Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 29, 2007

Nour’s case delayed until July 3

On Tuesday, the Cairo Administrative Court postponed its hearing on the early release of Ayman Nour, former chairman of the opposition party Al-Ghad, until July 3, according to Al-Ahram Weekly.

Nour, who received 7.3 percent of the votes—second only to President Mubarak—in Egypt’s first contested presidential election in 2005, is now serving a five-year jail term on charges of forging signatures to have his party legally registered. He suffers from diabetes, heart problems and hypertension, and his lawyers have requested his release on parole given his ill-health.

During Tuesday’s session the court asked Nour’s lawyers to submit a health report and linked Nour’s case to that of Ahmed Mazloum, who is also seeking release on health grounds. The court said the two cases should be heard in tandem, and judgment will have to wait for Mazloum’s official medical report.

Nour’s case has led to an “unseemly struggle between Egypt’s various legal authorities over who has the right to preside… many legal experts believe the battle over prerogatives is being orchestrated with the aim of avoiding the implementation of any ruling should the court find in Nour’s favor,” according to the article.

For the full article, click here .

Well-known Arab poet passes away

Nazik al-Malaika, a well-known poet in the Arab world, has died at the age of 83, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

While Malaika suffered from Parkinson’s disease for years, she died of natural causes last week, according to Nizar Marjan, the Iraqi consul to Egypt. Malaika broke away from tradition in her poetry, causing artists to gravitate to her writings. Her use of classical language and modern themes were an inspiration to many in the Arab world. Below is an example of her captivating style matched with the tense issue of honor killings in “To Wash Disgrace”:

Oh mother, a rattle, tears and darkness

Blood gushed out, and the stabbed body trembled.

“Oh mother!” Heard only by the executioner

Tomorrow the dawn will come and roses will wake up

Youth and enchanted hopes will ask for her

The meadows and the flowers will answer:

She left to wash the disgrace.

The brutal executioner returns

And meets people

“Disgrace!” He wipes his knife

“We’ve torn it apart.”

And returned virtuous with a white reputation.

For the full article, click here.

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Viet Nam releases activist

Le Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese lawyer and activist, was released from prison prior to President Nguyen Minh Triet’s visit to the U.S., The Associated Press reported on June 16. Quan had been arrested with several other democracy activists as part of a government crackdown on dissidents.

Quan was doing research on civil society in democratizing countries when he was incarcerated by Vietnamese authorities in early March.

Prior to Triet’s trip, a Vietnamese official had said that three dissidents would be released soon, but did not give specific names. As previously covered, Nguyen Vu Binh was released on June 9 as the first of the three dissidents. Binh had been detained for five years and was well known as one of Viet Nam’s first “cyber dissidents.”

For the full article, click here.

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Urban populations to double by 2030, U.N. says

According to a report released by the United Nations Wednesday, estimates now indicate that urban population growth will double by 2030, the Independent reported the same day. As urbanization and population continue to increase, experts believe that shanty towns will expand to accommodate the growth.

For the first time in human history, the dominant trend of rural living will be replaced by city dwelling. “The growth of cities will be the single largest influence on development in the 21st century,” the U.N. report stated. Over the next 30 years, the population of African and Asian cities will double, adding 1.7 billion people.

Population expert Mike Davis described this drastic shift in demography in “Planet of Slums” as: “A billion-strong global proletariat ejected from the formal economy, with Islam and Pentecostalism as songs for the dispossessed.”

George Martine, a demographer and the author of the U.N. report, said: “The urbanisation is jolting mentalities and subjecting them to new influences. This is a historical situation. And now one of the ways for people to reorganise themselves in this urban world is to associate themselves with new or strong, fundamentalist religion.” He added, “It’s pointless trying to control urban growth by stopping migration. It doesn't work. We have to change mindsets and take a different stance. We’re at a crossroads and can still make decisions which will make cities sustainable. If we don’t make the right decisions the result will be chaos.”

By 2008, more than half of the world’s population will reside in cities.

For the full article, click here.

