislature on a bill introduced in March that would ban women from wearing full face veils from public services. The proposed legislation garnered support from members of the Muslim Canadian Congress [advocacy website] who argue that the law would not violate human rights [JURIST comment] and would promote the ideals of a free and democratic society. Earlier this month, European Parliament [official website] Vice President Silvana Koch-Mehrin [official website, in German] expressed her support for a continent-wide burqa ban [JURIST report]. In April, the Belgian House of Representatives voted 136-0 to approve [JURIST report] a bill that would ban the burqa and other full face veils in public. The proposed legislation [materials, in French] applies to areas "accessible to the public" or areas meant for "public use or to provide public services." Violators could face a penalty of up to seven days in jail or a fine of 15 to 25 euros. The measure must now go before the Senate.

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Senate committee sets Kagan confirmation hearings for June 28
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 11:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official websites] announced in a committee hearing Wednesday that confirmation hearings for US Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan [official profile; JURIST news archive] will begin June 28 [press release]. Leahy's confirmation schedule mirrors the timelines followed for recent nominations, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The schedule should allow the confirmation hearings to be completed before the senators go on a week-long break in early July. Leahy said:
There is no reason to unduly delay consideration of this nomination. Justice Stevens announced on April 9 that he would be leaving the Court. He noted that "it would be in the best interests of the Court to have [his] successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court's next Term,"; and I wholeheartedly agree with Justice Stevens. That is in the best interests of the Court, and the country.
The Committee's ranking Republican Jeff Sessions (R-AL) [official website] responded [press release] to Leahy's announcement requesting that the hearings start after the July 4 recess in order for the senators in order to properly review Kagan's questionnaire and accompanying documentation. "At this time, it remains to be seen whether the schedule set by the Chairman will be adequate to allow us to meet our important constitutional responsibility to thoroughly review Ms. Kagan's record on behalf of the American people." Leahy's proposed timetable will put Senate on track to meet the president's goal of confirming Kagan by the time the court begins its new session in the fall.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released [JURIST report] a bipartisan questionnaire [text, PDF] submitted by Kagan regarding her prior experience, financial status, potential conflicts of interest, and various other details of her past. The majority of the questionnaire is made up of various cases handled during her tenure with the solicitor general's office, which is responsible not only for litigation before the Supreme Court, but also for deciding which district court rulings will be challenged in the appeals courts. Kagan submitted the questionnaire on Tuesday along with thousands of pages of documentation supporting her responses [materials]. She will return to Washington, DC on Wednesday for individual meetings with senators who will vote on her nomination after the hearings are completed.

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Spain judicial panel allows judge Garzon to consult for ICC
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 11:15 AM ET

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[JURIST] The judiciary oversight committee of the Spanish General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday approved a request [text, PDF; in Spanish] by judge Baltasar Garzon [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] allowing him to work with the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. Garzon was suspended last week [JURIST report] by the CGPJ for abusing his power by opening an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed under Francisco Franco [BBC backgrounder] during the Spanish Civil War [LOC backgrounder]. The ICC confirmed earlier this month [press release] that they had asked Garzon to work for them as a consultant for a period of seven months in order to improve their investigative methods. The CGPJ granted Garzon's request for leave indicating there was no legal reason preventing him from working as a consultant with the ICC. Garzon still faces trial in Spain where he has been formally charged [JURIST report] with abusing his power although no trial date [AFP report] has been set. If convicted, Garzon could face a suspension of up to 20 years.

Thousands gathered [JURIST report] in cities across Spain last month in support of Garzon, chanting slogans and displaying flags of the pre-war Republican government ousted by Franco. The Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] charged [order, PDF; in Spanish] Garzon with abuse of power based on his 2008 ordered exhumation [JURIST report] of 19 mass graves in Spain. The purpose of the order was to assemble a definitive national registry of Civil War victims, despite a 1977 law granting amnesty for political crimes committed under Franco. Garzon appealed [JURIST report] the charges, alleging that the indictment issued by Spanish Supreme Court judge Luciano Varela was politically motivated [AFP report], compromised judicial independence, and sought to impose a specific interpretation of the 1977 law. Garzon is widely known for using universal jurisdiction extensively in the past to bring several high-profile rights cases, including those against Osama bin Laden and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet [JURIST news archives].

