By Alan Travis
Appeal court judges have ruled the government’s mass digital surveillance regime unlawful in a case brought by the Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson.
Liberty, the human rights campaign group which represented Watson in the case, said the ruling meant significant parts of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 – known as the snooper’s charter – are effectively unlawful and must be urgently changed.
The government defended its use of communications data to fight serious and organised crime and said that the judgment related to out of date legislation. Minister Ben Wallace said that it would not affect the way law enforcement would tackle crime.
The court of appeal ruling on Tuesday said the powers in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, which paved the way for the snooper’s charter legislation, did not restrict the accessing of confidential personal phone and web browsing records to investigations of serious crime, and allowed police and other public bodies to authorise their own access without adequate oversight.
The three judges said Dripa was “inconsistent with EU law” because of this lack of safeguards, including the absence of “prior review by a court or independent administrative authority”.
Responding to the ruling, Watson said: “This legislation was flawed from the start. It was rushed through parliament just before recess without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
“The government must now bring forward changes to the Investigatory Powers Act to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are innocent victims or witnesses to crime, are protected by a system of independent approval for access to communications data. I’m proud to have played my part in safeguarding citizens’ fundamental rights.”
Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said: “Yet again a UK court has ruled the government’s extreme mass surveillance regime unlawful. This judgement tells ministers in crystal clear terms that they are breaching the public’s human rights.”
She said no politician was above the law. “When will the government stop bartering with judges and start drawing up a surveillance law that upholds our democratic freedoms?”
The Home Office announced a series of safeguards in November in anticipation of the ruling. They include removing the power of self-authorisation for senior police officers and requiring approval for requests for confidential communications data to be granted by the new investigatory powers commissioner. Watson and other campaigners said the safeguards were “half-baked” and did not go far enough.
The judges, headed by Sir Geoffrey Vos, declined to rule on the Home Office claim that the more rigorous “Watson safeguards” were not necessary for the use of bulk communications data for wider national security purposes.
The judges said the appeal court did not need to rule on this point because it had already been referred to the European court of justice in a case which is due to be heard in February.
Watson launched his legal challenge in 2014 in partnership with David Davis, who withdrew when he entered the government as Brexit secretary in 2016. The European court of justice ruled in December 2016 that the “general and indiscriminate retention” of confidential personal communications data was unlawful without safeguards, including independent judicial authorisation.
Security minister Ben Wallace responded to the ruling saying: “Communications data is used in the vast majority of serious and organised crime prosecutions and has been used in every major security service counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade. It is often the only way to identify paedophiles involved in online child abuse as it can be used to find where and when these horrendous crimes have taken place.”
He said the judgment related to legislation which was no longer in force and did not change the way in which law enforcement agencies could detect and disrupt crimes.
“We had already announced that we would be amending the Investigatory Powers Act to address the two areas in which the court of appeal has found against the previous data retention regime. We welcome the fact that the court of appeal ruling does not undermine the regime and we will continue to defend these vital powers, which Parliament agreed were necessary in 2016, in ongoing litigation,” he said.
Published on The Guardian on January 30, 2018
A Malaysian court on Monday said the religion of a minor could only be decided with consent from both parents, a landmark ruling ending a near decade-old case that widened religious and racial divisions.
The judgment is seen as a victory for ethnic and religious minorities in the Muslim-majority nation who are pushing for greater recognition of their rights, amid what critics see as growing Islamic conservatism in its government.
Five judges of Malaysia’s Federal Court said it was unconstitutional for just one parent to convert a minor to their religion.
“Both parents have equal rights,” the Star Online news site quoted one of the judges, Zainun Ali, as saying.
“The word ‘parent’ - is a case of being lost in translation,” she added, referring to a Malaysian constitutional provision.
The decision upholds a lower court ruling in favor of Indira Gandhi - who challenged the conversion of her three children by her Muslim-convert former husband in 2009.
The conversion of her three children was null and void, the judges added.
Until now, the unilateral conversion of minors by Muslim converts had left women with little recourse, as their complaints would be referred to a sharia religious court, where non-Muslims have no standing to make claims.
