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SPECIAL ISSUES

July 28 th 2005

Christmas Island detainees to depart

 

July 28, 2005 - 7:04PM

The Christmas Island detention centre will be vacant from Friday when the final group of 11 Vietnamese asylum seekers, including three children, fly to Perth.

 

The federal government, which has pledged to release all children from immigration detention by the end of this week, has granted temporary protection visas (TPVs) to all remaining Christmas Island detainees.West Australian refugee advocate Kaye Bernard said the three children - aged eight, 13 and 15 - and eight adults were all due to leave the island about midday (WST) on Friday.They are the last of a group of 54 Vietnamese people who have been detained for two years since arriving at Port Hedland on the vessel Hao Kiet, claiming they were fleeing political persecution.Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the detention centre, which was reopened to house the group, would remain operational after Friday, but the local shire is angry it has been kept in the dark about its future.The island's shire president, Gordon Thomson said he was concerned by the lack of communication from the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) and detention centre management."I welcome the release of the detainees - no refugee should be incarcerated for the time they have been - but I am angry that the department has made no attempt to contact local authorities and tell them what is going on," Mr Thomson said."I have been trying to contact the department and the centre all day to try and confirm if it is closing down and what is going to be happening to the 20-odd local suppliers and workers from the detention centre."It is appalling that we haven't even had a courtesy call."Ms Bernard slammed the two-year remote detention as an expensive, unfortunate mess."It is clear now that this whole sorry mess of two years of unnecessary detention for the Vietnamese kids and their families, costing in excess of $50 million, leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many Australians," she said."This decision shows that the processing of these people by DIMIA was 100 per cent wrong and requires examination under the scrutiny of a royal commission."The Christmas Island detainees will be released to members of the Vietnamese community late Friday afternoon and will be given temporary accommodation at a Buddhist temple.Trung Doan, the federal general secretary of the Vietnamese Community in Australia (VCA) said his organisation would assist the group in learning English and finding accommodation and work.

10 January 2005

ACEH/ SRI LANKA: Rebel shadows fall over aid Long-running armed rebellions in Indonesia and Sri Lanka yesterday cast a shadow over massive relief efforts in two nations devastated by the Boxing Day tsunami. Indonesia's military increased a miliatry presence in the Aceh region, the area worst hit by the tidal wave, after gunfire erupted in the provincial capital Banda Aceh early in the day. There were no casualties, but a policeman said it could have been related to a long-running insurgency in Aceh. In Sri Lanka, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the Government should use the support it was receiving from around the world to heal the country's ethnic divisions and end a civil war with Tamil rebels. The Government blocked Mr Annan from visiting tsunami-hit areas in the rebel-held north and east of the island on Saturday, citing security concerns. "The world wants to help Sri Lanka in the task to recover and rebuild," the Secretary-General said. "I hope that Sri Lanka would use the support and the goodwill, not only to recover from this tragedy but as an opportunity to unite in the work for peace. "I'm hoping to be able to come back and some day be able to visit all parts of the country, not only to visit all parts of the country which I hope will be rebuilt but also to celebrate peace." The Government's two-decade war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels has killed more than 64,000 people but is on hold during a three-year ceasefire. (Source NZ Herald and Reuters)

17 January 2005

KOREA: Declassified files provoke anger from victims
In South Korea, classified documents released to the public for the first time, have provoked anger from the survivors of the Japanese occupation during the second world war. The files drawn up by Seoul and Tokyo when both countries were normalising relations in the 1960s were unveiled to the public after a court ruling in a case brought by 99 South Koreans. The documents show that the South Korean government had worked out a package worth hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and soft loans, in return for not making further demands for compensation.

INDONESIA: Human Rights group concerned US arms embargo may be lifted
The United States has given its clearest signal yet that it may consider
lifting the arms embargo imposed on Indonesia in 1999. A partial lifting of
the embargo came soon after the tsunami struck the coast of Sumatra, with
the US military offering spare parts for Indonesia's Hercules C-130
transport planes. Some human rights groups are worried about the
possibility restrictions on arms will be lifted, in light of the Indonesian
military's track record.

AUSTRALIA: Historic win in religious hatred case

Catch the Fire Ministries Pastor and speaker vilified Muslims, says judge, in first major test of Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Judge Michael Higgins ruled that Catch the Fire Ministries, Pastor Danny Nalliah and speaker Daniel Scot vilified Muslims at a seminar in 2002, in a newsletter and an article on a website. He said that in the seminar, Mr Scot made fun of Muslim beliefs and conduct in a way that was "hostile, demeaning and derogatory of all Muslim people, their god, Allah, the prophet Muhammad and in general Muslim religious beliefs and practices". In the first big test of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, he ruled that Mr Scot's conduct was not reasonable and in good faith for any genuinely religious purpose or in the public interest (which the act makes exempt). He found Mr Scot's evidence evasive and twice lacking credibility. Judge Higgins said the newsletter, by Mr Nalliah, sought to create fear of Muslims and was likely to incite hatred, while the website article by an American was an example of the type of conduct the act intended to prohibit. Yasser Soliman, the president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, which brought the complaint, hugged both Christian defendants after the case. "I said to Danny (Nalliah), it's time to move forward and I hope we can talk to each other directly and try to develop understanding. He smiled and said he had nothing against me personally. Daniel Scot said he had to be free to say what he needed to say. I've given them my card," he said. Mr Scot said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision. "There was no mention of freedom of speech there. I believe this isn't the end of the matter," he said. Before the hearing yesterday, Mr Nalliah told The Age that the church had won, whatever the verdict. "Since the court case, 150 Christians stood for election, including 25 pastors. The Christian community woke up, and the main cause was this case. We can't stand back; our freedom is at stake."

Afterwards, outside the court, he brandished his Bible and encouraged dozens of Christians who chanted "Jesus" and sang Christian songs. "We may have lost the battle, but the war is not over. The law has to be removed, there is no question," he said. The case was originally listed at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for three days. It will go into its third year next month, when both parties make submissions on what remedy the Islamic Council should receive.

