Daily Archives: December 24, 2007

Beijing text message crackdown threatens free speech, watchdog says

Associated Press | Dec 24, 2007

A Beijing city regulation clamping down on people who send text messages that “spread rumours” or “endanger public security” is a threat to freedom of expression, a watchdog group said Monday.

China Human Rights Defenders, an international network of activists and rights monitoring groups, said the recent regulation on text messages “raises serious concerns over the restriction of freedom of expression in China.”

The group said in a statement that an average of 180 million text messages are sent every day and that text messaging has become one of the most important means of receiving information unavailable in the mainstream media.

The 2008 Olympics, which Beijing is hosting, offer a high-profile opportunity for protesters to air their grievances against China on issues like religious freedom, human rights and Tibetan independence.

Beijing police will work with government agencies and telecommunications companies to investigate and punish those using text messages to “spread rumours” or “endanger public security,” the city government said in a notice posted on its website late last month.

Chinese authorities commonly use vague charges such as those to detain dissidents or others it views as a threat to the ruling Communist party.

Although the notice did not detail specific punishments, a story in the city’s Communist party mouthpiece newspaper, the Beijing Daily, earlier this year said people who spread rumours or other false information are subject to detention for up to 10 days and a fine of up to $70 US.

China has more than 500 million cellphone users and text messaging has become an increasingly effective way to spread word of meetings or demonstrations.

This summer, plans to build a chemical plant in the southern coastal city of Xiamen were suspended after residents sent nearly one million text messages to friends and family urging the government to abandon the project because of its alleged health and environmental risks.

Meanwhile, a Tibetan language online discussion forum was shut down this month for having content that was against Chinese law, according to a notice on its website. The popular forum was shut down for containing “illegal content,” according to a notice on the site.

The notice says it “strongly condemns the ‘rotten apple in the barrel’ who published harmful information.”

The notice then invites people to leave comments. It is not clear if the notice is from the site moderator or the government.

Media rights group Reporters Without Borders has called the site “the most dynamic forum in the Tibetan blogosphere” with more than 6,200 registered members.

The Paris-based group said the site has been closed since Dec. 6. It was still inaccessible Monday.

Officers involved in De Menezes killing escape disciplinary action

Independent | Dec 22, 2007

By Cahal Milmo

None of the senior police officers in charge of the botched operation which led to the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes will face disciplinary action.

Investigators decided no one could be held personally responsible for the “catastrophic errors” that resulting in the killing of an innocent man.

The decision by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) not to recommend disciplinary proceedings against four officers, including Deputy Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, commander of the operation, was a “scandal”, said relatives of Mr De Menezes because it has been made before next year’s inquest into the 27-year-old Brazilian’s death.

Eleven other officers have already been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Vivian Figuierdo, a cousin of Mr De Menezes, said: “It is premature for the IPCC to do this before an inquest where vital evidence about the actions of these officers could come to light. It’s the worst Christmas present we could get.”

The inquest will be the first time the two officers who fired the seven shots which killed Mr De Menezes will be asked to testify about their actions in a public hearing and face cross-examination. They had mistakenly believed he was a suicide bomber.

But the IPCC, which has conducted two separate inquiries into the events of 22 July 2005 when the Brazilian was tracked from his home in south London to Stockwell Tube station during a series of “fundamental failures” by pursuing police, said it was unlikely that new evidence would emerge at the inquest.

The police watchdog said it had considered whether the mistakes made in the operation, a day after four suicide bombers launched a failed attack on London, amounted to personal misconduct by the four senior officers, Ms Dick, her deputy and two senior firearms officers known by their codenames of Silver, Trojan 84 and Trojan 80.

In November, the Metropolitan Police was found guilty of breaching health and safety laws by failing to minimise the risks faced by the public and fined £175,000. But the Old Bailey jury took the unusual step of adding a rider to its verdict saying they believed Ms Dick had been given “inaccurate information” and bore “no personal culpability”.

