Daily Archives: December 15, 2008

Indonesian states threatened to secede over draconian “Porno-Action” laws

It would also have made illegal many kinds of theatre and dance performances, art, forms of dress (such as baring the shoulders and legs) and behaviour of individuals (such as kissing on the lips in public), displaying ‘sensual parts’ of the body or ‘erotic dancing’. People kissing on the lips in public could have received prison sentences of one to five years.

A law on pornography still divides the community

Inside Indonesia | Oct-Dec 2008

By Helen Pausacker

The Anti-Pornography and Porno-Action Bill, first drawn up in the 1990s, has been a hot topic in Indonesia in recent years. The bill remained dormant until 2005-06, when it was widely and publicly discussed. There was a robust debate about the bill, particularly among middle-class intellectuals, both Muslims and non-Muslims. Thousands of people participated in demonstrations (see edition93: ‘New artistic order’ ), both for and against it. Due to the strength of the outcry, the bill was withdrawn for further revision.

The Criminal Code already made ‘hard’ pornography illegal, although it is widely available on the black market (see edition72: ‘You wan see jiggy-jig?’ ) in Indonesia. Many critics argued that the problem was one of law enforcement, rather than the need for a new, more draconian law.

The bill that was proposed in 2005-06 would not just have criminalised hard pornography. It would also have made illegal many kinds of theatre and dance performances, art, forms of dress (such as baring the shoulders and legs) and behaviour of individuals (such as kissing on the lips in public), displaying ‘sensual parts’ of the body or ‘erotic dancing’. ‘Sensual parts’ of the body were specifically defined in Article 4 of the Elucidation of the 2005-06 version of the bill as ‘the genitals, thighs, hips, buttocks, navel and female breasts, whether in whole or in part’. The proposed penalties were also very harsh. For example, in the 2005-06 version, a person charged with public nudity could have received a prison sentence of 21⁄2 to 12 years and/or a fine of between Rp300 million (A$41,076) and Rp2 billion (A$273,840) (Article 80(1)). People kissing on the lips in public could have received prison sentences of one to five years and/or fines of between Rp100 million (A$13,692) and Rp500 million (A$68,460) (Article 81(1)).

Two years later, in September 2008, legislators introduced a revised version of the bill to the legislature (DPR), with some of them hoping that it would be passed quickly. The outcry was again great – five thousand people demonstrated in Bali and there were demonstrations in Yogyakarta (see in this edition: ‘Demonstrating diversity’ ). However, despite the strong views expressed both in favour of and against the bill, it was eventually passed on 30 October 2008.

When it became clear that there were sufficient numbers in the legislature to pass the bill, two parties – Megawati Soekarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP) and the nationalist, Christian party, the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) – walked out of the debate in protest. Regional loyalty was also so strong that two Balinese legislators from Golkar, Lisnawati Karna and Gede Sumarjaya Linggih, walked out when Golkar stated its approval of the bill. Minor changes may still be made to a bill before it is ratified by the president, but if it is not ratified within thirty days, the version passed in the legislature (DPR) automatically becomes law. However, the 30 October version of the bill was ratified by the president on 26 November as Law No. 44 of 2008 on Pornography, with no substantial changes.
Changes to the bill

Throughout the long period that the bill was under discussion, there were numerous changes made to it, and multiple versions exist. The bill itself was shortened from 93 articles in 2005-06 to 45 articles in the final law. This does not, however, mean that the final law was watered down, but rather that it is much less specific on many issues. The law leaves a lot of interpretation to the courts, when and if trials of pornography cases commence. The following sections examine changes between the 2008 and final law, to assess what changes have taken place over the long period of discussion, and whether the final version has taken account of the objections raised by critics.

Definitions of pornoaksi and pornography

The 2005-06 bill was named the Anti-Pornography and Porno-Action (‘Pornoaksi’) Bill. Critics expressed concern that it would restrict their everyday life, their regional cultural practices and their freedom of artistic expression.

