Daily Archives: April 6, 2012

Many US police use cell phones to track people: study


Many US police departments use cell phone tracking, often without court orders, to find suspects and investigate criminal cases, according to a study released Monday. (AFP Photo/Scott Olson)

AFP | Apr 2, 2012

Many US police departments use cell phone tracking, often without court orders, to find suspects and investigate criminal cases, according to a study released Monday.

The survey released by the American Civil Liberties Union found that “the overwhelming majority of law enforcement agencies that responded engage in at least some cell phone tracking,” the organization said.

“Most law enforcement agencies that responded engage in cell phone tracking for investigative purposes. Even those that have not tracked cell phones in the course of a criminal investigation have tracked cell phones in emergencies, for example to locate a missing person.”

The use of phone tracking, using GPS or other technology to locate people through their cell phones, is a murky legal area.

The US Supreme Court has held that the use of GPS devices placed by police on a suspect’s car constitutes an “unreasonable search” under the constitution. But the question of cell phone tracking is still making its way through the courts.

Pricey ‘stingray’ gadget lets cops track cellphones without telco help

Several members of Congress have introduced bills calling for “location privacy” to be respected by police, except in cases of emergency.

The ACLU said its survey of more than 200 law enforcement agencies showed “disturbing” results, with few police departments seeking warrants and “unclear or inconsistent legal standards” depending on the jurisdiction.

“What we have learned is disturbing. The government should have to get a warrant before tracking cell phones. That is what is necessary to protect Americans’ privacy, and it is also what is required under the constitution,” said Catherine Crump, an ACLU attorney.

“The fact that some law enforcement agencies do get warrants shows that a probable cause requirement is a completely reasonable and workable policy, allowing police to protect both public safety and privacy.”

The ACLU said it began seeking data last year, filing over 380 requests under states’ freedom of information laws.

The responses varied widely, and some agencies did not respond at all.

The civil liberties group said the tracking can be lucrative for mobile operators, and that many charge fees to law enforcement to provide tracking data.

Police Union bashes ticket-writing quotas, reveals location of the next “Ticket Blitz”


Police Union: “Ticket Blitz” on Thursday. The state police union is bashing what they are calling a push to ticket more drivers.

Union said next “ticket blitz” will be in the Danielson area on Thursday.

The union held the meeting to protest the quotas as illegal under state law.

nbcconnecticut.com | Apr 5, 2012

Leaders of the State Police Union are bashing what they’re calling ticket-writing quotas by management and have revealed the location of the next increased traffic enforcement effort.

Union officials held a news conference in East Hartford on Wednesday and said the next “ticket blitz” enforcement effort will be in the Danielson area all day Thursday.

The union held the meeting to protest the quotas as illegal under state law. They said troopers want to make state roads as safe as possible, but that can be done without quotas and competitions.

The state’s commissioner of emergency services and public safety, Reuben Bradford, determined this week that there was no illegal quota system in place, after Gov. Dannel Malloy asked him to review the matter.

The union is also upset about a state plan to consolidate dispatch desks at three state police barracks into one.

The move would free up more troopers to be on the roads.

State police are consolidating the dispatch desks at three barracks into one, freeing uniformed dispatchers to be out on the roads.

“Specifically, what I want you to understand is we are not closing the troops. We are going to be more flexible with our troops,” according to Col. Danny Stebbins.

He also said state police plans do not include reducing the numbers of troopers at three troops. “Attrition could cause such a move,” Stebbins warned.

Troopers now assigned to dispatch duty are to hit the highways, joining the state police effort to step up enforcement of speed limits, as “revenue generators”, Stebbins said.

State police union leaders say the incentives management is dangling to get troopers to write more tickets is unfair to the public and potentially to union members.

“If we set a goal of say 200 tickets in one day, and then it’s 300, then it’s 350, at some point our concern is what happens to our members that don’t meet their goals?,” said union president Andrew Matthews.

Stebbins denied lieutenants would discipline troopers for not reaching their goals, and he justified incentives as legitimate ways to enhance public safety.

