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- Vladimir Putin's goal is to destroy Russian civil society | Lyudmila Alexeeva
RussiaEuropeWorld newsVladimir PutinHuman rightsLawProtestThe GuardianComment
For demanding fair elections and respect for the constitution, Russians are being treated as spies and traitors
I have been active in the human rights scene here since the dark days of the Soviet Union. As I look across today's Russia, I have every reason to believe that at the very top, the Kremlin has decided to destroy my country's civil society for daring to raise its head in protest against government repression and to demand fair elections and respect for the constitution.
From the end of the 80s to the middle of this century's first decade, a lively and active civil society formed in Russia. Today, it is an obstacle in the path of President Putin and his circle, who aim to form a harshly authoritarian, perhaps even totalitarian, regime.
It is precisely to destroy civil society ? and primarily the human rights groups that form its backbone ? that a series of repressive laws were adopted in 2012 by Russia's Duma, elected fraudulently and obedient to Putin. One of these laws requires that NGOs which receive funding from abroad and "engage in politics" voluntarily register as "foreign agents". This demand is the equivalent of Nazi Germany's demand that Jews don a yellow star.
This law is directed against human rights organisations that have to receive financing from foreign donors in order to maintain their independence ? since neither the Russian government nor big business will support organisations whose goal is to protect citizens from violations of their rights by the state.
The foreign agents' law should not apply to human rights NGOs, as they do not engage in politics. However, the law defines the term "politics" as including "influencing the formation of public opinion" ? and, of course, human rights NGOs do exactly that. For violating this law, NGOs face closure and fines of up to 500,000 rubles (£11,000), while their leaders face fines of up to 300,000 rubles and up to two years' imprisonment.
If the law demanded that NGOs register as organisations receiving foreign grants, all of us would register, as this would reflect the truth. But we cannot register as foreign agents. In Russia, "foreign agent" means "traitor", "spy". We are not agents of foreign governments or private foundations, as we do not carry out their instructions. To register as their agents would mean sacrificing our reputation.
Because not a single NGO registered as a foreign agent, several weeks ago the authorities began a mass wave of inspections across the country led by the state prosecutor, the ministry of justice and the tax authorities. We are aware of about 500 NGOs that have undergone such inspections ? there are probably many more.
By law, the prosecutor has the right to conduct inspections only where there is evidence that a given organisation has, or is planning to, violate the law. The simultaneous inspection of hundreds of NGOs is a clearly illegal action by the prosecutor, whose mission is to ensure the law is obeyed.
Several dozen of the inspected NGOs have now received instructions stating that they are required to register as foreign agents. Golos, which organised election observers who uncovered massive falsifications during the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2011-2012, was the first to be sanctioned by the courts, receiving a fine of 300,000 rubles. All of these organisations are on the verge of being closed down.
The Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest human rights organisation, awaits this fate by the end of May, as do others. It is absolutely clear that Vladimir Putin's goal, as he begins his third term in office, is to destroy all independent civic activity. It is clear he fears that otherwise he will not succeed in retaining his office, let alone strengthening his authoritarian regime.
- Legal aid cuts: what price justice? | Zoe Williams
Legal aidUK newsUK criminal justiceLawChris GraylingPoliticsBarristersThe GuardianFeatures
Chris Grayling wants to strip £220m from the legal aid bill by denying defendants a choice of representation. Do we really want to put our legal system in the hands of the lowest bidder?
In Sheffield magistrates court, Mr Zahedi has just been bailed; he only speaks Farsi. He is shaking his head as if a terrible mistake has been made, not by the court, not in the charge, but that his standing in this room at all, in his glass cage, is all the result of a factual error. He blows everybody a kiss in thanks. His bail conditions are that he stay away from a particular person; they can't curfew him because he's homeless. Most nights he sleeps behind the police station.
His solicitor, Lucy Hogarth, explains: "It took me and the clerk to persuade the court that they couldn't remand him in custody, because the trial isn't going to result in a custodial sentence. But the prosecutor wanted to lock him up."
Her next client, Mr Oates, is up for benefit fraud, but the Department for Work and Pensions hasn't sent the paperwork for two days, during which time he's been held in a cell. "Without me asking," Hogarth says, "he'd probably still be in there."
Nobody, not even justice secretary Chris Grayling, would dispute the importance of having legal representation when you've been arrested. But the consultation paper from the Ministry of Justice disputes almost everything else about the way the system works. Grayling proposes to remove client choice, and allocate legal representation from a government agency. His rationale runs thus: "I don't believe that most people who find themselves in our criminal justice system are great connoisseurs of legal skills. We know the people in our prisons and who come into our courts often come from the most difficult and challenged backgrounds."
It's a densely packed insult, in which Grayling manages not only to elide criminality with stupidity, but also takes a difficult background as a reason to disregard a person's judgment, and most strikingly, uses the fact that someone has been arrested as an indication that they are probably guilty. It swims against the principle of the presumption of innocence; not for nothing do lawyers complain that when you have the first non-lawyer as lord chancellor in modern times, it shows.
The first thing to scotch, though, is not Grayling's fitness for his role, but one of the ideas underpinning his proposals, that somehow £220m can be stripped out of the legal aid bill by denying the accused a choice of representation. The Ministry of Justice hopes to make us think of indolent criminals sitting in their cells and flicking through a brochure of fat cat solicitors and barristers, choosing the Rolls-Royce option because they're worth it. In fact, legal aid is covered by a series of fees. There's a fee for a guilty plea, and a fee for a not-guilty plea, which covers up to five pre-trial hearings and the first two days of a trial; there is a daily rate thereafter. Broadly, it hasn't gone up since 1997, and it's been whittled away by a series of changes (the least technical of which is that solicitors no longer get paid for their travel, which, when you have to make repeated visits to a young offender in a distant YO institute, will bring you well below the minimum wage).
The salaries are pretty modest ? Hogarth would be on £35 to £40k, if she could get full-time work, which she can't. When they're on a rota for arrests, they can work junior doctor hours, finishing at 5pm, going straight to the police station, working most of the night, having an hour or so to sleep before starting again at nine. Lawyer Shazia Parveen says, "When I'm on duty during Ramadan you can hear me on the interview tapes opening a bag of crisps. Just so I've put something on my tongue, to break the fast."
Rebecca Lee, a barrister at the Chambers of Andrew Trollope QC, makes £42,000 a year before tax. Hogarth says: "They seem to think that we work doing mergers and acquisitions in the City four days a week, then we come down in our Learjets to Sheffield magistrates court for the other day." She continues, "I don't know where Chris Grayling thinks we've come from, but a lot of us are from similar backgrounds to our clients, and that's why they'll talk to us."
In the consultation paper there's a curious claim ? that over the past 10 years public confidence in the legal aid system has gone down. Nobody really knows where the MoJ got that from, but it's true that the government constantly trumpets the fact that legal aid is more expensive here than in other countries, so that message may have penetrated. But it's not salaries that make it expensive, so much as the process. Jessica Pemberton, a barrister from St Johns Buildings who specialises in cases involving children, said: "The system is of a very high quality. We should be proud of how rigorous and robust it is, even while that may mean higher costs."
Whether we're proud of it or not, this answer ? to talk up the salaries within the profession in order to whittle them down from a middling start ? isn't going to work. The training, if you did it full time, could take seven or eight years. Who would take that on to enter a profession that might top out, annually, at less than you spent on tuition fees?
But if the system already operates to a flat fee, how would allocating a solicitor be any cheaper? Price competitive tendering, Rebecca Lee explains. "At the moment there are about 1,600 criminal justice firms, and they all have a contract with the lord chancellor. If they do a bad job, he can terminate them with six months' notice. What they're proposing is that, under the new contract with 400 firms, if they have to terminate the contract, they will pay compensation to the firm. One reason could be because they want to attract people who've never done it before, and they want to do it on the cheap."
In the north of England, the proposals would see the current 53 providers of legal aid being reduced to eight. The price is capped at 17.5% lower than the current contracts, and bids are invited below that. It is the same story nationwide and, at the moment, legal firms are saying they won't bid; Stobarts (the haulier), Tesco (the food shop) and Co-op (who should know better) have all thrown their hats into the ring. (Co-op later withdrew, saying they'd wait until the second round of contracts, in three years' time.)
If you want to see the kind of chaos price competitive tendering brings to justice, you only need look at interpreters (one solicitor said she had "your interpreter hasn't arrived" in seven different languages on her phone. "I don't even know if they're right. I got it off Google Translate"). One barrister had spent three days in court, waiting for Serco to deliver a defendant and two interpreters. None of them turned up. There is quite a lot of waste in criminal justice, almost all of it, as far as I can see, generated by the involvement of large private companies bidding for contracts at prices they can't really deliver on.
And that's what they want to roll out for the whole of legal aid. Rebecca Lee says, "What will end up happening is that you'll get allotted a firm of solicitors, and if they're rubbish, there's nothing you can do about it. Quality will become uneconomic and there won't be much incentive for a solicitor to do a decent job." She sees this as no less than a deliberate undervaluing of professional standards. "There's a huge deprofessionalisation of professions going on, teachers and policemen replaced by teaching assistants and PCSOs. It gets rid of skills. It increases inequality."
A couple of weeks ago Lee's client was Anthony, a juvenile accused of a burglary. He was uncommunicative, the way teenagers are, but quite witty on the subject of Serco and their electronic tag administration. Technically, on his school record, he's one of the people Grayling would class as "no great connoisseur", and yet his easy use of a whole range of legal terms suggested quite an advanced understanding of the process. Sure, in an ideal world, he wouldn't have had so much cause to learn what "mitigate" means. But he didn't lack discernment.
This case offers some insights into the plea process ? one of Grayling's proposals is that the flat fee will in future cover a not-guilty or a guilty plea, so solicitors have more incentive to get their clients to plead guilty (since a not-guilty plea entails more work). At the moment, 73% of people plead guilty; 8% plead not guilty but are then found guilty; and 18% are acquitted. In other words, two-thirds of the people who plead not guilty do so because they're not guilty. We don't need to labour the point that people who aren't guilty deserve proper legal defence. But even on its own terms ? saving money ? this is a stupid idea. Since, ultimately, the decision is the client's, not the solicitor or barrister's, the current, relatively high, proportion of guilty pleas is based on the fact that people trust their lawyers. To replace it with a system in which there is a financial incentive for the solicitor to get the client to plead guilty is very unlikely to actually increase the number of people pleading guilty.
Anyway, to return to Anthony: he would plead guilty to theft but not burglary, and he had a co-defendant who wanted to plead not guilty altogether. In that case, the prosecution would press for burglary, Anthony's willingness to plead guilty to theft would be irrelevant, and the result, if they were convicted, would be custody for both of them. Anthony, despite a chequered relationship with the police, has never been in prison before; it would be disastrous for him. So a huge amount depended on Anthony trusting his barrister and his co-defendant trusting his. But leaving aside the issue of trust, a guilty plea would be plain wrong ? it would consign two people to prison who, by their account, do not belong in prison. It would ruin this young man's life and it would cost us all a fortune. In the event, no plea could be entered: the co-defendant didn't arrive, because of a mistake by the (private) prison transport provider.
Back in Sheffield, Chris Peace, who works at Howells with Lucy Hogarth, says the issue of client choice is particularly important here. He specialises in youth work, and his clients have often been in care; their solicitor might be the first person they've ever met who has to take their instruction rather than make decisions for them. "When they're going through proceedings, we're probably the one constant person they see," Hogarth says. "We don't just know them, we know what happened to them when they were 10 or 11. We know their dad, we know their GP."