Although the act provides for prison sentences, Judge Higgins said earlier in the case that jail was not an option. Mr Soliman said yesterday he would not seek a big fine. "As far as the Muslim community is concerned, it's not about the money," he said.

The case has divided Christian churches, with the Catholic and Uniting churches supporting the Islamic Council and Pentecostal and evangelical groups saying the law inhibits free speech.The Presbyterian Church of Victoria has called for its repeal, and the conservative Christian lobby group Salt Shakers called the verdict an attack on the notion of freedom of speech.Uniting Church social justice state director Mark Zirncak said those who opposed the legislation "have extreme views and want to tear the social fabric".Catholic Interfaith Committee chairman Father John Dupuche said the case enabled many Christian and Jewish groups to support Muslims.

Equal Opportunity Commission chief executive Helen Szoke said the decision showed where the line was drawn between legitimate public debate and behaviour that incited hatred.

JAPAN: NHK censored TV show due to 'political pressure'

Station executive claims that two high-ranking government officials 'ordered' him to remove content; one of the officials maintains that story was not "fair and neutral. "NHK altered its 2001 documentary on a mock tribunal over Japan's wartime sexual slavery before it was aired because of "political pressure" from senior lawmakers in the Liberal Democratic Party, the TV program's chief producer said Thursday."We were ordered to alter the program before it was aired," Satoru Nagai told reporters in Tokyo. "I would have to say that the alteration was made against the backdrop of political pressure. "The program originally included footage of a mock trial held by civic groups in December 2000. The "verdict" found the late Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, guilty of permitting the sexual slavery. Historians say Japan sent as many as 200,000 women -- many from the Korean Peninsula, which was then under Japanese rule -- to frontline brothels that served Japanese soldiers. Japan called the sex slaves "comfort women."This segment was substantially cut before NHK aired the program."It is obvious that it was altered to gain consent from Mr. Abe and Mr. Nakagawa," Nagai said, referring to key LDP politicians. "I believe (NHK) President Katsuji Ebisawa was aware of everything." Nagai said he was specifically ordered to delete the verdict from the mock trial, as well as the testimony of the former sex slaves."(People involved in the production of the program) opposed the revisions, but we were told to do it under orders," Nagai told the news conference. "Several days later, I learned from one of my seniors that (the NHK executives) had met with Mr. Abe (before the broadcast)." NHK's annual budget is subject to Diet approval.

(source Japan Times)

24 January 2005
CHINA: North Koreans seek refuge in School. Eight people believed to be North Koreans have sought refuge in a Japanese school in Beijing. The Japanese embassy in Beijing, says the man, five women and two girls, entered the school early in the morning. An embassy statement says the group wants to go to South Korea. They have been taken to the Japanese compound. Including the eight in the latest case, 24 people believed to be North Korean defectors, are under the Japanese embassy's custody. (Source ABC News)

ACEH: Peace Talks to begin in Finland. Representatives from the Indonesia Government and the rebel Free Aceh Movement, GAM, will hold talks in Finland later this week, in an effort to strike a peace agreement. The international dispute resolution group, Crisis Management Initiative, has issued a statement claiming it was engaged in preparations to re-establish dialogue between the two parties. However, it says due to the sensitive nature of the talks, it will not elaborate further. The Indonesian military chief, General Endriartono Sutarto, earlier declared his troops had stopped their raids on GAM guerrilla camps in Aceh

INDONESIA: Floating Food warehouse due to dock off Indonesian coast . A floating 3,000 tonne warehouse stocked with food supplies is due to arrive in Indonesia. The United Nation's World Food Program, says the ship with its own landing craft and loading facilities, will be positioned off Indonesia's west coast. WFP spokesman, Gerald Bourke, says the ship is stocked with enough rice, noodles and biscuits to feed tsunami survivors for a month.It will make a significant difference to food distribution on the west coast," he said."Obviously, we are at the stage where we have to make our own arrangements, with the anticipated departure of the assisting militaries."Earlier, the WFP said malnutrition was a growing problem among tsunami survivors in Indonesia with high prices and poor quality food leaving many vulnerable to sickness. Four weeks after giant waves killed as many as 234,000 people across the Indian Ocean region, workers are still pulling hundreds of bodies from the mud and rubble each day.However, Indonesia's chief social welfare minister, Alwi Shihab, said civilian relief workers will now be more useful than foreign troops. "The emergency stage is almost behind us, so the military will no longer be as effective to give their contribution. Civilians are needed," he said. "We are opening up isolated areas through ground transportation, so we don't need more helicopters to fly." (Source: ABC Asia Pacific News)

1 February 2005

AUSTRALIA: Christmas Island Detention Center Condemned: A refugee support group says building an immigration detention centre on Christmas Island will make legal representation for asylum seekers next to impossible. Construction of the 800-bed facility on the remote Indian Ocean island starts this week. Federal Finance Minister Nick Minchin has estimated the 18-month project will cost $336 million. Margaret Piper from the Refugee Council of Australia says asylum seekers are unlikely to get the help they need at a detention centre thousands of kilometres from the nearest capital city. "There are many, many logistical difficulties getting people with specialist legal expertise, also the necessary psychologists that are required by refugees to such a remote location," she said.Ms Piper says the Federal Government is wasting resources by building the detention centre."[The] $336 million would go an awfully long way to ensure that refugees in countries of first asylum get adequate protection so that they don't have to place their lives in the hands of smugglers," she said. (source ABC News)

NEPAL: King Dissolves Government in Nepal . King Gyanendra of Nepal has dissolved the coalition government led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. He revealed the move in a televised address."I have decided to dissolve the government because it has failed to make necessary arrangements to hold elections by April and protect democracy, the sovereignty of the people and life and property," the king said. (source: Agence France-Presse)

NORTH KOREA : Moves to transfer power to Kim's Son: Korea's media has for the first time raised the issue of a possible hereditary transfer of power from dictator Kim Jong-Il to one of his sons, South Korean media reported yesterday.Kim, who turns 63 next month, inherited power from his father, Kim Il-Sung, in 1994 as North Korea established the world's first communist dynasty. Kim was anointed by his father when the elder Kim was 62. Kim Jong-Il is now believed to be ready to anoint one of his own three sons. South Korea's JoongAng Daily said talk of the succession was aired publicly in North Korea for the first time on state radio on Thursday in a political commentary. (source news.com.)

