Daily Archives: March 29, 2007

Swiss man gets 10 years for defacing images of Thai king

Globe and Mail | Mar 29, 2007

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Oliver Jufer, 57, of Switzerland stands inside the prison vehicle as he arrives at a court in Thailand on Thursday. (AFP/Getty Images)

King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving monarch, is greatly loved by Thais and regarded by some as semi-divine. He is protected from reproach by strict laws that forbid any criticism of the monarchy.

A Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday for spray-painting graffiti over images of Thailand’s revered king, the first conviction of a foreigner in at least a decade under strict Thai laws protecting the monarchy.

Oliver Rudolf Jufer, 57, who had pleaded guilty to five counts of lèse-majesté, or insulting the monarchy, had faced a maximum sentence of 75 years in prison.

Judge Phitsanu Tanbukalee said Mr. Jufer was given a reduced sentence since he had admitted his wrongdoing.

His court-appointed lawyer, Komkrit Kunyodying, called the penalty “appropriate for the crime he has committed,” adding he did not yet know if his client planned to appeal.

The Swiss Embassy issued a tempered criticism.

“We respect the Thai justice system,” said Jacques Lauer, deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Bangkok. “However, we consider the implementation of the Thai penal code regarding lèse-majesté cases a tough one.”

Mr. Jufer was caught by surveillance cameras on Dec. 5 spray-painting black paint over five outdoor posters of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where he lived, police and prosecutors said. His lawyer said he was intoxicated during the act.

King Bhumibol, the world’s longest serving monarch, is greatly loved by Thais and regarded by some as semi-divine. He is protected from reproach by strict laws that forbid any criticism of the monarchy.

Rights Group Warns Of Soviet-Style Abuses

Huliq.com | Mar 28, 2007

An international human rights watchdog has warned that rights violations reminiscent of the Soviet era are reappearing in some Eastern European and Central Asian countries.

In its annual report, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) singled out the governments of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as repressive regimes that regularly violate human rights.

The report looks at events in 2006 in all of the member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

That includes the United States and Britain, which both come under scrutiny for scaling back judicial and civil rights in the name of combating terrorism.

Torture And Disappearances

Much of the report, however, focuses on Central Asia, Belarus, and Russia’s North Caucasus — regions the IHF made a priority in 2006-07.

There, the IHF argues, authorities have resurrected the tactics of the region’s Soviet past, clamping down on freedom of religion and expression, muffling the political opposition, and — in some regions — allowing torture and disappearances to continue unchecked.

IHF Executive Director Aaron Rhodes says that progress on human rights seems to be on hold.

“In the 1990s, there was some progress being made toward building human rights institutions and building cooperation in international organizations like the Council of Europe and the OSCE,” Rhodes says. “And the UN was also more functional during those years. Now there’s a kind of freezing of progress and in fact backsliding.”

The IHF report says new measures were taken throughout the region to stifle the work of nongovernmental organizations.

In Russia, new legislation enacted in April 2006 forced all NGOs receiving foreign funding to undergo a cumbersome re-registration process and subjected them to punitive tax regimes.

Similar bureaucratic measures aimed at shutting down NGOs have been seen throughout Central Asia as well.

Freedom of assembly was also severely restricted in many CIS countries.

In Belarus, which saw flawed elections return autocratic leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka to an unprecedented third term as president, more than 1,000 activists and opposition politicians were arrested and detained on politically motivated grounds.

Central Asia Abuses

Some of the worst human rights violations were seen in the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

In Uzbekistan, the IHF report notes, the crackdowns that followed the May 2005 Andijon uprising have continued. It has become increasingly difficult to hold public demonstrations, and dozens of rights defenders have been jailed or placed under house arrest.

Turkmenistan saw near-complete repression of activists and journalists, including RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova, who died in September 2006 while in police custody. Her children said her body showed signs she had been severely beaten.

The IHF report said the death in December of Turkmenistan’s president-for-life, Saparmurat Niyazov, temporarily raised hopes of reforms. But those hopes were dampened by the opaque and undemocratic elections to elect his successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

The IHF also notes that gross human rights abuses continued unabated in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus.

And according to Rhodes, new-found energy wealth is negatively affecting human rights in the region: “Because of concerns about energy, European governments in particular are putting human rights on the back burner and there’s an increasing tendency to overlook human rights violations and to pretend that political progress is being made in order to maintain relationships, which will, in turn, ensure energy flows.”