I see this in action later, with the Ahmed siblings. Bas is up for common assault; Farah, his sister, is 25 years old and has 26 charges of assault against her. They're being represented by Andrew Swaby, who has acted for Farah many times. She is a charismatic, vivid young woman who obviously has a terrible temper. "He'll be all right," she says of her brother. "He hasn't got a record. If I was in court for what he's in, I'd be going down for sure." She says, if she couldn't get Swaby, she wouldn't want a solicitor, and not having a solicitor would ? she knows from experience ? considerably damage her case.
"I chat gibberish, me. Without a solicitor, I'll just go along with whatever the police are saying." It is quite touching, the loyalty everyone has to their legal representative. James Brown, who has Hogarth acting for him, says: "Until I met her, I thought all the people who were meant to be helping you, advising you, just wanted you to plead guilty. I think I'd represent myself rather than work with another person who wasn't her."
As we leave the court at 5pm, Mr Zahedi is still there, sitting on a chair, waiting to be kicked out. He is accused of harassing a woman who worked at a shelter for the homeless, following her and telling her he loved her. "It was probably pretty unpleasant for her," Hogarth says. "But it's also probably true. He's got no one. And they're really nice, the people who work in those places." Like that of so many people, his arrival in court was the end of a story that started off desperate and just got worse. Restricting their access to justice, on the basis that they're probably guilty, and probably thick, will result in more custodial sentences, which would inevitably cost more money. The logic behind it is so undeveloped as to be baffling. "I might put in a freedom of information request," muses Rebecca Lee, "to see if Chris Grayling has ever been in a courtroom."
Some names have been changed.
- Sally Bercow learns the social media rules the hard way in McAlpine case | Joshua Rozenberg
LawDefamation lawSally BercowUK newsSocial mediaMedia lawTwitterTechnologyLord McAlpinePoliticsThe GuardianComment
Twitter users are learning what a dangerous weapon they have at their fingertips, as Sally Bercow's 46-character tweet shows
The Speaker's wife has learned the hard way that while her husband and his fellow MPs make the law, it is the judges who interpret and apply it.
The outcome of Lord McAlpine's libel case against Sally Bercow is likely to have provided her with an expensive lesson on the British constitution.
While it's possible that she was represented on a no win, no fee basis by her solicitors Carter-Ruck and the two barristers who appeared for her at the high court earlier in the month, she will certainly have to pay Lord McAlpine's legal fees unless she was fortunate enough to have obtained insurance.
We know that Bercow, above arriving at court, had made two offers of compensation that were rejected by McAlpine. So it's clear that the undisclosed, agreed damages were higher than she had hoped.
The only issue Mr Justice Tugendhat was asked to decide was the meaning of Bercow's tweet ? which took a mere 46 keystrokes. People unfamiliar with modern social media may not have understood her question ? "Why is Lord McAlpine trending?" Nor would they have known why she typed the words *innocent face* between asterisks. But, as the judge said, Twitter users would.
As Tugendhat helpfully explained, "innocent face" was to be read as a stage direction. Readers were to imagine that they could see an expression of innocence on Bercow's face. But what did that expression mean?
Bercow claimed it was a deadpan look. She had simply noticed in all innocence that McAlpine's name was circulating widely on Twitter ? "trending", as it's called ? and was hoping someone would tell her why. However, McAlpine argued Bercow was using irony ? that "innocent face" was meant to be read as the opposite of its literal meaning.
The judge decided the reasonable reader would understand Bercow's words as insincere and ironical."There is no sensible reason for including those words in the tweet if they are to be taken as meaning that the defendant simply wants to know the answer to a factual question," he explained.
What reason was Bercow suggesting for the fact that McAlpine's name was trending? Tugendhat said readers would infer that she had provided the last piece in the jigsaw: she was saying McAlpine fitted the description of a leading Conservative politician who had been wrongly accused by the BBC of child abuse.
So the tweet ? just seven words and some punctuation ? meant McAlpine was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys in his care. But it was accepted by Bercow and by the man who had made the original complaint to the BBC, as well as by the public at large, that McAlpine was entirely innocent of the abuse that had been committed at care homes in Wales. The tweet was seriously defamatory and Bercow was left without a defence to the libel action brought by McAlpine.
The law of defamation is well known to those who write for a living. One hopes Twitter users are beginning to learn what a powerful and potentially dangerous weapon they have at their fingertips. A tweet is more like a broadcast than an email and is subject to the law of libel in the same way. It was Bercow herself who drew the obvious conclusion: "Today's ruling should be seen as a warning to all social media users."
- UK ordered to hold inquests into civilian deaths during Iraq war
MilitaryUK newsBritish ArmyMinistry of DefenceLawHuman rightsIraqMiddle East and North AfricaWorld newsguardian.co.ukNews
High court rules that up to 161 allegedly unlawful killings by British military should be subject of coroner-style hearings
A series of public inquests should be held into the deaths of civilians who are alleged to have been killed unlawfully by the British military following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the high court has ruled.
In a ground-breaking judgment that could have an impact on how the British military is able to conduct operations among civilians in the future, the court ruled on Friday that up to 161 deaths should be the subject of hearings modelled upon coroners' inquests.
In practice, a series of hearings ? possibly amounting to more than 100 ? are likely to be held as a result of the judgment, which follows a three-year legal battle on behalf of the Iraqis' families.
Each hearing must involve a "full, fair and fearless investigation accessible to the victim's families and to the public", the court ruled, and should examine not only the immediate circumstances but other issues surrounding each death.
As a first step, the court ordered Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, to announce within six weeks whether any of the deaths are to result in prosecutions, or to explain any further delays over prosecuting decisions.
After years of judicial review proceedings, and in the face of determined opposition from the Ministry of Defence, which appeared anxious to maintain control over any investigative process, the court concluded that hearings modelled upon coroners' inquests were the best way for the British authorities to meet their obligations under article 2 of the European convention on human rights (ECHR), which protects the right to life.
The court rejected calls for a single public inquiry to be held to examine British military detention and interrogation practices during the six-year occupation of the south-east of Iraq, on the grounds that such an inquiry would take too long and cost too much.
The first public hearings are expected to focus on 11 cases in which civilians died in British military custody. These will be followed by public examinations of other incidents in which civilians died ? often in circumstances that were unclear or are disputed ? but where it is alleged that British personnel used unlawful force.
The court also ruled that this should be just the start of the process by which public hearings will examine the alleged misconduct of some members of the British armed forces who served in Iraq.
Following the completion of the Article 2 hearings ? into allegedly unlawful killings ? further hearings should be established in order to meet the UK's obligations under Article 3 of the ECHR, the court said. These will inquire into allegations of torture and lesser mistreatment of individuals detained by British troops in Iraq, focusing on a sample of the most serious of the 700-plus cases in which such allegations have been made.
In December last year the MoD said it had paid out £14m in compensation and costs to 205 Iraqis who alleged unlawful imprisonment and mistreatment, and that it was negotiating a further 196 payments. Several hundred more claims were expected to be lodged.
Many of the hearings that examine allegations of torture and mistreatment are expected to shed light on the activities of a British interrogation unit known as the Joint Forward Interrogation Team, whose personnel, drawn from all three branches of the services, appear to have received training in the abuse of prisoners.
The deaths in custody include those of a number of teenagers who drowned after allegedly being pushed into canals.
In another case, an RAF police investigation into the death of a man who was allegedly kicked to death while on board an RAF helicopter failed to establish the cause of death, or even the dead man's name. A Guardian investigation established that there were concerns that MoD officials may have interfered with the initial investigation because they feared a prosecution could lead to the discovery that the dead man ? and large numbers of other prisoners ? were being ferried to a secret interrogation centre that had been concealed from both British army lawyers and the Red Cross.
A third case concerns a mother who was shot and wounded in November 2006 when troops raided her home. She was certified dead on arrival at a first aid post, and her body was later dumped at the side of a road in a British army body bag.
Several other victims died after being detained for interrogation, and are thought to have been beaten to death in a manner similar to that of Baha Mousa, the Basra hotel receptionist who was murdered by British soldiers in September 2003.
The court said it had examined "allegations of the most serious kind involving murder, manslaughter, the wilful infliction of serious bodily injury, sexual indignities, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment and large scale violation of international humanitarian law".
The judgment from Sir John Thomas, president of the Queen's Bench Division, and Mr Justice Silber, added that there was evidence to support claims that some of the abuse had been systemic, and questioned whether responsibility for poor training and a failure to investigate promptly lay with senior officers and figures in government.
Many of the cases have been under investigation for a number of years by a body known as the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat), which is made up of retired civilian detectives and service police, answering to an MoD panel.
The court ruled that Ihat was an independent body, and rejected completely claims made by a former Ihat official-turned-whistleblower, who had dismissed it as a face-saving exercise. Nevertheless, the judgment concluded, Ihat was not capable of examining the instructions, training and supervision of troops, and the way in which this is alleged to have led to the abuse.
Phil Shiner, a lawyer for the Iraqis, said: "My clients welcome, at last, the opportunities for accountability flowing from the judgment.
"I trust that the various and troubling systemic issues emerging from these cases will lead to further reforms following the Baha Mousa inquiry report of September 2011. The secretary of state must ensure that UK forces abroad respect and apply the rule of law."
An MoD spokesperson said: "We welcome the court's finding that Ihat is independent and carries out its duties with competence and integrity. We are also pleased that the court has agreed that the secretary of state was justified in concluding that a single comprehensive public inquiry into allegations of abuse in Iraq should not be established. This would have led to unnecessary expense and unacceptable delay.
"Ihat continues to make progress in its task of investigating allegations which have been made against British troops serving in Iraq."
- Obama drone oversight proposal prompts concern over 'kill courts'
Obama administrationDronesUnited StatesBarack ObamaUS politicsUS CongressUS national securityUS domestic policyGuantánamo BayHuman rightsWorld newsguardian.co.ukNews
Human rights groups wary after president asks Congress to establish special court or board to authorise legal drone action
Proposals to vet future US drone strikes risk creating "kill courts" according to human rights campaigners who say Barack Obama's promise of new legal oversight does not go far enough to end what they regard as extrajudicial executions.
The president has asked Congress to consider establishing a special court or oversight board to authorise lethal action outside warzones under a new counter-terrorism doctrine which he says will end the "boundless war on terror".
But responses to his speech from leading campaign groups, though broadly welcoming, highlight how little change Obama is proposing to the underlying principle that the US has a legal right to kill suspected terrorists abroad without trial.
In his speech on Thursday, Obama suggested that in the future drone attacks would be limited, and that they would be carried out primarily by the US military rather than the CIA.
Obama said that US military intervention abroad did not guarantee the safety of Americans at home, and often fomented extremism. "A perpetual war ? through drones or special forces or troop deployments ? will prove self-defeating and alter our country in troubling ways," he said.
But he defended his administration's decision to launch hundreds of such strikes in recent years, insisting they were more discriminating than other military options such as aerial bombing and had helped prevent terrorist attacks.
Obama also said he would ask Congress to review his proposal for future drone strikes to be subject to court review or an independent oversight board.
"The establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorise lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority," he said.
Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA's Security with Human Rights Campaign, said: "What's needed on drones is not a 'kill court' but rejection of the radical redefinition of 'imminence' used to expand who can be killed as well as independent investigations of alleged extrajudicial executions and remedy for victims.