Later versions were renamed the Bill on Pornography. They did not include the word ‘pornoaksi’ and deleted the eight Articles (25-33) in the early version which had defined the term and set out sanctions. However, the definition of ‘pornography’ in the 30 October 2008 version passed by the DPR and the final law, is vague enough to include some ‘pornographic actions’. It states: ‘pornography is pictures, sketches, illustrations, photos, writing, voice, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, conversations, movements of the body, or other forms through a variety of communication media and/or performances in public which contain obscenity or sexual exploitation which violates the moral norms in society’ (Article 1).

By including the phrases ‘movements of the body’ and ‘performances in public’ in the September and October 2008 versions of the bill (and the final law), acts defined as ‘pornoaksi’ are still forbidden.

Critics have expressed concern the vigilante groups will try to enforce the pornography law themselves

The penultimate, September 2008, version of the bill included the phrase ‘which could arouse sexual desire’ as part of the definition of pornography. There were vociferous objections to this phrase, because what arouses one person’s sexual desire may not arouse another person. As a result, the phrase was dropped from the final version, and replaced with less contentious, but still ambiguous term ‘sexual exploitation’.
Culture and the arts

In the 2005-06 version of the bill, there were very specific situations when pornography would have been acceptable. It was allowed for research and educational institutions to make and disseminate ‘pornographic’ materials for educational purposes (Article 34); and such materials could also be used for health purposes on the advice of a doctor (Article 35). In addition, dress or actions which might otherwise be seen as pornographic, but which were part of regional custom (adat istiadat); a religious ritual; an art event; or a sporting event were all given exceptional status, although for artistic and sporting events only if they occurred in specifically designated areas (Article 36).

In the penultimate (September 2008) version of the bill a less specific Article (14) still protected representation of sexuality in the arts and culture. This article made clear that exceptions would be made for regional interests, so that their local customs would not be interpreted as ‘pornographic’. It was a response to objections from regional groups about, for example, whether women could wear a kebaya (lace top with a low neckline) in Bali and Java, or men could be naked except for a penis gourd in Papua, or whether sexually-tinged cultural performances, such as are common in both Bali and Java, were permissible.

This article is missing from the final law. Instead, the law includes the following statement at the beginning: ‘This Law aims to: […] respect, protect and preserve the artistic and cultural values, [regional] cultural practices and religious rituals of the pluralistic Indonesian society’ (Article 3b). There is no clear statement of exceptions, except for the vague phrase in Article 13(1) of the Elucidation that the definition of what is pornography also depends on the context, stating that in specific contexts, a photo of a model wearing a bikini, bathers or beachwear would not be seen as pornographic.

The emphasis of the earlier versions and the final version were quite different. The earlier versions suggested that exceptions would be made for particular regions and customs when judging an accusation of pornography. The final law suggests that regional views have already been taken into account in the drafting of the law, where in fact the contrary is the case: the final version provides the least clear protection of regional interests.
The role of the community

Throughout the different versions of the bill, only minor changes were made to the stated role of members of the community. The law states that the community has a role in enforcing the law. It implicitly assumes that the community is united in its support of the substance of the law. There is no mention, for example, of the role of the community in debating what constitutes pornography or what should be enforced. According to the law, the main role of the community is to conduct ‘socialisation’ of the law and instruct people about the ‘dangers and consequences’ of pornography. The law also states that members of the community have the right to report infringements of the law. The Elucidation to Article 21(1) specifically states ‘that the community is not to perform acts which take the law into their own hands, acts of violence, raids (sweeping), or other acts which are against the law’.

Despite this Elucidation (which both members of the general public and vigilante groups will often not read) some critics have expressed concern that vigilante groups will try to enforce the law themselves. For this reason, police officers made statements to the press when the final version of the bill was passed, reminding people that that role of the public was to report violations to the authorities, not to take action themselves. Nevertheless, critics of the law are right to feel concerned because for years violent raids by vigilante groups on bars or brothels in the fasting month have gone unchecked by police.

Regional versus central power

The 2005-06 version of the bill provided for the establishment of a centralised Body for Anti-Pornography and Porno-Action known as BAPPN (Articles 40-50). BAPPN’s functions included coordinating the preparation of government policy about pornography and pornoaksi; working together with all government bodies and international bodies in stamping out pornography and pornoaksi; hearing community complaints; and providing expert witnesses in trials about pornography.