Soviet-style rights abuses widespread in Central Asia: IHF

JURIST News | Mar 27, 2007
 
Rights violations being committed in Central Asia are comparable to abuses perpetrated in the former Soviet Union, according the annual report released Tuesday by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF).

The IHF was particularly critical of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. According to the report, problems in those countries include government interference in the courts, widespread use of torture, and the suppression of political opposition, media and civil society.

Belarus and the Russian North Caucasus region, particularly Chechnya, were listed as priority regions as well. The report also criticized the US for arbitrary detentions at Guantanamo Bay and other rights violations in its fight against terrorism.

Lesbian asks Court to Ban Gay Adoptions

My Fox Houston | Mar 26, 2007

Aside from a few gay friends, she has turned away from the gay community. She no longer dates, and doesn’t go to gay clubs or events any more. She said she is rethinking whether she is still a lesbian or whether she should abandon dating for good.

Sara Wheeler’s life has become a contradiction. Once a proud lesbian, she’s now a pariah in the gay community. Once in a committed relationship with a female partner, she’s rethinking her sexuality.

And now she’s doing something she once would have considered unthinkable — arguing that gays don’t have the legal right to adopt children.

Wheeler is coming to grips with the fact that she’s become an outcast for taking this step in a custody fight for her child. But she says that isn’t what her fight is about: “It’s about motherly rights.”

Wheeler, 36, and her partner, Missy, decided to start a family together and share the Wheeler last name. In 2000, Sara Wheeler gave birth to a son, Gavin, through artificial insemination. Two years later, they decided Missy Wheeler should adopt the child and legally become his second parent.

Georgia law doesn’t specifically say whether gay parents can adopt a child, so the decision was up to a judge in the Atlanta area’s DeKalb County. After an adoption investigator determined that both partners wanted it, the judge cleared the request.

The couple’s relationship later soured. Missy Wheeler wouldn’t comment for this story, but her attorney, Nora Bushfield, said Sara became involved with someone else and wouldn’t let Missy and Gavin see each other.

Sara Wheeler acknowledged the other relationship, saying “regardless of my action, it doesn’t make me a bad mother.”

Sara and Missy Wheeler had split by July 2004, and Missy was fighting for joint custody of the boy.

The two sides do agree about one thing: The case is about a mother’s rights.

“Everybody seems to forget we’re not talking about lesbian rights,” Missy Wheeler’s attorney says. “We’re talking about a child who’s been bonded with a mother.”

Sara Wheeler made the legal argument that, since nothing in Georgia law specifically allowed gay adoption, the adoption should be tossed out.

Her first lawyers warned her the case could set gay rights back a century.

She hired a new attorney and asked the DeKalb County court to toss the adoption that she had previously pushed for, claiming it should never have been approved because it runs afoul of state law.

News of the tactic whipped up Atlanta’s gay community, one of the largest in the South. Lambda Legal, a gay rights group, made a legal filing with the Georgia Supreme Court supporting Missy Wheeler. “There’s something about this case that’s just tragic,” said Greg Nevins, a lawyer for the group.

Laura Douglas-Brown, editor of Southern Voice, the city’s main gay newspaper, penned a column accusing Sara Wheeler of “self-hating.”

“We owe it to each other not to lash out in ways that damage the entire gay community,” she wrote. “Your own family may be destroyed, but don’t destroy ours, too.”

Sara said she felt like she had no choice.

“I’m not doing anything else a mother wouldn’t do to fight for her son,” she said. “Some people may think it’s the unthinkable, but if they were put in my shoes, they’d do the same thing.”

It didn’t go so well. Her lawsuit seeking to throw out the adoption was rejected by the DeKalb County judge and then the state Court of Appeals.

Then the Georgia Supreme Court, in a 4-3 vote in February, declined to hear the case. Only months earlier the court had upheld the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, which Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved in 2004.

Justice George H. Carley, who voted with the minority in the gay adoption case, declared he was “at a loss to comprehend” why the court refused to consider a case of such “great concern, gravity and public importance.”

Sara Wheeler is asking the state Supreme Court to reconsider her case. Such a request rarely succeeds, but the narrow vote gives her hope that one justice might be swayed.

“There’s nothing that states this is an acceptable adoption,” she said. “If Georgia wants to allow it, it needs to make proper laws.”