AUSTRALIA: Habib returns home. Australian, Mamdouh Habib, has been reunited with his family in Sydney after more than three years in US detention. Mr Habib was arrested in Pakistan in October 2001 and was held by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for more than three years under suspicion of terrorist activities. Mr Habib was flown from Cuba to Tahiti over Central America to Australia, in line with US requirements for him not to be flown over American airspace. (source ABC Radio News)
SRI LANKA: Child Tsunami Victims Recruited by Tamil Tigers

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers) are recruiting children affected by the tsunami for use as soldiers, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that the Tamil Tigers, who were already recruiting large numbers of child soldiers, now may seek to replace forces lost to the tsunami with child recruits.  The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported Thursday on three cases of children recruited from camps for tsunami survivors in Batticaloa and Ampara, on Sri Lanka's eastern coast. Human Rights Watch has received additional information on LTTE recruitment of children in Trincomalee and Jaffna.  “The Tamil Tigers are preying on the most vulnerable by taking advantage of children who have been orphaned or displaced by the tsunami,” said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Every effort must be made to stop this unconscionable recruiting from families who have already suffered so much.”   (source Human Rights Watch – Asia)

8 February 2005

PHILIPINES Marcos victims to be compensated: Nearly 10,000 people who were persecuted under the iron rule of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos are to be compensated from recovered assets, President Gloria Arroyo's spokesman said Sunday. The victims, many of whom were jailed and tortured for opposing the regime, have been involved in a legal battle for compensation since the late 1980s.Despite a US court decision in 1995 awarding them two billion dollars from the Marcos estate, no monies have yet been paid out, with Manila insisting that any money it recovered from the regime's coffers is state property. But Arroyo's spokesman said Sunday that the government had now earmarked some eight billion pesos (448 million dollars) for the victims. "The president recognises that the human rights victims should be indemnified," spokesman Ignacio Bunye told local radio in Manila. "That is why the executive department has earmarked the money and the only thing needed is for Congress to pass the legislation," he said. Under present laws, any illegally acquired wealth recovered by Manila automatically goes to fund agrarian reform projects. The funds will come from some 683 million dollars recovered from the Marcos estate. The money had been kept in secret Swiss bank deposits and held in escrow at the Philippine National Bank until the Supreme Court in 2003 declared the funds public and ordered the bank to transfer them to government coffers (source: Borneo Times)

THAILAND: Landslide Victory for Thai Prime Minister despite problematic human rights record: Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's landslide election victory has cemented his grip on power in the country. The national polls gave him a sweeping mandate for another four years as Thailand's leader and also made him the first Thai Prime Minister to be returned for a consecutive term. Counting is still continuing but exit polls suggest that Mr Thaksin's party will win up to 399 of the 500 seats in parliament. This is despite criticisms that Mr Thaksin's government has been guilty of cronyism, corruption, human rights abuses and curbing of media freedom. Elections officials said that turnout was high among the country's more than 44 million voters who cast their ballot in 80,000 polling stations across the country. Thaksin Shinawatra is the founder and owner of Shin Corporation, the country's most important telecommunication conglomerate, which includes 60 different companies, is Thailand's only elected politician to complete an entire mandate. Opposition leaders complain that such a victory gives the ruling party the means to centralise power so much that it amounts to a one-party state. Economic analysts explain that in the last four years the country's economy has undeniably improved under Thaksin Shinawatra, who is seen by many as a good manager of public finances, who further proved himself during the recent tsunami crisis. During the campaign, he has promised to spend at least US$ 25 billion on new infrastructure development, but has come under fire for his social and human rights policies. In his 2003 ‘war on drugs', 2,500 people died, killed by police, according to authorities, whilst resisting arrest, murdered by officers given shoot-to-kill orders, according to human rights groups, who claim the dead were largely innocent and denied due process. Furthermore, more than 500 Muslims were killed last year in the southern part of the country in shootouts with the military or in police custody on suspicion of being extremists. More often than not, they were guilty simply of asking the government to improve living conditions in the predominantly Muslim south. (sources: Asia News, Bangkok Post, ABC Pacific)

AUSTRALIA: Senator continues hunger strike. The Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett says he doesn't want asylum seekers to harm themselves on hunger strikes but he understands why they are doing it. Several hunger strikers inside South Australia's Baxter detention center have ended their protest, but Senator Bartlett says others are continuing. Senator Bartlett is himself on a hunger strike for the weekend to draw attention to what he says is the desperate situation of people inside detention centres.
He says he realizes he might be sending a mixed message to asylum seekers by going on hunger strike while also encouraging them not to. "They're the one's that are really faced with no hope at all. And in that sort of circumstance it's hard to be able to say to them that they have other alternatives. "Some of them have been locked up for over five years, simply for trying to seek freedom. They are faced with the so-called choice between continuing indefinite imprisonment or genuine risk of serious persecution if they're returned to Iran." Immigration officials returned an asylum seeker family, the Bakhtiari's, from home detention in Adelaide to the Baxter centre after they lost a High Court bid to stay in Australia. Senator Bartlett says the family has been divided and destroyed by years of detention and should be granted refugee status. "The stress of not just what's happening too them now, but the accumulation of built-up stress over a long period of time really has a compounding effect on people and can cause immense damage, and take a long time, if ever, to fully heal. "There's no reason why we should be doing that, particularly to these children."