What this body actually did would have been very dependent on who was chosen as members, which would in turn have depended on the views of the president. If the body represented a range of community opinions, it could have assisted in a moderate interpretation of the law. On the other hand, if the members had a conservative view of pornography, the body may have reinforced a strict interpretation of the act.

In the law, the BAPPN has been omitted, leaving the final interpretation of the law up to the courts. The relative roles of the regions and the central government are unclear. Both the central government and regional governments are made responsible for monitoring and preventing pornography, including blocking pornography through the internet (Articles 18 and 19). The national government has the additional task of coordinating prevention of pornography, including with overseas bodies (Article 18(c)). Each region is to develop its own communication and education systems (Article 19(d)).

The changes have obviously been made to appease the regions, such as Bali, Papua, Yogyakarta and North Sulawesi, which protested against the bill. However, the possibility of conflict between the central and regional governments in the implementation of the law seems to be greater in the final version, and there is less protection for minority groups in regions where a hardline approach may predominate.

One implication of the regional approach is that the enforcement of the national law could be very different in different parts of Indonesia, with provinces like Bali interpreting the law in a very liberal way, and other provinces with larger populations of more strictly observant Muslims, such as West Java or South Sulawesi, interpreting the law more conservatively.
Sanctions

Some people say that the final law is more moderate than the 2005-06 bill. However, if we look closely, it is clear that while most of the maximum prison sentences have been reduced, others remain the same and some have even increased. The maximum fines have all either increased or are unchanged.

One example of where the prison sentence is less, but the maximum fine greater is in the article on the making (writing, recording, filming) of material which ‘exploits sensual attraction’ (Article 58 of the 2005-06 version), which could be punished with a prison sentence of one to five years or a fine of Rp100 million (A$13,692) to Rp500 million (A$68,460). In the final law, Article 29 states that the producing, making, importing, exporting, buying and selling of pornography can be punished with a prison sentence of six months to 12 years or a fine of Rp25 million (A$3,423) to Rp6 billion (A$821,520).

The maximum prison sentence for funding or facilitating pornographic activities (Article 78(1) of the 2005-06 version and Article 33 of the final law) has remained at 15 years. However, the fine has increased from between Rp350 million (A$47,922) and Rp2.5 billion (A$342,300) in the 2005-06 version; to between Rp1 billion (A$136,920) and Rp7.5 billion (A$1,026,900) in the final law.

The maximum prison sentence and fines for modelling, however, have both increased. Article 74 of the 2005-06 version stated that modelling (or using someone else as a model, not mentioned in the final version) for pornography would incur a prison sentence of between 18 months and seven years and/or a fine of Rp150 million (A$20,538) to Rp750 million (A$102,690). Article 34 of the final law, however provides for a prison sentence of up to ten years and/or a fine of up to Rp5 billion (A$684,600). Given that women are more likely to be models for pornography than men, and often out of economic necessity, this last example seems to be likely to penalise the victims of pornography more heavily than the male consumers.
Reactions to the bill

As can be seen from the changes to the bill outlined above, while numerous changes were made to the bill over the years 2005 to 2008, these were not substantial changes which took account of the criticisms of the bill. They did not make the law less draconian. Rather, in most cases the definitions were simply made less specific, leaving the final interpretations to the courts.

Not surprisingly, therefore, community opinion remains divided. Supporters of the bill cheered loudly when it passed, but many others are not happy.

The National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) stated that the law, and particularly the definition of pornography, was still flawed. The commission accused the legislature of ‘politicising morality and religion’.

In a stinging editorial on 31 October, the respected English-language newspaper, The Jakarta Post, stated the bill ‘festers in the stench of censorship’. It commented that there are ‘ways in which we can target the porn industry without violating the rights and freedoms of the individual. We must never forget that censorship only ultimately creates a society unable of exercising real discretion.’

Supporters of the pornography bill cheered loudly when it passed, but many others are not happy

Even more significantly, two provincial legislatures (DPRDs) discussed and issued statements against the Pornography Bill: the predominantly Hindu Bali and the predominantly Christian province of North Sulawesi. Officials from other provinces, such as Yogyakarta and predominantly Christian Papua, have stated their objections. Church leaders from East Nusa Tenggara have publicly criticised the bill, stating that legislators have only listened to majority groups, ignoring the rights of minorities. A few high-ranking politicians from both Papua and Bali even threatened that their provinces would secede from Indonesia if the bill became law. One group in Bali has stated that it will file a judicial review with the Constitutional Court.

