Iran: Blogger Hossein Derakshan's appeal denied for 19.5 year prison sentence

A court in Iran has denied Canadian/Iranian blogger Hossein Derakshan's latest appeal of his 19.5 imprisonment sentence. In 2010, he was charged and convicted of "conspiring with hostile governments, disseminating anti-Islamic propaganda, disseminating anti-revolutionary propaganda, blasphemy, annd operating and managing obscene pornography websites." (via Cyrus Farivar) Read the rest

Libya: Gaddafi used rape as a weapon, gave troops Viagra, says ICC prosecutor

(A Libyan woman holding a Kingdom of Libya flag walks past a caricature of Muammar Gaddafi near the court house in Benghazi June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori )

The ICC's chief prosecutor told journalists gathered at the UN today that he has gathered evidence which shows that Libyan leader Col Muammar Gadaffi ordered military agents to "punish women" with rape to spread terror and silence dissent. Human rights groups and journalists working in the region have reported this for months, and the case of Iman Al-Obeidi brought such allegations to international attention (she has since sought refuge in Romania). But this new validation, and the possibility of charges being brought against Gadaffi in the International Criminal Court, are significant.

"It was never the pattern he used to control the population. The rape is a new aspect of the repression. And that's why we had doubts at the beginning but now we are more convinced," he said. "Apparently, he decided to punish, using rape."

He said it was difficult to know how widespread the use of rape was. "In some areas we had a number of 100 people raped. The issue for us was, can we attribute these rapes to Gaddafi himself, or is it something that happened in the barracks," he explained.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo also said some witnesses had confirmed that the Libyan government was buying containers of Viagra-type drugs to carry out the policy, and to "enhance the possibility to rape". "We are trying to see who was involved," he added.

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Mladic in The Hague

PHOTO: Bosnian Muslim woman Alic Mina cries near the grave of her son Mihrudin before a mass funeral in the village of Memici, about 30 kilometres from Zvornik, June 1, 2011. The remains of eight people, victims of an "ethnic cleansing" campaign that former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic is accused of instigating, were retrieved from mass graves in Zvornik and buried during the mass funeral on Wednesday. Mladic, extradited to the Netherlands from Serbia on Tuesday after 16 years on the run, will appear in court on Friday, according to a statement issued by the court on Wednesday. Mladic was indicted over the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, close to the border with Serbia, during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

Now that the Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic is safely behind the bars in the Hague international war tribunal, some questions are becoming more urgent.

Where was Mladic hiding all these years? Who helped him evade justice? Why did his protectors stay silent and unpunished? Will there be a investigation and a punishment for them, too? In Serbia, in the Hague, in hell?

In 2008, Radovan Karadzic, Mladic's best-known ally and also a highly wanted war criminal, was arrested in Belgrade while posing as a New Age medical guru. Karadzic had been living undercover for years, with a semi-public persona as a quack medical expert. He often appeared in conferences and wrote for fringe medical papers. Read the rest

Too young to wed: inside the secret world of child brides

National Geographic has a riveting photo-essay and related feature article out on the problem of child marriages (the focus is on the Mideast and south Asia, though the phenomenon is not limited to this region). The photography is by Stephanie Sinclair, and it is incredible work. Above:

Kandahar policewoman Malalai Kakar arrests a man who repeatedly stabbed his wife, 15, for disobeying him. "Nothing," Kakar said, when asked what would happen to the husband. "Men are kings here." Kakar was later killed by the Taliban.

From the story by Cynthia Gorney, which makes clear there's no easy solution:

The people who work full-time trying to prevent child marriage, and to improve women's lives in societies of rigid tradition, are the first to smack down the impertinent notion that anything about this endeavor is simple. Forced early marriage thrives to this day in many regions of the world--arranged by parents for their own children, often in defiance of national laws, and understood by whole communities as an appropriate way for a young woman to grow up when the alternatives, especially if they carry a risk of her losing her virginity to someone besides her husband, are unacceptable.

(...)[I]n communities of pressing poverty, where nonvirgins are considered ruined for marriage and generations of ancestors have proceeded in exactly this fashion--where grandmothers and great-aunts are urging the marriages forward, in fact, insisting, I did it this way and so shall she--it's possible to see how the most dedicated anti-child-marriage campaigner might hesitate, trying to fathom where to begin.