As the legal motions flew back and forth, the two women established a workable routine. The 7-year-old boy goes to Missy Wheeler’s place every other weekend and on Tuesday nights. The rest of the time Sara Wheeler ferries him to karate practice, plays tag with him outside her apartment and takes him out for pizza every Friday.

The case has taken a toll on Sara.

Aside from a few gay friends, she has turned away from the gay community. She no longer dates, and doesn’t go to gay clubs or events any more. She said she is rethinking whether she is still a lesbian or whether she should abandon dating for good.

“I just don’t feel comfortable in that scene,” she says. “I’m just trying to figure it all out.”

She knows she’s seen as a betrayer; but in a sense, she feels she was the one betrayed.

“Before I’m anything — gay or lesbian — I’m a mother,” she says. “And the most important thing is to make sure my son has a relationship with his biological mother.”

Tillman’s family says ‘horrific things’ not adequately punished

The Olympian | Mar 28, 2007

Pat Tillman’s mother said Tuesday that her greatest disappointment in the latest investigations into her son’s death in Afghanistan was that “horrific” acts by the Army Rangers who shot him were not adequately acknowledged or punished.

“How do you prevent this from happening again unless there’s a serious consequence?” Mary Tillman said.

The congressman who represents the area where the former NFL star grew up called for congressional hearings, echoing the family’s contention that new findings released Monday were insufficient.

“While these may be the most thorough investigations to date, rather than lay to rest troubling questions regarding a personal and national tragedy, however, (Monday’s) reports raise more questions than they answer,” said Rep. Mike Honda, a Democrat.

Honda asked Rep. Ike Skelton, a Missouri Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to hold hearings and “set right an injustice.” A spokeswoman for the committee said he would consider it.

After a year of investigating, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command – its version of the FBI – concluded Monday that no crime was committed by the fellow Rangers who shot Tillman in April 2004 after a chaotic ambush in Afghanistan.

Rangers in a convoy trailing Tillman’s group had just emerged from a canyon where they had been fired on. They raced out of the attack, apparently unaware that the first convoy was ahead of them. Adrenaline pumping, the soldiers saw figures standing above them on a ridge, one of them an allied Afghan fighter firing overhead to give them cover.

Tillman waved down at his comrades, trying to signal cease-fire, but the Rangers shot and killed him and the Afghan.

The Tillman family – including Pat’s brother and fellow Ranger, Kevin, who was a few minutes behind Pat Tillman in the trailing convoy – pressed the military investigators who briefed them Monday on violations of the Army’s rules of engagement.

For instance, all four shooters testified they had failed to identify their targets before firing, a direct violation of fire discipline techniques.

At least one of those Rangers turned his fire moments later on a village where witnesses say civilian women and children had gathered. The shooters raked it with fire, U.S. witnesses said; they wounded two additional fellow Rangers, including their own platoon leader.

The family received no satisfactory response on their questions on rules-of-engagement violations, Mary Tillman said. The investigators simply told the Tillmans that they had found no such violations, she said.

“That was their conclusion. They wouldn’t tell us how they came to that conclusion,” she told AP by phone.

“We know rules of engagement were broken,” she said. “There was no acknowledgment that horrific things happened out there at all levels.”

The soldiers who shot at Tillman have argued it was a terrible mistake in the fog of war. The Army embraced that defense Monday, declining to seek charges of negligent homicide or aggravated assault.

“Under extreme circumstances and in a very compressed time frame, the (shooters) had a reasonable belief that death or harm was about to be inflicted on them and believed it was necessary to defend themselves,” the Criminal Investigation Command concluded.

But possible punishments still hang over several high-ranking officers who are accused of botching the investigations and key administrative tasks.

Nine Army officers, including four generals, made errors in reporting the friendly fire death to their superiors and to the Tillman family, the Pentagon said. Defense officials said one or more of the officers who provided misleading information as the military investigated could be charged with a crime.

The subject of the new report’s sharpest criticism was Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, a now-retired three-star general who was in charge of Army special operations. A central issue is why the Army waited about five weeks after it suspected Tillman’s death was friendly fire before telling his family.

Kensinger knew it was probably friendly fire well before telling the Tillmans, and he “provided misleading testimony” to investigators, the Defense Department acting inspector general’s report said Monday.

