Tuesday 21 July 2009

Google's commmitment to free expression

Google was the 2009 recipient of the First Amendment Leadership Award, presented by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation (RTNDF). This video, which was shown at the awards dinner, highlights how our products enable people around the world to exercise the right to freedom of expression, even where governments routinely suppress free speech.

Tehran police clash with demonstrators

YouTube video purports to show the latest clashes between pro-reform demonstrators and police in the capital of Iran.

TEHRAN, IRAN (POSTED AS JULY 21, 2009) YOUTUBE - Story Iranian riot police clashed with hundreds of pro-reform protesters in central Tehran on Tuesday (July 21) and detained dozens of them, a witness said, in the latest unrest over last month's disputed election.
The witness said demonstrators were chanting slogans against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the government, including: "Ahmadinejad -- resign, resign" and "Death to dictators".

The witness said police beat protesters who had gathered in Tehran's Haft-e Tir square in defiance of a ban on such demonstrations following the June 12 election, which the opposition says was rigged in favour of Ahmadinejad.

"Riot police are taking dozens of protesters into their cars and they are taking them away," the witness said.

"There are hundreds of riot police and plainclothes (security forces), beating people who gathered to support (opposition leader Mirhossein) Mousavi," the witness said.

Video posted on YouTube shows police confronting shouting demonstrators.

The clash erupted four days after similar confrontations between police and protesters for the first time in weeks on Friday after former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani declared the Islamic Republic in crisis and said there were doubts about the election result. The authorities reject opposition charges of vote rigging.

Obama misses Guantanamo deadlines

President Barack Obama's pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp by January of next year is proving to be easier said than done.

President Barack Obama's pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp by January of next year is proving to be easier said than done.

The White House has announced a detailed plan on dealing with terrorist suspects detained at the military prison will be delayed by six months.

A separate government task force reviewing detainee interrogation rules also fell short of its Tuesday deadline and was granted an extra two months to submit a final report.

Despite missing the self-imposed deadlines, White House officials insist they are still on track to shut down Guananamo by January.

Upon taking office, President Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison within a year saying it had damaged America's moral standing in the world.

But since January, Obama has faced strong opposition from lawmakers, including those in his own Democratic party, to transferring Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. soil for detention and trial.

Jon Decker, Reuters.

Human rights violations dramatically rise in Saudi Arabia in name of fighting terrorism - report

Amnesty International says human rights violations have dramatically risen in Saudi Arabia, as the government abuses its power in the name of fighting terrorism. The organisation says anyone who criticises the regime is branded an enemy of the state and brutally locked up.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (JULY 20, 2009) REUTERS - The Saudi Arabian authorities are using the fight against global terrorism as an excuse to lock up anyone who criticises the regime or who presses for greater social freedoms, according to a new report released on Wednesday (July 22) by Amnesty International.
The group says the government has launched a sustained assault on human rights under the facade of countering terrorism since the September 11th attacks in 2001.

Report author, Dr Lamri Chirouf, told Reuters almost anyone can be a target.

Once arrested they have no access to lawyers and are held in total secrecy.

"The government arrests suspects from their homes, from the classroom, from the university compounds, from the streets and locks them up with no right of access to a lawyer, no right to challenge the decision to be detained, they are often held in solitary confinement for lengthy periods. There are many who have alleged to have been tortured. They are held incommunicado for months, without their families knowing where they are," said Dr Chirouf.

The report highlights the cases of people like Dr Matroul Al-Falih, and Dr Abdullah Al-Hamid, both prominent human rights defenders and university professors. They were held for a year before being tried in 2004 and jailed for six and seven years respectively.

Another university professor, Abdul Rahman Al-Shumayri, has been in jail since February 2007. His lawyer has not been permitted to see him. Hani Al-Sayegh, had sought asylum in the United States, but was forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia in October 1999. He was immediately detailed and is still in prison.

Arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention of political and security suspects without trial have been long-standing problems in Saudi, however. Amnesty says the number of people detained has risen dramatically from hundreds to thousands since 2001.

