Twenty Myanmar celebrities charged with incitement

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YANGON, Myanmar -They were charged under the country’s media law with inciting government employees to join the popular civil disobedience movement (CDM) through social media.

Celebrities took part in the NLD election campaigns and are thought to have played a large part in influencing the public, particularly Myanmar’s youth, to vote for Aung San Suu Kyi.

By Htay Win
Photo credit Myanmar celebrity

Brazilian court orders Bolsonaro to pay damages to reporter for sex proposition claims

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SAO PAOLO, Brazil – The president of the Republic of Brazil has been sanctioned by a court and ordered to pay indemnification for “moral damages” stemming from his use of sexual innuendo to discredit the veracity of reports by Folha de S. Paulo journalist Patricia Campos Mello, repeating an accusation that she had offered sex in exchange for damaging information about him. In Brazil, such a charge, when unfounded, is considered a sexual harassment offense.

Campos Mello’s report pointed out that digital marketing company Yacows’ possible participation in a message-triggering scheme through WhatsApp during the elections that fraudulently issued national identification numbers to generate texts in names of politicians, disseminating fake news. A former Yacows employee first made the accusation against Campos Mello without presenting any proof.

The reporter sued, asking for R$50k–about $8700–in damages for pain and suffering.

The judge’s ruling said, “It remained evident that the defendant’s individual exercise of the right to freedom of expression violated the plaintiff’s honor, causing her moral damage, and should therefore be held responsible.”

Bolsonaro was ordered to pay a $3,500 fine plus court and attorney fees. He has 15 days to appeal.

“It is a great day for women journalists. A great day for professional journalism,” said the Brazilian group Journalists Against Harassment, in a tweet.

By Milan Sime Martinic

NYC first US city to pass resolution to end qualified immunity for police

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NYC lawmakers announced that they voted to pass a resolution to “ensure that officers who violate Constitutional rights in the course of a search and seizure or by the use of excessive force are not entitled to qualified immunity.”

Qualified immunity protects police from punishment even when they break the law, and was originally established in 1967 to prevent Freedom Riders from coming after officials in Mississippi. Although it is just case law, not law, it is widely used.

The new bill’s purpose is to push back against QI.

“This legislation is simple,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, who sponsored the resolution, “It creates a set of civil rights here in New York City, mirroring those conferred by the 4th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, so that people in New York City can hold officers accountable if those officers violate their civil rights. It eliminates the shield of Qualified Immunity to allow victims the opportunity to seek justice.”

Opinion is divided, and a little confused, as to what this move will mean in practice. Many believe the local law will at least send a message that the city is in favor of a change in the direction away from QI.

The Legal Aid Society expressed support for the move but commented that it was just a first step and more meaningful change would happen if New York state passes legislation that addresses relief for victims of police misconduct, specifically A4331/S1911.

But critics have raised the point that removing the shield of QI may prevent or discourage police from thoroughly enforcing the law.

The resolution was passed this week along with several other police reforms that are part of a broader plan to reform NYC police under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

By Sid Douglas

Photos of Bolivian ex-president in prison keep making the media, daughter charges ‘psychological and physical torture’

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Jeanine Añez is held by Bolivian courts as a “flight risk” and because of fear she might “interfere with investigations,” but her daughter Carolina Ribera says that by allowing pictures of the jailed former leader prison authorities are interfering with her mother’s privacy in actions that amount to psychological and emotional torture, and “physical harassment.”

Ribera says the ruling MAS party is using her mother as a political trophy and “so they believe they have the right to violate her in all those ways.”

“It is a type of harassment to take her pictures clandestinely, without her authorization, to Photoshop it, edit, and to publish it in all the networks and to tell lies about her. It is because of this that my mother is suffering physical and emotional torture,” said her daughter in a television interview decrying a widely published picture of her mother on her prison bed, eating. The picture was later shown to be Photoshopped with the addition of fries and a Burger King bag. This was relevant because Añez has claimed health issues with high blood pressure and, according to a Bolivian verification site, she was eating an avocado and not fried fast foods.

“She is feeling harassed in this form because this generates certain rejection, certain discomfort in the condition in which she is because she feels invaded,” charged her daughter.

Añez is being held in La Paz’s Miraflores Women’s prison among high-security inmates who are serving sentences of more than 8 years.

