Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Journalists in danger in Eritrea and Ethiopia

Every September's end since 2001, media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists has religiously put out a statement highlighting the case of jailed Eritrean/Swedish journalist Dawit Isaac, one of the region's longest serving prisoners of conscience.

And every time the consistent response by Eritrea nation has remained the same: Studious silence.

On September 23, Dawit marked ten years of incarceration since his arrest in 2001 when the Eritrean government shut down the independent press and rounded up journalists and reformists deemed critical of the regime.

CPJ believes up to 16 journalists from those crackdowns are still held in secret prisons around the reclusive country.

Any scant information about their fate has been gleaned from sources such as escaping guards who paint a grim picture of the hellish conditions that exist in these prisons.

Many of the held journalists are since believed to have died in incarceration.

Dawit, who holds dual Eritrean and Swedish citizenship has remained the "poster prisoner" of that crackdown. It seems like even Stockholm, known for upholding human rights, has given up on him.

But there may be hope for him, albeit slim. Last week, a strongly-worded European Parliament resolution called for Eritrea to "... Immediately release independent journalists and all others who have been jailed simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression."

The European Union is the largest aid donor to Eritrea, suggesting that its statement could coax a reaction out of the authorities.

In addition, after years of shouldering a pariah-state tag, the country's President, Isaias Aferwerki, has also been on an international charm offensive.

"President Aferwerki has been trying to dig the country out of international isolation and may just be willing to listen," says CPJ's East Africa Correspondent, Tom Rhodes.

Recently however, a minister in the Eritrean government while on a trip to Sweden said it was time to "move on" from the Dawit saga, casting doubt as to whether Asmara can succumb to the international pressure over the jailed journalists.

"It is a morbid picture but we at CPJ we are not going to give up on pushing for their rights," says Mr Rhodes.

This unwanted anniversary of sorts has highlighted the dangerous reporting environment in the Horn of Africa, region already struggling with natural calamities.

Two weeks ago, Ethiopia arrested two independent journalists under a far-reaching controversial anti-terrorism law, bringing to six the number of journalists held under the recently enacted legislation.

The law effectively criminalises reporting opposition groups including the Oromo Liberation Front and Ginbot-7, with jail terms of up to 20 years provided for those who would run afoul of it.

Earlier this month Ethiopian journalist Argaw Ashine was forced to flee after a confidential US diplomatic cable leaked by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks mentioned him by name as having tipped off journalists of a now-defunct private paper of their impending arrest.

The Ethiopian government has recently been accused of clamping down on the few remaining independent media outlets using the law.

"There seems to be government fears of a similar Arab Spring, especially after reports of a planned protest earlier this year," says Mr Rhodes.

In May this year as the ruling party marked 20 years in power there was an on-line campaign dubbed Beka! (Enough!) calling for a revolution in the country following a spate of uprisings in Arab countries, but which dissipated harmlessly.

In the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, 20-year-old radio journalist Horriyo Abdulkadir Sheik Ali was shot four times on September 14. She is still recovering from the attack.

So what seems to have suddenly changed in the region?

Observers say that while reporting in the Horn of Africa has always been dangerous, the twin issues of WikiLeaks and, interestingly, the "[Rupert] Murdoch Effect" have had a hand.

"These two events have pushed governments to heighten their sensitivity to the press. Journalists are now either targeted or have become more wary," Mr Amadou Mahtar Ba, the chief executive officer of the African Media Initiative (AMI), a programme that looks out for the region's media interests, told the Africa Review, The Africa and Digital Division of the Nation Media Group.

The hacking case facing the empire of media mogul Rupert Murdoch has been seized upon as evidence of the lack of journalistic ethics, he says.

"Politicians and governments have taken to labelling journalists as corrupt, untrained depicting them as the enemy."

Mr Ba however does not think the Arab Spring played a role given the media in those countries were already mostly under government control.

"Local media did not play a big role; it was more of citizen power, with new communication tools. For example, in Mali and Mauritania there wasn't the same agitation, despite the media reporting widely on events up North.

"This begs the question: Are traditional media forms still relevant?"

Mr Salim Amin, the chair of independent pan-African outlet A24 Media, thinks they are.

"Journalists are going to continue to play a more important role even in the face of social media. The importance of cross checking facts and providing context remains key," says Mr Amin.

The son of renowned photojournalist Mohamed Amin, he also thinks the change protests in the Arab world may be playing a role in making governments in the Horn more paranoid.

"I think there is definitely a fall-out from what happened in North Africa. Social media is what is worrying these governments. More platforms have allowed independent media to flourish and are now more influential," he said.

"My big worry is that independent media will be pushed out as they do not have the tools to operate in this new environment."

Both Mr Ba and Mr Amin are agreed that there has been a slide in the ease of reporting in the region.

"What has changed is the fact that we are getting to hear these stories more due to improved communication and the activities of bodies such as watchdogs," said Mr Amin.

The African Media Initiative will have the issue on its agenda when it meets this November through its annual Media Leaders Forum, set for Tunis this November.

"We are clearly concerned about the situation. We have seen many countries sliding back, and this is a big shame. In Tunis in our final declaration we will seek to have a strong call for action," said Mr Ba.

But the AMI boss added that improving journalists' safety will have to come from the industry itself, including the upholding of high standards and ethics so as to remove loopholes governments could exploit.

The organisation is working on a charter for the industry to be presented in Tunis for the media leader's approval.

Source http://www.afrika.no/Detailed/20844.html

Friday, July 22, 2011

Clinton Chides Turkey on Human Rights

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, chiding a NATO ally whose support is critical to American goals in the Mideast, said Saturday that Turkey must act on concerns about backsliding on human rights and its secular traditions

Speaking politely but firmly about the moderate Muslim nation, Clinton said the recent arrests of dozens of journalists and curbs placed on religious freedom were "inconsistent" with Turkey's economic and political progress.