"The president was right to call for repeal of the 2001 authorisation for use of military force, but he doesn't need to wait for Congress to act on this. He can unequivocally reject the 'global war' legal theory today, once and for all, and put an end to the indefinite detention, military commissions and unlawful killings it has been used to justify."
This view was echoed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which welcomed new restrictions against so-called 'signature strikes' on suspicious groups but warned the notion of legal authority for targeted assassinations remained deeply flawed.
"To the extent the speech signals an end to signature strikes, recognises the need for congressional oversight, and restricts the use of drones to threats against the American people, the developments on targeted killings are promising," said ACLU director Anthony Romero. "Yet the president still claims broad authority to carry out target killings far from any battlefield, and there is still insufficient transparency. We continue to disagree fundamentally with the idea that due process requirements can be satisfied without any form of judicial oversight by regular federal courts."
Both groups also urged the president and Congress to do more to shut the Guantánamo Bay detention centre and expressed concern about plans to seek a US location for military commissions rather than try detainees in civil courts.
"President Obama was right not to endorse the concept of indefinite detention, but his proposal to restart unfair military commissions in the mainland US should be rejected as both unlawful and unnecessary," said Johnson of Amnesty.
"Congress must stop hindering reform. Elected officials should repeal the remaining legislative obstacles to closing the detention facility and make the Senate report on CIA torture public."
But the ACLU said Congress was actually ahead of the White House on a number of civil liberties issues.
"The ACLU realizes that Congress has thrown significant barriers in closing Guantánamo," said Romero. "But in some areas Congress has been more progressive, having recently demanded legal memoranda that claim to authorize the illegal killing programme."
He concluded that Washington's new rhetoric on respecting human rights during its fight against terrorism needed to be matched by quicker action.
"Four years into his presidency, President Obama has finally taken the first steps to jumpstart his administration's effort to make good on early campaign promises to close Guantánamo and recognised the human cost of failing to act," said the ACLU director. "[He] is right to say that we cannot be on a war footing forever ? but the time to take our country off the global warpath and fully restore the rule of law is now, not at some indeterminate future point."
- Domestic violence victim seeks bedroom tax judicial review
Bedroom taxHousing benefitBenefitsDomestic violenceLocal governmentSocietyWelfarePoliticsLawUK newsThe GuardianNews
Woman who lives with son in three-bedroom house with fortified loft has been told she will lose some of her benefits
A victim of domestic violence who faces losing her council home which has a secure "panic room" is to challenge the government's so-called bedroom tax.
Lawyers for the woman have issued a claim against Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, after council officials told her she would be charged for having a spare bedroom.
The woman, who is in her forties and lives in the East Midlands, has had her bedroom door and the surrounding frame strengthened to provide protection against an ex-partner who has threatened to kill her.
Thousands of pounds have been spent by a women's refuge charity reinforcing window frames and the front door and making the back garden more secure. The loft has been fortified as an additional safe retreat.
The local council has inspected the three-bedroom property, where the woman and her young son live, and told her she will lose £11.65 a week from her benefits on the grounds that she has a spare room.
Ministers argue that the bedroom tax, which David Cameron calls the "spare room subsidy", will encourage people to move to smaller properties and save around £480m a year from the government's housing benefit bill.
Critics warn that as well as causing social disruption, the initiative risks increasing the cost for taxpayers because there is a shortage of smaller social housing properties and people may be forced to downsize into the more expensive private rented sector.
The woman, who can be identified only as Julia, says that if she is forced to move she will also lose her neighbours who are aware of her vulnerability and keep a lookout. Her case is being supported by the charity Women's Aid.
Julia told the Guardian: "The council have been out to measure the box room and are saying it is a third bedroom. I suffer from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. When I'm sick, my grownup daughter comes over to stay with me.
"I receive £380 a fortnight for myself and my son. My outgoings already exceed my income. If I lose £11.65 a week, I will get into debt and be forced to leave. I've lived here for 25 years.
"This bedroom tax is not taking individuals' situations into consideration. This is about people's lives. Not everyone has the same story. If I have to move out I've been told I won't get the security put into another property. The father of my son has threatened to kill me."
The judicial review case has been brought by the solicitor Rebekah Carrier, from the law firm Hopkin Murray Beskine. Counsel in the claim is Caoilfhionn Gallagher.
Polly Neate, chief executive at Women's Aid, said: "It is unacceptable that someone who faces such a dangerous threat could be left so exposed by the council which is supposed to be protecting her.
"Two women are killed every week by their partners or former partners, and the combined effect of the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and the cuts to refuges will lead many like Julia, who are currently protected, losing the vital support of specialist services.
"We urge the government to make victims of domestic violence, and the services that support them, exempt from the bedroom tax and benefits cap. We also strongly urge the council in this case to rethink it's response."
- Sally Bercow's Lord McAlpine libel: Twitter is over. O.V.E.R. | Patrick Strudwick
Sally BercowUK newsTwitterMediaInternetBloggingTechnologyDefamation lawMedia lawLawguardian.co.ukComment
The great modern sandpit will now have to rein it in, tamed by knowledge that the whiff of a suggestion could land you in court
Today I feel like my favourite ever TV character: Lexi Featherston, a filthy eyed, madly gesticulating Sex and the City cameo played by Kristen Johnston, who, at an arse-clenched Upper East Side cocktail do, climbs up onto a window ledge for a smoke, and rants at the Chanel-suited bores: "This used to be the most exciting city in the world. New York is over. O.V.E.R. Over. Whatever happened to fun? I'm so bored I could die." And with one tipsy slip, she falls out the window. Dead.
This replayed in my mind the moment I read the miserable news that the high court has ruled that Sally Bercow's nudge-nudge tweet ("Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*) is libelous. Mr Justice Tugendhat decreed that the now infamous message falsely implied that the claimant was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care.
Thus, from May 24 2013, Twitter's cheeky impulsiveness must be replaced with caution. Told off, it will become a no-smoking pub, a meat-free sausage, a city without any sex. Fun has fallen out of a 10th-story window. Splat.
Of course, because the ramifications of this ruling have yet to sink in, Twitter playfulness was still thrashing and twitching this morning. "Why is Sally Bercow trending? *libel face*", joked about 78 people in tandem. I love them all.
But in future, everyone had better put their innuendos, their spirit, their mischievousness ? the very things that keep Cameron's Britain from becoming entirely unbearable ? in a safe marked, "KEEP OUT UNTIL MY HEART STOPS".
Yes, we have had court overreactions to social media before. The so-called Twitter joke trial in particular was a fine example of using a blowtorch to dry nail varnish. At least that tweet was direct and explicit ? a threat, albeit in jest ? to blow up Robin Hood airport. And the two Bristolians yanked out of their beds in the small hours this morning were arrested on suspicion of "inciting racial or religious hatred" ? a crime that is surely worthy of investigation.
Did Bercow's seven measly words imply something? Possibly. Possibly not. Was she responsible for the initial and gravely erroneous linking of Lord McAlpine to childhood sexual abuse? No she was not.
Had it not been for the final two words her question would be deemed innocent. But by actually writing the word "innocent", Tugendhat was able to judge her stage directions to be the opposite, as the English are known for their sarcasm. And so an ever-decreasing spiral of irony ensues, the bottom of which is not only a death knell for social media sarcasm but a joylessness so profound I may have to watch endless mpegs of babies laughing at absolutely nothing to fend off clinical depression.
The inference of sarcasm from the refreshingly rebellious wife of the Speaker could only be drawn in the full knowledge that Britons run on such humour like midwesterns do corn oil. As a British homosexual I can scarcely get dressed of a morning without at least one innuendo. That Twitter ? a universe of mucking about, the great 21st-century sandpit ? will now have to rein it in, tamed by the knowledge that even a possible teeny-tiny suggestion could land you in court, is more sobering than 85 espressos from a coffee chain that doesn't pay corporation tax.
Sally Bercow may have agreed to pay a settlement to Lord McAlpine, but the high court has ensured the British tweeting public will be paying in fun, irony and innuendo forever.
- Russian rights group Memorial loses court challenge over raids on offices
RussiaEuropeWorld newsHuman rightsLawVladimir Putinguardian.co.ukNews
Moscow court says raids by prosecutors were legal after hearing claims that group received millions of dollars from abroad
A Moscow court has rejected two appeals by one of Russia's oldest human rights groups over raids by prosecutors on its head offices at the height of a crackdown on critics of the Kremlin in March.
The raids on Memorial, which coincided with searches at hundreds of international and Russian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), were widely condemned by foreign governments and local activists. The Kremlin has painted the checks as a means of weeding out "foreign agents".
In its ruling on Friday, the Zamoskvoretsky district court deemed the raids legal, rejecting Memorial's claims that they were excessive and groundless.
Memorial, which runs a human rights organisation and research centre documenting Soviet-era political repression, has exposed rights abuses by Russian officials in the turbulent North Caucasus and criticised the detention of anti-Kremlin protesters at an opposition rally that turned violent a year ago.
Judicial officials, tax inspectors and journalists from a state-run TV channel accompanied prosecutors in the March raids, which came weeks after Vladimir Putin told senior FSB officers to check whether foreign-funded NGOs engaging in "political activity" had registered as foreign agents, in keeping with a law that came into force in November. Memorial's head office and its nearby Moscow branch located were both searched.
In comments harking back to the cold war, prosecutors told the court on Friday that Memorial received millions of dollars of funding from abroad to "influence public opinion in the country". In particular, prosecutors accused Memorial of receiving more than 92m roubles (£1.94m) between 2010 and 2011 from foreign donors including the US Ford Foundation.
Yan Rachinsky, a board member at Memorial, said the presiding judge even smiled at prosecutors' inability to formulate their arguments in court. Memorial would appeal against the ruling in Russia's constitutional court and the European court of human rights, he added.
Memorial, along with international rights groups such as Amnesty International, says it will refuse to adopt the foreign agent label. Russian authorities, who have cast foreign-backed organisations as political tools wielded by external enemies, have been unable to force any NGOs to adopt the unflattering label thus far.
Pavel Chikov, a member of Putin's human rights council and head of a legal group that provides assistance to civic and political activists, said that the Kremlin's crackdown on the NGO sector reflected a wider aim to silence government critics.
Another NGO targeted in the raids, the election monitor Golos, has been fined roughly $10,000 (£6,600) and fears closure. Golos reported widespread vote-rigging during parliamentary elections in 2011 and the presidential election that gave Putin a new six-year term last year.
"The last three months have seen unprecedented efforts to isolate Russia from the west and shield authorities from criticism," he said. "NGOs are currently spending all their energy working out how to defend themselves. Many activists are losing hope."
- Twitter users should learn lessons from Sally Bercow's libellous tweet
MediaTwitterLawMedia lawSally BercowJohn BercowNewsnightBBC2Lord McAlpineITV channelguardian.co.ukBlogpostsComment
Golly gosh fellow tweeters? following the Sally Bercow libel verdict you should beware letting your fingers and thumbs run away with themselves.
The high court ruling, though specifically dealing with Bercow's tweet about Lord McAlpine, will surely have wider ramifications.
It is not the first example of a Twitter user being sued for libel, but it is such a high-profile case it should concentrate the minds of those who think they can say anything about anyone and remain safe from prosecution.
Bercow, in her response to the judge's decision, was sensible enough to see it as "a warning to all social media users."
She said she realised now that "things can be held to be seriously defamatory, even when you do not intend them to be defamatory and do not make any express accusation."
Well, I fear Bercow may be a little disingenuous there. Let's recall the circumstances. BBC2's Newsnight ran a report in November last year about a "senior Conservative" having been involved in a child abuse scandal.