“I don’t want to see our people sitting out there and people flying by ’em so we’re putting them out there with a focus and that’s more of a teambuilding concept than anything else and I think it works well,” Stebbins said.

Expert: Painter Caravaggio murdered in cold blood by the Knights of Malta


‘Judith beheading Holofernes’ by Caravaggio Photo: Mimmo Frassineti / Rex Features

His mysterious death at the age of 38 has been blamed variously on malaria, an intestinal infection, lead poisoning from the oil paints he used or a violent brawl.

Telegraph | Apr 2, 2012

By Nick Squires, Rome

Now an intriguing new theory has been put forward for the demise of the rabble-rousing Renaissance artist Caravaggio – that he was killed in cold blood on the orders of the Knights of Malta to avenge an attack on one of their members.

The chivalric order, which was formed during the Crusades, hunted down the painter because he had seriously wounded a knight during a fight, according to Vincenzo Pacelli, an Italian historian and expert on Caravaggio.

The death of Caravaggio, who earned notoriety during his lifetime for his quick temper and hell-raising ways, has long been shrouded in mystery.

Some historians believe that he died of malaria in the Tuscan coastal town of Porto Ercole in 1610 and that he was buried there.

But Prof Pacelli, of the University of Naples, has unearthed documents from the Vatican Secret Archives and from archives in Rome which suggest that the artist was instead murdered by the Knights of Malta, who then threw his body in the sea at Palo, near Civitavecchia north of Rome.

Caravaggio killed by Knights of Malta – expert

If true, it was a violent end that Caravaggio himself foretold in one of his most famous works, David with the Head of Goliath (1610), in which he painted his own face onto the severed head of the slain giant.

The “state-sponsored assassination” was carried out with the secret approval of the Vatican, Prof Pacelli claims in a forthcoming book, Caravaggio – Between Art and Science.

“It was commissioned and organised by the Knights of Malta, with the tacit assent of the Roman Curia” – the governing body of the Holy See – because of the grave offence Caravaggio had caused by attacking a high-ranking knight, he said.

The decision to dump the body at sea explained why there are no funeral or burial records recording Caravaggio’s death.

“Had he died at Porto Ercole, he would have been given a funeral, especially given the fact that his brother was a priest,” Prof Pacelli said. “He would not just have been forgotten.” Caravaggio, whose artistic genius was matched only by a supreme talent for creating enemies, was subjected to a violent attack in Naples in 1609 by unidentified assailants which left him disfigured.

Prof Pacelli believes they were almost certainly assassins sent by the Knights of Malta, an order which was founded in the 11th century to protect Christians in the Holy Land and which subsequently established its headquarters on the Mediterranean island.

The academic found historical documents which suggest that the Vatican, which objected to Caravaggio’s questioning of Catholic doctrine, tried to cover up the truth of Caravaggio’s death.

He discovered mysterious discrepancies in correspondence between Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a powerful Vatican secretary of state, and Deodato Gentile, a papal ‘nuncio’ or ambassador, in which the painter’s place of death was cited as the island of Procida near Naples, “a place that Caravaggio had nothing to do with.”

A document written by Caravaggio’s doctor and first biographer, Giulio Mancini, claimed that the painter had died near Civitavecchia, but the place name was later scrubbed out and replaced by Porto Ercole.

Prof Pacelli has also found an account written 20 years after Caravaggio’s death, in which an Italian archivist, Francesco Bolvito, wrote that the artist had been “assassinated”.

Caravaggio – whose real name was Michelangelo Merisi – lived a turbulent life in which violent altercations forced him to flee from one city to another.

After finding fame in Rome for his distinctive “chiaro-scuro” painting technique – the contrast of shadow and light – he suddenly had to leave the city in 1606 after he was involved in a brawl in which he killed a man.

He eventually wound up in Malta, the headquarters of the Knights of Malta, where he was made a member of the order.

But by 1608 he was in prison, most probably after becoming involved in another fight, in which he wounded a knight.