She said Turkey should recommit itself to the course of modernization and embrace the democratic institutions of statehood. By doing so, Turkey could serve as a model for Arab nations now in the midst of revolt or transition, America's top diplomat said.

"Across the region, people in the Middle East and North Africa are seeking to draw lessons from Turkey's experience," she told reporters at a news conference with Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. "Turkey's history serves as a reminder that democratic development also depends on responsible leadership."

She called on the Turkish people to use their constitutional reform process to "address concerns ... about recent restrictions on freedom of expression and religion" and boost protection for the rights of minorities.

Those concerns have stalled Turkey's bid to join the European Union and further cement ties with the West. Mrs. Clinton noted that the U.S. long has backed Turkey's EU membership.

At a town hall event earlier where she took questions from young Turks, Mrs. Clinton criticized the arrests of journalists. She said the detentions have fed fears about threats to press freedom in the majority Muslim nation.

"I do not think it is necessary or in Turkey's interests to be cracking down. It seems to me inconsistent with all the other advances Turkey has made," she said.

Turkey's institutions should be able to withstand the scrutiny and debate that a free press brings, Mrs. Clinton said.

Turkish media groups say more than 60 journalists are in jail. The groups accuse authorities of using flimsy evidence to bring the charges.

Government officials said in April there were 26 journalists jail in Turkey for activities unrelated to journalism. Officials have cited the role of some media sectors over the decades in fanning support for coups led by the Turkish military, a staunch supporter of the secular system.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Turkey is a member, says 57 journalists are in jail in Turkey, mostly on anti-terror charges. That includes people with alleged ties to Kurdish rebels and extremists.

Mrs. Clinton's comments were likely to encourage more liberal Turks but irritate Turkey's leaders, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A small group protested Clinton's visit outside the U.S. Embassy. In Istanbul, one man holding a Turkish flag staged a protest as Clinton met Orthodox Patriarchate Bartholomew, accusing Washington of "killing millions of Muslims."

Mr. Erdogan, long seen as a vital bridge between East and West, has worried some by taking steps at odds with U.S. and Western policies.

He insists that his ruling party, which has Islamist roots, is committed to secularism. But since President Barack Obama took office, Mr. Erdogan has clashed with Israel and opposed U.N. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

During George W. Bush's administration, Turkey opposed the war in Iraq and refused to allow troops to enter Iraq from its territory, creating additional divisions over the conflict within NATO.

At the coffee house, Clinton also urged Turks to continue to embrace inclusive traditions and serve as the East-West bridge, without choosing one or the other.

"I don't think there is any reason for Turkey to shift from West to East," she said. "As an outsider, I have always thought the debate is a debate without real meaning to it because why would you give up one for another? You can look both ways and to me that is an incredible advantage."

Source http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304521304576449703956615170.html

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Suu Kyi says Arab revolts give hope to Myanmar

The recent uprisings in the Middle East have given fresh hope to people in military-dominated Myanmar, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in a BBC lecture.

"The universal human aspiration to be free has been brought home to us by the stirring developments in the Middle East," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said in the lecture broadcast Tuesday.

"The Burmese are as excited by these events as peoples elsewhere," she said, according to an official transcript.

"Do we envy the people of Tunisia and Egypt? Yes, we do envy them their quick and peaceful transitions. But more than envy is a sense of solidarity and of renewed commitment to our cause, which is the cause of all women and men who value human dignity and freedom," Suu Kyi added.

The address was pre-recorded in Myanmar and formed part of the 2011 Reith Lectures, a major annual event in the BBC calendar which honours the first head of the broadcaster, John Reith.

A second lecture by Suu Kyi, who was married to British academic Michael Aris, who died in 1999, and studied at Britain's prestigious Oxford University, will be broadcast on Tuesday next week.

Pro-democracy protests in 1988 and 2007 were brutally crushed by the military rulers of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Suu Kyi was freed in November after seven straight years of house arrest, less than a week after an election that critics said was a charade aimed at preserving military rule behind a civilian facade in Myanmar.

In her lecture, Suu Kyi drew extensive parallels between the Arab Spring and uprisings in Myanmar, saying the revolution that toppled Tunisian president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January was particularly similar to Myanmar in 1988.

"In Tunis and in Burma, the deaths of two young men were the mirrors that made the people see how unbearable were the burdens of injustice and oppression they had to endure," he said.

She also cited the role of rappers in the Tunisian revolt, saying that young rap artists were playing a similar role in Myanmar, with some of them jailed after the monk-led "Saffron Revolution" in 2007.

But Suu Kyi said there was an important difference in that a "communications revolution" had helped the Arab uprisings, while in Myanmar it had been more difficult to get information out.

"Not just every single death, but even every single wounded can be made known to the world within minutes. In Libya, in Syria, and in Yemen now, the revolutionaries keep the world informed of the atrocities of those in power," she said.

Suu Kyi has previously said she wants to launch her first political tour of the country since her release, although a schedule has not yet been announced.

Security is a top concern for the party as Suu Kyi's convoy was attacked in 2003 in an ambush apparently organised by a regime frightened by her popularity.

The opposition leader, who turned 66 this month, has won international acclaim for her peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.

In 1990 she led her National League for Democracy party to a landslide election win that was never recognised by Myanmar's military rulers. She boycotted last year's vote, saying the rules were unfair.

Source http://www.france24.com/en/20110628-suu-kyi-says-arab-revolts-give-hope-myanmar

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Challenge to Tunisia's secularism

Every Friday, Abderraouf heads to a mosque near Al Manar University, where he and other traders sell Islamic books, alcohol-free perfume and face veils displayed on mannequins.

Under the regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali they risked arrest. But since Mr Ben Ali was forced from office in January, Abderraouf, a recent university graduate, and other conservative Muslims have begun openly selling their wares to help Tunisians - as he puts it - "to know and follow Islam better".