Even within the same province there is open conflict between officials. Governor, and former police general, Made Mangku Pastika and speaker of the Balinese Regional Peoples’ Representative Council (DPRD), Ida Bagus Putu Wesnawa, issued a joint statement on 31 October, the day after the bill was passed. They stated that Bali would not implement the law, because ‘it is not in line with Balinese philosophical and sociological values’. Numerous other officials in Bali supported their statement. However, the Chief Inspector of Police there, General Teuku Ashikin Husein (who is not Balinese, and has previously worked in Aceh and Southeast Sulawesi) has issued a public statement that the law was ‘positive’ and that his office would be enforcing it.

It seems unlikely that Bali and Papua will actually secede in protest against the Pornography Law, but even threats to secede are already very striking, given that secession has become such a taboo topic in Indonesia since the independence of East Timor.

The interpretation of the courts is also yet to be seen. In an earlier court case against the Indonesian version of the Playboy magazine (which does not contain images of nude people), judges ruled that the prosecutors should have brought the case under the Press Law rather than the Criminal Code, but added that under that legislation, they would not have seen Playboy as pornographic. Other judgments may, however, be less liberal, as the Indonesian legal system, unlike common law systems in Australia, the United Kingdom or the United States, does not follow precedents established by the courts. Instead, judges are supposed to rely on what is defined in a law itself. In the case of the Pornography Law these definitions are very vague.

But whatever the outcome of cases tried under the law, one thing is clear: the debate over the Pornography Law has already caused sharp divisions in Indonesian society.

Helen Pausacker (h.pausacker@unimelb.edu.au) is writing a PhD at the University of Melbourne’s Law School. She is a research assistant on Tim Lindsey’s Federation Fellowship project, ‘Islam and Modernity’ in the same faculty.

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Privileged British-born aristocrat selected as new Prime Minister of Thailand

Thailand Politics

Leader of Thailand’s Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva, right, talks with party’s adviser and former prime minister Chuan Leekpai during a group photograph at parliament house in Bangkok, Thailand Monday, Jan 21, 2008. Many key allies of Thailand’s deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra were returning to politics Monday as the country’s lower house of parliament reconvened for its first session since a 2006 coup. AP Photo by APICHART WEERAWONG

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In the mould of former British prime minister Tony Blair and ex-US president Bill Clinton, Mr Abhisit has billed himself as part of a new generation who listens to rock music and is in tune with a globalised world.

‘Mr Clean’, has privileged pedigree

The Age | Dec 16, 2008

PHOTOGENIC and Oxford-educated, Abhisit Vejjajiva seemed to have it all — but it has taken the 44-year-old longer than expected to rise to the top of Thai politics.

British-born Abhisit is the first prime minister since elections returned Thailand to democracy a year ago who is not from a party linked to former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

With his pedigree — including an expensive education at Eton College, where he was two years above current British Opposition Leader David Cameron — Mr Abhisit had seemed a sure bet for the top spot much earlier.

But critics say the scion of an influential Thai family has lacked the common touch needed to sell to voters his image of a new breed in Thailand’s corrupt politics.

In the mould of former British prime minister Tony Blair and ex-US president Bill Clinton, Mr Abhisit has billed himself as part of a new generation who listens to rock music and is in tune with a globalised world.

Although young, he has already had a long political career. He stormed into political life in 1992 when, at the age of 27, he became the youngest person to win a seat in the Thai parliament.

He rapidly climbed the ranks of the Democrats, Thailand’s oldest party, with a reputation for clean politics and an idealism rarely seen in Thailand.

He has also remained untainted in a country where corruption is rife.

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THAILAND-POLITICS/ABHISIT

Abhisit Vejjajiva smiles with members of Parliament after being voted in as the prime minister of Thailand in Bangkok December 15 2008. Thailand’s opposition Democrat Party leader, Vejjajiva, won a thin majority in a parliamentary vote on Monday to become the country’s third prime minister in as many months.