He was expelled by the Knights on the grounds that he had become “a foul and rotten member” of the order and imprisoned in a castle dungeon.

He was released under mysterious circumstances and fled to first Sicily and then Naples.

He was heading to Rome in the hope of obtaining a papal pardon for the murder he had committed when he died.

Dr John T. Spike, a Caravaggio expert at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, agreed that there was no evidence to prove the theory that Caravaggio died in Tuscany.

But he was sceptical of the idea that the tortured genius was murdered by the Knights of Malta.

“They had ample opportunities to kill him sooner – either when he was in Malta, or during the time he spent in nearby Sicily afterwards.” Dr Spike believes the artist was killed – possibly accidentally – in a fight, and that his body was unceremoniously dumped.

In 2010, after a year-long investigation using DNA analysis and carbon dating, Italian researchers claimed to have found Caravaggio’s bones in a church ossuary in Porto Ercole.

They said they were 85 per cent sure that the remains belonged to the artists, but many historians have disputed those findings.

China’s Internet Censors Decide Comments Are Dangerous

bloomberg.com | Apr 4, 2012

By Adam Minter

On March 20, China’s microbloggers couldn’t resist spreading rumors that an overnight coup had happened in Beijing. Nothing came of those rumors, of course, and by the end of the day, online censors had deleted them. Ordinarily, that would have been the end of it.

But on March 31, in a move that outraged a large swath of Chinese netizens, China’s two leading microblogging sites, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, announced a 72-hour suspension of the comment function that makes the microblogs such rich and dynamic forums. While the handful of state media news stories did not blame the moratorium on China’s Internet regulators, nobody was fooled: China’s microblogs operate at the whim of Chinese Communist Party authorities.

Unlike Twitter, which only allows users to post, reply and re-tweet, Chinese microblogs let users engage in discussion threads directly connected to tweets (they work like a drop-down menu). The threads can run hundreds, if not thousands, of comments long and are often more interesting and lively than the actual posts. Censors also seem to monitor them less than the actual tweets: On March 20, coup-related tweets were deleted while coup-related comment threads — appended to non-controversial tweets — were not. In this way, comments, not tweets, were the key vector for rumors of instability.

Ironically, Xinhua, the Chinese state news service, has also served as a source for speculation. On Saturday, shortly after the suspension began, Chinese microbloggers widely tweeted variations of a news story apparently written to explain it:

Chinese authorities closed 16 websites and detained six people responsible for “fabricating or disseminating online rumors,” the State Internet Information Office (SIIO) and Beijing police said Friday.

Those websites, including meizhou.net, xn528.com and cndy.com.cn, were closed for spreading rumors of “military vehicles entering Beijing and something wrong going on in Beijing,” which were fabricated by some lawless people recently, said a spokesman with SIIO.

For Chinese microbloggers, the phrase, “military vehicles entering Beijing and something wrong going on in Beijing,” was nothing short of a revelation. One Shanghai-based Sina Weibo user expressed his astonishment: “I originally didn’t know anything about this, and now the whole world knows.” Thousands of other microbloggers seemed to share the sentiment — as did Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China, Beijing’s largest real estate developer. She broadcast to her 3.2 million followers: “The forbidden comments have become world news that CNN is also reporting, thus spreading the ‘rumor’ much more widely.”

Since Saturday, Zhang’s comment has been forwarded -– or re-tweeted -– more than 5,000 times, thereby guaranteeing the rumor an extended life and audience.

Needless to say, the official voices of the Communist Party feel quite differently about the matter. In August 2011, Chinese state media first staged an all-out campaign against what it perceived to be sensationalist, rampant commentary on China’s microblogs. However the editorials and news stories at that time were positively gentle compared to the condemning language used this past week.