According to several Twitter posters, the man was Lord McAlpine. But, as The Guardian soon revealed, those accusations were the result of mistaken identity.
Everyone then accepted the error. The Newsnight accuser realised he had made an error. The BBC apologised and paid McAlpine £185,000 in damages. He was also awarded £125,000 in damages from ITV. Other legal actions followed against users of Twitter.
He eventually dropped defamation claims against users with fewer than 500 followers in return for a £25 donation to charity but pledged to pursue 20 "high profile" tweeters who had reported the rumours or, most tellingly, alluded to them.
That was relevant to Bercow's tweet, which said: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*". It was, of course, more like that famous Monty Python sketch where Eric Idle persistently says: "Nudge-nudge, nod's as good as a wink, know what I mean?"
Bercow, wife of the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, refused to see it in such terms, maintaining that it was not libellous. Mr Justice Tugendhat disagreed, remarking that it amounted to a defamatory innuendo.
This ruling may give heart to people who feel that tweeters who mention them are not observing the law as strictly as mainstream media. Just 140 characters can cost the unwary an awful lot of loot.
For the avoidance of doubt, the libel law applies to everyone, whatever "platform" they use to make their statements ? newspapers, TV, radio, blogs, social media and even the proverbial garden fence.
- Africa quiz - test your knowledge
AfricaSouth AfricaZimbabweMalawiNigeriaMaliIvory CoastCentral African RepublicUgandaMozambiqueKenyaEgyptAfrican UnionEthiopiaSenegalNelson MandelaRobert MugabeLiberiaMadagascarInternational criminal courtCongo BrazzavilleDemocratic Republic of the CongoFela KutiWorld newsguardian.co.ukEditorial
To celebrate Africa day on the anniversary of the birth of the Organisation of African Unity, 25 May 1963, we have put together this quiz. No Googling now, says David Smith
- Wartime sex slaves cancel meeting with controversial Japanese mayor
JapanSouth KoreaSecond world warAsia PacificWorld newsWar crimesLawguardian.co.ukNews
Move by Korean former 'comfort women' comes as row erupts over column asserting atomic bombs as 'divine punishment'
Two South Korean women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during the second world war have abruptly cancelled a meeting with the mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, whose controversial comments about wartime sex slaves have soured relations between Japan and its neighbours.
The cancellation came as Japan and South Korea became embroiled in another row over a column in a South Korean newspaper that said the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were "divine punishment" for Japan's wartime aggression.
Kim Bok-dong, 87, and Kil Won-ok, 84, had been scheduled to meet Hashimoto in Osaka on Friday to discuss his recent claim that Japan's military brothels had been "necessary" to maintain discipline among frontline troops.
As many as 200,000 "comfort women", mostly from the Korean peninsula and China, were forced to have sex with Japanese troops before and during the war.
Japan issued an apology to the surviving women in 1993, but its refusal to provide official compensation is a long-running source of tension between Tokyo and Seoul.
Hashimoto, who doubles as co-leader of the rightwing Japan Restoration party, whipped up a diplomatic storm earlier this month when he said Japan had been unfairly singled out for criticism, given that other countries operated similar brothels.
"To maintain discipline in the military it must have been necessary at that time," said Hashimoto. "For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That's clear to anyone."
Hashimoto caused further controversy when it emerged that, during a visit to Okinawa, he had told a US commander that American troops on the island should use the legal sex industry as a way of cutting the number of sexual assaults against local women.
US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Hashimoto's remarks "outrageous and offensive".
"What happened in that era to these women who were trafficked for sexual purposes is deplorable and clearly a grave human rights violation of enormous proportions," she said.
Kim and Kil said they were concerned that Hashimoto would attempt to use Friday's meeting, due to be held in front of the media, to quell criticism, adding that he had yet to issue a formal apology for his comments.
"The indescribably heartwrenching reality and history of the victims cannot be traded with his apology performance and sweet talk," the women said in a statement issued by an organisation representing former sex slaves.
"We do not want to kill ourselves twice. If he truly feels sorry to us and regretful, he must take back his criminal comments and make a formal apology. He should take responsibility for his wrongdoing and retire from politics."
The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has also questioned claims that the women were forced to work in the brothels ? known at the time as comfort stations. Before he took office in December, Abe had advocated revising a 1993 statement by the then chief cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono, acknowledging the military's role in coercing the women, and apologising to them.
But Abe later said he would honour the statement, and distanced himself from Hashimoto.
Ties between Seoul and Tokyo have been strained by contrasting interpretations of Japan's wartime conduct, and a feud over Takeshima, a group of islands claimed by both countries. The territory, known in Korea as Dokdo, is administered by Seoul.
Japan on Friday lodged a second complaint about the JoongAng Ilbo column, which appeared on Monday. The foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, said the Japanese embassy in Seoul had told the newspaper that Japan "can never accept this kind of view about the atomic bombs".
Kishida said he hoped the newspaper was aware of the "surprise and fury" it had caused in Japan.
The column sought to justify the August 1945 attacks, in which more than 200,000 people died, saying: ""God often borrows the hand of a human to punish the evil deeds of men."
- Sally Bercow tweet libelled Lord McAlpine, high court rules
Sally BercowUK newsLord McAlpinePoliticsLawMedia lawDigital mediaSocial mediaMediaTwitterInternetTechnologyThe GuardianNews
Commons Speaker's wife agrees to settle with Tory peer after falsely linking him with allegation of child sexual abuse
Sally Bercow said she was "surprised and disappointed" after the high court ruled that she defamed the Tory peer Lord McAlpine by falsely suggesting on Twitter that he was a paedophile.
The Commons Speaker's wife had always defended her tweet ? "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*" ? about the former Tory treasurer in November last year, following allegations on BBC 2's Newsnight about an unnamed high-profile politician. But on Friday she admitted that she regretted her "conversational and mischievous" message and said: "On this, I have learned my own lesson the hard way."
Her climbdown came after Britain's most senior libel judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, ruled that the tweet was seriously defamatory of McAlpine and had falsely tarred him as a paedophile.
He said in his judgment: "I find that the tweet meant, in its natural and ordinary defamatory meaning, that the claimant was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care. If I were wrong about that, I would find that the tweet bore an innuendo meaning to the same effect."
Neither Bercow nor McAlpine were in court for the judgment, which ended a six-month legal saga prompted by a disastrous Newsnight report containing allegations about an unnamed Tory politician. The BBC and ITV later paid out £310,000 in libel damages to McAlpine and dozens of Twitter users made donations to charity over the false claims.
In a statement following the ruling, Bercow said she had accepted McAlpine's offer to draw a line under the matter and settle out of court. But she added: "To say I'm surprised and disappointed by this is an understatement.
"Today's ruling should be seen as a warning to all social media users. Things can be held to be seriously defamatory, even when you do not intend them to be defamatory and do not make any express accusation. On this, I have learned my own lesson the hard way." She described the legal wrangle with McAlpine as a "nightmare" and added: "I am sure he has found it as stressful as I have."
In his judgment, Tugendhat said there was no sensible reason for Bercow to include the words *innocent face* in her tweet, which sensible readers among her 56,000 followers would have understood to be "insincere and ironical".
He decided that her tweet "provided the last piece in the jigsaw" and allowed readers to wrongly link McAlpine with the allegation of child sexual abuse. "It is an allegation of guilt. I see no room on these facts for any less serious meaning."
Bercow's barrister, William McCormick QC argued at an earlier hearing that Twitter was simply a place where people share "random thoughts without necessarily meaning anything". However, the judge found that her followers would mostly be interested in politics and current affairs, so will have known McAlpine as a leading politician in the 1970s and 1980s.
The judgment will be yet another warning to Twitter users over what they post on the 140-character social network, after several others have found themselves in trouble with the law over off-hand remarks.
McAlpine's solicitor, Andrew Reid, said the case demonstrated that "Twitter is no different to real life" and added: "People have got to realise that this is not a coffee table. They're not in their own home. Their actions can harm a lot of people even if they don't intend that to be so. What is worse is that once a tweet is put there, it's there forever; it can't be taken down."
Reid said the legal case had been "a great strain" on McAlpine and that Bercow had not acted "honourably" unlike other Twitter users who quickly agreed to settle the matter, including the Guardian columnist George Monbiot who apologised quickly and agreed to undertake three years charity work in recompense.
Legal experts said Bercow was wise to settle out of court with McAlpine as the level of damages was likely to be high, reflecting the gravity of the allegation. "The principles of free speech are in no way affected," said Gerard Cukier, a media Law partner at the London law firm Kingsley Napley LLP.
"Anyone is entitled to comment freely on any matter of public interest as long as the comments can be recognised as comments ? as opposed to statements of facts or imputations such as the judge held Bercow's comments to be - and as long as the comments are based on facts which are true."
- High court orders new approach to Iraq abuse inquiry
Human rightsLawMinistry of DefenceUK newsIraqMiddle East and North AfricaWorld newsguardian.co.ukNews
Court rejects claim that investigating team is not independent but says inquiry does not fulfil UK's human rights obligations
The high court has called for a new approach to an inquiry into allegations that British troops committed "terrifying acts of brutality" following the invasion of Iraq.
The defence secretary, Philip Hammond, is investigating the claims of human rights violations through the Iraq historic allegations team (Ihat).
On Friday two judges in London rejected accusations from lawyers for 180 Iraqis that Ihat was not independent. But they concluded that the present investigation did not fulfil the UK's obligations under article 2 of the European convention on human rights, which covers the duty to investigate suspicious deaths, and said changes needed to be made.
Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, which represent the Iraqis, said: "The court has expressed its very serious concerns about allegations in these cases of the most serious kind involving murder, manslaughter, the wilful infliction of serious bodily injury, sexual indignities and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
"It has found that the Ministry of Defence has not complied with international and domestic law requiring there to be proper public scrutiny of these cases and the systemic issues arising from them.
"My clients welcome the public inquisitorial process that will now follow. I trust that the various and troubling systemic issues emerging from these cases will lead to further reforms following the Baha Mousa inquiry report of September 2011. The secretary of state must ensure that UK forces abroad respect and apply the rule of law."
- Woolwich attack footage will stir debate over contempt laws
Media lawWoolwich attackUK newsLawMediaguardian.co.ukBlogpostsComment
With videos and pictures being posted online and tweeted hundreds of times what does it mean when a trial comes about?
If there was one thing that was unprecedented about the Woolwich attack, as well as the savagery, it was the way it played out in the media.
There have been many brutal murders committed in the street in front of witnesses before. Few can remember any instance where the alleged perpetrators held what was effectively a press conference in front of their victim, bloodstained weapons on display.
We use "alleged" because as journalists we write with contempt laws looming above us, threatening us with prosecution if we prejudice any future trial of the men who, allegedly, killed this young soldier.
But contempt laws already under strain from web publication and technology are now going to be tested to their breaking point by this case.
The way this atrocity unfolded, via tweets and mobile phone footage, was extraordinary. Then what effectively appears to be a confession was made to camera by one of the alleged killers, weapons in hand, the victim in view.
Contempt of court is committed by the publication of anything that causes substantial risk of serious prejudice or serious impediment to proceedings. When mainstream media began running that footage late on Wednesday, the two suspects were already under arrest, proceedings were active against them, so technically contempt laws come into effect.
But was there any way of stemming the tide of online coverage, and mainstream media's coverage of it? Whereas five or 10 years ago a warning from the attorney general's office to a select band of papers and broadcasters would effectively put everyone on notice of the contempt danger, now that sort of control is not possible.