Abhisit Vejjajiva – Wikipedia

Abhisit “Mark” Vejjajiva (born August 3, 1964), is a Thai political figure who has been the leader of the Democratic Party since February 2005, first serving as opposition leader in the House of Representatives of Thailand, who on December 15, 2008, elected him the 27th Prime Minister of Thailand. Vejjajiva currently awaits confirmation from the King.

Abhisit was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England to Dr. Athasit Vejjajiva and Dr. Sodsai Vejjajiva; he is a lifelong fan of Newcastle United FC. His parents were both medical professors. His father was also a politically influential technocrat and had once served as Deputy Minister of Public Health. Abhisit has two elder sisters, Dr. Prof Alisa Wacharasin and Ngarmpun Vejjajiva. After studying at Chulalongkorn University’s Demonstration School, he transferred to Scaitcliffe School (now Bishopsgate School) and Eton College.

Abhisit was admitted into St John’s College, Oxford, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree (first class honours) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He taught briefly at Thailand’s Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, but returned to Oxford to pursue a Master’s degree in Economics.

The Vejjajivas are a prominent family of Thai Chinese (Hakka) origin who maintained good relationships with the Thai ruling elite from as early as the late 18th century. Abhisit himself is a fourth-generation Thai-Chinese. He has two sisters. One, Professor Alisa Wacharasindhu, is a leading child psychiatrist and her sons (Tom and Tim Wacharasindhu) attend Winchester College and Eton College. Another one, Ngampun Vejjajiva, is a leading Thai author.

Abhisit has occasionally been criticized for relying on his good looks to further his career. Morgan Stanley economist Daniel Lian, in a letter to then PM Thaksin, reportedly asked, “Other than his pretty young face, what else can he offer to the Thai people?”

On March 24, 2006, citing Section 7 of the 1997 Constitution, Abhisit urged Thaksin to resign and suggested that King Bhumibol Adulyadej appoint a temporary replacement for the Prime Minister. King Bhumibol dismissed the idea, saying that it would be unconstitutional. “Asking for a royally appointed prime minister is undemocratic,” replied the King. “It is, pardon me, a mess. It is irrational.”

Abhisit supported the military junta’s draft constitution on the grounds that it was the “lesser of two evils”. Abhisit said the Democrat Party considered the new constitution similar to the 1997 Constitution, but with improvements as well as faults. “If we wanted to please the Council for National Security we would reject the draft so it could pick a charter of its own choosing.

New Thai Prime Minster is the third in four months

Thailand Politics

A pro Thaksin Shinawatra supporter fights with police as Thai legislators attempt to leave Parliament Monday, Dec. 15, 2008, in Bangkok, Thailand following the formation of a new government. Parliament chose Democrat Abhisit Vejjajiva as the nation’s new prime minister following months of political chaos. AP Photo by David Longstreath

SMH | Dec 16, 2008

by Boonradom Chitradon in Bangkok

THE Thai Opposition Leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, was elected as the nation’s third prime minister in four months, triggering violent protests from supporters of the old government who tried to block Parliament.

Mr Abhisit’s victory, 235-198, ended seven years of dominance of electoral politics by parties loyal to the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The British-born Democrat Party leader will head up a weak coalition government after winning the parliamentary vote nearly two weeks after a court dissolved the ruling party linked to the ousted Thaksin.

Angry Thaksin supporters clad in red shirts clashed with police and threw traffic barriers and bricks outside the gates of Parliament to prevent politicians from leaving after the session.

“Abhisit gained more than half of the vote, therefore I declare that Abhisit has been voted as the new prime minister,” the Speaker, Chai Chidchob, announced.

The 44-year-old Mr Abhisit, who is set to become the youngest prime minister Thailand has had, defeated the former police chief Pracha Promnog, who had been proposed by the former ruling party and its allies.

Mr Abhisit gave no immediate indication of the direction his government would take but has previously said his priorities were restoring the economy and forging political unity after months of turmoil.

Loyalists offered congratulations after the vote, which came amid reports of MPs being locked in hotels and having their mobile phones confiscated as rival parties battled to form a new government.