The IPCC decided any failures in the planning or management of the surveillance operation did not amount to personal misconduct. A statement said: “The IPCC cannot foresee any circumstances in which new evidence might emerge which would cause any disciplinary tribunal to disregard the jury’s rider.” The ruling means that only two officers have had any form of reprimand over the death of Mr De Menezes.

Last week, the IPCC ruled that Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman, commander of the Yard’s terrorism unit until he announced he was stepping down this month, should be given “advice” on his conduct after he waited 24 hours before telling Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, that an innocent man had been killed. A surveillance officer outside the Brazilian’s flat was also given advice, the lowest form of reprimand available.

Cressida Dick: in the frame

* The allegations: During the trial at the Old Bailey, Ms Dick was repeatedly accused by prosecutors of making a string of strategic errors which ultimately contributed to the death of Mr De Menezes. As “Gold Commander” in the Yard’s crowded control room, she was in overall command of the tactics and strategy of the surveillance operation. A detailed log revealed that Ms Dick did not give an order for lightly armed surveillance officers to stop the Brazilian before he reached Stockwell Tube station during a journey which took nearly 30 minutes. Instead she waited until specialist firearms officers had arrived in the last moments of the operation. The log shows she changed her mind three times about which group should make the arrest after Mr De Menezes had entered the Tube.

* The verdict: Ms Dick strenuously denied she had made strategic errors. She said she had been told five times by her assistants that Mr De Menezes had been identified as one of the missing suicide bombers. The trial jury cleared Ms Dick of wrongdoing, adding a note to its verdict saying she bore “no personal culpability”. The IPCC has now decided she should not face further proceedings because she was not responsible for any failures in the planning or management of the operation.

Communists hold rallies around Russia

 

Gennady Zyuganov, who’s running run in next year’s presidential election, said his campaign will call for the re-instalment of the death penalty.

Russia Today | Dec 22, 2007

Activists from Russia’s Communist party have been holding rallies across the country Saturday to protest against what they say was the rigged outcome of December’s parliamentary election.

Some 500 party supporters gathered in Moscow.

Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov, who’s running run in next year’s presidential election, said his campaign will call for the re-nationalisation of natural resources and the re-instalment of the death penalty.

Six candidates intend to run for the presidency in March including Deputy Prime-Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who has received the support of President Putin.

Russian president ‘secretly stockpiles $40 billion in foreign bank accounts’

‘Secret billionaire’: Vladimir Putin

Daily Mail | Dec 21, 2007

Russian president Vladimir Putin has amassed a £20billion personal fortune during his time in the Kremlin, it was claimed today.

Mr Putin, who is stepping down in May after eight years in power, is reported to have stockpiled holdings in a string of state-run corporations.

The money, held in banks in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, is enough to make him Europe’s richest man.

The revelations about his fortune have emerged as Mr Putin prepares to hand over the reins to his chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev.

Mr Putin has said he is willing to serve as prime minister under Mr Medvedev’s presidency.

But the handover has provoked a scramble by Russia’s political elite for control of state assets.

Political expert Stanislav Belkovsky says Mr Putin has holds in three Russian oil and gas companies hidden behind a “non-transparent network of offshore trusts”.

He is alleged to have a 37 per cent stake in Surgutneftegaz, Russia’s third largest oil producer, worth an estimated £10billion, plus 4.5 per cent of Gazprom, and “at least” 75 per cent of Gunvor, a Swiss-based oil trading company.

Gunvor recently posted profits of $8billion (£4billion) on a turnover of $43billion (£21.5billion).

Mr Belkovsky says Mr Putin is worth at least $40billion (£20billion). “Maximum we cannot know.

I suspect there are some businesses I know nothing about,” he told the Guardian.

“It may be more, it may be much more. Putin’s name doesn’t appear on any shareholders’ register, of course.”

The power struggle has led to the emergence of two camps in the Kremlin — the “liberals”, said to include Mr Medvedev, Alisher Usmanov and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, and the hardline “siloviki” group who have rallied around Igor Sechin, Mr Putin’s chief of staff.