In claiming their rights, Abderraouf and other more traditional Muslims are challenging Tunisia's secular values as the country struggles to reinvent itself in the post-Ben Ali era.

A council set up by Tunisia's interim government to oversee political reform finalised a new electoral law last week that reserves 50 per cent of places in electoral lists for women - a key goal of women's rights groups seeking to safeguard secular values.

"Islam is our religion, and it's not anything I want to hide or criticise," said Khedija Arfaoui, a member of Femmes Démocrates and the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development, two progressive women's organisations. "But I don't want anyone to impose the veil."

These contrasting views of religious practice reflect longstanding attitudes in Tunisia, said Sami Brahem, a specialist in Islamic movements at the Institut Préparatoire d'Études Littéraires et Sciences Humaines in Tunis.

During his three-decade rule, the president, Habib Bourguiba, a secularist, closed religious schools, outlawed polygamy and banned the Islamic headscarf in public places.

In 1987 an ailing Bourguiba was replaced by Mr Ben Ali, who jailed thousands of conservative Muslims after members of the moderately Islamist Nahda movement fared well in elections in 1989.

Within a decade, Salafism, an austere expression of Islam, was filtering into Tunisia from the Middle East via television stations and the internet, Mr Brahem said.

Calling for Islamic government and the strict segregation of the sexes, Salafis seek to emulate the salaf as-saalah, or "pious predecessors" - the first three generations of Muslims.

For some of Tunisia's estimated several thousand Salafis, doctrinal rigour is an antidote to what they describe as the spiritual ambiguity of modern life.

"Until I was 25 I had never read the Quran, never set foot in a mosque," said Abu Abderrahman, 34, a builder in Tunis who helps to run the mosque near Al Manar University. "Something was missing. I needed food and drink for my soul."

One day in 2002, Mr Abderrahman overcame his ambivalence and visited a mosque. Around him were men hunched in prayer. At first, he felt out of place.

"But whoever seeks and reads the Quran, the word of God plants a seed in his heart," he said. "Islam cannot be applied 70 or 80 per cent. It must be 100 per cent."

Since Mr Ben Ali's departure, conservative Muslims have taken to the streets to demand legal changes that would make it possible to live along what they consider more Islamic lines.

In February, hundreds demonstrated in Tunis's old city to call for the closure of a brothel there, prompting police to fire shots in the air to disperse crowds.

Two weeks ago, Salafis rallied and held evening prayer in Tunis's central boulevard to protest against a Ben Ali-era law banning the wearing of headscarves for identity card photos. Tunisia's interim government said the same day that it would remove the ban.

Such public activism has rattled more secular Tunisians, who often accuse Salafis of aspiring to impose a single brand of Islam.

"It's good to have people talking about Islam in public, since Ben Ali restricted it," said Adam Mars, 21, a medical student who prays every Friday at the campus mosque. "But the Salafis want to tell everyone how to live."

Others worry that if conservative religious practices are allowed to flourish, religious doctrines supporting violence will sprout alongside them.

In February authorities speculated that "terrorist fascists with extremist tendencies" had murdered a Polish Catholic priest, and secularist protesters rallied to condemn religious extremism. Police later arrested a local handyman in connection with the murder.

Meanwhile, authorities have barred the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir from legislative elections scheduled for July. In an interview with France's Jeune Afrique magazine, the prime minister, Béji Caid Essebsi, called the group's platform anti-constitutional.

While separate from the Salafi movement, Hizb ut-Tahrir similarly supports the strict application of Islamic law. Founded in 1953 in Jerusalem, the group seeks to weld Muslim countries into a single Islamic state through peaceful means.

"Tunisians want Islam," said Nabil Manai, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir's political bureau in Tunisia. "They're fed up with the dictators and capitalism that have borne down on them for over a century."

According to Mr Manai, Hizb ut-Tahrir would impose the Islamic headscarf on women, ban non-Islamic political parties and partly collectivise the economy based on its reading of Islamic scripture.

Mr Brahem, however, said most Tunisians reject Hizb ut-Tahrir's style of political Islam, while the normal course of open public debate might actually moderate the views of Salafi activists.

"For example, Salafis are now obliged to express themselves through mixed-sex street demonstrations," he said. "Men and women have begun talking to one another."

Outside the Al Manar University mosque, the 25-year-old Abderraouf, who refused to give his surname, chatted with worshippers who passed by his stall while he struggled against the winds to keep his stock of abayas pinned to their line.

He insisted that his faith and his business were intertwined. "You can engage in trade that is either Islamically permissible or forbidden by Islam," he said. "I'm trying to sell what is permissible."

Then the adhan soared from the minaret, and he hurried towards the mosque gate.

"It's time to pray."

Source http://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/middle-east/challenge-to-tunisias-secularism

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Alan Gross imprisonment reveals Obama’s foreign policy ineptitude

Distracted as we are by the unprecedented domino-like toppling of a multitude of the Middle East’s oppressive regimes and dictatorships – and President Barack Obama’s waffling on issues arising from our George W. Bush era interventions (should we try terrorists at home or not?), we’ve left our small Communist neighbor, the Republic of Cuba, under much less scrutiny than usual.

Raul and Fidel Castro have rightfully seen this as a window of opportunity to deal a blow to the United States – much like their “Axis of Evil” mentors Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korea under Kim Jong Il – by capturing an American civilian contractor and throwing him in jail without any guarantee of imprisonment length or trial date.

Maybe this is the first time you’re hearing of this – don’t be ashamed if you are, this story has not grabbed the public’s attention quite like the American nationals that were captured in other, more loudmouthed nations. Maybe that this captive, 61-year-old contractor Alan Gross, is neither young nor related to a celebrity. Gross, captured in December 2009 – apparently a good year for capturing Americans – has been wasting away in a high-security Cuban jail ever since, with little media or international scrutiny. Only recently, miniscule pressure from the U.S. forced the Cuban government to finally try and sentence Gross – 15 months after his detention.