For the full U.N. report, click here.


Public outcry brings hope of legislation against female circumcision

The death of a 12-year-old Egyptian girl during a female circumcision surgery in early June has prompted a public outcry and resulted in health and religious authorities announcing a ban on the practice this week, according to the International Herald Tribune.

On Thursday, the Egyptian Health Ministry issued a decree that stated it is “prohibited for any doctors, nurses, or any other person to carry out any cut of, flattening or modification of any natural part of the female reproductive system, either in government hospitals, non government or any other places.”

But the ban is not enforceable as law, which would require passage in the national legislature.

Despite a government order on against female circumcision issued in the 1950s, the practice has continued in Egypt, carried out mostly by barbers, midwives and amateurs. In 1995, a CNN television documentary depicting a barber circumcising a 10-year-old girl in a Cairo slum embarrassed Cairo internationally, but it failed to propel the parliament to pass a new child bill penalizing circumcision.

The United Nation’s children’s agency, UNICEF, said that 97 percent of married women in Egypt have undergone genital mutilation, according to the agency’s 2003 survey. The Egyptian government claims that a recent study found that only 50.3 percent of girls between the age of 10-18 years have been circumcised.

For the full article, click here .

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Foreign ops appropriations bill OKd by Senate committee

The Senate Approprations Committee approved the fiscal year 2008 State Foreign Operations Appropriations bill after a relatively brief discussion today.

In his presentation, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, praised the subcommittee for remaining under the proposed budget, but raised concerns about the number of international organizations earmarked in the bill; the only international organization mentioned is the United Nations, whereas the 2006 bill included 74 earmarks, he said. He also raised concerns about global AIDS funding, which exceeds funding proposals.

Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Ranking Member of the subcommittee, agreed that there was no contention on the amount of money being spent, since the bill is below budget, but suggested that there perhaps is some contention on how the money is being spent. He also mentioned some regrettable language, but opted not to reopen the issue.

Terminology included in the sections regarding Israel and Mexico was also addressed by senators on the subcommittee, though the Israel language dispute had already been settled and the section on Mexico City language was brought up as a precursor to a later discussion.

Captured Afghan workers released

The Taliban has recently released 18 mine clearers who had been held for six days, Agence France Press reported today. After being captured on Saturday, the men were taken before the “leading council” of the Taliban to decide their fate. The council agreed to free the workers due to their long history of working in Afghanistan.

Capturing Afghans working for foreign companies is one of the methods used by the Taliban to deter aiding foreign entities from working in Afghanistan.

Despite ongoing removal projects, Afghanistan remains one of the most mined countries in the world.

For the full article, click here.

For more information on mine clearing in Afghanistan, click here.


Tripathi calls for international support to ensure inclusive democratic transformation

The next few months are highly critical to Nepal, according to Dinesh Tripathi, LL.M, a Supreme Court Advocate of Nepal, because they provide Nepal an opportunity to become a “new model” for legitimate democratic transformation. The behavior of monarchists and Maoists and the involvement of the international community will largely determine the success of Nepal’s push for a democratically elected constituent assembly and its drafting of a new constitution, Tripathi said Wednesday during a presentation entitled “Risks and Challenges of Building a Democratic and Constitutional State in Nepal.”

After a “spontaneous and unprecedented” uprising in Nepal in April 2006, King Gyanendra was reduced to the status of a figurehead, providing the people of Nepal an historic opportunity to “get rid of the monarchy and establish a true, genuine, and people-centered democratic order.”

Yet elections for the constituent assembly, which were supposed to occur in June, have already been pushed back to November 22. There is “cultural mistrust” abound—“nobody is confident” the elections will actually occur, according to Tripathi. If the elections don’t take place in November, he says it will be “disastrous” for Nepal and its future as a democratic state.

Nepal’s transformation is dependent on a credible peace process, Tripathi said. Although Maoists declared a cease fire in June of 2006, they continue to use intimidation, violence and extortion. The upcoming elections offer Maoists an opportunity to transform themselves into a responsible political party.