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When it comes to locking up suspects endlessly on secret evidence, Bagram dwarfs Gitmo

"Some 1,700 detainees at the Bagram U.S. Air Base in Afghanistan are being held without charges or a trial, primarily on the basis of secret evidence that they never get to see or challenge." [Nieman Watchdog Journalism Project, via Spy Talk] Read the rest

US Supreme Court rules Ashcroft can't be held responsible in case of detention and abuse of innocent Muslim-American

The Supreme Court ruled today that former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be personally sued over his role in the arrest of an innocent American citizen, a Muslim man who was never charged with a crime. From the Associated Press:

By a 5-3 vote, the court said Ashcroft did not violate the constitutional rights of Abdullah al-Kidd, who was arrested in 2003 under a federal law intended to make sure witnesses testify in criminal proceedings. Al-Kidd claimed in a federal lawsuit that the arrest and detention violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

He was held for 16 days, during which he was strip-searched repeatedly, left naked in a jail cell and shower for more than 90 minutes in view of other men and women, routinely transported in handcuffs and leg irons, and kept with people who had been convicted of violent crimes.

The ACLU's response to the ruling is here.

Photo: REUTERS. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft speaks to the National Rifle Association's 'Celebration of American Values Conference' in Washington, September 21, 2007.

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Egypt: general confirms "virginity checks" forced on female protesters by military

Via CNN and other sources today, the revolting news that a senior Egyptian general admits so-called "virginity checks" (presumably, forcible examination of the hymen) were performed on women arrested in at least one demonstration this spring. Previously, military authorities denied it. Now, an Egyptian general who asked not to be identified defends the practice—wait for it—as a protective measure for the women's own good.

As noted previously on Boing Boing, Amnesty International reported and condemned news of this systematic sexual abuse by military agents back in March. At the time, women were at the forefront of the historic Tahrir Square protests that overthrew the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. And Amnesty International was told then by a group of women protesters "that they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to 'virginity checks' and threatened with prostitution charges."

With that in mind, here's a snip from Shahira Amin's report today for CNN:

The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the general said. "These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs)."

The general said the virginity checks were done so that the women wouldn't later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities.

"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," the general said.

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Ratko Mladic, "God of Genocide," arrested

(PHOTOS / REUTERS. At left, in 1993: Bosnian Serb army Commander General Ratko Mladic (L) salutes.)

The self-proclaimed "God of genocide" in Srebrenica, the Serbian ethnic general Ratko Mladic was arrested today in a small village eighty kilometers from Belgrade.

Mladic sheltered there with a relative, and lived under a false name. For years on end he hid like a house-mouse, and was arrested with a similar meekness.

Old, docile, with one hand crippled, the formerly ferocious warlord lived peaceably and invisibly in a house that had been searched repeatedly by the Serbian police. This long-wanted war criminal and exceedingly successful fugitive from justice had a 10 million euro award on his head.

And yet, recent polls say that, despite the suffering and ignominy he brought them, 51 percent of Serbian citizens would not have given him up to the international war tribunal in the Hague. No, not for any money. Serbian stubbornness has gone beyond the period of Mladic's bloodstained hero-worship. Nowadays the Serbs have grown indifferent to Mladic while actively resenting the European Union, whose economic disorders have made Serbian life miserable.

And yet it appears that somebody did betray Mladic for the reward: someone among his circle of close friends. Some years ago, an entire group of people, who were all accused of actively sheltering Mladic, were released from a Serbian court through lack of evidence.

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Australian journalist arrested for reporting facebook security breach

Ben Grubb, a journalist in Australia, was arrested after writing a story about a security expert's demonstration of vulnerabilities on social media sites including Facebook. Two police officers showed up at his office, and interrogated him.

The officers were polite and there was even an amusing interlude when the female officer's iPhone rang, disrupting her recording of our conversations, and I gave Coultis some advice about how to set the iPhone to avoid further interruptions.

They seemed to treat me like a technical expert, and sought my explanation of what Heinrich had done. I felt like they were trying to get me to admit that his actions were illegal. I told them it was not my job to decide that - after all, I was only reporting on the matter. It's their job to decide whether what he demonstrated was against the law.

About half an hour into the questioning, Coultis left the room to liaise briefly with other officers. When he returned, he said: "What we're going to have to do, I'm afraid, Ben, is we're going to be taking possession of your iPad."

Rule number one, by the way, should this ever happen to you? Don't talk, other than to your lawyer.

Grubb's story: privacy, news and the strong arm of the law (Ben Grubb, in The Age)

A related story here in the Sydney Morning Herald.