The verdict delivered by the Cuban court on March 12 sentenced Gross to 15 years in jail for attempting to implement a “‘subversive’ program paid for by the United States that aimed to bring down Cuba’s communist government.”

Allegedly, Gross, a contractor for a U.S. Agency for International Development backed networking firm Development Alternatives, Inc, based in Bethesda, Md., whose mission statement is “to make a lasting difference in the world by helping developing nations become more prosperous, fairer and more just, cleaner, safer, healthier, more stable, more efficient, and better governed.”

It is not hard to see why working for this firm could arouse suspicion in anti-democratic nations throughout the world, but what actual threat could the Cuban government have received from Gross’ work to warrant such a prolonged internment and a 15-year sentence – pretty much a life sentence for a man of his age and health. Gross, a Jewish-American, was working to enable a small Cuban Jewish community access to the internet in order to communicate with other communities within Cuba as well as around the world. His work included the distribution of laptops, satellite phones and other hard/software to this tiny, peaceful and aging community – hardly a subversive revolutionary force.

Having recently awakened to the call of humanitarianism, the Obama administration has recently granted Gross’ case a small portion of their attention and sent bumbling foreign affairs flunkey, Hamas-apologist and diplomatic third-stringer ex-President Jimmy Carter to meet with Raul and Fidel Castro to secure Gross’s release. After publicly embarrassing and subverting U.S. foreign relations on the Cuban media circuit – appearing on television and radio shows to blast the U.S.’s Cuban embargo and calling for the U.S. to release five Cuban spies that are being held for delivering information to our Middle Eastern enemies – Carter hobnobbed with the Castros like the old friend he is. According to an APF report, Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote, “Because he has the experience that managed the release (in 2010) of an American in North Korea, maybe he can do the same here, but the Cuban government is harder.”

Really? “Harder” than North Korea? Jimmy Carter did successfully free English teacher Aijalon Gomes, a Boston native, after Gomes had crossed over the North Korean border. Yet for what the U.S. deemed a priority – the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee that same year, the administration sent the significantly more prestigious former President Bill Clinton.

Not surprisingly, Carter left Cuba on March 30 without securing Gross’s release, stating that he wasn’t expecting that outcome.

Cuban President Raul Castro and his venerated brother Fidel have made a mockery of American foreign policy. They, along with the world’s other dictators, are seeing the Obama administration’s foreign policy as a joke – as was predicted by Republicans before and after the president’s election. The liberties taken by the nations that President Bush called the “Axis of Evil,” had not disappeared as expected by Obama’s supporters, but only increased, a trend demonstrated by the rise in the kidnappings of American nationals by non-terrorist states for diplomatic leverage. Meanwhile, our actions in Libya, highlight that finally, humanitarian considerations are now factoring in this administration’s logic, although quite arguably, the wrong kind of logic.

But Gross’s crime of providing internet access to a small and marginalized segment of Cuban society – him claiming that he had not realized the hardware he was given was paid for by USAID – invokes another, larger problem.

Many have pointed to how powerful the effects of free communication via the internet empowers the population of a repressed state by observing revolts in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and others. The story of the previous decade is of government infringement of such freedoms.

No doubt that the restrictions put on media, search engines and general internet use empower repressive regimes to control information to maintain their power. This is not surprising – leaders have always tried to restrict the freedom of information. What’s more appalling is that the post-President Bush U.S. has not challenged any of these present incursions when such power is being used by nations to avoid the fate of their fallen comrades. In a recent opinion column, Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer slammed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a statement describing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sounding more like Hugo Chavez than an American dignitary. “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

If suppression of free media, restrictions on internet use and violent crackdowns on protesters are Clinton’s idea of reform, then either the Democrats have allied with the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party or the Obama administration thinks Bashar’s actions could teach them to handle their Tea Party opponents. As Krauthammer and others point out, the current administration is displaying a very flawed moral logic.

While President Obama basks in the limelight of the false coalition he built against Qaddafi on shaky moral and constitutional grounds, Gross remains imprisoned and in poor health, wondering whether he will ever see his family again, especially his 88-year-old mother and 26-year-old daughter who are both suffering from cancer. The lack of outrage and sympathy being shown by the administration is vile and contemptible. Alan Gross, his family and supporters can only hope that the media will awake to better expose his case so that the American public can once again strong-arm Obama into action as it did in the previous election.

Source http://dailycollegian.com/2011/04/05/alan-gross-imprisonment-reveals-obama%E2%80%99s-foreign-policy-ineptitude/

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tunisia Won't Use Islamist-Led Turkey as a Model, Rebel Leader Says

Holding up Turkey as a model would not be the right approach for Tunisia, which seeks a democracy of its own, a key opposition leader who is seen as a future president of that country, said Monday.

"The Islamic party in Tunisia looks at the ruling Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a model, but Tunisia doesn't want to follow a model, we want to construct our own democracy," Ahmed Nejib Chebbi told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview after speaking at a roundtable discussion organized by Turkish Policy Quarterly magazine.

"Tunisian society is very sympathic towards Turkey, not just historically, but also because of its economic success and because of the new role that Turkey is playing in the international scene," Chebbi said, as his country paves the way to a new constitutional assembly in June.

The whole world follows Turkey's political agenda "because people want to see the reconciliation between political Islam and democracy," said the opposition movement leader, who is in Turkey to attend the Leaders of Change Summit being held in Istanbul on Monday and Tuesday. "Turkey's accession process to the European Union is very important for the other states in the region to see," Chebbi added.