Amnesty International says it has no way of knowing the true extent of arbitrary detentions and can only go by the latest Saudi government figures, which report that between 2003 and 2007 9,000 suspects had been detained and that 3,106 are still being held. Amnesty says the real figure is probably far higher than that.

Anybody who criticises the ever-tightening grip on freedom of speech is immediately branded a terrorist, said Chirouf: "The activists who have said that we do not accept people being detained in this manner in the name of terrorism - they ended up being locked up themselves, because that was seen to be supporting terrorism."

Amnesty International says the international community, particularly those countries in the west which have strong business ties with Saudi, like Britain and America, have failed to hold the government to account over the violations of human rights.

"Amnesty has always said it is wrong to sell human rights consciousness for any material gains...Saudi Arabia nationals, like any other nationals, in Britain in the US or in any other, deserve respect and should not be punished for openly speaking their minds up. It is their right," said Chirouf.

During a state visit to Britain in 2007, the British and Saudi monarchs exchanged warm words sparking controversy. Queen Elizabeth II said to Saudi's King Abdullah at a banquet: "We also continue to work together against the terrorists who threaten the way of life of our citizens in both countries."

Those words and the visit itself drew protests and political controversy, with some politicians refusing to attend the banquet in protest at Saudi's human rights record and an allegedly corrupt arms contract.

Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia's apparent move in 2000 towards greater freedoms has been completely reversed in recent years, making a mockery of the fact that nine years ago the regime declared it "wholly embraced the universality of human rights".

Monday 20 July 2009

Greenpeace activists in India stage a demo asking the US to check greenhouse emissions

Activists of Greenpeace, a voluntary global organisation working for the protection and conservation of the environment along with like-minded NGOs, stage a demonstration in India's national capital New Delhi to draw the attention of the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the US to check green house emissions in her country.

NEW DELHI, INDIA (JULY 20, 2009) ANI- Activists of Greenpeace, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to the protection and conservation of environment along with volunteers of a few other like-minded NGOs, staged a demonstration in India's national capital New Delhi on Monday (July 20).
The objective of this poster demonstration was to implore upon the visiting United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to check the green house emissions in her country.

The demonstrators cited the suffering of the victims of the cyclone 'Aila' which they attributed to global warming.

Further they said that the United States roughly produces one-quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions as such it should instantly take steps to check the spate of emissions from its land.

"We have come here to tell Hillary Clinton that the Aila (cyclone) victims in Sundarbans are not responsible for what they have gone through. The emissions in United States have caused global warming and climatic changes due to a great extent. We want the United States to come up with deep emission cuts and then it should come to India and ask us to do something on climate change," said Siddharth Pathak, Climate Energy Campaigner, Greenhouse, Indian chapter.

The activists also said that the Indian youth is aware of the scenario and making efforts to check emissions which the United States too must emulate.

"We want the American government to take action on climate change just like the Indian youths are taking action here," added Rewa Prakash, an activist of Indian Youth Network, New Delhi.

Hillary Clinton, currently on a five-day visit to India, while speaking at an award-winning 'Green' building on the outskirts of New Delhi on Sunday (July 19) had said the challenge was to create a global framework that recognised the different needs and the responsibilities of developed and developing countries.

She had also observed that the United States and other countries which have been the major historic emitters of green house gases should shoulder the biggest burden for cleaning up the environment.

The United States wants India to agree to limit its carbon emissions ahead of the signing of a new UN climate treaty in Copenhagen in December.

At Copenhagen, more than 190 nations will try to set emission cuts targets to 2020.

India is of the view that rich nations are to be blamed the most for climate change and should make deeper cuts before asking others to do so.

It is reluctant to put any brakes on industry, to ensure its economy keeps up growth estimated at 7 percent this year with an eye to returning to 9 percent.

Sunday 19 July 2009

ASEAN ministers agree on draft of human rights body

ASEAN foreign ministers hold a summit in a Thai resort to discuss the formation of a human rights body after recent developments in Myanmar cast a shadow over the credibility of the 10-member bloc.