What happens now? Can a London jury be found that has not been exposed to the material online on Wednesday and on the front pages of Thursday's papers?
The "fade factor", a belief that the details of a crime would have faded from a juror's memory by the time of trial cannot be relied upon now that internet publication means photos of the crime scene will persist right up to the point of trial.
This case will make interesting material for the Law Commission, currently reviewing contempt laws and due to report next year.
One suggestion it is looking at is giving courts the power to order the removal of online archive material. That might work in dealing with coverage of events in Woolwich by newspapers and broadcasters. But what of the myriad of videos up on YouTube, the tweeted pictures posted and copied multiple times?
The idea that they can somehow be tracked and deleted in their entirety is fanciful. Better perhaps to talk to jurors honestly, acknowledge that some of them will have seen Wednesday's awful events and ask them to be honest ? can they try the case fairly?
If we are to retain a jury system in the internet age, we cannot deny what it gives jurors access to. They need to be better warned, educated and the importance of impartiality despite prejudicial material explained to them.
The world is watching these events, and recording them on a mobile phone, we cannot pretend that does not have consequences any more.
David Banks is a journalist and media law consultant
- Why is Anonymous helping teenage lesbians? | James Ball
AnonymousHackingTechnologyGay rightsSexualityWorld newsUnited StatesLawSurveillanceguardian.co.ukComment
Anonymous may not be known for its gay rights credentials, but this loose collective of libertarians loves an underdog
Any experienced internet denizen might feel wary on seeing the words "teenage lesbians" and "hacker collective Anonymous" in close proximity. And, quite probably, with good reason, especially if they're using a work computer.
But the situation isn't what they might fear: members of Anonymous have vowed to take action in the case of Kaitlyn Hunt, an 18-year-old women from the US who is facing prosecution over her relationship with her 15-year-old girlfriend.
Shortly after her 18th birthday, the parents of Hunt's girlfriend secretly recorded the duo discussing a make-out session in the school bathroom ? and used this to go to the police. She is facing charges of "lewd and lascivious battery" on a minor.
Generously, prosecutors are offering her a deal in which she'll face a mere two years in prison for having a younger girlfriend. Naturally, prosecutors and the girlfriend's parents alike claim the case is nothing to do with Hunt's sexual orientation.
For many members of Anonymous ? Anons ? lesbianism has, for now, begun and ended with what we might politely refer to as, ah, "adult entertainment" videos.
The collective is not traditionally known for having fantastic gender politics or gay rights credentials. The word "fag" as a jest, an insult and virtually punctuation across the group's chats.
But this case has all the right ingredients to provoke Anonymous's ire. Young people facing criminal prosecution for typical teenage acts. Parents apparently allowed to surveil the conversations of teenage girls (creepy, no?) with impunity. And sentences which, as seems so common in the US, seem to bear no proportion to the "crime" concerned.
So their pledge to step in should really come as no surprise. The reason that it does, for some, is that Anonymous seems entirely inconsistent on alleged sex offences, treatment of women and attitude towards gay people.
Anonymous is often, but not always, among the core defenders of Julian Assange against the accusations of sex crimes he faces in Sweden. And shamefully, many Anons have played a large part in the demonisation of his accusers, chronicled in Alex Gibney's "We Steal Secrets" WikiLeaks biopic, out in the US this week.
But Anons have also been at the forefront of trying to seek justice for alleged rapists of women elsewhere ? to the point of bordering on vigilantism.
Viewed in isolation, the three separate operations seem entirely contradictory. But they're partly explained by Anonymous's underlying politics and attitudes: Anons are libertarian. They mistrust the state, and don't like interference. And they will pick the underdog every day of the week.
Anons will join whichever side of the fight seems to be losing, or seems to be facing an injustice (real or imagined). They're not about to start discussing intersectionality at length.
This also accounts for a lot of Anons' perceived homophobia to outsiders: they are not, and will never be, delicate with language. Anonymous grew out of 4chan, one of the bluntest, rudest, trolls' nests on the internet. Just because the language is homophobic doesn't mean their intentions are ? or at least, not always.
Anonymous is widely misunderstood. It's thought of as a group, or a membership organisation, maybe the online version of a political party. Even members of political parties can have widely divergent groups ? just ask David Cameron ? but Anonymous is far less coherent even than that.
Want to be a member of Anonymous? Say you're a member of Anonymous. And you're done. The unifying idea, if there is one, is a sense of injustice, belief in free speech bordering on the fundamentalist, and a libertarian streak. Everything else is optional. So, when it comes to gender and LGBT politics, Anonymous can be a crowd of misogynistic asshats with bigoted opinions. Or they can be progressives who either couldn't care less about sexuality, or actively support LGBT rights, and fight against injustices. Or anywhere in between.
In other words, there are as many attitudes towards LGBT within Anonymous as there are Anons. Just like everyone else, really.
- Syria agrees to take part in peace conference, Russia claims
Middle East and North AfricaSyriaBashar al-AssadLebanonHezbollahRussiaArab and Middle East unrestRefugeesIsraelPalestinian territoriesUS foreign policyWorld newsHuman rightsguardian.co.ukNewsMinute by minutesBlogposts
Russia claims the Assad regime has agreed in principle to attend next month's peace conference in Geneva while the opposition consider whether it will turn up
- Martin Luther King unmoved by death threats - from the archive, 24 May 1961
Martin Luther KingUnited StatesUS constitution and civil libertiesRace issuesEqualityguardian.co.ukEditorial
White supremacists target Baptist minister for demanding end to racial segregation
It seems a stroke of luck for the United States that the Negroes' leader in Montgomery, Alabama, during the present crisis is a scholarly Baptist minister whose hero is Mahatma Gandhi. He might well have been a black Huey Long or some such political boss of the kind who tries to hold hate-the-white demonstrations in Harlem (and - luckily again - finds little support there). That he is the Rev. Martin Luther King is an assurance that the worst the segregationists can do will be grimly put into perspective and that the extremes of the one side will not lead to extremes on the other - if he can help it.
When Mr King preached to a frightened Negro crowd in a besieged Montgomery church the other day, it was no new situation for him. Only a few years ago a bomb was tossed outside his living-room and threats to his life have become as common in his mail as messages of support from individuals in all the states. After the first threats against his family, he was tempted to carry a gun and then quickly rejected the idea. "How could I have claimed to be the leader of a non-violence movement then?" he explained. For a brief time his wife took their infant daughter to live in Atlanta, Georgia, but soon returned to Montgomery. The Kings - like so many Negroes in the Deep South - have learnt to live with the threat of violence hanging over them, an uneasy condition in some ways, one is tempted to think, like that of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
Yet if you make such a comparison, Mr King is the first to reject it. "We are fighting segregation, not persecution," he says, and the "fighting" for him is in the spiritual field quite as much as in the day-to-day one of Montgomery. Since his leadership filled the feud-ridden vacuum in the Negro community of Montgomery, he has steadily preached what he learnt from his father, who is also a Baptist minister, and from his study of Gandhi's works and example.
"The strong man is the man who can stand up for his rights and not hit back" is what he has impressed on his followers, and the success of his teaching is reflected in the calm, stoical bearing of the young Negroes wherever they try to claim their constitutional rights - whether at lunch-counters, in the buses, or in the schools. The minority of the whites may be crazily hate-filled and psychologically upset, the majority at the best superior and apathetic, but the Negroes under Mr King's leadership have shown a dignity and a restraint that should put the US in their debt for generations - were it not for the fact that their bearing is partly the result of their appreciation that they are one with the whites in being fellow-Americans. They realise what the whites against them rarely do: that if either of them wrecks the nation in inter-racial conflicts all of them will go down.
This America-first attitude is typical of most of the Negro leadership nationally, for it has managed to organise a country-wide advancement programme for Negroes - that is, get rid of segregation - without forming a separate political party. The Negro leaders have been shrewd enough to realise that to get into party politics as a Negro group would merely further segregation rather than achieve their ideal of the opposite. They have been lucky on most fronts in having men who have been able to overcome their bitter heritage in making their decisions. At headquarters great tacticians like Thurgood Marshall, the constitutional lawyer; in the field men to set the example like Martin Luther King.
He has stirred not only his fellow-Negroes but - and this may be his greatest achievement - some of the whites. The white ministers in many areas had made no effort either because they believed in segregation or because their congregations were apparently unconvertible. A priest said recently in New Orleans, for example, that "you tell them segregation is sinful and they just look at you." Now some of the apparently apathetic ministers are following Mr King's example and perhaps the trickle will become a river. "No matter how low somebody sinks into racial bigotry, he can be redeemed," insists Mr King, and his opponents hate him for it. It is bad enough to be beaten but worse to be forgiven.
[This is an edited extract, click for the full version]
- Phone-hacking victims reject newspapers' charter proposal
Press regulationMaria MillerPoliticsNewspapers & magazinesJudicial committee of the privy councilMediaLeveson inquiryUK newsLawThe GuardianNews
Culture secretary Maria Miller has been urged not to permit the press industry to 'write its own rulebook'
Some of the most prominent victims of phone-hacking have written to the culture secretary, Maria Miller, urging her to reject the royal charter proposed by the press industry, saying that it is unacceptable for "those responsible for the damage to our lives and the lives of others [to] seek to shrug off responsibility and once again write their own rulebook".
Miller is holding a consultation on whether the press industry's royal charter should be considered formally first by the Privy Council as opposed to one initially drawn up by the government with the support of Labour. The consultation ends this week, and government departments, as well as the Privy Council secretariat, will now take a further two weeks to decide its next step. Miller now has to decide if the industry's royal charter meets the criteria.
The Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof) petitioned the Privy Council with its version of the charter on 30 April, and has made some adjustments to its proposals partly in a bid to win over the Financial Times, Independent and Guardian.
In their letter, some of the most prominent victims of press misconduct including J K Rowling, Gerry and Kate McCann, and Sheryl Gascoigne say they object to the draft Royal Charter drawn up by the PressBof on behalf of the newspapers, saying "it demonstrates once again the press industry thinks it is above the law".
They also claim it lacks any democratic legitimacy, pointing out the Leveson-compliant royal charter for self-regulation by the press has the backing of the main political parties. "We were subject to intrusion, bullying, harassment, intimidation, libel and other forms of abuse by some newspapers, and they were allowed to get away with it for a very long time because of the lax, self-regulatory system in place."
They add that the prime minister had said he wanted the new system of regulation to enjoy the support of the victims, citing David Cameron's evidence to Leveson on 14 June that "the test of the system is: is it going to provide proper protection to ordinary families who? get caught up in these media maelstroms and get completely mistreated?"
In their letter the victims claim: "There is no legitimate reason for the industry to be given a veto on a system which the public so urgently needs and which has been fairly and reasonably designed."
They add the initiative is "an attempt by a small number of newspaper proprietors to continue to run the system for their own ends, claiming it has been led by Associated Newspapers, News International and the Telegraph Group, who have for many years dominated the discredited system of regulation run by the PCC".
The victims also claim the PressBoF Charter "dilutes one of ? Leveson's core recommendations, the creation of a cheap arbitration panel to resolve disputes and save parties the burden of legal costs".
The letter states the "PressBof charter does not make any provision for directing (or even requiring) apologies at all ? this would enable newspapers to continue burying ? apologies in the back of a newspaper, having defamed an innocent person on the front page."