INDONESIA: Controversial new criminal code in the pipeline: Adulterers, cohabiting unmarried couples and those who kiss in public could all become criminals if a new Indonesian criminal code is approved. A long awaited draft revision of the Indonesian criminal code proposes harsh fines and prison terms for those who flout the rules. Many say the existing code inherited from Dutch rule is flawed and outdated, but some activists are deeply unhappy with the new proposals. Under the proposed draft, offenders caught kissing in the open could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined as much as 300 million rupiah (A$42,590), reports the Jakarta Post. Unmarried couples living together could be penalised with up to two years in jail. It would also give police and officials the power to raid houses of all those they suspected of living together. Justice ministry official Abdul Gani Abdullah said the law would only apply if others complained. "Kissing in public is a crime if the people around are not happy and lodge a complaint. But if they think it's all right, then no action will be taken," he told the AFP news agency. "The same goes with cohabitation. If neighbours think the presence of an unmarried couple living together is a nuisance, they can report to police." Law expert and women's rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana told the Jakarta Post the morality articles were excessive and infringed on the "rights of the body".
Legal expert Andi Hamzah asked "What about tourists? Will we hunt them down too?" The code is expected to be debated over a two-year period. If passed it would bring Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, into line with many other Muslim states.

14 February 2005

AUSTRALIA: Habib tells of US torture in Egypt. In a paid interview with Australia's Nine Network television station on Sunday, the Egyptian-born Australian national said he was subjected to electric shocks and beatings every day and even threatened with sexual abuse by a trained dog after he was taken to Egypt from Pakistan, where he was arrested in late 2001. While under torture, he said he made a series of false confessions, including that he trained people to hijack aircraft to fly them into the World Trade Centre in New York, and also that he had fought in Chechnya. Australia's Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, has denied allegations made by former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Mamdouh Habib. Mr Ruddock has rejected Mr Habib's claim that an Australian official watched him being beaten at a military airport in Pakistan. Mr Ruddock says none of the torture allegations raised by Mr Habib are new and the claims are already part of an ongoing investigation by the United States. Australia's opposition Labor Party is calling for a full investigation into Mr Habib's claims. Minor party, the Greens, wants to set up a Senate inquiry into the allegations of torture. The party's Kerry Nettle commented: "We do need the Australian government to stand up to the United States on these issues, otherwise it becomes acceptable to torture people in the way in which we have heard Mamdouh Habib describe" (source: Aljazeera News, ABC Asia Pacific)

TAHITI: A Bitter Election brings up issues of Independence from France : French Polynesians have started voting after one of the country's most bitterly fought election campaigns. The by-election on the French territory's main islands of Tahiti and Moorea was called after last year's parliamentary vote was ruled invalid.The Union for Democracy party, led by Oscar Temaru, wants to eventually break away from France, while conservative President, Gaston Flosse, has promised to maintain close ties to France. Tens of thousands of voters took to the streets in the final days of campaigning. Mr Temaru was elected the first pro-independence president of the French Polynesia last May, ousting Mr Flosse.But Mr Temaru was defeated in a subsequent vote of no confidence. In November, France's State Council annulled the results of the May vote on Tahiti and Moorea, citing irregularities in some polling stations. Both sides agreed that new elections should be held throughout the Pacific territory, but that the by-elections on Tahiti and Moorea should be held first. (Source ABC Pacific, Reuters)

NORTH KOREA: Claims to have Nuclear Weapons and withdraws from six nation talks: There's been a strong international reaction to the announcement by North Korea that it has nuclear weapons and will build more. North Korea says its withdrawing indefinitely from six-nation talks aimed at stopping its nuclear program, blaming what it describes as the "grave situation created by the hostile policy of the United States". The U-N, China and Russia and others are urging Pyongyang to return to the talks. South Korea says its gravely concerned. (source ABC Pacific)

VIETNAM: Government tightens control on the media with websites targeted and reporter prosecuted in media purge Recent action against two news websites as well as a newspaper reporter shows Vietnam's government is again clamping down on its domestic media, critics say. The editor of one news site was sacked, another site has been shut down since early this month, and a reporter is being prosecuted for using "state secrets" in her articles. The Vietnamese government has said little about the reasons for the actions. But observers say both websites were disciplined after carrying articles about the government's purchase of 78 luxury vehicles when it hosted the Asia-Europe Meeting last October. Reporters Sans Frontieres, the Paris-based international press watchdog, calls the moves an "assault on press freedoms". (source: South China Post)

MALAYSIA Indonesia and Malayasia in talks over migrant workers: Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi will met tomorrow for landmark discussions, expected to be donimated by the subject of illegal migration.Malaysia has reluctantly extended an amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants after Indonesia said it wasn't equipped to handle mass deportations because of the December 26 tsunami disaster. However, Kuala Lumpur maintains any illegal workers who do not return to Indonesia voluntarily during the amnesty will be jailed and whipped. Jakarta, meantime, has engaged lawyers to take legal action against Malaysian companies who are withholding wages from illegal workers ahead of their expulsion. (ABC Asia Pacific)

10 January 2005

ACEH/ SRI LANKA: Rebel shadows fall over aid

Long-running armed rebellions in Indonesia and Sri Lanka yesterday cast a shadow over massive relief efforts in two nations devastated by the Boxing Day tsunami.

Indonesia's military increased a miliatry presence in the Aceh region, the area worst hit by the tidal wave, after gunfire erupted in the provincial capital Banda Aceh early in the day. There were no casualties, but a policeman said it could have been related to a long-running insurgency in Aceh.

In Sri Lanka, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the Government should use the support it was receiving from around the world to heal the country's ethnic divisions and end a civil war with Tamil rebels.

The Government blocked Mr Annan from visiting tsunami-hit areas in the rebel-held north and east of the island on Saturday, citing security concerns.

"The world wants to help Sri Lanka in the task to recover and rebuild," the Secretary-General said.

"I hope that Sri Lanka would use the support and the goodwill, not only to recover from this tragedy but as an opportunity to unite in the work for peace.

"I'm hoping to be able to come back and some day be able to visit all parts of the country, not only to visit all parts of the country which I hope will be rebuilt but also to celebrate peace."

The Government's two-decade war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels has killed more than 64,000 people but is on hold during a three-year ceasefire. (Source NZ Herald and Reuters)

17 January 2005

KOREA: Declassified files provoke anger from victims
In South Korea, classified documents released to the public for the first time, have provoked anger from the survivors of the Japanese occupation during the second world war. The files drawn up by Seoul and Tokyo when both countries were normalising relations in the 1960s were unveiled to the public after a court ruling in a case brought by 99 South Koreans. The documents show that the South Korean government had worked out a package worth hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and soft loans, in return for not making further demands for compensation.