(via Submitterator, thanks darkl and Clovis) Read the rest

Nobody expects the Spanish revolution: photos from "Real Democracy" protests in Spain

Photo by @acampadasol (web), who has been photographing the protests in in Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, where some ten thousand demonstrators have gathered to demand jobs, economic equality, and "real democracy." The demonstrations throughout Spain, ahead of the country's upcoming elections, have been compared to various popular uprisings in the Middle East. Global Voices, CBS, AP, Periodismo Humano. Spain's El Pais newspaper, as one might expect, has extensive coverage (photos, video). US-based and English-language outlets, not so much yet.

Below, video shot of thousands of protesters in Madrid today by "eloyente" for Read the rest

US Supreme Court rules warrantless search is okay when cops smell pot smoke

"Police do not need a search warrant to knock on a suspected drug dealer's door and then kick it down when a suspicious bustling noise is heard from the other side, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1."—Wired News. More: WaPo, Time, Boston Globe, LA Times, NPR. Read the rest

Guatemala: 27 massacred, decapitated in Petén by paramilitary drug gang Los Zetas (UPDATED)

Written in the blood from a victim's severed leg, in Spanish: "What's up, Otto Salguero, you bastard? We are going to find you and behead you, too. —Sincerely, Z200." Guatemalan media reports Otto Salguero is the owner of the ranch where at least 27 workers were killed, 26 of whom were decapitated, yesterday. Salguero is believed to be linked to the drug trade, and in conflict with the Zetas.

Update, 10:45pm PT: Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom has declared a state of martial law in the Péten region, in response to Sunday's massacre.

On a cattle ranch in the northern Petén region of Guatemala yesterday, at least 27 agricultural workers were murdered, 26 of whom were decapitated, after dozens of armed commandos (reported numbers vary between 30 and 200) stormed the ranch and demanded to know where owner Otto Salguero was. Guatemalan authorities say none of the victims were involved in drug trafficking, all were innocent laborers, none knew where the ranch owner was. Among the confirmed victims: two women and two children. One man is reported to have survived by pretending to be dead after the attackers stabbed him in the stomach. He told a reporter the killing began around 7 pm Saturday, and ended around 3 am Sunday. He escaped two hours later, badly wounded, encountering a pile of human heads along the way.

Another survivor, possibly the only other survivor, was a pregnant mother. According to various reports, the armed men let her go because her little girl was screaming so loudly. Read the rest

Blackwater founder Erik Prince building American-led army of revolution-crushing mercenaries in UAE

Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater (now rebranded "Xe") is building a stealth, American-led mercenary army in the United Arab Emirates "with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom." The business plan, at least in part, appears to be to help autocratic regimes crush popular democratic uprisings—a response to "Arab Spring." Oh, this will turn out well. Snip from the New York Times' exclusive:

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest or were challenged by pro-democracy demonstrations in its crowded labor camps or democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year. The U.A.E.'s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country's biggest foe, the former employees said.

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Belarus: opposition presidential candidate sentenced to 5 years hard labor

Andrei Sannikov, a candidate in Belarus's December 2010 presidential elections, was today sentenced to five years in prison. Index on Censorship:
Sannikov claimed during the trial that he had been tortured, denied access to legal representation and that KGB officers threatened to kill his wife, journalist Irina Khalip, and three year-old son, Danil.

In a post-election clampdown on the country's opposition, seven of the nine presidential candidates who stood against President Alexander Lukashenko were arrested. Ales Mikhalevic, another candidate, fled the country after also accusing the KGB of torture. Index on Censorship is part of a coalition of NGOs supporting a private prosecution of President Lukashenko.

Sannikov claims that prisoners at "The Amerikanka", an infamous KGB jail in Minsk, were being psychologically conditioned to violence in an echo of the Soviet-era tactic. Prisoners were shown anti-Semitic films such as Russia With A Knife In Its Back, clips of Chechen rebels being decapitated and the dismembering of children's corpses.

Read (or listen to) the final speech Sannikov gave before the verdict.

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John McCain: Torture is bad, un-American, and didn't help the US find Osama bin Laden

Holy crap, it's the end of days: the things coming out of John McCain's mouth are making sense to me. The Republican senator from Arizona has an eloquent op-ed in the Washington Post today, which had me fist-pumping the air all the way down:
Osama bin Laden's welcome death has ignited debate over whether the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used on enemy prisoners were instrumental in locating bin Laden, and whether they are a justifiable means for gathering intelligence.

Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.

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