“It’s a great victory for many, because finally these unilateral conversions will stop,” said Kulasegaran Murugeson, Indira’s lead lawyer.
Muslims make up about 60 percent of a population of about 30 million, although Buddhists, Christians and Hindus account for a significant minority.
The ruling leaves police with the responsibility to locate and return Indira’s youngest daughter, taken away by her ex-husband, Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, in 2009, when she was 11 months old, Kulasegaran said.
Muhammad Riduan has yet to return the child and is believed to have gone into hiding, despite a 2010 high court order that awarded Indira custody of all three children.
However, police have not acted on that order until now, because of a conflict in the jurisdiction of civil and sharia courts.
“The police must go aggressively (to retrieve the child),”
Kulasegaran said. “Locating Muhammad Riduan is not impossible, and any extra day that goes by will only add to the pain of Indira and her family.”
The police will now obey the court order to track down Muhammad Riduan and the girl, media quoted the inspector-general of police, Mohamad Fuzi Harun, as saying.
The verdict was a “huge victory for all Malaysians” and for women like Indira who have faced “grave violations” of their rights, said Malaysian rights group the Women’s Aid Organisation.
The opposition and civil society groups have criticized Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration for taking a more conservative tack, such as backing a bill to widen sharia courts’ jurisdiction over Muslims in northern Kelantan state.
The government also faced criticism for dropping, as being unconstitutional, a family law change that would have brought cases of unilateral conversion within the purview of civil law.
Published on Reuters on January 29, 2018
By Annie Kelly
Victims of slavery who have acted as witnesses in the prosecution of their traffickers are ending up destitute and homeless on the streets of Britain, campaigners have warned.
Other potential whistleblowers, left without accommodation or access to support services for weeks after being identified as victims of slavery, have been forced to return to their traffickers simply to keep a roof over their heads.
“We know that once they have been formally identified as victims of slavery, most victims are not given a secure immigration status or right to remain and so find themselves almost instantly destitute and without anywhere to live,” said Kate Roberts of the Human Trafficking Foundation.
She said there was a lack of reliable data on what happened to people following positive identification as victims of slavery under the government’s national referral mechanism (NRM).
“Anecdotally, we know that some victims who have done everything they have been asked to by the authorities are actively re-entering exploitation just to get a roof over their heads. Others who have helped secure the prosecution of their traffickers are finding themselves on the streets,” said Roberts.
“At a time when the government and police services are under fire for failing to use the Modern Slavery Act to secure more prosecutions, the failure to provide victims with basic support services immediately is utterly counterproductive.”
Hope for Justice, which provides pro bono legal support to victims of slavery, said that in 2015, 70% of their clients faced homelessness and reported problems accessing welfare support.
“If someone disappears or is homeless and potentially re-trafficked, we have not only failed in a basic moral duty, we have also lost them as a potential prosecution witness,” said Phillipa Roberts, the organisation’s legal director.
Roberts said that while funding shortfalls since 2015 have meant the charity could only take on the “most at need” cases, the situation facing clients has become increasingly desperate.
Last year, a highly critical report by the House of Commons work and pensions committee said there was an “inexcusable” lack of support for the estimated 13,000 modern victims in the UK.
The committee recommended the introduction of a system to give all confirmed victims of slavery at least one year’s leave to remain, with recourse to benefits and services.
Currently, the Home Office provides victims of trafficking with 45 days of support while they go through the NRM process, with an additional two weeks if they receive a positive identification. Last October, the government announced it was extending post-identification support to 45 days.
“Obviously we welcome any extension but, while this is some help, it is still not sufficient to ensure that victims are not falling off a cliff-edge at the end of this period,” said Roberts.
Anti-trafficking charities have formed a new coalition, Free for Good, to support new victim support legislation written by Lord McColl of Dulwich, aiming to implement the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee in law.
“The government does not have an understanding of what happens to victims of modern slavery once they have been rescued, leaving them impoverished, homeless and often deported to a country where they have no friends or family,” said Frank Field, the Labour MP taking the bill through the House of Commons.