INDONESIA: Human Rights group concerned US arms embargo may be lifted
The United States has given its clearest signal yet that it may consider
lifting the arms embargo imposed on Indonesia in 1999. A partial lifting of
the embargo came soon after the tsunami struck the coast of Sumatra, with
the US military offering spare parts for Indonesia's Hercules C-130
transport planes. Some human rights groups are worried about the
possibility restrictions on arms will be lifted, in light of the Indonesian
military's track record.

 

AUSTRALIA: Historic win in religious hatred case

Catch the Fire Ministries Pastor and speaker vilified Muslims, says judge, in first major test of Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. Judge Michael Higgins ruled that Catch the Fire Ministries, Pastor Danny Nalliah and speaker Daniel Scot vilified Muslims at a seminar in 2002, in a newsletter and an article on a website. He said that in the seminar, Mr Scot made fun of Muslim beliefs and conduct in a way that was "hostile, demeaning and derogatory of all Muslim people, their god, Allah, the prophet Muhammad and in general Muslim religious beliefs and practices". In the first big test of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, he ruled that Mr Scot's conduct was not reasonable and in good faith for any genuinely religious purpose or in the public interest (which the act makes exempt). He found Mr Scot's evidence evasive and twice lacking credibility. Judge Higgins said the newsletter, by Mr Nalliah, sought to create fear of Muslims and was likely to incite hatred, while the website article by an American was an example of the type of conduct the act intended to prohibit. Yasser Soliman, the president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, which brought the complaint, hugged both Christian defendants after the case. "I said to Danny (Nalliah), it's time to move forward and I hope we can talk to each other directly and try to develop understanding. He smiled and said he had nothing against me personally. Daniel Scot said he had to be free to say what he needed to say. I've given them my card," he said. Mr Scot said he was disappointed but not surprised by the decision. "There was no mention of freedom of speech there. I believe this isn't the end of the matter," he said. Before the hearing yesterday, Mr Nalliah told The Age that the church had won, whatever the verdict. "Since the court case, 150 Christians stood for election, including 25 pastors. The Christian community woke up, and the main cause was this case. We can't stand back; our freedom is at stake."

Afterwards, outside the court, he brandished his Bible and encouraged dozens of Christians who chanted "Jesus" and sang Christian songs. "We may have lost the battle, but the war is not over. The law has to be removed, there is no question," he said. The case was originally listed at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for three days. It will go into its third year next month, when both parties make submissions on what remedy the Islamic Council should receive.

Although the act provides for prison sentences, Judge Higgins said earlier in the case that jail was not an option. Mr Soliman said yesterday he would not seek a big fine. "As far as the Muslim community is concerned, it's not about the money," he said.

The case has divided Christian churches, with the Catholic and Uniting churches supporting the Islamic Council and Pentecostal and evangelical groups saying the law inhibits free speech.

The Presbyterian Church of Victoria has called for its repeal, and the conservative Christian lobby group Salt Shakers called the verdict an attack on the notion of freedom of speech.

Uniting Church social justice state director Mark Zirncak said those who opposed the legislation "have extreme views and want to tear the social fabric".

Catholic Interfaith Committee chairman Father John Dupuche said the case enabled many Christian and Jewish groups to support Muslims.

Equal Opportunity Commission chief executive Helen Szoke said the decision showed where the line was drawn between legitimate public debate and behaviour that incited hatred.

JAPAN: NHK censored TV show due to 'political pressure'

Station executive claims that two high-ranking government officials 'ordered' him to remove content; one of the officials maintains that story was not "fair and neutral. "NHK altered its 2001 documentary on a mock tribunal over Japan's wartime sexual slavery before it was aired because of "political pressure" from senior lawmakers in the Liberal Democratic Party, the TV program's chief producer said Thursday."We were ordered to alter the program before it was aired," Satoru Nagai told reporters in Tokyo. "I would have to say that the alteration was made against the backdrop of political pressure. "The program originally included footage of a mock trial held by civic groups in December 2000. The "verdict" found the late Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, guilty of permitting the sexual slavery. Historians say Japan sent as many as 200,000 women -- many from the Korean Peninsula, which was then under Japanese rule -- to frontline brothels that served Japanese soldiers. Japan called the sex slaves "comfort women."This segment was substantially cut before NHK aired the program."It is obvious that it was altered to gain consent from Mr. Abe and Mr. Nakagawa," Nagai said, referring to key LDP politicians. "I believe (NHK) President Katsuji Ebisawa was aware of everything." Nagai said he was specifically ordered to delete the verdict from the mock trial, as well as the testimony of the former sex slaves."(People involved in the production of the program) opposed the revisions, but we were told to do it under orders," Nagai told the news conference. "Several days later, I learned from one of my seniors that (the NHK executives) had met with Mr. Abe (before the broadcast)." NHK's annual budget is subject to Diet approval.

(source Japan Times)

24 January 2005


CHINA: North Koreans seek refuge in School. Eight people believed to be North Koreans have sought refuge in a Japanese school in Beijing. The Japanese embassy in Beijing, says the man, five women and two girls, entered the school early in the morning. An embassy statement says the group wants to go to South Korea. They have been taken to the Japanese compound. Including the eight in the latest case, 24 people believed to be North Korean defectors, are under the Japanese embassy's custody. (Source ABC News)

ACEH: Peace Talks to begin in Finland. Representatives from the Indonesia Government and the rebel Free Aceh Movement, GAM, will hold talks in Finland later this week, in an effort to strike a peace agreement. The international dispute resolution group, Crisis Management Initiative, has issued a statement claiming it was engaged in preparations to re-establish dialogue between the two parties. However, it says due to the sensitive nature of the talks, it will not elaborate further. The Indonesian military chief, General Endriartono Sutarto, earlier declared his troops had stopped their raids on GAM guerrilla camps in Aceh