For example, on Sunday, Xinhua published an unsigned editorial with the following blunt message: “Rumor fabricators and rumor spreaders have one thing in common, and that is a weak concept of the law.” A day later, Wu Qiao, a columnist for the Beijing Times, an influential paper recently under the direct control of the Beijing Propaganda Department, was broadly supportive of a legal crackdown on rumor-mongers. He wrote:

A well-ordered society won’t permit the existence of rumors. With the aid of new technologies like Weibo, rumors can do severe harm. The better educated our society is, the more tolerant it is to different opinions and voices, and the less willing it is to tolerate rumors. Therefore, as new means of information dissemination are deployed, we should punish the rumor mongers by the law, so as to reduce rumors in society.

This opinion does not enjoy wide support among Chinese netizens. But, then again, it likely was not written to convince, but to instruct. This was precisely the point made by Han Han –- China’s most popular blogger/novelist/race car driver — in one of his rare posts to Sina Weibo, timed to appear shortly after the comment moratorium was lifted on April 3. He wrote:

[The blackout] has nothing to do with cleaning up rumors, it’s about showing off state power and serving a warning: If I can make comments disappear for three days, I can also make you lose your little Weibos altogether.

In just a few hours, this post received 60,000 comments. Soon after, censors deleted every trace of them.

Han Han wasn’t the only high-profile netizen to tweet about the comment moratorium. Wang Ran, a venture capitalist with more than 1.5 million followers on Sina Weibo, also delved into the touchy subject of why Chinese netizens feel such a compelling need to spread rumors. His tweet was also subsequently deleted, though it has resurfaced -– uncensored -– on other forums:

What breeds rumor mongers is an un-free press and an opaque system, nothing else. Actually, most people who encounter rumors don’t believe them entirely but rather “half believe, half doubt” them. Independent thinking makes them apt to “half-doubt,” and the lack of transparency makes them tend to “half-believe.”

Now that the moratorium is over, all seems to be back to normal; comments are piling up below posts just like before. But here and there, if you look hard enough, there’s a sense that something has changed. What, precisely, is difficult to finger: The bureaucracy that controls China’s Internet has never taken direct credit for suspending the comment function.

One netizen, based in Shenzhen, offered an opinion that’s been shared frequently the last 24 hours: “After the three day comment moratorium, I feel that Sina is deleting posts more frequently now.”

Tellingly, that’s one tweet Sina Weibo -– and its overseers — hasn’t yet found fit to delete.

“Guidebook to False Confessions”: Key Document John Yoo Used to Draft Torture Memo Released

Truthout | Apr 3, 2012

By Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye

Abu Zubaydah, the first high-value detainee captured after 9/11, was tortured at CIA black site prisons beginning in May 2002. Seven of the ten techniques he was subjected came from a manual just released by the Defense Department under the Freedom of Information Act. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

In May of 2002, one of several meetings was convened at the White House where the CIA sought permission from top Bush administration officials, including then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to torture the agency’s first high-value detainee captured after 9/11: Abu Zubaydah.

The CIA claimed Zubaydah, who at the time was being held at a black site prison in Thailand, was “withholding imminent threat information during the initial interrogation sessions,” according to documents released by the Senate Intelligence Committee in April 2009.

So, “attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel [including the agency’s top lawyer John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S.”

One of the key documents handed out to Bush officials at this meeting, and at Principals Committee sessions chaired by Rice that took place between May and July 2002, was a 37-page instructional manual that contained detailed descriptions of seven of the ten techniques that ended up in the legal opinion widely referred to as the “torture memo,” drafted by Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorney John Yoo and signed by his boss, Jay Bybee, three months later. According to Rice, Yoo had attended the Principals Committee meetings and participated in discussions about Zubaydah’s torture.

That instructional manual, referred to as “Pre-Academic Laboratory (PREAL) Operating Instructions,” has just been released by the Department of Defense under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The document sheds additional light on the origins of the Bush administration’s torture policy and for the first time describes exactly what methods of torture Bush officials had discussed – and subsequently approved – for Zubaydah in May 2002.

The PREAL manual was prepared by the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) and used by instructors in the JPRA’s Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) courses to teach US military personnel how to withstand brutal interrogation techniques if captured by the enemy during wartime. The manual states one of the primary goals of the training is “to give students the most reliable mental picture possible of an actual peacetime governmental detention experiences [sic].”