In a statement, the Home Office said: “In October 2017 we announced a package of reforms to the national referral mechanism, the system for identifying and supporting victims. Confirmed victims of modern slavery will receive a minimum of 90 days’ specialist support, including accommodation, subsistence, counselling, access to mental, physical and dental health services, and signposting to legal support.”
Published on The Guardian on January 25, 2018
The Trump administration is preparing to withhold tens of millions of dollars from the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, cutting the year’s first contribution by more than half or perhaps entirely and making additional donations contingent on major changes to the organization, US officials said.
Donald Trump has not made a final decision but appears more likely to send only $60m of a planned $125m first installment to the UN Relief and Works Agency, said the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
Future contributions would require the agency, which faces heavy criticism from Israel, to demonstrate significant changes in operations, the officials said, adding that one suggestion under consideration would require the Palestinians to re-enter peace talks with Israel.
The state department said on Sunday that “the decision is under review. There are still deliberations taking place.”
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the matter.
The administration could announce its decision as early as Tuesday, the officials said. The plan to withhold some money is backed by the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and defense secretary, James Mattis, who offered it as a compromise to demands for more drastic measures by the UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, the officials said.
Haley wants a complete cutoff in US money until the Palestinians resume peace talks that have been frozen for years. But Tillerson, Mattis and others say ending all assistance would exacerbate instability in the Middle East, notably in Jordan, a host to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and a crucial US strategic partner.
The US is the agency’s largest donor, supplying nearly 30% of its total budget. The agency focuses on providing healthcare, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians either fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to the establishment of Israel in 1948. Today, there are an estimated 5 million refugees and their descendants, scattered across the region.
Eliminating or sharply reducing US aid could hamstring the UN agency, putting great pressure on Jordan and Lebanon as well as the Palestinian Authority. Gaza would be particularly hard hit. Some officials, including Israelis, warn that it might push people closer to the militant Hamas movement, which controls Gaza.
The US officials said any reduction in assistance could be accompanied by calls for European nations and others to help make up the shortfall.
The US donated $355m in 2016 and was set to make a similar contribution this year. But after a highly critical 2 January tweet from Trump on aid to the Palestinians, the state department opted to wait for a formal policy decision before sending any of the first $125m.
Trump’s tweet expressed frustration over the lack of progress in his attempts to broker peace.
“We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” he wrote. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
Although Trump referred to all US assistance to the Palestinians, the contribution to the UN refugee agency would be the first to be affected.
Three days after the tweet, at a White House meeting on 5 January, senior national security officials try to find a way forward. Led by representatives from the state department and Pentagon, all but one of the members of the policy coordination committee agreed to continue the funding, officials said.
The lone holdout was Haley’s representative, who insisted Trump’s tweet had set the policy and the money must be cut off, the officials said. The meeting ended in a stalemate.
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, then weighed in, telling his cabinet he agreed with the critique of the agency, which he said perpetuates problems and should cease operating in the region.
Netanyahu and other Israelis accuse it of allowing its facilities to be used by militants. They have also complained that some of its staff are biased against Israel.
Netanyahu suggested transferring the agency’s budget to the UN high commissioner for refugees, which aids refugee matters everywhere in the world. It was not immediately clear whether any withheld US assistance would be shifted.
Netanyahu’s position, coupled with Haley’s firm opposition, led Tillerson, with the support of Mattis, to propose the $60m compromise, the officials said.
Trump, who last year upset the Palestinians by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing plans to move the US embassy to the holy city, was said by one official to have expressed cautious backing of the compromise.
Published on The Guardian on January 14, 2018
By Inimai Chettiar, Director, Brennan Center's Justice Program
& Udi Ofer, Deputy National Political Director and Director of Campaign for Smart Justice, ACLU
For decades, politicians competed to see who could push the most draconian criminal justice policies. Jeff Sessions's announcement this month that he would authorize federal prosecutors to go after pot even in states where it is legal seems ripped straight from that playbook. But the “tough on crime” attorney general may be in for a surprise. In 2018, it turns out, demagoguery about crime no longer packs a political punch. In fact, support for reform may prove to be a sleeper issue in 2018 and 2020.