INDONESIA: Floating Food warehouse due to dock off Indonesian coast . A floating 3,000 tonne warehouse stocked with food supplies is due to arrive in Indonesia. The United Nation's World Food Program, says the ship with its own landing craft and loading facilities, will be positioned off Indonesia's west coast. WFP spokesman, Gerald Bourke, says the ship is stocked with enough rice, noodles and biscuits to feed tsunami survivors for a month.It will make a significant difference to food distribution on the west coast," he said."Obviously, we are at the stage where we have to make our own arrangements, with the anticipated departure of the assisting militaries."Earlier, the WFP said malnutrition was a growing problem among tsunami survivors in Indonesia with high prices and poor quality food leaving many vulnerable to sickness. Four weeks after giant waves killed as many as 234,000 people across the Indian Ocean region, workers are still pulling hundreds of bodies from the mud and rubble each day.However, Indonesia's chief social welfare minister, Alwi Shihab, said civilian relief workers will now be more useful than foreign troops. "The emergency stage is almost behind us, so the military will no longer be as effective to give their contribution. Civilians are needed," he said. "We are opening up isolated areas through ground transportation, so we don't need more helicopters to fly." (Source: ABC Asia Pacific News)

1 February 2005

AUSTRALIA: Christmas Island Detention Center Condemned: A refugee support group says building an immigration detention centre on Christmas Island will make legal representation for asylum seekers next to impossible. Construction of the 800-bed facility on the remote Indian Ocean island starts this week. Federal Finance Minister Nick Minchin has estimated the 18-month project will cost $336 million. Margaret Piper from the Refugee Council of Australia says asylum seekers are unlikely to get the help they need at a detention centre thousands of kilometres from the nearest capital city. "There are many, many logistical difficulties getting people with specialist legal expertise, also the necessary psychologists that are required by refugees to such a remote location," she said.Ms Piper says the Federal Government is wasting resources by building the detention centre."[The] $336 million would go an awfully long way to ensure that refugees in countries of first asylum get adequate protection so that they don't have to place their lives in the hands of smugglers," she said. (source ABC News)

NEPAL: King Dissolves Government in Nepal . King Gyanendra of Nepal has dissolved the coalition government led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. He revealed the move in a televised address."I have decided to dissolve the government because it has failed to make necessary arrangements to hold elections by April and protect democracy, the sovereignty of the people and life and property," the king said. (source: Agence France-Presse)

NORTH KOREA : Moves to transfer power to Kim's Son: Korea's media has for the first time raised the issue of a possible hereditary transfer of power from dictator Kim Jong-Il to one of his sons, South Korean media reported yesterday.Kim, who turns 63 next month, inherited power from his father, Kim Il-Sung, in 1994 as North Korea established the world's first communist dynasty. Kim was anointed by his father when the elder Kim was 62. Kim Jong-Il is now believed to be ready to anoint one of his own three sons. South Korea's JoongAng Daily said talk of the succession was aired publicly in North Korea for the first time on state radio on Thursday in a political commentary. (source news.com.)

AUSTRALIA: Habib returns home. Australian, Mamdouh Habib, has been reunited with his family in Sydney after more than three years in US detention. Mr Habib was arrested in Pakistan in October 2001 and was held by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for more than three years under suspicion of terrorist activities. Mr Habib was flown from Cuba to Tahiti over Central America to Australia, in line with US requirements for him not to be flown over American airspace. (source ABC Radio News)


SRI LANKA: Child Tsunami Victims Recruited by Tamil Tigers

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers) are recruiting children affected by the tsunami for use as soldiers, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that the Tamil Tigers, who were already recruiting large numbers of child soldiers, now may seek to replace forces lost to the tsunami with child recruits.  The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported Thursday on three cases of children recruited from camps for tsunami survivors in Batticaloa and Ampara, on Sri Lanka's eastern coast. Human Rights Watch has received additional information on LTTE recruitment of children in Trincomalee and Jaffna.  “The Tamil Tigers are preying on the most vulnerable by taking advantage of children who have been orphaned or displaced by the tsunami,” said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Every effort must be made to stop this unconscionable recruiting from families who have already suffered so much.”   (source Human Rights Watch – Asia)


8 February 2005

PHILIPINES Marcos victims to be compensated: Nearly 10,000 people who were persecuted under the iron rule of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos are to be compensated from recovered assets, President Gloria Arroyo's spokesman said Sunday. The victims, many of whom were jailed and tortured for opposing the regime, have been involved in a legal battle for compensation since the late 1980s.Despite a US court decision in 1995 awarding them two billion dollars from the Marcos estate, no monies have yet been paid out, with Manila insisting that any money it recovered from the regime's coffers is state property. But Arroyo's spokesman said Sunday that the government had now earmarked some eight billion pesos (448 million dollars) for the victims. "The president recognises that the human rights victims should be indemnified," spokesman Ignacio Bunye told local radio in Manila. "That is why the executive department has earmarked the money and the only thing needed is for Congress to pass the legislation," he said. Under present laws, any illegally acquired wealth recovered by Manila automatically goes to fund agrarian reform projects. The funds will come from some 683 million dollars recovered from the Marcos estate. The money had been kept in secret Swiss bank deposits and held in escrow at the Philippine National Bank until the Supreme Court in 2003 declared the funds public and ordered the bank to transfer them to government coffers (source: Borneo Times)