A US counterterrorism official and an aide to one of the Bush officials who participated in Principals Committee meetings in May 2002, however, confirmed to Truthout last week that the PREAL manual was one of several documents the CIA obtained from JPRA that was shared with Rice and other Principals Committee members in May 2002, the same month the CIA officially took over Zubaydah’s interrogation from the FBI. As National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, Rice chaired the meetings.

Rice and Bellinger have denied ever seeing a list of SERE training techniques. But in 2008, they told the Senate Armed Services Committee, which conducted an investigation into treatment of detainees in custody of the US government, that they recalled being present at White House meetings where SERE training was discussed.

Sarah Farber, a spokeswoman at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where Rice teaches political economy, said she would pass on Truthout’s queries about claims that Rice reviewed and discussed the PREAL manual to Rice’s office. But Rice’s office did not respond to our inquiries.

Full story

Grisly death fuels tales of Russian police torture


Human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov attends a news conference in Moscow, March 27, 2012. The news conference was dedicated to recent acts of police brutality in the Republic of Tatarstan, including an incident in Kazan in which a suspect under examination presumably died after officers sodomized him with a bottle of champagne earlier in March, according to local media. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Reuters |Apr 5, 2012

By Jennifer Rankin

KAZAN, Russia | Albert Zagitov had barely set up his new fruit and vegetable stall at the bustling Volga market in the Russian city of Kazan when he was told by a stranger to pack up and go.

After he refused, he was taken to a police car and driven to a police station where he says four officers took turns to hit him in the head and chest and threatened to rape him.

“As soon as we sat in the car, they started behaving very cruelly, swearing at me and calling me names,” said Zagitov, a Russian born in the Tatarstan region of which Kazan is the capital.

“The threats were real. I was full of fear and in shock that this was happening,” he told Reuters, his words pouring out quickly as he recalled the events of last July.

He was freed six hours later with an aching head, battered ribs and a charge of petty hooliganism.

But looking back at the encounter, Zagitov, a 33-year-old father of one, can count himself lucky to have survived.

Last month Sergei Nazarov, an unemployed man of 52, was detained at the same police station on the same charge. The day after his arrest on March 9, Nazarov was taken to hospital with abdominal pains. He died less than 24 hours later.

Before slipping into a coma, he told relatives he had been beaten by four police officers and sodomized with a champagne bottle.

His death has caused outrage across Russia and sparked protests in Kazan, a more than 1,000-year-old city on the Volga River 750 km (470 miles) east of Moscow which prides itself on tolerance of its diverse ethnic population and many religions.

Police have charged five officers over the case, and investigators are re-opening previously “closed” cases where complaints were made, including Zagitov’s.

PROBLEM FOR PUTIN

Nazarov’s death has put the spotlight on police lawlessness and brutality as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin prepares to start a six-year term as president in May, increasing demands for him to carry out reforms to strengthen the rule of law that have been demanded during four months of anti-Putin protests.

Angered by Nazarov’s case, about 100 people chanted “shame on the police” at a protest on a recent Saturday in Kazan’s Freedom Square, where well-maintained buildings including the regional government’s headquarters look down on a statue of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin.

“Once we learned about what had happened in the Kazan police station, we understood that it concerned all of us – in Moscow, in Krasnodar, in Chita and Sakhalin,” Lev Ponomaryov, a human-rights campaigner, told the protesters.

“Because if no one is punished, these crimes will happen in other places. Indeed they are happening.”

Pop music blared from a dark blue van parked nearby bearing the logo of Putin’s United Russia party, and about 20 members of a pro-Putin youth movement gathered on another part of the square, hoping to distract attention from the protest.

Relatives say Nazarov had committed no crime and did not know what the petty hooliganism charge was for although the police, who have denied mistreating him, said he had been accused of stealing a mobile phone.

The relatives have dismissed suggestions by the police that he was drunk and disorderly. Contacted by phone, Nazarov’s brother declined to be interviewed.