By Milan Sime Martinic

Court hearing for Aung San Suu Kyi postponed

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YANGON, Myanmar – The remote court hearing of Aung San Suu Kyi case was postponed until April 1 due to the inconvenience posed by the current condition of internet service in the country.

She was arrested after the Feb. 1 coup for illegal export and import.

Since early February, anti-coup protesters have taken streets and of several cities in Myanmar and there have been casualties when the protesters were met by security forces. At present, the total death toll across the country has reached 270, according to a local source.

In 2012, the Myanmar military convinced Suu Kyi to participate in the parliamentary by-election even though she initially refused to enter the election under the 2008 constitution drawn up by the military.

By Htay Win
Photo credit Tazar San

Khoi-San leadership recognized in South Africa

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DURBAN, South Africa – For the first time in South African history, Khoi-San will be recognised officially and will now be able to serve in the national and provincial houses, as the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act will come into effect April 1.

During his address at the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in parliament on Thursday, president Cyril Ramaphosa said, “The country’s Khoi and San leaders will, after following the prescribed processes, for the first time enjoy official recognition and will serve in the national and provincial houses. This is a significant milestone.”

While the contested act of acknowledging the independence and culture of the Khoi and San has been praised, South Africans have mixed feelings and have expressed themselves on social media.

Magesh Makasi commented, “The sons and daughters of the soil. The people of Gqerbeha are very proud of you to be finally recognised,” while Donald Tuck wrote, “Passed in time for elections.” Another Facebook user, Duane Nicholas du Mont commented, “Took so long because the ANC only needed the Khoi vote now.”

By Zakithi Dlamini

Police reform bill passes US House, Senate passage more difficult

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The US House has passed a policing overhaul and accountability bill named after George Floyd which would ban chokeholds, attempt to end racial profiling, limit no-knock warrants, require body cameras, and establish a database to track police misconduct. The bill’s fate in the Senate is uncertain.

Support and opposition falls mostly along party lines. The legislation passed the House with no Republican support with 2 Democrats voting against it. Republicans have branded the bill as a “defund the police” movement and oppose it in the Senate where party lines are divided at 50 each, and the legislation needs 60 votes to proceed.

The threat of a filibuster and getting 10 Republicans to join Senate Democrats are necessary for the bill to make it to Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

“A profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly trained officers who are accountable to the public,” said Calif. Democrat congresswoman Karen Bass, during House debate. Bass, one of the authors of the bill, has noted that there have been over 100 officer-involved shootings since Floyd’s death last year, with “numerous examples” of the officers not being charged.

Laying the groundwork for opposition in the Senate, Fla. Republican congresswoman Kat Cammack said “You say this is a reform bill, and I say that’s BS. Your own conference members have been advocating for the defunding of our local police officers, calling them names I cannot and will not repeat here today.”

To pass both houses, the bill will have to be the result of bi-partisan reconciliation between House and Senate versions.

By Milan Sime Martinic

Curbing planned obsolescence: March brings new rules to EU that will make electronics last longer, easier to repair

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Consumers in the 27-nation bloc now will have the right to expect that their consumer electronics will have parts available and be able to be repaired for up to 10 years. New rules take effect this month following legislation passed last November by the European Parliament aiming to reduce electronic waste, monitor energy use, and protect consumers means.

“To be sustainable, products must be repairable, so that they can remain on the market for as long as possible. It is time to stamp out practices which prevent or hinder product repairs,” says the legislation in addressing premature obsolescence.

Europeans can now rely on their Ecological Design Directive’s “Right to Repair Rules” that require manufacturers include repair manuals with their products, and that standard tools can be used for repair and dismantling, including easier battery replacement and easier recycling. The directive also requires consumers have easier access to how much electricity household devices consume.

By Milan Sime Martinic

270k forcibly sterilized women in Peru get day in court

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Women and men from Quechua indigenous communities and low-income families of the Andean country were sterilized between 1996 and 2001, according to information provided by Peru’s Ministry of Health when it announced a case that is now reaching the courts for the first time.

Peruvian prosecutors say it was all part of former President Alberto Fujimori’s family planning program. Despite three previous investigations that were closed for lack of evidence, he and his cabinet are accused of developing and forcibly implementing a sterilization program.

Officially, the state birth control program –  known as Voluntary Surgical Contraception  – was instituted to combat poverty by reducing birth rates in resource-poor sectors, so says Fujimori-government documents. The procedures were performed with the consent of patients, according to literature about the program as it was presented to the Peruvian public at that time.