THAILAND: Landslide Victory for Thai Prime Minister despite problematic human rights record: Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's landslide election victory has cemented his grip on power in the country. The national polls gave him a sweeping mandate for another four years as Thailand's leader and also made him the first Thai Prime Minister to be returned for a consecutive term. Counting is still continuing but exit polls suggest that Mr Thaksin's party will win up to 399 of the 500 seats in parliament. This is despite criticisms that Mr Thaksin's government has been guilty of cronyism, corruption, human rights abuses and curbing of media freedom. Elections officials said that turnout was high among the country's more than 44 million voters who cast their ballot in 80,000 polling stations across the country. Thaksin Shinawatra is the founder and owner of Shin Corporation, the country's most important telecommunication conglomerate, which includes 60 different companies, is Thailand's only elected politician to complete an entire mandate. Opposition leaders complain that such a victory gives the ruling party the means to centralise power so much that it amounts to a one-party state. Economic analysts explain that in the last four years the country's economy has undeniably improved under Thaksin Shinawatra, who is seen by many as a good manager of public finances, who further proved himself during the recent tsunami crisis. During the campaign, he has promised to spend at least US$ 25 billion on new infrastructure development, but has come under fire for his social and human rights policies. In his 2003 ‘war on drugs', 2,500 people died, killed by police, according to authorities, whilst resisting arrest, murdered by officers given shoot-to-kill orders, according to human rights groups, who claim the dead were largely innocent and denied due process. Furthermore, more than 500 Muslims were killed last year in the southern part of the country in shootouts with the military or in police custody on suspicion of being extremists. More often than not, they were guilty simply of asking the government to improve living conditions in the predominantly Muslim south. (sources: Asia News, Bangkok Post, ABC Pacific)

AUSTRALIA: Senator continues hunger strike. The Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett says he doesn't want asylum seekers to harm themselves on hunger strikes but he understands why they are doing it. Several hunger strikers inside South Australia's Baxter detention centre have ended their protest, but Senator Bartlett says others are continuing. Senator Bartlett is himself on a hunger strike for the weekend to draw attention to what he says is the desperate situation of people inside detention centres.
He says he realises he might be sending a mixed message to asylum seekers by going on hunger strike while also encouraging them not to. "They're the one's that are really faced with no hope at all. And in that sort of circumstance it's hard to be able to say to them that they have other alternatives. "Some of them have been locked up for over five years, simply for trying to seek freedom. They are faced with the so-called choice between continuing indefinite imprisonment or genuine risk of serious persecution if they're returned to Iran." Immigration officials returned an asylum seeker family, the Bakhtiari's, from home detention in Adelaide to the Baxter centre after they lost a High Court bid to stay in Australia. Senator Bartlett says the family has been divided and destroyed by years of detention and should be granted refugee status. "The stress of not just what's happening too them now, but the accumulation of built-up stress over a long period of time really has a compounding effect on people and can cause immense damage, and take a long time, if ever, to fully heal. "There's no reason why we should be doing that, particularly to these children."

INDONESIA: Controversial new criminal code in the pipeline: Adulterers, cohabiting unmarried couples and those who kiss in public could all become criminals if a new Indonesian criminal code is approved. A long awaited draft revision of the Indonesian criminal code proposes harsh fines and prison terms for those who flout the rules. Many say the existing code inherited from Dutch rule is flawed and outdated, but some activists are deeply unhappy with the new proposals. Under the proposed draft, offenders caught kissing in the open could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined as much as 300 million rupiah (A$42,590), reports the Jakarta Post. Unmarried couples living together could be penalised with up to two years in jail. It would also give police and officials the power to raid houses of all those they suspected of living together. Justice ministry official Abdul Gani Abdullah said the law would only apply if others complained. "Kissing in public is a crime if the people around are not happy and lodge a complaint. But if they think it's all right, then no action will be taken," he told the AFP news agency. "The same goes with cohabitation. If neighbours think the presence of an unmarried couple living together is a nuisance, they can report to police." Law expert and women's rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana told the Jakarta Post the morality articles were excessive and infringed on the "rights of the body".
Legal expert Andi Hamzah asked "What about tourists? Will we hunt them down too?" The code is expected to be debated over a two-year period. If passed it would bring Indonesia, the country with the world's largest Muslim population, into line with many other Muslim states.

14 February 2005

AUSTRALIA: Habib tells of US torture in Egypt. In a paid interview with Australia's Nine Network television station on Sunday, the Egyptian-born Australian national said he was subjected to electric shocks and beatings every day and even threatened with sexual abuse by a trained dog after he was taken to Egypt from Pakistan, where he was arrested in late 2001. While under torture, he said he made a series of false confessions, including that he trained people to hijack aircraft to fly them into the World Trade Centre in New York, and also that he had fought in Chechnya. Australia's Attorney General, Philip Ruddock, has denied allegations made by former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Mamdouh Habib. Mr Ruddock has rejected Mr Habib's claim that an Australian official watched him being beaten at a military airport in Pakistan. Mr Ruddock says none of the torture allegations raised by Mr Habib are new and the claims are already part of an ongoing investigation by the United States. Australia's opposition Labor Party is calling for a full investigation into Mr Habib's claims. Minor party, the Greens, wants to set up a Senate inquiry into the allegations of torture. The party's Kerry Nettle commented: "We do need the Australian government to stand up to the United States on these issues, otherwise it becomes acceptable to torture people in the way in which we have heard Mamdouh Habib describe" (source: Aljazeera News, ABC Asia Pacific)

TAHITI: A Bitter Election brings up issues of Independence from France : French Polynesians have started voting after one of the country's most bitterly fought election campaigns. The by-election on the French territory's main islands of Tahiti and Moorea was called after last year's parliamentary vote was ruled invalid.The Union for Democracy party, led by Oscar Temaru, wants to eventually break away from France, while conservative President, Gaston Flosse, has promised to maintain close ties to France. Tens of thousands of voters took to the streets in the final days of campaigning. Mr Temaru was elected the first pro-independence president of the French Polynesia last May, ousting Mr Flosse.But Mr Temaru was defeated in a subsequent vote of no confidence. In November, France's State Council annulled the results of the May vote on Tahiti and Moorea, citing irregularities in some polling stations. Both sides agreed that new elections should be held throughout the Pacific territory, but that the by-elections on Tahiti and Moorea should be held first. (Source ABC Pacific, Reuters)

NORTH KOREA: Claims to have Nuclear Weapons and withdraws from six nation talks: There's been a strong international reaction to the announcement by North Korea that it has nuclear weapons and will build more. North Korea says its withdrawing indefinitely from six-nation talks aimed at stopping its nuclear program, blaming what it describes as the "grave situation created by the hostile policy of the United States". The U-N, China and Russia and others are urging Pyongyang to return to the talks. South Korea says its gravely concerned. (source ABC Pacific)