Insiders say the infighting is not about ideology but who gets control of oil and gas assets.

According to Transparency International, the Putin era has been characterised by “systemic” corruption.

One Russian MP said the “crown jewels” of the country’s wealth has ended up in the hands of Mr Putin’s inner circle.

Mr Medvedev is chairman of Gazprom, while Mr Sechin runs Rosneft.

Other ministers are chairmen of Aerof lot, Russian railways and a nuclear fuel company.

Mr Abramovich has an estimated fortune of £10 billion, making him Europe’s seventh richest man.

Europe’s richest man — if Putin is excluded — is Lakshmi Mittal, the UK-based steel magnate, worth an estimated £19.2billion.

Defense Minister Ishiba Considers Japan’s Options in UFO Attack

“Today Americans would be outraged if U.N. troops entered Los Angeles to restore order; tomorrow they will be grateful. This is especially true if they were told there was an outside threat from beyond, whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all peoples of the world will plead with world leaders to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well being granted to them by their world government.”

– Henry Kissinger speaking at Evian, France, May 21, 1992 Bilderberg meeting. Unbeknownst to Kissinger, his speech was taped by a Swiss delegate to the meeting.

“In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien threat already among us?”

– Ronald Reagan, speech to the United Nations General Assembly, September 21st, 1987

Shigeru Ishiba, defense minister of Japan, speaks during a news conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Sept. 25, 2007.

Bloomberg | Dec 21, 2007

By Stuart Biggs

Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) — Japan’s Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba is considering how his Self-Defense Forces could respond to an attack by space aliens while adhering to limits on military action under the country’s war-renouncing Constitution.

Ishiba is the second Cabinet member to profess his belief in unidentified flying objects after Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura suggested on Dec. 18 they are the only explanation for “unexplainable” things like the Nazca Lines, pre-Columbian etchings in the desert south of Lima, Peru.

Ishiba said yesterday a Japanese military response, such as those in the Godzilla movie series, would require legal review and said he is studying ways Japan could deal with an attack. Ishiba said his comments represent a “personal view,” and not Defense Ministry policy, according to the transcript of the press conference published on the ministry’s Web Site.

“There are no grounds for us to deny there are unidentified flying objects and some life-form that controls them,” Ishiba said. “Few discussions have been held on what the legal grounds are” for a military response.

Ishiba said that, if the aliens arrived in Japan in peace, a military response would not be legal under the terms of Japan’s pacifist Constitution. He also said he was concerned about communication difficulties if a UFO landed.

“If they descended, saying `People of the Earth, let’s make friends,’ it would not be considered an urgent, unjust attack on our country,” he said. “How can we convey our intentions if they don’t understand what we are saying?”

Japanese politicians, and the local media’s, recent interest in UFOs stems from a parliamentary question from opposition lawmaker Ryuji Yamane about the government’s policy on UFOs. The government is not doing any UFO research or preparing for a response if UFOs fly over Japan, according to a report by Kyodo News on Dec 18.

“I haven’t seen one myself,” Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said when asked by reporters about UFOs on Dec. 18.

. . .

Related

The Architects of Fear

Uniting the world against a common enemy…

…a group of scientists decide to physically transform one of their own members into an alien being and stage a fake invasion of Earth.

“The Architects of Fear” is an episode of the original The Outer Limits television show. It first aired on 30 September 1963, during the first season.

Although no specific era is indicated within the story, the plot revolves around a Cold War setting in which a nuclear holocaust appears to be imminent. In an attempt to stave off a confrontation between military superpowers through uniting the world against a common enemy, a group of scientists decide to physically transform one of their own members into an alien being and stage a fake invasion of Earth.

See video (iTunes)

Botched Raid Terrorizes Minn. Family

Information Liberation | Dec 22, 2007

By GREGG AAMOT and STEVE KARNOWSKI

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – With her six kids and husband tucked into bed, Yee Moua was watching TV in her living room just after midnight when she heard voices—faint at first, then louder. Then came the sound of a window shattering.