If the elections do indeed occur in November, the new constituent assembly will have two years to create and adopt a new constitution. According to Tripathi, the constitution should ensure: a republican state, a democratically accountable military, inclusiveness, human rights, an effective judiciary and a federalist structure.

Considering Nepal’s history, Tripathi said, a king and a democratic assembly can not coexist. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1990s, such an experiment failed, he said, and the king used his traditional authority to dismantle the constitution. Instead, according to Tripathi, Nepal’s new constitution should call for a democratically elected head of state.

The constitution should also guarantee that the military is accountable to the democratically elected assembly rather than a king. “The military has to be restructured so that it is more professional and politically neutral, and so that it doesn’t dismantle the democratic process,” Tripathi said.

Tripathi also called for a more “inclusive, broad-based” participation in the democratic process. “Exclusion is the biggest issue in Nepal,” he said, and both the process of developing a new constitution and the constitution itself should seek to empower indigenous, marginalized groups.

Broadly defined human rights, ranging from prototypical civil and political rights to economic, social and cultural human rights and protection of the environment should all be included in the new constitution, according to Tripathi. “Human rights should be a kind of lighthouse, or central theme of the new constitution,” he said.

He also said that the new constitution should define the judiciary as the guardian or protector of the supremacy of the constitution, so that it cannot be as easily dismantled as Nepalese constitutions have been in recent history.

Lastly, Tripathi said that he believes the constitution should create a federal state. Many would not think of Nepal as requiring a federalist structure because it’s relatively small, but federalism is a matter of diversity, not size, he said. “Nepal is very diversified, and needs federalism to create local autonomy and ensure better access to resources,” he said.

Tripathi suggested that there is credence to concerns about monarchists and Maoists during this democratic transformation. “There is cause for serious doubt that the king and the military will accept a legitimate democratic transformation,” he said. “And there is some evidence that the military did not fight wholeheartedly against the Maoist insurgency,” bringing into question the Maoists’ commitment to participating as a democratically elected political party.

These concerns exemplify why Tripathi believes international support and pressure, especially in the form of media and civil society presence, are crucial to Nepal’s current democratic transformation.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Foreign Affairs Committee divided on what to do about Iraq

“The recent U.S. troop escalation in Iraq simply is not working.” This remark was part of the opening statement made by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and California Congressman Tom Lantos. However neither this, nor any other definitive position were agreed upon during the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing today.

The meeting began with testimony from Anthony H. Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, retired Major General John Batiste, and Frederick W. Kagan from the American Enterprise Institute. While all the witnesses shared some similar viewpoints, their overall opinion differed greatly and sparked hours of questions and debate amongst the committee members. Professor Cordesman opened by prefacing his speech with a reminder that, no matter what decisions are reached by the U.S. Congress, the state of Iraq will not be what America desires for at least another 10 to 15 years. He also noted that it has been extremely difficult to see the fruits of a new democracy in Iraq, because the U.S. was not able to provide the country with adequate tools or time. Also, he cautioned against engendering dependency in the new Iraq. On that note, he added that a new Iraq would be built on an Iraq timeline, not a timeline set by any outside force.

Batiste opened his speech by declaring that the U.S. military was at a breaking point already and more violence in Iraq was inevitable, regardless or whether or not the U.S. had a military presence there. He called for a strong plan for withdrawal, one superior to that of the administrations plan of attack. With regards to the military “surge,” a topic that was at the forefront of the day’s debate, Batiste remarked that the current surge is too little, too late.

The last of the opening remarks came from Dr. Kagan who cautioned all parties involved that it is much too soon to be making statements about whether or not the latest surge in Iraq has been successful. He also argued that the plan is to secure Baghdad, not all of Iraq, and that expectations should not be set too high for this latest plan. He commented that any decision made in response to the surge must be just that: a response to the surge, and not a response to information that was provided earlier. Finally, he stated that political progress in Iraq could only be made following military progress and enhanced security and that there should be no expectation for a downturn of either.