London’s Telegraph reported that some MPs were being offered more than £1 million ($2.3 million) by rival parties looking to secure their support.

The vote follows six months of increasingly disruptive protests by the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which peaked with a week-long blockade of Bangkok’s airports beginning in late November.

The turmoil stranded 350,000 passengers and badly hit Thailand’s international image and its economy, with GDP growth forecast at just 2 per cent next year.

PAD supporters said the previous government was running the nation on behalf of Thaksin. They had already occupied the prime minister’s offices since August and forced the suspension of Parliament on one occasion. Thaksin was overthrown in a coup in 2006 and remains in exile abroad to avoid corruption charges.

Since elections returned democracy to Thailand in December last year, the Constitutional Court has removed two Thaksin-linked PPP prime ministers.

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Masonic Big Brother is watching, but seniors don’t mind

myrecordjournal.com | Dec 14, 2008

By Jeffery Kurz

eye_of_the_one_dollar_pyramidWALLINGFORD – Sensors keep track of just about everything Shirley Player does in her apartment, but she’s not worried that Big Brother is watching. Far from it.

“I feel very safe with it,” Player said. “It’s nice to know you’re being watched.”

Player is one of 68 residents of the Masonicare retirement community participating in a study that aims to determine whether keeping a technological eye on seniors can help them live longer independently in their own homes.

Player’s place has a motion detector in the corner of each room, a sensor on her refrigerator that keeps track of her eating habits, a sensor on the medicine cabinet to see if she’s taking her medications on time, and a pressure sensor underneath the mattress of her bed to track her sleeping. There would have been a sensor on the toilet, except that was determined unfeasible for the study during a pilot program this summer.

Player says her greatest worry is remembering to take the sensor on her key chain with her when she leaves her apartment. Otherwise, she said, after about a month she hardly gives the monitoring program a thought. Does she worry about it?

“I never do,” she said.

“If it will help somebody else, that’s what my goal is,” said the 87-year-old Player, who lives at the Masonic Health Care Center independent living complex, in one of the A. Norman Johnson Apartments.

Arctic cold brings record setting temperatures to Denver

December 14th and 15th bring record setting cold to Denver.

Examiner | Dec 15, 2008

by Tony Hake, Denver Weather Examiner

iciclesDecember 14th and 15th bring record setting cold to Denver and the Front Range.

It’s officially cold as heck now!  The cold front has caused the mercury to plummet across the Front Range and we have officially set two new low temperature records.

At 5:52pm on Sunday, December 14th, the temperature at Denver International Airport dropped to -15 degrees.  That broke the old record of -14 degrees for this date set way back in 1901.  The mercury continued to drop and bottomed out at -18 degrees at 6:35pm.

The morning of the 15th started with a new record low temperature.  At 12:00am the temperature was -13 degrees, breaking the old record for the date of -6 set in 1951.  The temperature is still dropping so that record will undoubtedly get even colder.

It is important to note that prior to DIA opening, temperatures were measured at the old Stapleton site and prior to 1950 they were measured downtown.   That makes a 15 mile distance between where temperatures are measured now and where they were prior to March 1995.  Those 15 miles can accont for large differences in temperature so the record setting temperatures needs to be balanced with that knowledge as in some ways you are comparing apples and oranges.  Click here for a bit of history on the Denver Forecast Office.

Below are some of the temperatures across the state as of 2:00am, courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Weather Network.

Iraqis applaud manslaughter charges against Blackwater guards

iraq_grieving_blackwater

Relatives visit the grave site of Ibrahim Abid, one of at least 17 Iraqis slain by Blackwater guards. Photo: Hadi Mizban / AP

The shooting that killed at least 17 in a Baghdad traffic circle last year resonates strongly among Iraqis, who believe it was unjustified and are eager for justice.

Associated Press | Dec 10, 2008

By Tina Susman and Usama Redha

Reporting from Baghdad — The traffic circle hums on a cool and sunny afternoon, as motorists round the center median with its fake orange palm tree that sparkles at night, blooming flower beds and chunky sculpture.