Moua bolted upstairs, where her husband, Vang Khang, grabbed his shotgun from a closet, knelt and fired a warning shot through his doorway as he heard footsteps coming up the stairs. He let loose with two more blasts. Twenty-two bullets were fired back at him, by the family’s count.

Then things suddenly became clear.

“It’s the police! Police!” his sons yelled.

Khang, a Hmong immigrant with shaky command of English, set down his gun, raised his hands and was soon on the ground, an officer’s boot on his neck.

The gunmen, it turned out, were members of a police SWAT team that had raided the wrong address because of bad information from an informant—a mistake that some critics say happens all too frequently around the country and gets innocent people killed.

“I have six kids, and only one mistake almost took my kids’ life,” said Moua, 29. “We will never forget this.”

No one was hurt in the raid Sunday, conducted by a task force that fights drugs and gangs, though two police officers were hit by the shotgun blasts and narrowly escaped injury because they were wearing bulletproof vests.

Police apologized to the family and placed the seven officers on leave while it investigates what went wrong.

Such mistakes are a fact of police work, some experts said.

“Does going to the wrong address happen from time to time? Yes,” said John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association in Doylestown, Pa. “Do you corroborate as best you can the information the informant gives you? Absolutely. But still from time to time mistakes are made.”

One of the biggest botched raids in recent years happened in Atlanta in 2006, when police killed a 92-year-old woman in a hail of nearly 40 bullets after she fired a shot at what she thought were intruders. Police had gone to her house on a drug raid, but no drugs were found.

Prosecutors said that in obtaining a search warrant, Atlanta police falsely told a judge that an informant had confirmed drug dealing there. The scandal led to a shake-up in the department, two officers pleaded guilty to manslaughter and civil rights charges, and the city faces at least two lawsuits.

Reliable figures on the frequency of erroneous raids are hard to come by. Federal agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, said they do not keep track.

A study last year by the libertarian Cato Institute said: “Because of shoddy police work, over-reliance on informants, and other problems, each year hundreds of raids are conducted on the wrong addresses, bringing unnecessary terror and frightening confrontation to people never suspected of a crime.”

Gnagey disputed the organization’s figures but wouldn’t say whether he considered them too high or too low, and he had no estimate of his own.

“Going to the wrong home is an extreme rarity,” said Mark Robbins, a law enforcement professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “It’s just unfortunate that when it does, it often ends up in violent and even tragic incidents.”

In the Minneapolis case, the nature of the tip and precisely what police were looking for were not disclosed; the search warrant has been sealed. And it was not clear how far off the mark the informant was in supplying the address.

No charges were brought against Khang, who lives in crime-ridden northeast Minneapolis. Khang used the shotgun for hunting, said his brother, Dao Khang. In Minnesota, no license is required to own a shotgun.

Khang, who speaks some English but used an interpreter during an interview, said he does not remember hearing any calls of “Police!” until his sons shouted. He said he would never knowingly shoot at officers.

“That’s why I reacted the way I did, to protect my family and two sons,” said Khang, 34, whose children are ages 3 to 15.

Lt. Amelia Huffman, a police spokeswoman, said the information in the search warrant came from a source who had been reliable in the past.

Huffman said officers who routinely work on drug and gang cases are trained to try to corroborate their information. As for why the process didn’t work this time, “that’s one of the things the internal investigation will go through in exhaustive detail,” she said.

The Hmong are hill people from Laos who aided the CIA during the Vietnam War by fighting the Viet Cong. Hmong refugees began arriving in Minnesota in the late 1970s, and there are perhaps 60,000 Hmong in Minnesota today.

The Khang family is living with relatives until the house gets cleaned up. The raid left six windows broken and walls and ceilings pocked with pellet and bullet holes.

“The whole family is badly shaken and still trying to understand what happened,” Moua said.