This would be a big change. Candidates most prominently began to compete on crime in the tumultuous 1960s. Richard Nixon won with ads showing burning cities and scowling young men, ads crafted by an unknown aide named Roger Ailes. Ronald Reagan launched a “war on drugs.” George H.W. Bush won in 1988 with notorious ads telling the story of Willie Horton, who was allowed out of prison under a weekend furlough program. Bill Clinton in 1992 bragged of his support for the death penalty. These chest-thumping themes were echoed in hundreds of campaigns down the ballot each year.
Politics driven by fear of crime had direct, destructive social costs. Today, with just under five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has nearly 25 percent of its prisoners. Black communities bear the brunt, with one in four Black men serving time during their lifetimes.
Over the last decade, a bipartisan movement has arisen to push back and revise criminal justice policy. Throughout 2016 it made real strides. Black Lives Matter and advocates brought national awareness. The Democratic and Republican parties included reducing imprisonment in their platforms — a stark reversal of past policy. Every major candidate for president — with the exception of Donald Trump — went on the record supporting justice reform.
Then came the startling rise of President Trump. In his inaugural address, he warned of “American carnage” and rampant crime. His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had killed the bipartisan sentencing reform bill as a senator. Now, at the Justice Department, he is piece-by-piece dismantling his predecessors’ efforts to reduce federal imprisonment rates. This has chilled the artery of many politicians once eager to support reform efforts in Washington.
For Trump and Sessions, it seemed, it was still 1968. They are waging traditional scare politics. But something unexpected happened on the way to the backlash.
Lawmakers in blue and red states alike pressed forward with reforms. In 2017, 19 states passed 57 pieces of bipartisan reform legislation. Louisiana reduced sentences. Connecticut modernized bail. Georgia overhauled probation. Michigan passed an 18-bill package to reduce its prison population.
And in the 2017 elections, candidates won on platforms that proactively embraced justice reform. In Virginia, for example, gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie defined his campaign by running modern day “Willie Horton” ads against Ralph Northam for restoring the right to vote to former prisoners, and branded him as “weak” on MS-13. Voters handed Northam a sizeable win. In deeply conservative Alabama, Doug Jones campaigned on criminal justice reform. Trump repeatedly attacked Doug Jones as “soft on crime.” But Jones beat Roy Moore.
Urban politics have been transformed, too. District attorneys campaigning on reducing imprisonment are winning across the nation, most recently in Philadelphia. Justice reform proved a powerful organizing issue among the young and in communities of color.
There’s a reason that candidates who embrace a criminal justice reform platform do well. Ninety-one percent of Americans support criminal justice reform, with two in three Americans (including 65 percent of Trump voters) more likely to vote for candidates who support reducing imprisonment. An even higher percentage support an end to mandatory minimums, and 64 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization (including 51 percent of Republicans).
All of this creates a real political opening for politicians ready to act with just a modicum of courage. If Democrats want to demonstrate care for Black communities, they should campaign on ending mass incarceration. Polls show this is a winning issue for Republicans too. Trump and Sessions lie far out of the mainstream. At the federal level, candidates can support the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and the Reverse Mass Incarceration Act. At the state level, they can support ending imprisonment for many crimes, shortening sentences for others, reforming drug laws, turning felonies into misdemeanors, and ending cash bail.
To be sure, the public still worries about crime. After the police protests, conservatives claimed that a “Ferguson effect” was causing police to pull back, leading to a reversal of long-term trends toward greater public safety. But new statistics show that that spike was just that: a temporary twitch upward, with crime headed back down in 2017. And states over the last decade have shown crime and incarceration can be reduced together.
For decades, like death and taxes, tough-on-crime politics seemed as if it would always be with us. Crime scare ads have lost their potent power. Criminal justice reform turns out to be a political winner.