On such a calm day in Baghdad, it is hard to imagine the carnage that erupted here in Nisoor Square in September 2007, when Blackwater Worldwide security guards killed at least 17 Iraqis in a hail of machine-gun bullets and grenades, but the evidence remains.

Bullet holes pock the small shelter where traffic cops dived for cover. Splotches scar the wall of a school off the square that prosecutors say was hit by American gunfire. Memories rankle people familiar with the story, which still resonates powerfully in Iraq even as the legal repercussions have shifted to courthouses thousands of miles away in the U.S.

Five Blackwater employees, all of them U.S. military veterans, were charged Monday with manslaughter and attempted manslaughter in the case, which strained U.S.-Iraqi relations and galvanized Iraqi opposition to the Western security companies that had operated with impunity here.

Starting Jan. 1, private security details such as Blackwater will be subject to Iraqi jurisdiction if accused of crimes committed while off American bases, a change demanded by Iraq’s government after the Blackwater incident and others involving different companies that resulted in civilian deaths on a smaller scale.

The current Blackwater defendants won’t face trial in Iraq, but they could face decades in prison in the United States if convicted, something that pleases Iraqis such as Ali Abdul Ali.

“This is good,” said Ali, an unemployed military veteran. “It means no one is above the law, even if he’s an element of foreign forces. It also means the victims will get justice.”

Ali, who comes often to an abandoned bus stop near Nisoor Square to sit in the sunshine and think about life, has a friend whose mother was among 20 Iraqis shot and wounded in the incident. Like other Iraqis in the circle that day, the friend said the shooting was unjustified, he said.

“These people were armed and they were shooting innocent people,” Ali said.

That’s not how the Blackwater guards tell it. They say their convoy came under attack as they escorted U.S. State Department officials and that they fired in self-defense.

In the square Tuesday, the sound of gunfire was constant and clear over the cacophony of car engines, tooting horns and sirens from the intimidating convoys that still tear through the circle, but it was from an Iraqi police firing range nearby.

Police officers stationed in the circle were happy to discuss the Blackwater case and to show off the bullet holes from that day. One of them quickly interrupted his lunch of beans, rice and bread to weigh in.

“I heard about [the charges against the Blackwater employees] yesterday on the news,” said the officer, who like his colleagues was not authorized to speak to reporters and would not give a name. “Because they killed 17 innocent people, of course they should be arrested.”

The policeman, who has worked this spot for five years, was not in the square the day of the shooting but came to work the next day to see wrecked cars, blood-stained streets, bullet casings. He pointed to a section of gnarled concrete in the busy street a few feet away.

“That’s where the doctor and her son died,” he said, referring to Mahasin Mohssen Khadum Khazali and her son, Ahmed Haitham Ahmed Rubaie, who were in a white sedan that the Blackwater guards said they suspected of being rigged to explode.

“Justice should be served. These victims — their rights should be taken into consideration,” said another policeman, edging in front of the first cop and quickly taking over the conversation. This officer said that if the Blackwater guards are convicted, they should die.

“This is the law of God. In the Arab world, anyone who kills someone, he should be killed,” he said.

They scoffed at the idea that the guards might have felt genuinely threatened because of the situation in Baghdad at the time. Violence was far worse then, when attacks on U.S. forces were daily events. That month, 70 foreign troops, including 66 Americans, were killed across Iraq, according to the independent website icasualties.org. Last month, the total was 17.

“This place is surrounded. It is secure,” the second officer said, noting the national guard base on one side of the square and another government building on the other. “It’s impossible” that anyone could have felt threatened, he said.

Minutes later, a U.S. military convoy entered the circle. Civilian traffic ground to a halt to let the vehicles pass, but they stopped midway through. A group of U.S. soldiers walked toward the Iraqi police.

“Let’s have it,” one of them sternly said to a U.S. journalist who had been filming the square, referring to the memory chip of his video camera.

The soldier uttered an obscenity about filming the convoy but backed off without taking the memory chip after another American intervened, satisfied that the journalists were more interested in the scene at the square, not the convoy that had rolled into view.

Afterward, one policeman joked that it was good the journalists were of the “same tribe” as the soldiers. If they’d been Iraqis, he said, they would have been locked up.

Susman and Redha are Times staff writers.