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Legal news from Tuesday, December 27, 2011




India lower house of parliament passes controversial anti-corruption bill
Jamie Davis on December 27, 2011 3:01 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Indian lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha [official website], on Tuesday passed an anti-corruption bill [text, PDF] which proposes the creation of an official anti-corruption agency known as Lokpal. The bill was proposed in response to many corruption scandals that have occurred in India recently including a high court judge embezzling funds [JURIST report]. Also, Indian activist Anna Hazare's twelve day fast in August prompted the the Indian government to address the issue of corruption. But Hazare is now on another hunger strike [BBC report] against the Lokpal bill arguing it is not strict enough because it keeps one of the top Indian investigating agencies, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) [official website] out of the jurisdiction of the new proposed agency. The Indian government has been criticized for its weak response to ending the corruption and more than 130,000 Hazare supports have volunteered to participate civil disobedience protests to force mass jailing [NYT report] if the parliament does not pass a stricter Lokpal bill. Hazare and his supporters want the proposed agency to have its own investigative arm, apart from that of CBI, and a charter within the agency that provides for a quick investigation of complaints filed against the government. The current Lokpal bill will be voted on in parliament's upper house, Rajya Sabha [official website], for final approval on Wednesday.

Corruption has been a major issue recently in Indian politics. Earlier this month, the Transparency Index (TI) released its Corruptions Perceptions Index in which it named India as one of the countries whose corruption perception had deteriorated since last year. In August, Indian president Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil addressed both houses of parliament [JURIST report] and stated that the Indian government would take measures to ratify the UN Convention Against Corruption and that it will take other legislative and administrative measures necessary to improve transparency. In 2008, Indian PM called for the establishment of special courts [JURIST report] to deal only with corruption charges, telling a convention of high-ranking justices and government ministers that, "apart from pendency and delayed justice, corruption is another challenge we face both in government and the judiciary."




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Egypt court orders stop to forced virginity tests
Jamie Davis on December 27, 2011 2:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] Cairo Administrative Court on Tuesday ordered the Egyptian Army to end its practice of performing forced virginity tests on female detainees. Samira Ibrahim brought the case against the Egyptian Army after she was arrested during a protest and was forced to submit to a virginity test [Al Jazeera report]. Judge Aly Fekry, head of the Court, delivered the order to stop the procedure of virginity tests on woman inside military prisons. However, the head of military intelligence, Adel Mursi, said that the ruling is essentially meaningless because there are no orders in the military to conduct such tests. Yet, there are reports to the contrary that Egyptian Army Generals have acknowledged the practice and have presented it as a means to avoid rape allegations from the women who are being detained. The forced virginity tests have been condemned by human rights organizations including Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. AI called upon the Egyptian government [AI report] to investigate the practice after other women protesters had come forward with allegations about forced virginity tests.

Forced virginity testing is not the only act that has been controversial in Egypt concerning protests. Egyptian authorities have also been accused of using excessive violence. In November, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the violent clashes [JURIST report] between Egyptian security forces and protesters and called for an independent investigation into the situation. Pillay "urge[d] the Egyptian authorities to end the clearly excessive use of force against protestors in Tahrir square and elsewhere in the country, including the apparent improper use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition." AI has also accused Egyptian officials of violating human rights [JURIST report] including abuse of protesters and journalists who voice their dissatisfaction with the government. All of these acts stem from a protest [JURIST report] that took place in November in which over 50,000 people gathered to decry the military's contented rule over the nation.




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Ethiopia sentences Sweden journalists to 11 years for breaking terrorism law
Alexandra Malatesta on December 27, 2011 11:22 AM ET

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[JURIST] Two Swedish journalists found guilty [Bloomberg report] last week in an Ethiopian court of supporting terrorism and entering the country illegally [Al Jazeera, video report] were sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in prison. The journalists contended that they traveled into the country with the designated terrorist group Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) [official website] in order to gain access to an area restricted to journalists [BBC report] and that their mission was to investigate a Swedish oil company, Lundin Petroleum [official website]. The judge did not find the journalists' explanation [Voice of America report] of why they illegally entered the country with the rebel group to be credible. ONLF condemned the sentencing [ONLF press release] as a "heinous" and "unjust" act conducted to "frighten and terrorize the international correspondents for investigating the blatant violation of the Human Rights of the people of Ogaden." The journalists faced a maximum sentence of 18 years in prison under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 [text]. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] condemned the journalists' trial as unfair and called on Ethiopia to immediately release the journalists and drop all charges. Amnesty International [advocacy website] also called for their release [press release]. The journalists are faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to appeal or to ask for a pardon that requires admitting guilt [CNN report].

Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law has faced ongoing criticism since it was passed [JURIST report] in 2009. HRW has said [press release] that Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law is "fundamentally flawed and being used to repress legitimate reporting." In August, JURIST guest columnist and former executive director Abigail Salisbury argued that the government is using the law to suppress journalists and opposition groups in order to maintain its hold on power [JURIST op-ed]. In July, HRW called on the Ethiopian government to stop using the law to repress free speech [JURIST report].




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Trial begins in Iran for alleged CIA spy
Alexandra Malatesta on December 27, 2011 10:33 AM ET

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[JURIST] Preliminary hearings for the trial of alleged United State Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website] spy, Iranian-American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati began in an Iranian Court Tuesday. Leading evidence against Hekmati includes a confession made on Iranian state television [Naharnet report] where he admits his mission was to infiltrate Iran's intelligence systems by initially offering information to gain their trust and in order to find evidence that Iran was involved in terrorist activity [CNN report]. Herkmati, a former US marine, told the court that he was fooled by the CIA and did not want to hurt Iran, according to a Fars News report [Fars News report]. The United States contends that the allegations against Hekmati are false and that his confessions were forced [National Post report]. Hekmati's family living in the United States, said that he was visiting his grandmothers [NYT report] in Iran at the time of his arrest. The US has been repeatedly accused [BBC report] by Iran of carrying out secret missions to subvert its global reputation.

Last week, Iran denied involvement [JURIST report] in the 9/11 attacks [JURIST backgrounder] after allegations in a default judgment in Havlish v. Bin Laden [materials]. A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] granted the plaintiffs' motion for judgment against Iran, its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Kharmenei, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani [BBC profiles] and several other sovereign defendants holding that they are liable under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) [text] for knowingly aiding al Qaeda [JURIST news archive] through Hezbollah [BBC profile] in the 9/11 attack. Also last week, Alan Gross, a US citizen serving a 15-year prison sentence [JURIST report] in Cuba, was not included Cuba's announced release of 2,900 political prisoners. Gross was sentenced in Cuba for installing internet equipment as part of a secretive US program.




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