- George Zimmerman lawyers release data from Trayvon Martin's cellphone
George ZimmermanTrayvon MartinUnited StatesFloridaUS crimeWorld newsLawguardian.co.ukEditorial
Photos and texts appear to be defence team attempt to discredit killed 17-year-old ahead of Zimmerman's murder trial next month
Lawyers for the accused murderer George Zimmerman released a series of texts and photographs from Trayvon Martin's cellphone on Thursday, showing the Florida teenager discussing guns, fighting and smoking marijuana.
The move appears to be at attempt to discredit the 17-year-old's character ahead of Zimmerman's trial for second-degree murder next month, at which the neighbourhood watch leader's defence team will claim Martin was the aggressor in their fatal confrontation in a Sanford gated community in February 2012.
Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's lead attorney, still has to convince circuit court judge Debra S Nelson to allow the evidence to be shown to jurors, against the objections of prosecutors who insist the teenager's history is irrelevant to the case.
But the release of more than 20 pages of records from the phone, together with the photographs and several videos, are a clear indication of the defence strategy for the trial scheduled to begin on 10 June, with Zimmerman, 29, denying murder on the grounds of self-defence and facing at least 25 years in jail if he is convicted.
In the text messages released on Thursday, Martin tells a friend that his mother had kicked him out of her house because he had been suspended for skipping school, and told him that he needed to move in with his father.
In others, he talks about using marijuana. "Oh, u smoke?" a friend asked him. Martin replied: "Yea do u??"
A third topic of conversation is organised fighting. One message to a friend refers to an apparent contest with another youth late in 2011, with Martin writing: "he got mo hits cause in da 1st round he had me on da ground an I couldn't do ntn."
O'Mara has insisted it was Martin who attacked Zimmerman, breaking his nose and smashing his head on a concrete pavement during a fight before his client managed to free his gun and fire off a single, fatal shot to the teenager's torso.
The transcripts of the text messages released on Thursday are blacked out in many places, making it unclear who Martin was talking to in his various discussions. But several are to the so-called Witness 8, a girlfriend who has also claimed she was on the phone to him as he walked through the Retreat at Twin Lakes community and encountered Zimmerman on February 26 last year. "U gotta gun?" he asked her.
Two other messages appear to confirm his interest in weapons. Eight days before his death, a friend texted him: "You want a .22 revolver". No reply is shown.
Days later, he asks another unidentified friend: "U wanna share a .380".
Among the photographs recovered from the phone are several that have already been circulated online but which are appearing in formal court submissions for the first time.
One is a close-up of a handgun, believed to be a .40 calibre Smith & Wesson. Others show Martin blowing smoke from his mouth, and there are two pictures of what appear to be cannabis plants.
State attorney Bernie de la Rionda has already asked Judge Nelson to ban evidence of Martin's marijuana use at the trial but defence lawyer Don West said it was relevant because Zimmerman said in his 911 call to police before the incident that he was following a suspect who "looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something."
West has argued that the autopsy report should be presented to jurors.
Judge Nelson is expected to rule on that and several other pre-trial issues at a one-day hearing in Sanford on Tuesday. The trial could last up to six weeks.
- Letters: 'Orwellian' changes to legal aid provision
Legal aidUK newsUK criminal justiceLawChris GraylingPoliticsEddie StobartBusinessThe GuardianLetters
As a practising member of the criminal bar, I am horrified at the proposed changes to the provision of legal aid, currently undergoing a so called "consultation period" by the Ministry of Justice (Editorial, 22 May), albeit the justice minister refuses to meet the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association. It is clear that the truncated consultation period is no more than window dressing. Chris Grayling is disinterested in any contribution from the profession. It is beyond doubt that the tendering out of legal aid to private business will herald a decline in standards in a legal system that has been a model of justice for centuries. There is no provision whatsoever in the proposals to ensure standards are maintained when individuals are unable to choose their representation. Once in possession of a contract, a company's clients will be guaranteed, irrespective of the quality of service. The idea that this service would be properly provided by employees of a profit-driven company, whose lowest bid has rewarded them with the responsibility for the representation of citizens accused of crime by the state, is dubious. The prospect that the same company could be responsible for housing prisoners, transporting them, and representing them is, frankly, Orwellian.
East Langton, Leicestershire
? You report dissidents in Iran "have been denied adequate legal representation" (22 May). In the UK we are a long way from Iran's repressive regime, but the present government's proposals on reforming legal aid to allow Eddie Stobart and the like to turn a profit by supplying third-rate representation to people who are (to use Grayling's analysis) "too thick to know better", will have us catching up with the regime in Tehran in no time. Whatever one's view of defence lawyers, the importance of ensuring that only those proved to the satisfaction of their peers are found guilty, is a matter of social, democratic and constitutional importance to us all.
Legal aid barrister, London
- Benefits cap will have catastrophic effect on families, court will hear
BenefitsSocietyDomestic violenceWelfarePoliticsLawUK newsguardian.co.ukNews
Vulnerable families challenging £500-a-week cap say it may force victims of domestic violence to return to their abusers
Families will suffer catastrophic effects and victims of domestic violence may be forced to return to their abusers, it will be argued in the first test cases challenging the government's imposition of a £500-a-week cap on benefits.
A judge has already given permission for a full judicial review of claims that involve four vulnerable families relying on welfare payments. One household is facing imminent eviction, according to documents filed at the high court.
One of the families lives in Haringey, one of the four London boroughs selected by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as pilot areas for introducing the controversial benefits cap.
The families have not been identified. Two of the claims involve victims of domestic abuse; their claims are supported by the refuge charity Women's Aid.
The DWP restrictions are supposed to provide an incentive for those on benefit to seek work and prevent families from receiving more by remaining dependent on welfare.
The government's own impact assessment of the Welfare Reform Act estimated that as many as 56,000 households would be affected, losing on average around £93 a week. The overall cap has been set at £500 per household and £350 for single adults.
There is no right of appeal against benefit reductions. The cap applies however many children there are in a household. Large families are therefore likely to be disproportionately affected by the regulations.
"The families who bring this claim are indicative of ? concerns regarding the legality of the policy, including its discriminatory effect, given its disproportionately adverse impact upon women (particularly single mothers), children, the disabled, and certain racial and religious groups," the court papers explain.
The families will suffer catastrophic effects if the cap is imposed on them, it is said. "Two of the families will receive nil for basic subsistence (food, clothes, heating) as their rent exceeds the £500 per week cap. They will immediately fall into arrears, face eviction and street homelessness.
"Two of the families have fled domestic violence in circumstances where they were financially reliant upon their abusive partners, and they now face a stark choice between descending further into poverty and risking losing their homes, or returning to their abusers in order to escape the imposition of the cap."
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor at Hopkin Murray Beskine, who acts for all of the claimants, said: "This is a cruel and misguided policy. It will have a catastrophic impact on our clients and many thousands more vulnerable children and adults. They face street homelessness and starvation.
"A year ago the children's commissioner warned the government that these changes would result in a sharp increase in child poverty and homelessness, with a disproportionate impact upon disabled children and children of disabled parents, and some BME groups.
"The difficulties now faced by my clients were predictable and avoidable. The reason for the policy is said to be to encourage people to obtain work but my clients face difficulties in securing employment because they are lone parents with caring responsibilities for babies and toddlers, and disabled adults who have already been recognised as unable to work due to their disabilities."
The case will be argued by Ian Wise QC and Caoilfhionn Gallagher of Doughty Street Chambers. Lawyers are looking at least another 15 similar claims as law centres are approached by desperate families seeking advice about the effect of the benefits cap.
In a supporting statement, Niki Norman, deputy chief executive of Women's Aid, says: "The benefit cap is likely to have a significant adverse impact on women seeking to move on from refuge accommodation into other housing, and therefore on the availability of refuge space to women in crisis who seek urgent safe shelter.
"The inevitable result of the implementation of the benefit cap for women as they leave refuges is that some families will suffer destitution, some will become homeless again very quickly, and some will choose not to leave refuges, with all the resulting difficulties for refuges."
A DWP spokesperson said: "We are confident that the benefit cap measures are lawful and do not discriminate against any groups. The benefit cap sets a fair limit to what people can expect to get from the welfare system ? so that claimants cannot receive more than £500 a week, the average household income."
The DWP has recently faced a number of judicial reviews on its welfare reform programme. Earlier this week a tribunal ruled that the work capability assessment (a test determining eligibility for disability benefits) put people with mental health problems at a substantial disadvantage. A separate judicial review has been considering whether the impact of the government's so-called bedroom tax on tenants "under-occupying" social housing is discriminatory.
- Hobby Lobby crafts store appeals Obamacare birth control requirement
US healthcareReligionContraception and family planningObama administrationUS constitution and civil libertiesUnited StatesWorld newsRetail industryUS supreme courtOklahomaUS politicsAbortionguardian.co.ukNews
Oklahoma City arts-and-crafts chain argues that businesses should be allowed to seek exemption over religious beliefs
In the most prominent challenge of its kind, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc is asking a federal appeals court Thursday for an exemption from part of the federal healthcare law that requires it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill.
The Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts chain argues that businesses ? not just the currently exempted religious groups ? should be allowed to seek exception from that part of the health law if it violates their religious beliefs.
"They ought to be able ? just like a church, just like a charity ? to have the right to opt out of a provision that infringes on their religious beliefs," said Kyle Duncan, who will argue before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the Green family, the founders of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc and a sister company, Christian booksellers Mardel Inc.
The Greens contend that emergency contraception is tantamount to abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. They also object to providing coverage for certain kinds of intrauterine devices.
Lower courts have rejected Hobby Lobby's claim, saying that for-profit businesses aren't covered by an exemption added to the law for religious organizations. That exemption applies to churches themselves, but not to affiliated nonprofit corporations, like hospitals, that do not rely primarily on members of the faith as employees.
In a decision issued late last year, a federal judge concluded simply, "Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not religious organizations."
But US district judge Joe Heaton in Oklahoma City also wrote that "the court is not unsympathetic" to Hobby Lobby's dilemma and that the question of compelling employer health coverage for certain procedures "involves largely uncharted waters."
Other businesses in multiple states are challenging the contraception mandate, too. Hobby Lobby is the most prominent company making the claim, and it is the first to be heard by a federal appeals court. The Justice Department will argue for the government that the contraception mandate should stay.
The 10th Circuit opted to hear the case before all nine judges, not the typical three-judge panel, indicating the case's importance.
In December, the 10th Circuit denied Hobby Lobby's request for an injunction to prevent it being subject to fines while its argument was on appeal. The US supreme court also denied an injunction, with justice Sonia Sotomayor writing that it was not "indisputably clear" that Hobby Lobby needed immediate protection.
In response, the company restructured its health insurance, Duncan said. But Hobby Lobby, which is self-insured, will face fines by July 1 if it does not provide the coverage, he said.
Hobby Lobby calls itself a "biblically founded business" and is closed on Sundays. Founded in 1972, the company now operates more than 500 stores in 41 states and employs more than 13,000 full-time employees who are eligible for health insurance.
The Hobby Lobby case has attracted broad interest from health groups and religious groups. A panel including reproductive rights organizations and the American Public Health Association banded together last year to ask the court to reject Hobby Lobby's claim. The groups argued it would be a dangerous precedent to allow for-profit private businesses to use religious beliefs to deny coverage.
In a brief to the court filed last year, the health groups argued that allowing businesses not to cover some contraceptives would be like allowing businesses to tell employees they can't use wages to buy morning-after pills or other products that offend the employer's religious belief.