"The process of integrating with the EU greatly helped Turkey in reforming its state institutions, however some European countries say Turkey is not European and they don't want to be neighbors with Syria and Iran," he said. "This is the wrong attitude and I would like to see Turkey as a part of Europe. This would bring Turkey, and the whole region, stability and peace."

Source http://www.hudson-ny.org/1970/tunisia-wont-use-islamist-led-turkey

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Expert: Van der Sloot Free in 5 Years? 'So What?'

Joran van der Sloot's new legal strategy has people around the globe angry over the possibility that the Dutch native could be freed in less than five years in the death of a Peruvian woman. But what is being viewed as an insult to justice won't necessarily ensure his early release, an international defense expert says.

"We want Peru to accept a plea," said Michael Griffith, senior partner at the International Legal Defense Counsel. "So what if he gets a lesser sentence? That would be the best thing for everyone involved."

Griffith said that van der Sloot's willingness to make a plea might get him out of a Peruvian prison sooner than expected -- prosecutors says there is sufficient evidence to keep him jailed until 2040 -- but that there is one thing the Dutchman is not considering, and that's Natalee Holloway.

Van der Sloot is a longtime suspect in the disappearance of the Alabama teen, who was on spring break in Aruba. He is accused in the 2010 slaying of Stephany Flores. Investigators believe the Peruvian business student was killed May 30 -- exactly five years after Holloway disappeared.

On Monday, van der Sloot's attorney, Maximo Altez, said his client is willing to plead guilty to killing Flores, but will plead "violent emotion." If van der Sloot's plea is accepted, he would face three to five years in prison.

"Once he is released, he is going to be extradited on the outstanding warrant in Alabama for his alleged extortion in the Natalee Holloway case," said Griffith, whose most renowned case, involving an American incarcerated in a Turkish prison, was the basis for the film and book "Midnight Express."

Holloway's body has never been found, and van der Sloot has not been charged in her disappearance. He was, however, indicted in the U.S. on charges that he extorted $25,000 from the young woman's parents. Prosecutors said that in exchange for the money, he promised to reveal how Holloway died and the location of her body.

Van der Sloot would probably face a five- to 10-year sentence for the alleged extortion, but it is Holloway's alleged murder that could keep him behind bars for life, Griffith said.

"The key to that is that the U.S. has jurisdiction over anybody, anywhere in the world, who kills or injures a U.S. citizen," Griffith said. "It kind of originated with the Leon Klinghoffer case."

In 1985, Klinghoffer, 69, and his wife were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary on the cruise ship Achille Lauro. Palestinian terrorists hijacked the liner, and Klinghoffer was murdered and thrown overboard. The hijackers were later given safe passage on a flight to Tunisia, but the U.S. Air Force intercepted the plane and forced it to land in Italy, where the suspects were taken into custody.

That principle, which has been used in limited cases, is being used more often today and could be applied to the Holloway case. Van der Sloot's alleged statements, along with his previous confessions in the case, are enough for U.S. authorities to make a circumstantial murder case against him, Griffith said.

However, Griffith does not believe the U.S. will be given the opportunity to extradite van der Sloot anytime soon.

"This is such a big case in Peru that I don't see them accepting a violent emotion insanity defense," he said. "It would get the populace in an uproar. Besides, how can they say he really lost it and couldn't control himself? Was he temporarily insane for only five minutes during which he allegedly attacked her?

"What he did afterward is pretty telling," Griffith added. "He is seen on video getting coffee, and he staged this whole scenario where he accidentally locked himself out. But more importantly, he goes down stairs and tells the desk clerk that his girlfriend is sleeping in his room and not to disturb her. Afterward he heads to Chile. Is this temporary insanity? No, this is a carefully thought out plan. That is what a prosecutor will argue."

Source http://www.aolnews.com/2011/03/08/joran-expert-van-der-sloot-free-in-5-years-so-what/

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

PROGAY begs Bahrain, free jailed gays, respect street protests

Gay activists in the Philippines have appealed Tuesday for the release of more than 120 Arab homosexuals arrested by police a week before massive protests swamped the oil-producing kingdom of Bahrain.

Goya Candelario, spokesperson of the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines or PROGAY, called on the government of Bahrain to immediately free the 127 gays as their security in detention is compromised due to the political instability in the kingdom’s capital.

He said Bahraini police raided on February 2 a private reception for an alleged same-sex wedding, netting more than a hundred men, mostly visiting from Syria and Lebanon. The party venue was a sports hall in Hidd, a village on Muharraq Island.

Police argued that the party was decadent and depraved because of the presence of male guests who wore makeup and women’s attire, and were also consuming alcohol, behaviors that are sanctioned as immoral and illegal in most Gulf countries. Later, the police conducted checks to ascertain if the men engaged in sexual relations.

PROGAY expressed concern that the police in the Middle East routinely practice increased cruelty when dealing with gay men in their custody, while citing reports from returning gay overseas Filipino guest workers.

Candelario said some Filipino workers who entertain in private parties for fun or income are also being arrested in surprise raids and spend between six months to one year in prisons, where they suffer further sexual abuse, deprivation and shame.

However, victims do not file complaints and even reapply and reenter Gulf countries for work, preferring curbs on homosexual lifestyles to the grinding poverty and unemployment in the Philippines.

Last year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia issued a blanket ban on the recruitment of known homosexuals from the Philippines, raising protests from gay activists and prospective migrant workers.

On the other hand, PROGAY also saw hope of increased freedoms for gays and lesbians in the simultaneous uprisings of the Arab peoples against tyrannical rulers in Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. PROGAY believes that democratization in these countries may provide opportunities for advancing human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Candelario also scored the Aquino administration for not pursuing genuine economic reforms that would generate employment for Filipinos. The gay advocate said that Aquino should now order an immediate evacuation plan to protect thousands of lives in the Middle East and Africa who fear further escalation of violence and job losses.