Upon the completion of opening statements, a great debate began. The witnesses answered questions regarding the projected outcome of the surge, al-Qaeda’s connection to Iraq, effectively training Iraq’s troops, democracy in Iraq, war in a historical context and how it relates to Iraq, as well as countless others. Each answer sparked more questions and more debates. Through the entire session, one thing remained certain: no one knows what is going to happen in Iraq. The one thing all members agreed on was that despite all planning and projecting, there is no certainty about any one course of action. That did not, however, stop the members from debating all conceivable courses of action.

The complexity of the situation in Iraq and the four-hour debate left more questions unanswered than resolved. Each recommended course of action had a rational base with various supporters, but none left any clear solution as to how the U.S. should go about the situation. Some lawmakers felt that the U.S. must wait a little longer, as they asserted that this is the last chance for the Iraqi people, while others said that forces must pull out as this was the last chance for the U.S. military and the American people. Either way, as the stalemate continues, with no obvious course of action, all will be forced to wait with the same question on everyone’s mind: what will become of Iraq?


Releasing detainees best option for Iranian government

Since early May, three Iranian-Americans have been held in solitary confinement at Tehran’s Evin prison: Haleh Esfandiari, the director of the Middle East program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington; Kian Tajbakhsh, a social scientist and urban planner with the Open Society Institute in New York City; and Ali Shakeri, a founder of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, Irvine.

Iran’s judiciary says it expects to announce a decision regarding the fate of these detainees this week or next. According to Shaul Bakhash, Esfandiari’s husband, the Iranian government has two choices—it can follow a typical, unproductive pattern of holding the detainees and obtaining an obviously coerced statement, or it can free the detainees and drop all charges, reminiscent of the recently arrested and released British sailors.

The “ominously familiar pattern” as Bakhash describes it begins with an arrest and outlandish charges. Next, there is damage control, in which a judiciary claims the detainees are in good health. Meanwhile, security officials “seem compelled to prove the arrests enabled them to uncover ‘networks’ and expose ‘subversives’” and angle for false confessions.

According to Bakhash, however, Iran does not have to repeat this “sorry charade”—it could follow the “admittedly untypical” model it adopted in March when 15 British sailors and marines were arrested and released within two weeks.

For the full article, click here .

U.S. denies allegations of increased civilian causalities

Despite recent criticisms concerning increased Afghan civilian deaths, U.S. and coalition forces see no need to modify their strategy, The Associated Press reported yesterday. “We think the procedures that we have in place are good,” Brig. Gen. Joseph advocated. “They work, they help us minimize the effects” on civilians, he said.

The U.S. view of staying the course comes amid widespread calls by the Afghan government and international organizations for a change in tactics. An Associated Press report gives the number of civilians killed this year by U.S. and NATO forces as 203, while militants have been responsible for 178 deaths.

The U.S. military continues to brush aside allegations that they are causing more civilian deaths than insurgent forces. President Hamid Karzai continues to call for greater caution by foreign troops in addition to more collaboration with local military forces as a means of reducing civilian casualties.

For the full article, click here.


“Deserting” Islam as a religious identity illegal in Egypt

In a final appeal heard by the Supreme Administrative Court ruling last week, 45 Coptic Christians were denied their attempt to reclaim their Christian identities after officially converting to Islam. Of the 45 plaintiffs, half were adults when they changed the required religious section on their national identity cards from Christian to Muslim, and the remainder were children whose Coptic parents had become Muslims.

“This [refusal] says that the government is forcing people to embrace beliefs against their free will,” Coptic lawyer Naguib Gabriel said. “It is forcing them according to their official papers to belong to a religion they don’t believe in.”

In the initial court ruling on April 24, a lower court declared there was a “huge difference” between giving freedom of belief and “manipulating” this freedom by changing from one religion to another. “Muslims have not forced anyone to believe in Islam, so they are not allowing anyone to desert Islam and leave it,” the court was quoted as saying.

