Category - Human Rights

Google warns of US government ‘hacking any facility’ in the world

Google says increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise ‘monumental’ legal concerns that should be decided by Congress

The Guardian, By Ed Pilkington, February 18

New York – Google is boldly opposing an attempt by the US Justice Department to expand federal powers to search and seize digital data, warning that the changes would open the door to US “government hacking of any facility” in the world.

In a strongly worded submission to the Washington committee that is considering the proposed changes, Google says that increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise “monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide”.

The search giant warns that under updated proposals, FBI agents would be able to carry out covert raids on servers no matter where they were situated, giving the US government unfettered global access to vast amounts of private information.

Huh.

Guantánamo torturer led brutal Chicago regime of shackling and confession

The Guardian, By Spencer Ackerman, February 18

Chicago – A Chicago detective who led one of the most shocking acts of torture ever conducted at Guantánamo Bay was responsible for implementing a disturbingly similar, years-long regime of brutality to elicit murder confessions from minority Americans.

In a dark foreshadowing of the United States’ post-9/11 descent into torture, a Guardian investigation can reveal that Richard Zuley, a detective on Chicago’s north side from 1977 to 2007, repeatedly engaged in methods of interrogation resulting in at least one wrongful conviction and subsequent cases more recently thrown into doubt following allegations of abuse.

Zuley’s record suggests a continuum between police abuses in urban America and the wartime detention scandals that continue to do persistent damage to the reputation of the United States. Zuley’s tactics, which would be supercharged at Guantánamo when he took over the interrogation of a high-profile detainee as a US Navy reserve lieutenant, included:

Immigration Ruling Leaves Millions in Limbo; Obama to Appeal

Republicans cheer judge’s blocking of president’s plan, while immigration-rights activists show confidence plan will prevail

WSJ -AUSTIN, Texas—A federal judge’s decision to temporarily block the Obama administration’s immigration actions delivered a first-round victory to Republican opponents, while leaving an estimated four million illegal immigrants who were set to be shielded from deportation in limbo.

The Obama administration said it would appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, of Brownsville, Texas, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush , a Republican. It freezes immigration actions issued by President Barack Obama, which were challenged as unconstitutional in a lawsuit filed by Texas and 25 other states…Republicans, who have been struggling to block the executive actions through legislation, welcomed the ruling.

Obama blinks.

NSA has hidden software in hard drives around the world

Reuters, By Joseph Menn, February 16

San Francisco – The U.S. National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives.

That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations.

Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen, and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.

The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States.

Movement afoot to have Vatican repeal edicts on ‘heathen’ natives

The Canadian Press, By Chinta Puxley, February 10

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is weighing whether to ask the Vatican to repeal the Papal Bulls of Discovery that granted 15th-century explorers the right to conquer the New World and the “heathen” aboriginal people that called it home.

Chair Murray Sinclair says the commission examining the impact of Canada’s residential schools is looking carefully at the 1455 and 1493 Catholic edicts as part of its final report.

Many argue the proclamations legitimized the treatment of aboriginal people as “less than human.” Crown sovereignty in Canada can be traced back to those papal bulls and neither Canada nor the United States has repudiated them, Sinclair said.
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UN: Growing number of attacks against schoolgirls worldwide

UN report finds girls face difficulty getting an education in more than 70 countries.

AP, February 9

Girls in at least 70 countries have faced threats, violent attacks and other abuse for trying to go to school over the past five years, the U.N. human rights office said Monday.

A report by the Geneva-based body noted that, despite some progress, girls still face difficulty getting an education in many countries around the world.

“Attacks against girls accessing education persist and, alarmingly, appear in some countries to be occurring with increasing regularity,” the authors found.
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Supreme Court rules Canadians have right to doctor-assisted suicide

The Globe and Mail, By Sean Fine, February 6/7

Canadian adults in grievous, unending pain have a right to end their life with a doctor’s help, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

The unanimous ruling, by establishing that the “sanctity of life” also includes the “passage into death,” extends constitutional rights into a new realm. The courts have used the 1982 Charter of Rights to establish gay marriage and to strike down a federal abortion law. The new ruling will change the way some Canadians are permitted to die.

In a brief, powerful opening paragraph, the court explained why it was creating a new constitutional right to autonomy over one’s death in some circumstances: Those who are severely and irremediably suffering, whether physically or psychologically, “may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering” by the government’s absolute ban on assisted dying. “A person facing this prospect has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel.”
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Thailand junta squelches forum on media censorship

Bangkok press freedom event canceled, raising fears about future of free expression in Thailand.

Al Jazeera, January 29

Thailand’s junta has effectively forced a German foundation to cancel a forum discussing new restrictions on the media, scheduled to be held Friday in Bangkok, raising concerns among journalists and right advocates about the junta’s efforts to curtail press freedom and political dissent in what has long been a relatively open society in the region.

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a foundation that has headquarters in headquartered in Bonn and Berlin, Germany, that promotes social democracy worldwide, said it would comply with a request from the junta — also known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) — to cancel the forum, which was to feature a panel discussion and a presentation about a study on media freedom in Thailand.

“We received a call from the government asking us to postpone the event indefinitely because of the sensitive nature of the topic and the political climate within the country,” Thatsanavanh Banchong, the foundation’s media and civic education officer, told the Bangkok Post.

France begins jailing people for ironic comments

Electronic Intifada, By Ali Abunimah, January 19

It may sound like an ironic joke, but it isn’t. Less than a week after the massive rallies in defense of “free expression,” following the murders of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, French authorities have jailed a youth for irony.