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US immigration court orders ex-Nazi guard deported to Austria
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 10:04 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced Tuesday that the Philadelphia Immigration Court [official website] has ordered the deportation [press release] of former SS guard Anton Geiser to Austria for serving as an armed guard at the Sachsenhausen and the Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. Geiser, who has been living in southwestern Pennsylvania since 1960, admitted to the allegations in the charging document. The court found that Geiser is removable under the 1978 Holtzman Amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act [text] because a visa may not be granted to anyone who was involved in persecutions based on race, religion, or national origin. Assistant US Attorney General Lanny Breuer [official profile] said, "[a]s a Nazi concentration camp guard during World War II, Anton Geiser must be held to account for his role in the persecution of countless men, women and children. The long passage of time will not diminish our resolve to deny refuge to such individuals." Geiser is currently not in custody and can appeal his case to the Board of Immigration Appeals [official website] in Washington, DC.

In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit revoked [JURIST report] Geiser's US citizenship because he had obtained it illegally. The DOJ alleged [complaint] that the US government mistakenly granted him a visa in 1956 and then citizenship in 1962 without knowledge of his affiliation with the Nazi regime. In 2006, a district court judge ordered the revocation [opinion, PDF] of Geiser's citizenship, writing that it was legally necessary [8 USC s. 1451] because the citizenship was based on a visa he was ineligible to receive [Refugee Relief Act of 1953 s. 14]. The DOJ's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) [official website] handles cases, including Geiser's, aimed at denaturalizing or deporting former Nazis who participated in wartime persecutions.

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Somalia piracy suspect pleads guilty in federal court
Hillary Stemple on May 19, 2010 9:04 AM ET

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[JURIST] A Somali man charged with piracy [JURIST news archive] pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of hijacking, kidnapping, and hostage taking related to last April's attack on the US container ship Maersk Alabama [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse was originally charged [complaint, PDF; JURIST report] with five counts relating to the pirate attack on the Alabama, including committing an act of piracy as defined by the law of nations, conspiracy to seize a ship by force, conspiracy to take hostages, and two counts relating to the use of a firearm during commission of a crime. As part of a plea agreement, the prosecution agreed to drop the charges of piracy against Muse in exchange for his guilty plea and a sentence of 27 to 33 years in prison. Muse agreed not to challenge the sentence, and he apologized [Reuters report] for his actions, claiming the act of piracy happened because of the current situation in Somalia. Somali officials have criticized [BBC report] the US for exercising jurisdiction over Muse and other pirate suspects [JURIST report], insisting that piracy prosecutions should be conducted by an international tribunal. They have also asked that Somali pirate suspects be returned to Somalia, which lacks a functioning central government to address the piracy problem. Muse is scheduled to be sentenced on October 19.

Piracy remains an issue of international concern. On Monday, the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) [official website] opened a UN conference on international crime by warning [JURIST report] about the inadequacies of the current international system in dealing with crimes like piracy. Earlier this month, the UNODC announced [JURIST report] that Seychelles will create a UN-supported center to prosecute suspected pirates. Last month, the UN Security Council unanimously approved [JURIST report] a resolution calling on member states to criminalize piracy under their domestic laws and urging Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] to consider an international tribunal for prosecuting piracy. The Security Council resolution came the same week the UN announced that a trust fund established to combat piracy will be funding five projects [UN News Centre report] aimed at piracy committed in the waters around Somalia.

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Senate committee releases detailed Kagan questionnaire
Sarah Miley on May 19, 2010 8:56 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] released a bipartisan questionnaire [text, PDF] on Tuesday submitted by Supreme Court [official website] nominee Elena Kagan [official profile; JURIST news archive] regarding her prior experience, financial status, potential conflicts of interest, and various other details of her past. The majority of the questionnaire is made up of various cases handled during her tenure with the solicitor general's office, which is responsible not only for litigation before the Supreme Court, but also for deciding which district court rulings will be challenged in the appeals courts. The questionnaire also contains transcripts of past speeches, her achievements as dean of Harvard, and over two decades of writings, including articles from Princeton's student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, where she served as a writer and editorial page editor. Kagan submitted the questionnaire on Tuesday along with thousands of pages of documentation supporting her responses [materials]. The writings and speech transcripts were released by the White House [official website] in order for the Senate to gain a better understanding of President Barack Obama's nominee, whose lack of legal writing has left Republicans and many Democrats questioning her views on key issues. Kagan will return to Washington, DC on Wednesday for individual meetings with senators who will vote on her nomination later this summer.

Obama nominated [JURIST report] Kagan to the Supreme Court last week. If confirmed by the US Senate [official website], Kagan would replace Justice John Paul Stevens [official profile; JURIST news archive] when he retires [JURIST report] at the end of the current term. Obama said [transcript; video] that Kagan "is widely regarded as one of the nation's foremost legal minds." Speaking to the press, Kagan described the nomination as an "honor of a lifetime." Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) [official website] congratulated Kagan on her nomination but warned [statement] that the Senate would not "rush to judgment." If confirmed, Kagan will become the youngest justice and the fourth woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

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