"Of course, no one would argue that (Hobby Lobby owners) could seek, on religious grounds, to preclude their employees from spending their wages on contraception. This same rationale requires rejecting employers' demands to impose their religious views on employees through restrictions on the use of health insurance benefits," the health groups argued.
Susan Polan, associate executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the Hobby Lobby case is an important test of how far businesses can go in seeking to exempt coverage of health procedures they don't like.
"We're talking about women's access to reproductive health. That should be a decision between a patient and her health care provider, not a patient and her employer," Polan said this week.
- London attack: now is the time to defend our liberties, not give in to fear | Isabella Sankey
SurveillanceWoolwich attackUK civil libertiesCrimeLondonUK newsLawWorld newsguardian.co.ukComment
There is dangerous talk of resurrecting the 'snooper's charter'. But illiberal legislation will never deliver security
The shocking violence on the streets of Woolwich fills us with horror and Liberty's thoughts remain with the loved ones of the man who lost his life in this senseless attack. Acts like these and subsequent ugly reprisals are designed to terrorise and provoke, to draw bright red lines between races, religions, individuals and communities: to instil fear and foment grievances.
As we try to make sense of senselessness we must not let those who seek to sow division and hatred achieve their goal. Barbarity and intolerance, like love and compassion, know no racial or religious boundaries. The intelligent response is a reassertion, not a dereliction, of the values that unite us. Humanity, dignity, equal treatment.
We are still struggling to understand this brutality and, as information trickles in, build up a picture of events. The pressure on political leaders to provide answers is immense, so the prime minister's calm assertion that he is "not in favour of kneejerk responses" is as courageous as it is heartening. "One of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives". He is right.
And he is right to deliver an indirect rebuttal to a small band of politicians whose siren voices are already back on the airwaves. It is deeply distasteful to play politics with fear, yet last night there were already calls for more surveillance and the return of control orders.
The proposal being most pressed is the communications data bill known as the snooper's charter. The most ambitious surveillance programme in history, it was thankfully dropped from the Queen's speech last month. The proposal ? to require phone companies and internet providers to collect, store and process new data on their customers' phone and web usage ? would have intruded on the intimate online lives of every man, woman and child in the country. Contrary to the spin, it was not about "updating" powers but creating new ones that would have fundamentally re-cast the relationship between the individual and the State.
Suspects can already be put under heavy surveillance and serious criminals would have been able to evade the new measures with pay-as-you-go mobiles or encryption techniques. Simply, you don't build a bigger haystack to find a needle. Nor would you install cameras and microphones in every bedroom in the land, just in case they become crime scenes one day. As history teaches, intelligence-led, targeted, criminal investigations are the best way to protect our safety and keep our society free.
What unites the securocrat campaigners of varied political stripes is involvement with failed counter terror policies of the past. The shameful and naive internment of foreign nationals failed to prevent homegrown terrorism. The great ID card folly and discriminatory stop and search failed to ever catch a terrorist. Extended pre-charge detention may have salved editorial appetites but it was unnecessary, divisive and counterproductive.
In the difficult days ahead, let us not be divided, terrorised or provoked. Let us instead unite around Britain's best traditions of empathy, freedom and the rule of law.
- Cartoon campaign to tackle human rights abuse in Syria
SyriaBashar al-AssadMiddle East and North AfricaWorld newsHuman rightsguardian.co.ukNews
Syrian opposition defends the use of simple animations to persuade rebels to end human rights abuses
- Tibetan rights groups criticise China over monk's five-year jail term
ChinaAsia PacificWorld newsTibetHuman rightsLawCensorshipguardian.co.ukNews
Gartse Jigme, 36, sentenced in Qinghai province after his book, Courage of the King, covered officially banned topics
Tibetan rights groups have reacted with outrage after Chinese authorities sentenced a Tibetan monk to five years in prison for criticising the Chinese government.
Gartse Jigme, 36, was sentenced on 14 May by a county court in Malho, a prefecture in western Qinghai province bordering the Tibetan autonomous region. Jigme, a monk at Gartse monastery in the mostly Tibetan county of Rebkong, has been a writer since 1999, according to rights groups. He has been in detention since 1 January.
"The distribution of his book Courage of the King was cited as a reason for his detention," an unnamed source told Radio Free Asia. The book covers topics Tibetans are not allowed to openly discuss, such as the Dalai Lama, protests, and self-immolation.
According to Tibetan rights groups, 117 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009 to protest Chinese rule over the Himalayan region.
"This is really outrageous, because [Jigme] was not involved in any criminal activities at all," said Tsering Tsomo, executive director for the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharamsala, India, home of the self-declared Tibetan government in exile. "He just wrote a book ? this was just a form of peaceful resistance against the government."
Jigme was arrested soon after finishing the second volume of Courage of the King, an outspoken work aimed at Beijing for its policies in Tibet. Exiled Tibetans in India published the volume ? which calls the Chinese government "evil," "blind" and "dictatorial" ? soon after he was sentenced.
Tsomo called Jigme's voice "one of the most courageous to come out of Tibet".
"These people, they know that when they write these things, they know that they're going to jail," she said. "They know that, but they do it anyway."
Two days after Jigme's sentencing, Chinese state television broadcast a documentary blaming the self-immolations on Tibetan exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
"The truth is that no particular organisation or lama instigated the martyrs to commit self-immolations," Jigme wrote in the book, according to a translation by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. "They were motivated by the sufferings and aspirations of their fellow six million Tibetans."
- Flaws in fraud case show worrying lapses by judges and lawyers | Joshua Rozenberg
Court of appealUK newsUK criminal justiceLawCrimeLegal aidguardian.co.ukComment
Anthony White admitted fraud over mortgages, but analysis seems to show problems that senior judges failed to spot
Two years ago, a man named Anthony Alan White pleaded guilty at Southwark crown court to two counts of fraud. He also admitted two charges under the Theft Act 1968. According to the editor of Archbold, the criminal lawyers' bible, none of the four charges held water.
White had obtained four successive mortgages in order to buy his elderly parents a flat in Clerkenwell, central London. On each occasion, he gave false details of his income. In fact he had no income. Each mortgage was used to pay off the previous one.
All this eventually came to light. The flat was repossessed and the lenders got all their money back. White was sentenced to 30 months' imprisonment on the basis that the amount obtained from the lenders was £660,000. But since the subsequent loans were used to pay off the earlier loans, the actual amount he obtained from the finance company was £265,000. That, said the court of appeal, meant the sentence should have been 24 months.
In due course, a transcript of the judgment reached James Richardson QC, who edits Criminal Law Week as well as Archbold. Though the transcript was short on detail, he immediately spotted something wrong. He obtained a copy of the original indictment, which contains six charges. The first two accuse White of "obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception" under section 16 of the Theft Act 1968. The remaining four accuse him of offences under the Fraud Act 2006.
That act came into force in January 2007. Two of the charges against White relate to false representations he is said to have made in November 2006. Those actions cannot have been offences under an act that was not in force at the time.
The other two charges under the Fraud Act were also bad law, according to Richardson. That's because applying for a mortgage cannot amount to a false representation that one is "entitled to a loan", as the charge alleged. And Richardson says that White was not under a "legal duty" to disclose that he was unemployed.
The two charges under the Theft Act were also defective, Richardson explains, because of the way "pecuniary advantage" is defined by section 16. It covers overdrafts but not mortgages.
Someone seems to have spotted the most obvious of these six errors. Richardson's researches turned up a five-count indictment in which the two allegations dating from 2006 have been charged as a single offence under the Theft Act instead. But that charge would also have been bad. It's not clear how six or five charges had become four by the time the case reached the court of appeal.
"The upshot is that a court of three senior judges failed to notice that, far from being in prison, the defendant should have been set free," Richardson told me. But it was not just the court of appeal that was to blame. "The Crown Prosecution Service was responsible for an indictment that was defective in at least four distinct respects. And there were the advocates on both sides and two judges in the crown court."
Writing about the case in the latest edition of Criminal Law Week, Richardson says it illustrates the depths to which the court of appeal has sunk. The appeal court should be setting the standard, he maintains. "If this is the standard to be expected, then it is no wonder that things are going wrong on a massive scale lower down in the hierarchy."
One of his suggested improvements is appointing a few academic lawyers to the court of appeal. The other is more fundamental. Nowadays, he argues, the court of appeal is more interested in outcomes than procedure.
"Procedural lapses are indulged by the courts," Richardson writes. "The more they are indulged, the more they occur; the more they occur, the more they need to be indulged."
He continues: "This downward spiral has culminated in Anthony White's case passing through the hands of five judges and at least as many lawyers without any of them noticing it was devoid of legal foundation; or if they did, without seeking to have it put on a proper legal foundation."
What should happen now? On one view, no injustice was done. White admitted acting fraudulently. He deliberately deceived a finance company on four occasions. True, the company got all its money back ? but only because White's fraud was discovered before the housing market collapsed. He deserved to go to prison. Legal technicalities such as these should not stand in the way of justice.
On another view, this is a scandal that needs to be rectified. White should be granted legal aid so that he can bring an appeal out of time. If Richardson's comments turn out to be accurate ? and those approached by him have not claimed otherwise ? then White's appeal should be allowed.
Since 2004, a compromise has been possible. Section 3A of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 deals with cases such as this. It applies to an appellant who has been convicted of an offence after a plea of guilty and it appears to the court of appeal that he has admitted facts which prove him guilty of some other offence.
In such cases, the court of appeal ? instead of allowing or dismissing the appeal ? may substitute a plea of guilty to the other offence for his original plea. It can then pass a sentence for the other offence of no greater severity than the original sentence.
It seems to me that this is what should happen in White's case. I understand he has received advice on his rights since his release from prison. But his solicitors, Saunders Law Ltd, told me this week that they had no comment to make on the case.
- Addressing land rights can make social change possible
Global development professionals networkNew development models hubPolicy and advocacyLand rightsRwandaG8USAidGlobal developmentPartnershipHuman rightsGuardian ProfessionalEditorial
Through partnerships, development professionals can help improve land governance and ensure more enforceable land rights
What elephant lives in your development space? Last week in Cape Town at Grow Africa's Investment Forum, Rwanda's minister of agriculture and animal resources, Agnes Kalibata, called out the elephant she sees in discussions of African agriculture: land rights.
If you work on food security, climate change, women's empowerment, conflict or economic growth, chances are that you've also encountered the land elephant ? the big, complex, disruptive element that frustrates so many development efforts.
Precisely because land is a complex and controversial issue ? one that can be expensive to address in addition to being politically and culturally charged ? many development professionals have shied away from it. But this is changing.
Greater willingness on the part of governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to work together and invest to improve land governance means that people around the world have real hope of stronger, clearer, and enforceable rights to land and other resources.
One of the most encouraging developments has been the unanimous adoption by 96 countries of the voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the national context of food security last year. The VGs are a critical achievement: they underscore the importance of formalising customary tenure rights by strengthening women's land and resource rights and the tenure rights of indigenous people. The VGs enshrine principles of transparency and accountability in land governance and provide guidance on issues as diverse as market-based investments, taxation and valuation, and post-conflict land concerns.
This year, under the leadership of the UK, the G8 is likely to continue the push for improved transparency in the land sector. This is good news for the 70% of the world's people who live without formal, documented rights to land. But of course, there is much more to be done.
The challenge is to expand people's opportunity to improve their lives by securing their property rights.