Published on ACLU on January 15, 2018
By Dwayne Wong (Omowale)
The people of Barbuda are concerned that the rebuilding process that is taking place on the island is being used as an opportunity to overturn the system of collective land ownership on the island. The government is working to push through a bill that will amend the 2007 Barbuda Land Act. Some Barbudans attempted to halt the discussions of the bill in parliament on the grounds that neither the Barbudan Council nor the people of Barbuda have been involved in the process, but the High Court refused to interveneon their behalf.
The people of Barbuda have been expressing frustration over being left out of the discussions concerning the future of their land. Moreover, there is also frustration that their concerns are being dismissed by Prime Minister Gaston Browne. Browne has described Barbuda’s communal land ownership as a “myth” and castigated people who were raising concerns about a land grab taking place in Barbuda as being “dunce elements”. Recently Senator Daryll Matthew similarly dismissed Barbuda’s communal land ownership as being “a farce and a fallacy.” Rather than engaging in the spirit of open and honest discussion, the prime minister and others in the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party have taken a very dismissive approach to the concerns being raised by the people of Barbuda.
Matthew continued on to explain: “Indigenous people are people defined in international and national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory and their cultural and historical distinctiveness from other populations that are often politically dominant”. He argued that did not apply to the people of Barbuda because, as Matthew explained: “Our Barbudan brothers and sisters are just like we are here in Antigua. They are the descendants of the same slaves, from the same coast on Africa, came over on the same ship, who just happen to have been living in a different part of our nation”.
One could just as easily argue that Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Barbadians, Vincentians, and Haitians are also just like the people of Antigua and Barbuda in that they descend from the same slaves, come from the same coast on Africa, and just happen to live in different parts of the Caribbean, but that has nothing to do with the debate over Barbuda’s land. One has to understand that originally Barbuda did not want to form a unitary state with Antigua because the feared that what is happening right now would happen. They feared that they would be dominated by the larger island and that the government of Antigua would not reflect their interests. The concerns of the Barbudan people cannot simply be explained away by employing Black Stalin’s “one race from the same place” approach to Caribbean unity.
Keep in mind that as the debate over the future of Barbuda’s land is taking place, there are also still questions about the money that was collected for Barbuda’s relief and reconstruction. Barbudans are also demanding that the schools on the island be reopened. Fifty-three parents went so far as to write a letter to the director of education because they felt that restoring education services in the island is not being treated as a priority. Apart from the struggle that is being waged over the land issue, there are other battles that are being fought by the people of Barbuda as they work to rebuild their island.
Published on HuffPost on January 13, 2018
By Jamie Doward
A human rights deficit will be created by the government’s EU withdrawal bill, leaving many different groups in society without adequate protection, leading civil rights bodies warn in a letter published in the Observer.
The organisations spell out profound concerns that a raft of rights will be jettisoned with no adequate replacement once the bill becomes law and the UK leaves the EU.
Among others, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Amnesty International, Liberty, the Fawcett Society and National Aids Trust warn that the bill, which is returning to the House of Commons on 16 January, “will not protect people’s rights in the UK as the government promised”. They say: “This is in large part because the bill removes the EU charter of fundamental rights from our law.”
David Isaac, the chair of the EHRC, the UK’s own independent human rights watchdog, said: “The government has promised there will be no rowing back on people’s rights after Brexit. If we lose the charter protections, that promise will be broken. It will cause legal confusion and there will be gaps in the law.
“While securing trade deals is vital for our economy, equality and human rights are also essential. They must also be the focus for the type of country we want to be after Brexit. Current protections must not be jeopardised.”
According to the signatories to the letter, “The charter protects rights important to all of us: including rights to dignity, protection of personal data and health; and protections for workers, women, children, and older people, LGBTI and disabled people.”
The government maintains that the charter will cease to be part of UK law when Britain leaves the EU but insists that rights will not be weakened following Brexit. However, the signatories claim that independent legal advice shows this to be wrong.
“Losing it creates a human rights hole because the charter provides some rights and judicial remedies that have no clear equivalents in UK law,” they write.