TEST CASE

Kazan’s image for tolerance has been badly damaged. The city of more than 1 million, which was conquered by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, has long portrayed itself as an example of harmony between Muslims, Christians, Russians and Tatars.

The turquoise-tipped minarets of a new mosque and the 16th-century onion-domed cathedral inside Kazan’s white-walled Kremlin are meant to embody this mingling of cultures.

In the historic city centre, modish coffee bars and a gleaming shopping centre stand alongside mosques and churches, while the outskirts are dominated by Soviet-era high rise buildings and heavy traffic.

Kazan’s leaders like to trumpet its independence from Moscow although Putin won 83 percent of votes in the March 4 presidential election.

Yet the city felt the strong hand of Moscow when federal Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev fired the head of the city’s Dalny police station where Nazarov and Zagitov were taken into custody and accused officers there of betraying the force.

In addition to the five officers charged over Nazarov’s case, a federal investigative committee is examining 28 other complaints against the Kazan police. The allegations include reports of torture such as sexual abuse, beatings, electric shock treatment and forced confessions for invented offences.

Russia’s Public Chamber, an official body that analyses draft laws, is examining a book by the regional interior minister, Asgat Safarov, in which he is reported to advocate using the “most painful methods” to combat organized crime.

Nazarov’s death is seen by human rights activists as a test case of how far the Kremlin and government are prepared to go to carry out promises to wipe out abuses of power by the police.

“The issue of police torture has been huge in this country for many years now,” Tatiana Lokshina, deputy director of the Moscow office of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said.

Only the glare of publicity sets this case apart from many more across the country, rights activists say.

“This case has attracted so much attention because the level of brutality, the level of atrocity, is staggering,” Lokshina said.

“The problem has been there for a very long time. We want to make sure the official rhetoric, triggered by the nightmarish case in Kazan, results in concrete steps towards improving the current situation.”

TALES OF TORTURE AND ABUSE

Svetlana Kolyakanova recounted how her brother was “cruelly beaten” and tortured with electric shocks to his genitals, the palms of his hands and soles of his feet, after being arrested in April last year by Kazan police.

“After we talked to him he cried and told us he could not take any more. The whole day they had tortured him with electric shocks. He signed all the confessions they wanted him to sign.”

Irina Muratova, a lawyer representing local victims, said the police used such methods to achieve a 100 percent crime detection rate.

A Kazan policeman also told a Russian newspaper that the police used special methods to extract confessions.

“If we know that a person is guilty but we don’t have proof for the court – a gun, a body or other evidence – then harsher interrogation methods are allowed,” the officer, identified only as Yuri, told Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper in an interview.

The alleged ringleader of the abuse with bottles was a veteran of Russia’s war against separatists in the Chechnya region of southern Russia which had left him with psychological problems, said Pavel Chikov of human rights group Agora.

Other cases of sexual abuse against officers at the Dalny police station were long ignored, rights activists say.

Oskar Krylov, a 22-year old administrator, says he was sodomised with a champagne bottle and a pencil by Kazan police last October but his case was going nowhere before Nazarov died.

“I complained to the courts, but until Nazarov no one paid any attention,” he told Reuters.

Tatarstan’s investigative committee has long ignored people’s rights, Igor Vselov, a rights activist, said during the Kazan protest, where people gathered around a three-foot (metre) high box of complaints to underscore this point.

“The investigative committee of Tatarstan represents the interests of the government and big business,” he said.

The criticism is not only from the streets. Russia’s deputy prosecutor general, Sergei Zaitsev, accused Tatarstan’s investigators of “serious shortcomings” at a meeting with the region’s president and other senior officials on Monday.

His investigations had revealed 66 “hidden” crimes by police, mostly theft, he told the meeting. He said he had received 417 complaints from citizens, 65 involving violence.

Contacted for comment, a spokesman for Russia’s Interior Ministry said that an investigation was under way which would show “what (happened), and who (was involved) and how”.