Progay Philippines is a service and advocacy organization that provides counseling, training and education assistance to marginalized gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual Filipinos, especially the youth and the ageing sectors. ProGay initiated Pride traditions in the country when it led the first ever gay and lesbian Pride parade in the entire Asian region on 26 June 1994.

Source http://www.mindanaoexaminer.com/news.php?news_id=20110221213105

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Clinton expresses US support for Iran protesters

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed her firm support for the thousands of opposition supporters who protested in Iran's capital on Monday.

Mrs Clinton said they deserved to have "the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt" and that Iran had to "open up" its political system.

One person was reportedly shot dead in the violent clashes between protesters and security forces in central Tehran.

Dozens were detained, and opposition leaders were placed under house arrest.

The BBC received reports of banned demonstrations in other Iranian cities, including Isfahan, Mashhad and Shiraz.


In their first major show of dissent since December 2009, when eight people were killed, thousands of opposition supporters gathered at Tehran's Azadi Square on Monday in solidarity with the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

They chanted: "Death to dictators".

But the BBC's Mohsen Asgari, who was at the rally, says it was not long before riot police fired tear gas, while men on motorbikes charged the crowd with batons.

Witnesses told the Associated Press news agency that at least three protesters had been wounded by bullets, with dozens of others taken to hospital as a result of the beatings.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency meanwhile reported that one person was shot dead by protesters and several others wounded.

Opposition websites said hundreds of people were arrested. There has been no official confirmation.

As night fell, hundreds of riot police remained on the streets of Tehran.

Later in Washington, Mrs Clinton told reporters that the US administration "very clearly and directly" supports the protesters.

"What we see happening in Iran today is a testament to the courage of the Iranian people, and an indictment of the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime - a regime which over the last three weeks has constantly hailed what went on in Egypt," she said.

Mrs Clinton said the US had the same message for the Iranian authorities as it did for those in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down after 29 years in power by nationwide mass protests.

"We are against violence and we would call to account the Iranian government that is once again using its security forces and resorting to violence to prevent the free expression of ideas from their own people," she said.

"We think that there needs to be a commitment to open up the political system in Iran, to hear the voices of the opposition and civil society," she added.

Earlier on Monday, police placed the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, under house arrest and blocked access to his home.

His website said they intended to prevent the former prime minister attending the Tehran rally.

Fellow opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of parliament and a senior cleric, is also reportedly being held under house arrest.

Both men disputed the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, which triggered protests that drew the largest crowds in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The authorities responded by launching a brutal crackdown.

The opposition says more than 80 of its supporters were killed over the following six months, a figure the government disputes. Several have been sentenced to death, and dozens jailed.

Although Iran's establishment supported the Egyptian and Tunisian protests, describing them as an "Islamic awakening" inspired by the Islamic Revolution, it said the opposition rallies were a "political move".

Source http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12460170

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Police in Case That Fueled Protests Escape Jail

Two policemen accused of brutally killing Khaled Said, the young man whose death helped trigger Egypt's popular uprising, have escaped jail and are at large.

The escape occurred when police fled their posts during clashes on Jan. 28, and police stations throughout Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, were set on fire, the defense and prosecution lawyers told The Wall Street Journal Sunday.

Gruesome photographs of Mr. Said's misshapen, unrecognizable deathmask, after he was arrested in June and, witnesses say, beaten by police in an Alexandria Internet café, helped turn a Facebook page protesting his treatment into a rallying point. It was that Facebook page that called for Egyptians to take to streets the against the government last month.

The defendants say Mr. Said choked to death on a bag of marijuana that he tried to swallow when he saw the policemen come into the Internet café. The lawyer for the defense says the damage to Mr. Said's face occurred during autopsy.

The state charged the policemen who allegedly killed Mr. Said with unlawful arrest and torture—and state prosecutors have since dropped the torture charge. The limited charges symbolized to many the impunity with which police in Egypt have abused their power over decades.

Prosecutors rested their case on Jan. 22, just days before the latest protests began. The defense is due to begin its arguments on Feb. 26.

The family's lawyer, Mohamed Raeft Nawar, says the charge of unlawful arrest is inadequate and means the policemen would be free within weeks even if convicted. He said the family is trying to persuade the court to add the charge of murder.

Reaffat Abdelhamid, who heads the defense team for the two policemen, confirmed Sunday that they escaped from the security police base in Alexandria where they were being held. He said one of the defendants, Mahmoud Salah, called him and said police opened the detention center gates when the base was overwhelmed by "thugs." He said he believed the two men would turn themselves in.

A spark for Egypt's revolution came when Mr. Said, a slight 28-year-old, walked into the tiny Spacenet Café, his regular haunt just yards from the apartment where he lived with his mother in Alexandria's Cleopatra district. Seconds later, the café's owner, 63-year-old Hassan Mossbah, heard shouting.

When he looked up, Mr. Mossbah says, he saw two men in plainclothes with pistols on their belts hitting Mr. Said. Then they picked him up and started swinging him head first against the marble shelf that makes a bar along the side of the café entrance, he said.

Mr. Mossbah says he and his sons then ran to push the policemen out. The policemen left dragging Mr. Said by the hair, into a lobby entrance next doors, he said. A crowd gathered to watch as the two men smashed Mr. Said's head repeatedly against the edge of the stone stairs, he says.

"A doctor in the crowd said to the policemen: 'What are you doing? He's already dead'," as the beating continued, says Mr. Mossbah.

According to the family lawyer, Mr. Nawar, the policemen were exacting revenge. Mr. Said, he said, had posted a video clip on Youtube that purports to show the policemen—Mr. Salah and Awad Ismail Suleiman—dividing a bag of confiscated marijuana with others for resale on the street.

The clip was found on Mr. Said's personal computer after his death, according to Ali Kassim, the Said family patriarch, who is leading the family's case. He says Mr. Said surreptitiously downloaded the video to his cellphone using Bluetooth while one of the policemen was showing it to friends in the Spacenet Café. It wasn't possible to verify that claim.