“Furthermore, by keeping the wide and complex body of EU law while throwing away the charter, which is the code to unlock it, the government risks creating confusion, jamming itself in a mountain of legal cases.” According to the EHRC, rights that would be lost, and which do not have direct equivalents in other UK human rights law, include a freestanding right to non-discrimination, protection of a child’s best interests and the right to human dignity.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, has said that Labour will propose an amendment to the withdrawal bill when it returns to the Commons on Tuesday, aimed at retaining the charter as part of UK law.
Trevor Tayleur, an associate professor at the University of Law, explained that the charter, although narrower in focus than the Human Rights Act, offers a more robust defence of fundamental rights.
“At present, the main means of protecting human rights in the UK is the Human Rights Act 1998,” he said. “This incorporates the bulk of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the European convention on human rights into UK law and thereby enables individuals to enforce their convention rights in the UK courts. However, there is a significant limitation to the protection afforded by the HRA because it does not override acts of parliament.
“In contrast, the protection afforded by the EU charter of fundamental rights is much stronger because where there is a conflict between basic rights contained in the charter and an act of the Westminster parliament, the charter will prevail over the act.”
Koldo Casla, policy director at Just Fair, an NGO that monitors and campaigns for economic and social rights in the UK, is one of the letter’s signatories. He said: “Britain is the land of the Charter of the Forest, the Peasants’ Revolt and the Putney Debates, the birthplace of Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill, the country of the NHS, the home of the council house.
Social rights have been part of Britain’s tradition for centuries and Brexit should not change that. We must preserve the EU charter of fundamental rights and we must incorporate into our legal system all other social rights standards that the UK has voluntarily signed up to at the international level.”
Published on The Guardian on January 13, 2018
Sustainability Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Hong Kong, as a chapter of the global SDSN of the United Nations, was launched on Monday.
It aims to mobilize expertise, information and resources from academia, philanthropy, government, business and nonprofits to respond to challenges of sustainable development at both local and global scales.
Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, chief executive of China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), said at the launching ceremony at the Chinese University of Hong Kong that HKSAR government is fully committed to sustainable development, especially its three main dimensions, namely economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection.
She noted that SDSN Hong Kong will connect stakeholders from various sectors forming a global network for the exchange of scientific and technological knowledge for the development of innovative ideas and practical solutions to sustainable development.
"Such connection is set to benefit Hong Kong, other members of the network, and the sustainable development of the world," Lam said.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of SDSN of the United Nations, delivered a keynote speech and called for international cooperation to achieve sustainable development goals.
"We are launching a partnership of great significance. I am deeply confident that we will contribute to Hong Kong's well-being, but I also especially excited that, through the collaborative partnership, Hong Kong will contribute to global well-being," Sachs said.
Published on Xinhuanet on January 8, 2018
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the press law amendments that President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law yesterday because they deal a new series of blows to media freedom in Kazakhstan, especially to investigative journalism and access to state-held information.
As Kazakh press legislation already contained many draconian provisions, hopes were raised by the original announcement that it was to be amended, and again when journalists were consulted about the changes, as this is not customary in Kazakhstan.
But these amendments will just make things worse. After the lower house passed them in late November, RSF joined Kazakh press freedom groups in urging the senate to reject them – but to no avail.
“Far from the announced intentions, this package of amendments obstructs the activities of journalists even more and makes them more vulnerable to pressure,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“We deeply regret that, although media professionals were consulted, their opinions were ignored. The authorities need to understand that journalistic freedom and independence would benefit society as a whole and the country’s development.”
Under one of the most controversial amendments, journalists are required to obtain the permission of persons named in their articles before publishing information involving matters of “personal and family confidentiality.”
Kazakh law already protects the right to privacy and medical confidentiality, among others, and this new form of confidentiality is left undefined, opening the way to the broadest possible interpretation. Investigative journalists fear it could obstruct their reporting, especially coverage of corruption. There is similar concern about a ban on “information violating lawful interests,” which are also not defined.
