Archive for January, 2008

Tell us something we don’t know

The US, EU and other democracies are accepting flawed and unfair elections out of political expediency, Human Rights Watch says in its annual report.

Allowing autocrats to pose as democrats without demanding they uphold civil and political rights risked undermining human rights worldwide, it warned.

HRW said Pakistan, Thailand, Bahrain, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya and Russia had been falsely claiming to be democratic.

The World Report 2008 summarises human rights issues in more than 75 nations.


Tone deaf defence of human rights


Afghan senate confirms death sentence for reporter

Afghanistan’s upper house of parliament lauded the death sentence handed down against a local journalist who was found guilty of insulting Islam, an official said Wednesday.

In a statement signed by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the chamber’s chairman, the Senate also condemned what it called “international interference” to have the sentence annulled, spokesman Aminuddin Muzafari said.

The journalist, 23-year-old Sayed Parwez Kaambakhsh, was sentenced to death last week by a three-judge panel in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif for distributing a report he printed off the Internet to journalism students at Balkh University.

The article asked why men can have four wives but women can’t have multiple husbands.

The court in Mazar-i-Sharif found that the article humiliated Islam. Members of a clerical council also pushed for Kaambakhsh to be punished.


‘He would have been killed like a pig’

A man has pleaded guilty to a plot to kidnap and kill a Muslim soldier in the British army by cutting off his head “like a pig,” a court was told on Tuesday.

Parviz Khan, a 37-year-old Briton, pleaded guilty this month to a series of charges including the beheading plot, which was foiled by police and the MI5 security service a year ago.

Media had been barred from reporting Khan’s plea until Tuesday when a trial of two other men opened in the central English city of Leicester.

News of the plot leaked to the media last year, prompting parallels with al Qaeda hostage killings in Iraq.

Prosecutor Nigel Rumfitt told the jury to ignore what they had heard. While Khan and the other defendants were Muslims, “this is not a prosecution of the Islamic faith,” he said.

Khan was “a man who has the most violent and extreme Islamist views” who wanted to get physically involved in acts of terrorism, Rumfitt said.

“He was enraged by the idea that there were Muslim soldiers in the British army, some of them Muslims from The Gambia in west Africa.”

Khan decided to kidnap such a soldier with the help of drug dealers operating in the central English city of Birmingham. The victim was to be seized while enjoying a night out and bundled into a car, Rumfitt said.

“He would be taken to a lockup garage and there he would be murdered by having his head cut off like a pig. This atrocity would be filmed” and distributed to spread panic and fear in the British armed forces and the public, he said.


George W. Bush v. Muhammad ibn Tughlug

Ibn Battuta, the famous 14th c. world traveler, spent some time as a judge in the service of Mohammed ibn Tugluq, the fabulously wealthy Sultan of Delhi. At the end of his description of that part of his life, he has two summary sections, one listing good things about his boss, one bad things.

One of the good things involved an incident where the Sultan slapped a young man under circumstances where he had no legal right to do so. The young man went to law. Mohammed ibn Tugluq made no attempt to block the legal procedings. The court found in the plaintiff’s favor, ruling that he had the right either to monetary compensation from the Sultan or to repay slap for slap. He took the second option, slapped the Sultan and, Ibn Battuta tells us, he himself saw the Sultan’s turban come off and fall to the ground.

Reading the account, two things are clear. One is that Ibn Battuta believed that the Sultan acted properly, that rulers ought to be under the law just like other people. The other is that he did not expect rulers to act that way, hence regarded doing so as particularly creditable.

Some years ago, George Bush confessed to multiple felonies committed both by himself and some of the people who work for him—interceptions of phone communications without the warrants required by FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, written to regulate just such interceptions. Under the act, either making such an interception or knowingly using information obtained by such an interception is a felony punishable by up to five years and ten thousand dollars. By Bush’s own account he had himself committed the latter felony and lots of people at NSA had committed the former.

For some reason, none of them have been charged.

Somewhat later, it came out that U.S. phone companies had turned over to the government massive amounts of customer information in violation of a different federal law. A few of the customers sued. The administration is currently attempting to get Congress to pass legislation that will immunize the phone companies from liability.

One can’t expect all rulers to live up to the high standards of the 14th century Sultan of Delhi.


(Although Bush hasn’t moved his capital several hundred miles cross-country, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people. Yet.)

Sympathize with Gaza


(Pale) Red Ken does himself no favours

[Ken] Livingstone said that although he had initially been opposed to the mayor having so much unchecked power, he had come to see the benefits of being given a free rein. “If we didn’t have that, I couldn’t have got the congestion charge through, we couldn’t have sustained the increase in the budget. It’s a much better mechanism to deliver change,” he said.


International Federation of Journalists urge Karzai to overturn death sentence against Afghan reporter

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on its members to join a campaign to urge Afghan President Hamid Karzai to overturn a death sentence handed down to journalist Sayed Parwez Kambakhsh who has been convicted in a hasty and unfair trial of blasphemy for allegedly downloading an article from a Farsi-language web site and distributing it among four friends and for possessing books that contain anti-Islamic sentiment.

“It is shocking and horrifying that a court would hand down a death sentence to a journalist in a trial where he was not even allowed legal representation for his defence,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “This is an attack on press freedom and due process and we are calling on President Karzai to exercise his presidential powers and intervene to stop this in justice.”

The IFJ has sent a letter to Karzai asking him to overturn the sentence. It is also calling on its members to contact the embassies and foreign ministers in their countries to urge them to intervene in this case.

According to reports from the IFJ’s local affiliates, including the Afghan Independent Journalists Association, Mr. Kambakhsh, a journalism student and reporter for the daily newspaper Jahan-e Naw, was convicted on Tuesday of blasphemy by a religious Islamic court and was not represented by a lawyer at the time of the trial.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Information and Culture said in a statement that Kambakhsh’s case is not a journalistic issue. It also said the decision of the primary court is not final.



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