Egyptian Christians, who might feel pressured to convert to Islam to receive employment incentives, marriage options and custody of their children in divorce cases, can easily change their religious status to Muslim by producing a formal certificate of conversion from Al-Azhar [Egypt’s official Islamic establishment]. Coming back to Christianity, however, requires a certificate from the Coptic Patriarchate and a court verdict—a process that takes at least two years, according to Gabriel.

Egypt’s Muslims are not permitted to leave their religion for any other faith. In a memo to the lower court on May 1, Interior Minister Habib el-Adly insisted that Islam, as the state religion of Egypt, demands that any Muslim man who abandons his faith should be killed, and a Muslim woman “apostate” should be imprisoned and beaten every three days until she returns to Islam.

Pending an expert legal opinion requested from a state commissar, the court said it would announce its final verdict July 1. The verdict will not only directly affect citizens from a Christian background, but also Egypt’s Baha’i community and a growing number of Muslim converts to Christianity.

For the full article, click here .

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New World Bank president approved

The World Bank board on Monday unanimously approved Robert Zoellick to serve as president, The Associated Press reported today. Zoellick will follow Paul Wolfowitz, who was forced to resign due to a conflict of interest concerning a promotion given to Shaha Riza, his girlfriend and a bank employee.

As World Bank president, Zoellick will serve a five-year term in an institution that is struggling to regain the trust of the international community. Zoellick has served under three Republican presidents and, most recently, was as an executive at Goldman Sachs.

“Zoellick must begin a series of reforms in his first 100 days to create a new deal between the bank and the world's poor. We can't continue with business as usual,” said Jeremy Hobbs, the executive director of Oxfam.

The World Bank was created in 1945 and disperses over $20 billion each year to aid in international development and poverty alleviation.

For the full article, click here.


Recent clashes heighten tensions between Copts and Muslims in Egypt

According to Religious Intelligence, although the Coptic community has lived relatively peacefully alongside the majority Muslim population for many years, recent clashes warn of the possibility of a heightened conflict in northern Egypt.

Most recently in Seft Meydoum, an incident arose after a Muslim girl was struck by a Christian man, causing a bicycle accident. In Alexandria, a clash between a Coptic youth and a Muslim leader’s son resulted in 13 arrests.

In the Christian quarter of Zwyet Abdel-Qader in early June, fighting broke out between a pedestrian and a driver. After a clash between a Muslim and a Christian construction worker in Dekheila, the church there was attacked.

Some say that the latest violence is no more than thuggery, but tensions between the Muslim and Christian community could lead to a more serious situation.

For the full article, click here .

Opium production still a major problem in southern Afghanistan

According to a statement released Monday by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan has increased its in-country production of opium, UN News Service reported the same day. The southern province of Helmand, a region that is also plagued by instability, is responsible for 42 percent of the world’s opium,

“There are close links between criminal networks that deal in drugs and the insurgents,” Christina Gynna Oguz, the UNODC representative in Afghanistan said. “Together they provide both the money and the environment for instability in this country.”

While Afghanistan’s opium has generally been exported for production into heroin and morphine, processing within Afghan borders is on the rise, creating a growing national epidemic. At least 50,000 Afghans are addicted to heroin, and this number is steadily increasing due to the return of refugees who have used the drug abroad. Many Afghans in rural areas, unable to secure sufficient medicine from a struggling health-care system, also use opium as a pain reliever.

Oguz noted that the drug issue “represents a window of opportunity for the Government in particular, but also the international community, to do something about the drug problem. It is possible to have success in areas where security is better and where there is good governance.”

For the full article, click here.


Agent Orange cleanup a lingering issue for U.S. and Viet Nam

Although Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet’s visit to Washington last week was primarily based on facilitating a bolstered economic partnership with the U.S., the unresolved issue of Agent Orange was also a topic of discourse, Voice of America reported today.

According to a recent scientific study, the area around a former U.S. base in Viet Nam contains toxic levels of dioxin, the poisonous chemical found in Agent Orange. With an estimated three million Vietnamese citizens suffering from dioxin poisoning, Hanoi continues to advance the prospect of a U.S.-funded cleanup initiative.