He added that the Kazan courts were dealing with suspects, but declined to comment at greater length beyond Nurgaliyev’s public statements. The chief spokesperson for Tatarstan’s ministry of internal affairs could not immediately be reached, and a subordinate declined to comment.

MEDVEDEV’S REFORM ATTEMPTS

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s outgoing president, introduced a police law in 2010 that sought to tighten standards and weed out violent and corrupt officers.

But critics say the law did little more than change the name of the force from the Soviet-era “militsiya” to “politsiya” – militia to police.

“More than two years of reforms have not led to any qualitative changes,” said Natalia Taubina, director of the Public Verdict Foundation, an organization that offers legal help to victims of human rights abuses by the police.

There have been a few notable cases of action being taken against the police. The police chief of St Petersburg, Russia’s second city, was fired this year after a 15-year-old detainee, Mikhail Leontyev, died in police custody.

But official figures show only 4,000 criminal cases were opened against police in 2010 although 125,000 complaints of violations were registered by Russia’s Interior Ministry.

RALLYING POINT FOR OPPOSITION?

Opposition leaders say demands for police reform are important for many Russians, and particularly those who took part in anti-Putin protests in Moscow that attracted tens of thousands of people between December and March.

Although Nazarov’s death has prompted protests in Kazan, Rashit Akhmetov, one of the protest organizers, said that official pressure had frightened people away. Students, he said, had been told by their university not to protest.

“But people sitting in their apartments, they don’t sympathize with the authorities. They sympathize with the people on the streets,” he said.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has dismissed suggestions there will now be a police shake-up. Talk of new police reform was “absurd”, he told current affairs magazine Itogi.

“It is not worth the government rushing to begin a new reform without completing the last one,” he said.

But Putin should be careful, opposition groups say, because combating police brutality is one of the issues that could rally the disparate groups involved in the widespread protests sparked by alleged fraud in December’s parliamentary election.

“The potential of civil society has grown dramatically in the last few months,” Taubina said.

“Police reform – qualitative reforms, not cosmetic reforms – is one point on the agenda that could unite many of these movements that have formed in the past few months.”

Tunisians jailed for Facebook cartoons of Prophet Mohammad

Reuters | Apr 5, 2012

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS | Two young Tunisians have been sentenced to seven years in prison for posting cartoons of the prophet Mohammad on Facebook, in a case that has fueled allegations the country’s new Islamist leaders are gagging free speech.

The two men had posted depictions of the prophet naked on the social networking site, the justice ministry said, inflaming sensitivities in a country where Muslim values have taken on a bigger role since a revolution last year.

“They were sentenced … to seven years in prison for violation of morality, and disturbing public order,” said Chokri Nefti, a justice ministry spokesman.

One of the two, Jabeur Mejri is in jail while the second, Ghazi Beji, is still being sought by police and was sentenced in absentia.

The sentence was handed down on March 28 but was not reported until Thursday, when bloggers started posting information about the case on the Internet.

“The sentences are very heavy and severe, even if these young people were at fault,” one Tunisian blogger, Nebil Zagdoud, told Reuters.

“This decision is aimed at silencing freedom of expression even on the Internet. Prosecutions for offending morals are a proxy for this government to gag everyone.”

Tunisia electrified the Arab world in January last year when protests forced its autocratic president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, to flee the country. In their first democratic election, Tunisians elected a government led by moderate Islamists.

The revolution also brought tension between conservative Muslims who believe their faith should have a bigger role in public life, and secularists who say freedom of expression and women’s’ rights are now under attack.

The government says it has a duty to defend standards of public decency but its secularist opponents accuse it of using the justice system to crack down on anyone who does not fall into line with religious orthodoxy.

The head of a private television station, Nessma, is awaiting trial on blasphemy charges after his channel broadcast “Persepolis,” an award-winning animated film that includes a depiction of Allah.

In February, Nassredine Ben Saida, the publisher of a tabloid newspaper, was jailed for eight days and fined after he printed a picture of a German-Tunisian footballer and his naked girlfriend on the front page.