The arrest is part of a harsh crackdown on free speech in the country that has prompted criticism from national and international human rights organizations.

A 16-year-old high school student was taken into police custody on Thursday and indicted for “defending terrorism,” national broadcaster France 3 reports.

His alleged crime? He posted on Facebook a cartoon “representing a person holding the magazine Charlie Hebdo, being hit by bullets, and accompanied by an ‘ironic’ comment,” France 3 states.

Oklahoma to stage first execution since botched procedure 9 months ago

Lethal injection of convicted murderer will use controversial drug cocktail; Florida also set for execution Thursday.

AP, January 15

After a nearly nine-month delay prompted by a botched lethal injection last spring, Oklahoma plans to execute a death row inmate Thursday with the same controversial three-drug method Florida intends to use around an hour earlier.

Oklahoma prison officials ordered new medical equipment, more extensive training for staff and renovated the execution chamber inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary to prevent the kind of problems that arose during the execution of Clayton Lockett in April. Lockett writhed on the gurney, moaned and tried to lift his head after he’d been declared unconscious, prompting prison officials to try to halt his execution before he died.

Attorneys for the state say a failed intravenous line and a lack of training led to the problems with Lockett’s injection, not the drugs.

Both Oklahoma and Florida plan to start the executions with the sedative midazolam, which has been challenged in court as ineffective in rendering a person properly unconscious before the second and third drugs are administered, creating a risk of unconstitutional pain and suffering.

Egypt acquits 26 men accused of debauchery in Cairo bathhouse

Associated Press, By Maggie Michael, January 12

Cairo — An Egyptian court on Monday acquitted 26 men arrested in a televised raid last month by police looking for gays at a Cairo public bathhouse, a ruling that set off deafening cheers and jubilation inside the courtroom as some of the defendants uncovered their faces and cried with relief.

The trial, which had caused an uproar among activists and rights groups, captured public attention after a pro-government TV network aired scenes of half-naked men being pulled from the bathhouse by police.

Same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited in Egyptian law but homosexuality is a social taboo in the conservative, Muslim-majority country. Same-sex marriage is unheard of. Only in recent years have movies and fiction included gay characters.

[…]

The courtroom erupted into a frenzy after the word “acquittal” was heard from the judge and women ululated. Scott Long, an American researcher who had followed the case said he was both “shocked and delighted.”

“I hope this is a sign that these raids will come to an end,” Long told The Associated Press amid the cheering. “Finally there was a judge who listened to the evidence.”

Thousands protest in Moscow after opposition leader’s guilty verdict

Mashable, By Brian Ries & Christopher Miller, December 31

A massive crowd of protesters gathered in Moscow’s Manezhka Square on Tuesday following the guilty verdict of anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny.

Navalny, a leading foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was found guilty of fraud and given a suspended sentence of three and a half years on Tuesday, while his brother was sent straight to prison.

“The government isn’t just trying to jail its political opponents — we’re used to it; we’re aware that they’re doing it — but this time they’re destroying and torturing the families of the people who oppose them,” he said, calling for people to attend the protest on Tuesday evening.

Hours after the ruling, Navalny himself appeared alongside protesters at Moscow’s Manezhka Square in defiance of a house arrest order — and was quickly detained by Russian authorities for breaking the terms. He was taken away in a bus and escorted back to his home.

Vatican forever bars woman who bared breasts

Grabbed baby Jesus statue

Thomson Reuters, December 27

Vatican City – The Vatican said it had arrested a member of women’s rights group Femen who on Christmas Day bared her breasts and grabbed a statue of the baby Jesus from a nativity scene in front of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.

Femen’s website says the woman was protesting as part of its anti-clerical “Massacre of the Innocents” campaign contesting religions’ “maniacal desire to control women’s fertility”.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Friday that Ukrainian citizen Iana Aleksandrovna Azhdanova was being detained and questioned by a Vatican judge. On Saturday, the Vatican said she had been released and was forbidden to return to the Holy See.

He said she was accused of vilification of religion, obscene acts in public, and theft. He said her action “offended the religious feelings of many people”.

Obama hopes to enlist GOP in push for trade pact, despite Democratic resistance

Washington Post, By David Nakamura, December 26

President Obama is preparing a major push on a vast free trade zone that seeks to enlist Republicans as partners and test his premise that Washington can still find common ground on major initiatives.

It also will test his willingness to buck his own party in pursuit of a legacy-burnishing achievement. Already, fellow Democrats are accusing him of abandoning past promises on trade and potentially undermining his domestic priority of reducing income inequality.

The dynamic, as the White House plots strategy for the new year when the GOP has full control of Congress, has scrambled traditional political alliances. In recent weeks, Obama has rallied the business community behind his trade agenda, while leading Capitol Hill progressives, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have raised objections and labor and environmental groups have mounted a public relations campaign against it.

The administration is moving aggressively in hopes of wrapping up negotiations by the middle of next year on a 12-nation free-trade pact in the Asia Pacific before the politics become even more daunting ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.

“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the administration,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a pro-trade Democrat viewed by the administration as a key ally. “They need to get out and educate members and address the concerns they might have. I’ve been advising colleagues who are skeptical and not supportive of trade to at least engage in conversations and feedback.”

Saudi terrorism court ‘to try women drivers’

BBC, December 25

Two Saudi women who were detained for defying a ban on female drivers are to be tried in a terrorism court, activists say.

Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, have been in detention for nearly a month.

The women’s cases had reportedly been transferred over comments they had made on social media – rather than for their driving, according to activists.