Another general blamed in the report is Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, also now retired, who conducted the third Tillman investigation ending in 2005. The new probe found numerous shortcomings with his report.

Jones and Kensinger did not respond to e-mail and phone messages left by The Associated Press.

Mary Tillman said pinning blame on these generals deflects the true responsibility.

“We all believe these generals are just taking the fall,” she said. “I just think Kensinger is being used as a scapegoat, like Gen. Jones. They’re not the worst culprits; they were doing a job – and doing something to cover the hides of people up above,” including then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, she said.

Russia’s rights climate deteriorating, Soviet-style restrictions increasing, activists say

7 News Boston | Mar 28, 2007

Russia’s human rights climate is deteriorating, and Soviet-style restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are multiplying, Russian and international activists warn.

Nina Tagankina, of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said there has been an “overall worsening” of the situation in Russia and that authorities are prohibiting more peaceful protests and rallies.

The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation said in a report that Russian authorities have imposed tighter restrictions on the freedom of association and were resorting to intimidation and abuse of opposition activists.

“The actions of the police … remind one of the intolerance of political pluralism that existed here in the Soviet Union,” Executive Director Aaron Rhodes said in a statement Tuesday. “Russia is moving toward a one-party state.”

Over the weekend, police in the central city of Nizhny Novgorod violently dispersed an anti-government rally dubbed the March of Those Who Disagree. Three weeks earlier, police in St. Petersburg clubbed protesters and dragged them into waiting buses during a demonstration against President Vladimir Putin and Kremlin policies. An anti-government protest in Moscow in December was similarly quashed by a huge police presence that dwarfed the demonstrators.

The crackdown in Nizhny Novgorod led the United States on Monday to decry “Russian government heavy-handedness” against people trying to exercise democratic rights.

It “raises serious concerns about Russians’ ability to exercise their rights to assembly, free speech and peaceful protest,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

In a letter to Russia’s human rights ombudsman, leading rights activists said the breakup of the demonstrations was blatantly illegal. They also quoted Putin as saying earlier this month that “no one has the right” to deprive dissenters of the right to protest.

“A legal question arises: to what extent is policy in the country determined by the guarantees of the Constitution and to what extent by law-enforcement agencies and local governments?” said the letter, signed by Moscow Helsinki Group chairwoman Lyudmila Alexeyeva, For Human Rights chairman Lev Ponomaryev and 18 other activists.

Tagankina also said a new law imposing tighter restrictions on rights groups violated their freedom of expression and prevented many from operating freely.

A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Putin’s administration does not believe there is a human rights crisis in Russia or that “democracy is in bad condition,” but acknowledges that “like in any country … there is still plenty to be done to improve democratic mechanisms.”

Government Dismissed Iraq Death Toll Report In Full Knowledge It Was Likely Accurate

Infowars | Mar 27, 2007

John Hopkins study put toll at 655,000 but they didn’t want you to know that

Documents obtained by the BBC under a Freedom Of Information Act request have proven that despite public dismissal of last year’s Iraq Death Toll study, published in The Lancet Medical Journal, British Government officials actually backed the methods used by scientists who concluded that more than 600,000 Iraqis have been killed since the invasion.

The study was jointly conducted by the John Hopkins School of Public Health and and Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and compared mortality rates before and after the invasion by surveying 47 randomly chosen areas across 16 provinces in Iraq.

It concluded that as many as 654,965 more Iraqis may have died since hostilities began in Iraq in March 2003 than would have been expected under pre-war conditions. The deaths from all causes—violent and non-violent—are over and above the estimated 143,000 deaths per year that occurred from all causes prior to the March 2003 invasion.

Researchers estimated with 95 per cent certainty that the war and its aftermath have resulted in the deaths of between 426,000 and 794,000 Iraqis.

The researchers spoke to nearly 1,850 families, comprising more than 12,800 people. In nearly 92% of cases family members produced death certificates to support their answers.

At the time of its publication in the Lancet, in October 2006, the media dubbed the study “controversial” purely because it set the death toll a much greater figure than Iraqi Body Count organisation, which says it has recorded about 44,000 to 49,000 civilian Iraqi deaths. The UN and the coalition governements concur with these lower figures.

The John Hopkins estimate was much higher because it the study was derived from a house-to-house survey rather than the other approaches that depend on body counts or media reports, which it says probably overlook “many if not most civilian casualties.”