One of the amendments complicates the right of access to state-held information. The length of the time within which officials must answer journalists’ questions is more than doubled, with the result that by the time journalists get their answer, there is every chance it will no longer be newsworthy. Furthermore, officials are also given the right to classify certain answers.
Under one of the amendments, Internet users are required to identify themselves before posting a comment on a news website, and their information will be stored for three months. This suggests that there could be a further increase in the number of people being jailed because of their online comments, which has already grown sharply in recent years.
The package nonetheless does include a few positive amendments that were the result of the prior consultation with media representatives and NGOs. The right of control over one’s own photographic or video image is restricted during public events and a procedure is established for settling press-related disputes out of court.
Also, the authorities will no longer be able to impose such drastic sanctions as the confiscation of a newspaper issue or the closure of a media outlet in response to minor regulatory violations. It should nonetheless be pointed out that the leading independent media outlets have already been forced to close on the basis of such minor violations.
There have been almost no independent media outlets in Kazakhstan since the simultaneous closure of all the leading national opposition newspapers in December 2012. This dire situation has been compounded by the judicial system’s readiness to cooperate in arrests of outspoken journalists and bloggers.
Kazakhstan is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
Published on Reporters Without Borders on December 29, 2017
Norway has suspended exports of weapons and ammunition to the United Arab Emirates over concerns they could be used in the war in Yemen, the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
The UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition formed in 2015 to fight the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa, in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million.
While there is no evidence that Norwegian-made ammunition has been used in Yemen, there was a rising risk related to the UAE’s military involvement there, the ministry said.
“The decision reflects the strict precautionary approach taken by Norway,” it added.
Existing export permits had been temporarily revoked and no new licenses would be issued under the current circumstances. The decision was made on Dec. 19, but was not made public until Wednesday.
In 2016, Norwegian exports of weapons and ammunition to the UAE rose to 79 million Norwegian crowns ($9.7 million) from 41 million in 2015, Statistics Norway data showed.
Human rights groups and several members of Norway’s parliament have for months campaigned for a halt in arms exports to the UAE.
“It is fantastic that the government finally has taken responsibility to end weapons exports to a country which is active in the bombing of schools and hospitals in Yemen,” said Line Hegna, a spokeswoman for the Norwegian branch of charity Save the Children.
“Furthermore, we are hopeful that the decision taken by the Norwegian government can act as an example for other exporting nations to act responsibly in the face of repeated violations of international humanitarian law,” she added.
Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang on Tuesday published what it said was video footage of a small remote-operated submarine captured by Houthi rebels and produced by Norwegian defense contractor Kongsberg Gruppen.
“This submarine has been seized in Yemeni waters and it belongs to the Saudi-American enemy,” a voice in the video said.
Reuters was not able to verify the authenticity of the footage.
Kongsberg Gruppen, which is 50 percent owned by the Norwegian government, declined to comment on the Verdens Gang story, while the foreign ministry said it had no knowledge of the vessel’s origins.
The Houthi news agency al-Masirah published similar video footage on Jan. 1 which it said showed the capture of a military reconnaissance submersible device by their naval frogmen. It did not specify the origin of the device or refer to Norway in its report.
The sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and other coalition members has also stirred debate in other European countries, including Britain. Last July, London’s High Court rejected a claim by campaigners that billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia should be halted because they were being used in Yemen in violation of international humanitarian law.
The Department for International Trade said on Wednesday that the British government “operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world”.
“We rigorously examine every application, including those from the UAE, on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. We will not grant a license if to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria,” a spokesperson said.
The opposition Labour party, however, said it would continue to call for the suspension of all British arms sales to Saudi Arabia “until there is evidence of a complete halt to the use of British weapons against any civilian population”.
While weapons exports to the UAE have been allowed since 2010, Norway does not permit sale of arms or ammunition to Saudi Arabia.
The Norwegian parliament’s foreign relations committee is due to debate the country’s arms sales later this month.
UAE officials were not immediately available for comment.
Published on Reuters on January 3, 2018