The defendants, backed by two coroners' reports, say Mr. Said choked to death on a 3 inch x 1 inch bag of marijuana.

According to the defense lawyer, Mr. Abdelhamid, the video is irrelevant to the case. The policemen were looking for Mr. Said in connection with two cases for which he was wanted, on charges of draft dodging and theft, but he resisted arrest.

He said he would produce witnesses to testify that Mr. Said's face was unblemished until he arrived at the morgue.

Mr. Said's family and lawyer say the choking claim was faked. Senior forensic pathologists from Denmark and Portugal dismissed the two coroners' reports' findings.

Mr. Kassim says the two alleged police investigations into Mr. Said were forged after his death. The family have produced what appears to be a certificate confirming Mr. Said's military service.

Mr. Said's killing sparked a series of demonstrations in Alexandria and Cairo last year, demanding an end to torture and to the emergency powers under which Egypt has been ruled ever since 1981, allowing the government to jail suspects without charge.

The government has renewed the powers every two years, saying it needs the powers to combat terrorism. Egypt has been the subject of significant terrorist attacks in recent years, including attacks on tourist resorts and Christian minorities, most recently on New Year's day.

Victims' rights groups here say police abuses have rarely been pursued or successfully prosecuted. A Human Rights Watch report released on Jan. 30 described torture in Egypt as "an epidemic." The report estimated that 5,000 people were being held in jail without trial, some for a decade.

Source http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703989504576127643959647716.html

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tunisians skeptical about prospects for democracy

Among the groups of Tunisian demonstrators Monday, one sign spoke the loudest: “Get Out,” it said in bold capitals.

President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had already fled the country, along with his billionaire family. But the crowds that went to the streets to oust him during the past month of protests, bloody reprisals and rioting were already looking to the future.

After 23 years of broken promises and unrelenting repression they were demanding the departure not just of a leader, but a political system that had devastated their society even as it racked up impressive economic growth that failed to bring prosperity to an increasingly educated population.

As Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi — a firm ally of Ben Ali — announced a national unity government that included an unprecedented handful of opposition members, many Tunisians were skeptical about the prospects for democracy. Key ministries are still in the hands of ruling party members, which include interim president Fouad Mebazaa.

“It looks like a band-aid on a gaping wound,” said Tunisia expert Kenneth Perkins, an emeritus professor of University of South Carolina. “If they want to move forward they have to be in touch with what the people on the street are saying.”

But Tunisia’s “jasmine revolution” has its own problems that make a transition to democracy perilous — and Tunisia an unlikely role model for other Mideast countries that want to escape despotic rule.

“It was a spontaneous eruption that spoke volumes about the level of desperation in the country,” said analyst Henry Wilkinson of London-based Janusian Security Risk Management. “But it doesn’t have any leaders ready to articulate their demands and legitimately speak for the people. The riots came first.”

Tunisia’s political opposition and civil society have been systematically smashed in 55 years of independent rule that failed to develop into a democracy, in spite of the efforts of courageous activists. In the recent uprising young people used the Internet as a powerful mobilizing tool for their surging anger, but lacked a political structure.

The gap is not surprising after decades of virtual dictatorship.

When Ben Ali’s predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, shook off French colonial rule, he promised to transform Tunisia. But in spite of early reforms to combat poverty and illiteracy, and expand women’s rights, he tightened his grip on dissent, and held elections that were widely denounced.

Ben Ali, appointed prime minister in 1987, forced the aging leader into retirement, promising a “program of national interest” that would give all parties a voice. But it was soon followed by a new crackdown, and opponents were exiled or jailed.

“With Ben Ali’s advisers and interior ministry officials exerting influence over politics, and the brutal repression of genuine opposition, Tunisians soon lost interest in public life,” wrote Tunisian journalist and human rights activist Kamel Labidi in Le Monde Diplomatique.

Now, Perkins said, “this is a country without much opportunity for political involvement. It’s important to move away from the old government technocrats and bureaucrats toward NGO leaders, labour union people and civil society.

“There is a cadre of people who are in a better position to lead than the discredited ruling party. But those who were involved with Tunisia’s brief experiment with multi-party institutions are now gone or out of sight.”

About 52 per cent of Tunisians are under 25, and few even remember the opposition politicians of the 1980s. With repression and control of the media a way of life, no new household names have emerged. So far only Moncef Marzouki, a Paris-based Tunisian professor of medicine, has said he would run for president.

“There’s been a leadership void in Tunisia, and it will be very difficult to fill,” says Annie Game, executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, a member of an international committee examining the country’s systemic problems of censorship, media repression and judicial failure.

“To build democracy there has to be a free media and a free judiciary. We are optimistic because a huge obstacle has been removed, but it’s a cautionary tale for others that nothing changes overnight.”

Source http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/923393--tunisians-skeptical-about-prospects-for-democracy

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Activist crackdown: Tunisia vs Iran

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put forth Internet freedom as a main tenet of the United States' foreign policy agenda in 2010 [Getty]

In the summer of 2009, the word on everyone's lips was "Iran." As the youthful Green Movement rose up against what they perceived to be a tampered election, the world banded together in solidarity. The hashtag #iranelection trended on Twitter for weeks, while media outlets spoke of a "Twitter revolution."

In the end, Iranians didn't tweet the Mullahs out of power, but the events of summer 2009 turned the world's - and specifically, the West's - attention to Iran, and as a result, to digital activism and what it can accomplish. And while Twitter may not have been used to coordinate protests, it certainly allowed Iranians and their supporters to share news with the rest of the world.