Not so, charge thousands who claim they were forcibly or unknowingly sterilized. Others claim they were blackmailed, deceived, or harassed into letting themselves undergo the tubal ligation procedures. The Association of Peruvian Women Affected by Forced Sterilizations has compiled testimonies to present their case and now, courts will hear the evidence to consider whether they can proceed in their claims and seek compensation.

By Milan Sime Martinic

‘Mafia law of silence,’ complains activist fined for publishing about pesticides in French wine

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“They want to silence me,” charged Valérie Murat of the French Toxic Alert Association after being ordered to pay damages of €125k to the Bordeaux Wine Council and other wine world plaintiffs for having reported that an analysis of 22 bottles of wine boasting a “High Environmental Value” which denotes a “virtuous practice” did indeed contain pesticides.

Denouncing the presence of toxins at levels so tiny that they fall between 60 and 5,000 times below the limit authorized by the French regulations amounts to a “collective denigration of the sector” of Bordeaux wines, according to a court ruling in Libourne, France.

“These results show significant gaps between marketing, promises and the reality of professional practices,” said Murat to the online magazine Basta supporting her decision to publish the data.

Murat’s report says traces of substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic were revealed in the tests, and that some wines contained at least one of the so-called SDHI fungicides. Some biologists believe that even in small doses these are carcinogens, pointed out the activist who says she is driven by a promise made to her dying father who contracted lung cancer from the use of pesticides in his vineyards.

“There is a real omertà,” she said of the ruling, referring to the Southern Italian code of silence know to most people through their reading about the Mafia. The wine lobby is strong because it is protecting 50k jobs and anyone who discloses such information is considered to be “polluting the nest” —  using a French version of “killing the goose who laid the golden egg” – and has to fear professional and personal disadvantage, she complained.

Murat has already announced on Twitter that she will appeal the verdict. She has a mission, she said: Zero pesticides in Bordeaux.

By Milan Sime Martinic

South Africa to establish new land court

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DURBAN, South Africa – The South African cabinet has approved the submission of the Land Court Bill which is aimed at ensuring stronger judicial oversight over land claims.

The new court will allow the appointment of permanent judges and will now go through the parliamentary legislative process, which will include public participation.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said, “The bill seeks to ensure stronger judicial oversight over claims, and this must lead to better settlements, reduce the scope for corruption and avert the bundling of claims into dysfunctional mega-claims that lead to conflict.”

Lamola added that the bill seeks to address the systemic hurdles that make it difficult for land claimants to obtain land restitution.

“For instance, the bill allows for hearsay evidence for most families, who have to rely on oral history and the existence of elders with knowledge of description, location, and extent of land which their descendants previously occupied.”

Lamona further explained that the bill will also allow for expert evidence regarding historical and anthropological facts relevant to any particular land claim.

“It gives effect to the mandate of the sixth administration, namely, to ensure our approach to land reform is based on three elements — increased security of tenure, land restitution and land redistribution. This bill is a concrete intervention to improve the functioning of all three elements of land reform.”

“It creates a policy frame to ensure that land reform is guided by sound legal and economic principles and contributes to the country’s investment objectives and job creation initiatives,” said Lamola.

This bill is the outcome of the work done by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Reform.

The Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture proposed a number of recommendations to the IMC including:

  • The Land Claims Court be conferred into a new Land Court to adjudicate on all land related matters, and not only restitution.
  • The court must be given additional responsibilities, both judicial and extra functions, such as conflict resolution and mediation.
  • The court must have a functional approach that is modeled on negotiation before litigation on matters such as Expropriation Without Compensation, which is proposed to Parliament in the Expropriation Bill.
  • The panel recommended that the Land Court include the appointment of a permanent judge president and four permanent judges.
  • The Land Court should also be required to check that settlement agreements give just and equitable compensation to landowners, in line with Section 25 and the new Expropriation Act, when enacted.

By Zakithi Dlamini
Photo credits:

Former French president sentenced to ‘prison’

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Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to three years for bribery and illicit influence by a Paris court Monday stemming from a conviction for conspiring with lawyers in order to obtain information into an investigation of his campaign finances.

Of the 3-year sentence, 2 years will be be spent on probation, reported French news agency AFP from the Paris Palace of Justice. The 66-year-old is unlikely to have to go to jail because the sentence can be served at home under electronic surveillance. He is the first former French president to be sentenced to prison.

He has 10 days to appeal.

By Milan Sime Martinic