These foundational issues are being tackled by a growing number of organisations, many of which are supported by the Omidyar Network. In partnership with governments and donors, development groups are using innovative and scalable approaches to secure women's rights to land, to formalise and register land rights, and to protect and transform critical ecosystems.
In Kenya, the rural development institute Landesa has worked with USAid and the Kenyan government to educate elders and community members on new constitutional provisions that give women equal rights to land. Elders took part in interactive sessions that explored the many ways women contribute to families and the broader community and how the entire community would benefit from securing their right to land.
School curriculums were reframed to address the new rights women have, and women themselves were educated about their rights. Elders responded by creating a new katiba (constitution) that holds them accountable for enforcing the rights of their wives and daughters to land. They went so far as to elect women as elders to sit alongside them and make decisions about how to allocate the community's valuable resource: its land. This hands-on, participatory model is scalable across Kenya.
In Bolivia, a Mercy Corps project called Red Tierras uses low-cost property registration software and SMS messaging to reduce the expense and dramatically speed up the process of formally registering rights to rural land. The project has helped thousands of local people cut years off the wait time for obtaining formal documentation to their lands. Now more Bolivians have a parcel they can confidently call their own. This project also has the potential to move into other countries and help thousands more people.
In India, many commons have been degraded as a result of the insecure rights local people have over these resources. Forests have been cut, watersheds harmed and, as a result, communities struggle to grow the food they need. The Foundation for Ecological Security is working with nearly 4,200 villages and eight state governments in India to secure community rights to over half a million acres of these valuable resources. FES helps communities as they develop holistic land use plans designed to revitalise watersheds and, in turn, improve livelihoods and food security.
The successes of the organisations mentioned mean that their work can be replicated and scaled up to expand opportunity for millions of people by advocating for and enabling more secure rights to land and other resources.
While the land elephant may be a difficult and frustrating beast to work with, through creative, sustained engagement with communities and governments, positive social change is possible and, importantly, scalable.
Karol Boudreaux is director of investments at the Omidyar Network
- Malaysian authorities crack down on opposition activists
MalaysiaAsia PacificWorld newsProtestHuman rightsguardian.co.ukNews
After controversial re-election by National Front coalition, three anti-government figures arrested and activist student charged
Malaysian authorities have detained three anti-government figures, charged a student activist with sedition and seized hundreds of opposition newspapers, raising political tensions after recent national elections triggered claims of fraud.
Opposition activists have staged numerous peaceful demonstrations since the 5 May general election won by the National Front coalition with a weakened parliamentary majority. The activists insist the coalition, which has governed since 1957, retained power through bogus ballots and other irregularities, though the prime minister, Najib Razak, and electoral authorities deny manipulating the results.
The latest arrests involve Tian Chua, a senior official in the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's People's Justice party; Haris Ibrahim, a rights activist who leads an anti-government group; and Tamrin Ghafar, an opposition party member. The men have criticised the National Front at recent political gatherings.
Chua wrote on Twitter that police detained him at an airport and told him he was being held for sedition. Ibrahim and Tamrin were held separately, but it was not immediately clear for what they were being investigated. Police officials responsible for their case could not immediately be contacted.
After his arrest, Chua tweeted that Malaysians should not allow themselves to be "overtaken by fear [but should] continue to assemble peacefully and have faith".
Their arrests occurred hours after prosecutors charged the student Adam Adli, 24, with making seditious statements that included calling for people to "go down to the streets to seize back our power" while addressing a political forum. He pleaded innocent at a Kuala Lumpur district court on Thursday and was released on bail before a hearing set for 2 July.
Sedition as defined by Malaysian law includes promoting hatred against the government.
Rights activists have long criticised Malaysia's anti-sedition law as a tool to curb democratic dissent. Najib said last year the government planned to eventually abolish the Sedition Act, which was introduced in 1949 during British colonial rule, and replace it with new laws that would strike a better balance between allowing freedom of speech and ensuring public stability.
Adli, who was arrested last weekend, faces three years in prison and a fine if convicted.
Hundreds of people have demonstrated peacefully in recent days against Adli's arrest. Adli became publicly known in 2011 when he brought down a flag bearing Najib's portrait at the ruling party's headquarters during a demonstration. He was subsequently suspended for three semesters from his teaching course at a Malaysian state-backed university.
The home ministry said it had seized more than 2,500 copies of newspapers published by opposition parties from stores nationwide since Wednesday. The government-issued publication licences for those newspapers specify they should be distributed among party members only and are not for retail sales, the ministry said in a statement.
- Taking the fifth: how Lois Lerner of the IRS followed a well-trodden path | Tom McCarthy
US constitution and civil libertiesUS CongressUnited StatesUS politicsRepublicansDemocratsAlbert Einsteinguardian.co.ukBlogposts
The right to avoid questions from Congress has a long and contentious history. Just ask gangsters, Ken Lay ? and Einstein
When IRS executive Lois Lerner asserted her right, under the fifth amendment, to avoid taking questions from the House oversight committee on Wednesday, she joined a long line of would-be witnesses to tell Congress to kiss off.
The tactic came into vogue in the early 1950s, when legislators developed a habit of dragging private citizens to Washington, accusing them of being commies and demanding they name other commies. The poor witnesses often found sweet refuge in the Bill of Rights.
Not every witness who has sought such refuge, however, has done so quite as innocently. In 1950-51, organized crime figures took the fifth to avoid testifying in the Kefauver hearings. The tactic has been used by felonious CEOs (Enron's Ken Lay), disgraced athletes (slugger Mark McGwire) and, yes, mid-level bureaucrats caught up in serious back-room dealing.
Legal scholars have debated, hotly, whether the fifth amendment even provides the protection Lerner and so many others have claimed. Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling professor of law at Yale University, has long argued against sweeping fifth-amendment protections in cases of congressional testimony. Amar has pointed out that while witnesses have a right to justice, society has a right to the truth. Writing about Lay's successful use of the fifth in 2002, to avoid disclosing details of how Enron cooked its books, Amar asked: "By what right do Enron bigwigs stonewall Congress?"
The Fifth Amendment prohibits a person from being compelled to be a witness against himself in any 'criminal case', but a Congressional hearing is hardly a criminal case ? sometimes a truth-seeking society needs to be able to compel a person to speak outside his trial ? in grand jury rooms, civil cases and legislative hearings, for example.
Amar proposes a "a narrow type of testimonial immunity" for congressional witnesses. The difficulty of threading that needle was illustrated at the Lerner hearing by an argument among oversight committee members as to whether she had forfeited her fifth-amendment protections by delivering a statement. As Lerner rose to leave, Representative Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), objected.
"She waived her right to testify by issuing an opening statement," said Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor. (He apparently meant that Lerner had waived her right not to testify.) "She ought to stay and answer questions."
Ranking member Elijah Cummings, (D-Maryland), also a lawyer, intervened.
"Unfortunately this is not a federal court and she does have a right," Cummings said. "And we have to adhere to that." Committee chair Darrell Issa excused Lerner, with the provision that she could be called back if it had been found that she had indeed, as Gowdy claimed, waived her fifth-amendment right.
Issa's staff will have to sort through a truly daunting overhang of case law if they are to answer that question. The argument wends through a bramble patch of supreme court precedent and heavy-hitting entries in the Journal of the American Bar Association.
A Harvard law school dean, Erwin Griswold, mounted the seminal defense of the practice in a 1954 essay titled The Fifth Amendment: An Old and Good Friend. Revolted by the personal destructiveness of the McCarthy era, Griswold drew a comparison between criminal courts and congressional hearings:
In our criminal courts, we would never think of requiring an accused person to answer questions. He doesn't have to take the stand at all, and if he does do so, he has the protection of an impartial judge, and the right to have his counsel speak in court on his behalf. Why should it be so different in a legislative inquiry, when the information that is sought relates to the witness' own conduct? ? The more I think about this, the more it seems to me to be an unsound practice.
To those on the political right outraged today at Lerner's refusal to testify, there may be some consolation in the knowledge that the politics cuts both ways. In 2007 Monica Goodling, an underling in President George W Bush's justice department, took the fifth to avoid telling Congress about the Bush administration's sudden dismissal a year earlier of six US attorneys. A justice department investigation later concluded that the firings were inappropriately political; one of the dismissed attorneys seemed to have been fired for not aggressively prosecuting supposed voter fraud by Democrats. Goodling was implicated because she was one of the few to have been clumsy enough to explicitly describe the administration's plan in writing. She took the fifth, was never charged with a crime, and today she works in PR.
No less a figure than Albert Einstein argued against taking the fifth before Congress. In 1953 Rose Russell, a member of the New York City teachers union, was called to testify before a committee led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, the most famous circus barker in the American Red Scare. Russell wrote to Einstein, to ask him whether she should take the fifth. He replied that she should not, and supplied a bit of amateur jurisprudence:
The 5th Amendment was adopted in order to make it impossible for the judicial authorities to bring the accused to confess through means of extortion.
In the present cases, it is not a matter of violent extortion of the accused but a matter of using people as tools for the prosecution of others that one wants to label as "unorthodox" and pursue through an economic campaign of destruction. It is a misuse of Parliament's immunity, carrying out practices that should fall into the machinery of the judicial fury (police). This procedure absolutely contradicts the nature of the arrest, if not also its exterior form.
The individual is offered no legal middle ground for him to defend his actual rights. That is why I argued that there is no way other than revolutionary non-cooperation, like Gandhi used with great success against the legal powers of the British Authorities.
When in doubt, go Gandhi.
- Judges give reasons for rejecting Bali Briton's appeal
Court of appealLawUK newsBaliAsia PacificIndonesiaWorld newsThe GuardianEditorial
Judges sympathise with Lindsay Sandiford, who faces death penalty, but say denying her legal representation is 'not irrational'
Three leading judges have expressed "great sympathy" for a British grandmother facing the death penalty in Indonesia as they announced their reasons for rejecting her appeal against a refusal by the UK government to pay for her legal representation.
Giving their court of appeal ruling in the case of Lindsay Sandiford, the master of the rolls, Lord Dyson, Lord Justice Elias and Lord Justice Patten said the government's policy of not providing funding for legal representation to any British national who faces criminal proceedings abroad ? even in death penalty cases ? was not unlawful.
Last month, Sandiford's lawyers challenged a high court ruling that the government was not legally obliged to pay for "an adequate lawyer" to represent her. But the three judges dismissed the appeal on 22 April, saying they would give their reasons at a later date.
Announcing those reasons on Wednesday in a written judgment, Lord Dyson said: "One is bound to have great sympathy for the appellant.
"She is seeking to challenge a decision which, if not overturned by the supreme court of Indonesia, will mean that she will be executed, unless she is pardoned.
"The death penalty is, in my view, rightly regarded by the government as immoral and unacceptable."
He said Sandiford had argued that the policy of the foreign secretary of not providing funding for legal representation in criminal proceedings abroad, even in death penalty cases, was unlawful.
But he said the high court was "right to conclude that it is not".
Lord Dyson said it was the "longstanding policy of the UK to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle".
He went on: "As the secretary of state concedes, it would be possible to produce a policy under which funds for legal representation were made available to British nationals in certain defined circumstances.
"The practical problems identified by the secretary of state are not insurmountable.
"But the question is not whether the secretary of state could produce a different policy which many would regard as fairer and more reasonable and humane than the present policy. It is whether the policy that he has produced is irrational.
"I am in no doubt that the policy is not irrational. It is based on reasoning which is coherent and which is neither arbitrary nor perverse."
Sandiford, 56, was sentenced to death by firing squad by a court in Bali for taking £1.6m of cocaine to the island.