Now, as Tunisians take to the streets (and to the Internet) to protest unemployment and the oppressive and longstanding Ben Ali regime, the world's attention seems to be elsewhere. More specifically (and perhaps more importantly), the US government--which intervened heavily in Iran, approving circumvention technology for export and famously asking Twitter to halt updates during a critical time period—has not made any public overtures toward Tunisia at this time.

Pervasive Internet filtering in Tunisia

Although Iran and China tend to dominate media coverage vis-à-vis Internet filtering, Tunisia's censorship regime is comprehensive. Like Iran, Tunisia filters political content and social networking sites and like China, its methods are complex and multilayered; a recent report indicated that the country uses DNS tampering, IP address filtering and selective blocking by URL to accomplish its filtering goals.

Furthermore, as the OpenNet Initiative found in 2006, Tunisia utilizes American-made software SmartFilter (founded by Secure Computing and acquired by McAfee in 2008) to implement its filtering regime and block sites across several categories, including human rights sites, social networking and video-sharing sites, sites containing LGBT content, dating sites, and a large swath of proxies and anonymizers.

The OpenNet Initiative's 2009-2010 research on Tunisia found that the nation filters political and social content pervasively, putting it on par with China and Iran. And yet, in respect to Internet freedom, the global media pays disproportionate attention to the latter two countries, while the extensive censorship by the Tunisian regime goes largely ignored.

Similar but not equal

It should be fairly obvious to most observers why Iran gets so much attention: fear of nuclear weapons, fear of attacks on American ally Israel, and fear of political Islam all propel attention toward the Islamic Republic. The attention given to China makes sense as well; American business interests in the Asian nation are better off with a free Internet.

Tunisia, on the other hand, is a friend of the United States, a secular country cooperative in the war on terror. But while Tunisia may be an ally to the United States, the United States is no ally to Tunisians, journalists and bloggers in particular. Tunisia regularly jails and threatens citizens who speak out against the longstanding Ben Ali regime, but for the duration of the regime's 24 years the US government has remained allied to it, rarely making public gestures for Tunisian dissidents.

Contrast that to Iran; when Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was jailed in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded her release. Similarly, after jailed Chinese dissident Lu Xiabao was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Clinton demanded his immediate release from prison.

When Tunisian journalist Slim Boukhdir was beaten and jailed in 2007 for insulting the president on the other hand, prompting the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to deem the country a "police state," Department of State officials responded to CPJ by letter, by stating that they were indeed concerned about Boukhdir’s case; nevertheless, the case did not receive the international attention that might have been garnered by a public statement. CPJ later named Tunisia as one of the ten worst places to be a blogger, based on its track record for arrests and abuse. Global Voices Advocacy lists 23 "threatened voices" in Tunisia.

On January 6, three more were added to that list: bloggers Hamadi Kaloucha, Aziz Amami were reported arrested on Twitter, while Slim Amamou’s arrest was reported after he updated social networking site FourSquare from the Interior Ministry.

"Internet Freedom"

When in early 2010 Secretary of State Clinton put forth Internet freedom as a main tenet of the United States' foreign policy agenda, many observers applauded the effort. One year later, however, skepticism is growing, particularly amongst activist in US-allied countries like Egypt and Tunisia. Though millions of dollars have been spent on propagating circumvention technology—often with a focus on Iran and China - there is little evidence that it has effected real change.

Tunisian activists, for their part, are outraged, and rightly so. In an essay in September 2010, Tunisian exile and activist Sami Ben Gharbia stated: "Just look at the number of op-eds in the US and Western media covering the crackdown on Iranian and Chinese bloggers and activists and compare that with the lack or the under-coverage reserved to Arab bloggers and activists from allied states."

Walking the walk

Clinton's January 2010 speech and the resulting Internet freedom agenda can only be as noble as its implementation. In her speech, Clinton called for Internet freedom as part of the "American brand," emphasizing the importance of unfettered access for all, and calling on US companies to take a principled stand against censorship.

It is not enough, however, to wax philosophic about the importance of liberty or ask companies not to contribute to worldwide censorship; if the US government wants to "win the hearts and minds" of people living under repressive regimes, it seems prudent to take a more public stance on the human rights violations of its friends and allies.

When a US government official makes a statement calling for freedom for a jailed blogger, the media—and by extension, the world - listens. According to Mauritanian activist and Civil Rights Outreach Director of the American Islamic Congress Nasser Weddady, "the press release issued by the US embassy in Mauritania after a long silence got imprisoned journalist Hanevy Ould Dahah out of prison in less than three days."

Though diplomacy is no doubt a multilayered and sensitive effort, without a strong public stance, it's easy to understand why Tunisians have a hard time trusting the US government's motives after having lived under such an oppressive regime for so long.

There are small but meaningful steps that can and should be taken. First off, the stated Internet freedom agenda—one that emphasizes access for all, particularly toward political and religious freedoms—can only work if it is proportionately focused on all countries with pervasive filtering regimes, secular allies like Tunisia and thriving democracies like South Korea, as well as "enemies" like Iran.

Second, if the US is going to continue funding and propagating circumvention technology (and it is; this week a $30 mn funding scheme was announced), it ought to ensure that any such technology that it funds - or for that matter, provides an export license to - is rigorously tested for security.

Perhaps most importantly, the United States governments $30 mn will be wasted so long as American companies are allowed to export filtering technology with impunity. Propagating circumvention technology while allowing US companies to export the very tools that need circumventing is like a plumber pouring grease down a drain. Rather, any American company that provides filtering technology to foreign nations for the purpose of government censorship ought to be sanctioned.

Finally, to the American media, I offer the following reminder: You don't work for the government. This is not Iran, nor China, nor Tunisia; we have a thriving free press that has the liberty to pursue and cover whatever story it deems important. Just like Iranians did in 2009, Tunisians are taking to the streets to protest a brutal dictatorship, but unlike in the summer of 2009, the American media is largely silent. It's time to speak up.

Source http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/01/20111981222719974.html