While the U.S. had previously disregarded calls to provide help on the dioxin issue, recent appropriations have allowed for enhanced cleanup and treatment programs. Although $3 million has been allocated for such initiatives, the total cost of cleanup is thought to be in excess of $200 million.

For the full article, click here.

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Fifth grade girl dies in circumcision surgery

Budour Ahmed Shaker, a young girl from Minya, a province south of Cairo, died during a circumcision surgery at a private clinic recently. A medical lab confirmed that she died as a result of being given too much anesthetic. The accused doctor operated on Shaker even though she died immediately after the anesthetic was given.

After the surgery Shaker was carried to a local hospital, where she was confirmed dead on arrival.

According to All Headline News, female circumcision is a regularly practiced social custom, especially in southern Egypt, despite efforts from rights organizations to spread awareness and explain the hazards of the operation.

The Egyptian National Council for Mothers and Children called on the Egyptian health minister to ban doctors from performing female circumcisions; in response, current Mufti Dr. Ali Gum’a said that the former mufti of Egypt had already banned female circumcision.

For the full articles, click here and here .

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hundreds of Kurds forced to flee as Turkish forces approach

As 20,000-30,000 Turkish troops amass at the Turkish-Iraqi border, many Kurds have been forced to flee their homes, according to IRIN . Already, there have been some civilian casualties and calls from Kurds residing in the area of food and water shortages.

Attacks launched by the Turks have been apparently aimed at cutting down Kurdish rebel forces, according to Iraqi border police. Kurdish fighters are reportedly moving into abandoned homes to prepare for a possible invasion. The Turkish offensive is associated with the internal threat it faces from its own Kurdish minority – a group that is said to be receiving assistance from Iraqi Kurds. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan commented in a press conference last week that his “country should focus on the large number of militants operating in Turkey before seeking them out in Iraq, but that the problem should be tackled from both sides.”

In the midst of the conflict, local aid groups are requesting that supplies and assistance be allowed through the security zone for the civilians caught in the turbulent area. Additionally, both the U.S. and Iraqi governments condemn the notion of the northern Kurdish region of Iraq is being used to launch an offensive against Turkey in hopes of gaining control of the nation’s Kurdish populated areas in the southeast.

For the full article, click here.

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Iraqi refugee assistance may come from oil revenue

With the latest estimates of internally displaced persons in Iraq set at over 2 million, and the figure for refugees standing at over 2.2 million, Iraq has decided to consider passing legislation what would use some of the nation’s oil revenue to help meet the needs of the displaced. The proposal would allocate three percent of Iraq’s oil export revenue to help those that need it the most, IRIN reported last week.

The head of the parliamentary committee for displacement and immigrants, Abdul-Khaliq Zankana, said that the refugees and internally displaced persons are “living in harsh conditions as their situation is deteriorating.” He also stressed that although the committee realizes this legislation will not solve the problems, they hope that it will help to ease the burden on the displaced.

Other options for assistance considered by the committee include food rationing and social protection services. Calls for legislation came as a result of visits and interviews with Iraqi refugees.

For the full article, click here

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EU calls on Egypt to investigate election irregularities

On June 11 and 18, half of the 176 seats in the Shura Council, the upper house of the Egyptian Parliament, were up for election. According to Haaretz, one man was shot dead and four injured in clashes between supporters and rival candidates on June 11. For the full report on Haaretz.com , click here.

Eighty four of the 88 seats available were won by the National Democratic Party.

The Presidency of the European Union reported that it “takes note of the low turnout at these elections” and “regrets that there were reportedly widespread irregularities and acts of violence.” The Presidency also said that it “encourages the Egyptian authorities to investigate these occurrences thoroughly and to ensure that future elections are fair and democratic.”

For the full story, click here.

Egyptian engineer convicted for spying for Israel

According to Middle East Online, an Egyptian engineer was sentenced by Egypt's state security court to 25 years in jail for divulging nuclear secrets to Israel, though he insisted that he kept the Egyptian embassy in Saudi Arabia, where he lived, abreast of his activities.