PHUKET, THAILAND (JULY 19, 2009) REUTERS - Foreign Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in Thailand's resort island of Phuket on Sunday (July 19) to discuss the formation of a Human Rights mechanism as part of the group's charter.
Recent developments in Myanmar have been a major setback for the credibility of the 10-member bloc comprised of Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei and the Philippines.

The group's principles of the Human Rights' Terms of Reference (TOR) are aiming to promote and protect the human rights in the region in line with international human rights norms and standards.

Following the meetingm, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said that ASEAN leaders, including Myanmar's Minister of Foreign Affairs Nyan Win, have agreed on a TOR draft. They also decided to appoint independent representatives for terms of up to three years, he added.

"Today the Foreign Minister of Myanmar is present with us to have agreed on the draft Term of Reference which we will finalise the agreement by tomorrow. So I do not see any deviation from the rest of the other nine ASEAN members. I think collectively we have made the joint deliberation and joint decision in a very positive manner," Kasit told a news conference at the summit.

He said the TOR will be reviewed every five years in order to strengthen the body implementing human rights in the region.

However the body has been criticised by activists for being toothless. They have complained that it does not include independent groups and monitors able to conduct investigations in countries where human rights violations take place, especially in Myanmar.

Human rights activists have made a number of demands to change the TOR in order to beef it up and bolster the protection mechanism.

Prominent regional analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University said that the framework to make the body a success is in place, but a lot more work is needed to give it credibility to meet international standards.

"They have to have body that has teeth, that has the autonomy, the independence and the ability to do the work. If they fall short of that, then the human rights body will be ineffective and meaningless. And if that's the case, that is going to be another setback for ASEAN," he said.

Myanmar's partners in ASEAN have tried to coax reforms from the generals for the past decade but they have failed to get the junta to free political prisoners including opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is on trial on charges of breaching the conditions of her house arrest.

ASEAN admits the trial has hurt its image, and fears its stubborn member will damage their relations with the West, but the group is far from expelling the generals as some wish.

The TOR has been drafted as part of the implementation of Article 14 of the ASEAN Charter which came into effect in December 2008.

Once the TOR is approved by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers, the ASEAN human rights body is then expected to be formally announced at the 15th ASEAN Summit in October 2009.

Palestinian Authority ends ban on Al-Jazeera

Journalists on Sunday (July 19) welcomed a statement by the Palestinian Authority that said on Saturday (July 28) it will allow Al-Jazeera television to resume operations in its territory after banning the news channel from broadcasting earlier this week.
The Palestinian Authority last week banned the Qatar-based Arabic news channel and threatened legal action over allegations it broadcast against President Mahmoud Abbas.

Salam Fayyad, prime minister in Abbas's government in the occupied West Bank, said in a statement he has decided to 'revoke the suspension of work' of the bureau of Al-Jazeera.

Fayyad added the Palestinian Authority would pursue legal action against the broadcaster for its 'continuous incitement' against the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian National Authority.

"There weren't conditions or demands, what happened is that I was called to the Prime minister office, where they noticed me about the decision as they told me when they closed the office. We hope that these procedures will be history," said Walid Al Omari, Bureaux Chief of Al Jazeera in the Palestinian Territories and Israel.

"We hope this will be the last procedures taken by the Palestinian authority against Media in the Palestinians territories, not only in West bank but also in Gaza strip," Al Omari added.

Last week, Palestinian Information Ministry said Al-Jazeera had spread falsehoods and incited viewers against the authorities that run the West Bank.

The ministry said allegations carried earlier on Al-Jazeera attributed to a senior figure in Abbas's Fatah party, Farouq al-Qadoumi, were untrue.

The channel quoted Qadoumi as saying Abbas conspired with Israel to kill his predecessor Yasser Arafat in 2003. Arafat died in a Paris hospital in 2004 of an undisclosed ailment.

Conny Mus, Foreign Press Association's Deputy Chairman in Israel, underlined the importance of free press in the region.

"We are very pleased that the Palestinian Authority reconsidered their decision and that Al-Jazeera can do their job as a journalistic operation in this part of the world and we hope that they will continue to respect the most holiest issue for any entity or a country and that is freedom of the press," Mus told Reuters in Jerusalem.