Mohammed Sayyed Saber, 35, who pleaded not guilty, also said that he “was not a spy” and the information he gave “was not secret, it was all published on the Internet.”

Prosecutors said that Saber helped Israeli intelligence hack into the Egyptian atomic agency’s computer system and provided Israeli agents with classified documents about the Inshas nuclear research center north of Cairo.

Saber’s ruling comes just two months after the same court sentenced an Egyptian with Canadian citizenship to 15 years in jail for providing sensitive information to the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency.

For the full story, click here.

Protesters demand an end to oppression in Viet Nam

Protests have followed the trail of Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet during his hisc U.S. visit and meeting with President Bush, the Union-Tribune reported Sunday.

Around 2,000 protesters stood outside Triet’s hotel in California on Saturday to show their support for the victims of human rights violations during Viet Nam’s ongoing democracy crackdown. “In Vietnam, anybody who is against him ends up in jail,” said Loc Nguyen, a political refugee at the protest.

The protest came the day after Triet’s meeting at the White House on Friday. While the topics included increased trade relations with Viet Nam, Bush seemed to allude to the crackdown when he stressed the importance of democracy and free expression in his public remarks.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Triet said that Viet Nam does not need improvements in human rights protection. “It's not a question of improving or not. Vietnam has its own legal framework, and those who violate the law will be handled,” he said.

For the full article, click here.

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Allegations surface with detainee abuse report in Afghanistan

An investigation is currently underway to determine the extent of Afghan detainee abuses, Reuters reported today. Allegations concerning the incarceration and torture of a man in Ghazni, a town southwest of Kabul, by U.S. and Afghan soldiers come on the heels of reports of increased civilian deaths by U.S. and NATO forces.

Wolfgang Bauer, a journalist for Germany’s Focus magazine, and his photographer witnessed the torture of the detainee. According to Bauer, the suspect refused to talk and was subsequently tied to a car and told that he would be pulled around until he told the truth. After two minutes behind the running car, the man was released without any further discussion.

The U.S. military is currently investigating the incident. “This alleged behavior goes against everything the U.S. military stands for and believes in,” said Army Colonel Martin P. Schweitzer, a commander for foreign troops in the region. The Afghan army has launched a similar investigation into the allegations.

Some former detainees have also alleged mistreatment and torture while in custody, and there have been numerous unexplained deaths.

For the full article, click here.


Iranian reformers speak out against crackdown

As tensions increase in reformist circles, the Iranian government continues its policy against dissent and peaceful protest, The Associated Press reported Saturday.

During a December visit to Amir Kabir University by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reformers protested the conservative policies currently in place in Iran. While the president cited the protests as proof of Iranians’ ability to protest “with an absolute, total freedom,” the reality is that Ahmadinejad is authorizing a harsh crackdown to preserve the power of his regime.

Since May, eight Amir Kabir reform-minded students have been arrested as part of Iran’s ongoing efforts to jail dissidents and those who partake in so-called un-Islamic acts. Since 2005, Ahmadinejad has cut away at the reforms implemented by his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.

“The new government has increased pressures on the nation - students, laborers, intellectuals,” said Ebrahim Yazdi, a former Iranian foreign minister and the current leader of the Freedom Movement of Iran. “When laborers stage protests rallies, the government, instead of talking to them, takes them to jail. Women are jailed just for collecting signatures in support of women's rights.”

This spring witnessed the harshest enforcement of the Islamic dress code, as well as the banning of various traditions such as the smoking of water-pipes in teashops. The government seems to be intensifying its crackdown with the recent imprisonment of four Iranian-Americans for allegedly seeking to destabilize the current regime.

One result of this crackdown is the diminished number of books published in Iran each year. The number has dropped by half in the past five years. Moreover, bans on meetings and a rise in government-sanctioned executions all seem to paint a picture of an Iranian regime intent on tightening its grip on society as a way of maintaining power.

For the full article, click here.

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