VIETNAM: Government tightens control on the media with websites targeted and reporter prosecuted in media purge Recent action against two news websites as well as a newspaper reporter shows Vietnam's government is again clamping down on its domestic media, critics say. The editor of one news site was sacked, another site has been shut down since early this month, and a reporter is being prosecuted for using "state secrets" in her articles. The Vietnamese government has said little about the reasons for the actions. But observers say both websites were disciplined after carrying articles about the government's purchase of 78 luxury vehicles when it hosted the Asia-Europe Meeting last October. Reporters Sans Frontieres, the Paris-based international press watchdog, calls the moves an "assault on press freedoms". (source: South China Post)

 

MALAYSIA Indonesia and Malayasia in talks over migrant workers: Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi will met tomorrow for landmark discussions, expected to be donimated by the subject of illegal migration.Malaysia has reluctantly extended an amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants after Indonesia said it wasn't equipped to handle mass deportations because of the December 26 tsunami disaster. However, Kuala Lumpur maintains any illegal workers who do not return to Indonesia voluntarily during the amnesty will be jailed and whipped. Jakarta, meantime, has engaged lawyers to take legal action against Malaysian companies who are withholding wages from illegal workers ahead of their expulsion. (ABC Asia Pacific)

22 February 2005

INDONESIA: Legislators question revisions to Criminal Code: Some members of the House of Representatives have expressed opposition to articles in the draft revision of the Criminal Code that could threaten press freedom. They said they would challenge the government-sponsored draft, which will soon be opened for deliberation in the House. "We will oppose any stipulations that are detrimental to press freedom. We will ensure press freedom," Theo L. Sambuaga, chairman of House Commission for information, told The Jakarta Post recently. Legislators Soeripto of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Amris Fuad Hasan of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) said press freedom had to be protected to help promote democracy in the country. The draft of the new Criminal Code contains at least 49 articles that critics say endanger hard-earned press freedom in the country by allowing the criminalization of the press. The draft stipulates harsh penalties for journalists and others in the media business for certain offenses. The dissemination of information that undermines the state ideology, Pancasila, for example, could be punished by up to 15 years in jail. Journalists could also face fines of up to Rp 3 billion (US$326,000) for some offences. According to the draft, journalists could be punished for offending the president or vice president, the heads of state of neighbouring countries and state bodies, races or groups, and religious groups. (source Jakarta Post)

AUSTRALIA: 12 countries thrash out ways to stop proliferation of bio-weapons Twelve regional countries are meeting in the Australian city of Melbourne to discuss ways of stopping the proliferation of biological weapons. The international workshop hosted by Australia and Indonesia is looking at developing new laws, codes of conduct for scientists, and ways of protecting the security of biological materials in laboratories. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention which bans germ warfare came into being in the 1970s. But it has no enforcement provisions and no protocol to ensure compliance. (source : radio Australia)

ASIA: US accused of hampering SE Asia's fight against terrorism The United States has been accused of setting back the fight against terrorism in South East Asia. Dato Zainal Abidin Zain, Director General of the South East Asian Centre for Counter Terrorism says Asian authorities need access to Hambali, the operations chief of the Jemaah Islamiah network and the mastermind behind the Bali bombing and other atrocities in several countries. Since his arrest in Thailand in 2003, Hambali's whereabouts have been secret and all requests for access to him by other investigators denied by the US. (Source: ABC Pacific News)

Nepal: Over 340 attacks on press in 2004 according to SAFMA Report. There have been over 340 acts of violence and discrimination against the press in South Asian countries, including 21 casualties, last year, a latest report said. According to the second ‘Media Monitor 2004' launched by the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) in the Pakistani city of Lahore Friday, Nepal and Bangladesh top the list with six journalists killed in each, followed by India and Sri Lanka with four murders and Pakistan with one casualty. “In Maldives, Mohammed Zaki, Aminath Didi and Fathima Nasreen, staff of Internet newsletter Sandhannu continue to remain in solitary confinement since January 2002,” (source: Nepal Times)

1 st March 2005

The US resumes military training for Indonesia's Troops: The United States has announced it is to resume a training program for members of the Indonesian armed forces, 13 years after it was suspended when Indonesia launched a blood crackdown against pro-independence protesters in Dili, East Timor. The surprise announcement was made by the US State Department in Washington. Spokesman Richard Boucher said US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had determined that Indonesia had satisfied legislative conditions for restarting the international military education and training program. Indonesia's participation in the program had been on hold since the Dili crackdown, but sanctions were further tightened in 1999 after Indonesian forces were accused of killing about 1,500 people in East Timor in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the territory gaining independence. (source sbs news)

MALAYSIA: Violent Crackdown on illegal immigrants imminent. Malaysia is set to crack down on hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants this week as an amnesty, which has been extended twice at Indonesia's request, draws to an end.
Up to 500,000 official and civilian security officers have been deployed to round up, whip and deport illegal immigrants, who will be barred from entering Malaysia in the future.Malaysian employers, who prefer illegal workers because they can pay them less than locals, have also been warned they face arrest and punishment. (source abc pacific)

AUSTRALIA: Teenager deported to Thailand despite protest Fifteen-Year-Old schoolboy Nak Assavatheptavee's hopes of a last-minute reprieve from deportation yesterday afternoon were dashed by Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone. Clutching a teddy bear and chocolate heart presented by 20 of his Thornbury Northcote Secondary College classmates at the airport, he said he was confident the family would be reunited when they had raised the AU $35,000 they needed to make a new visa application."We'll just have to raise the money... and reapply and come back," he said. Nak and his father Charoon were given until yesterday to leave the country after the rejection of an application for a permanent visa. Because Nak is under 18 he is listed on his father's visa, so he came under the same order to leave, while other members of the family have been allowed to stay. Australian Prime Minister, Mr Howard said: "I think even separately from anything I might say to her, Amanda Vanstone will have something to say about it." Thornbury Northcote Secondary College principal Peter Egeberg said Senator Vanstone's response that there was no need to re-examine the case showed "there is no compassion with this Government". Senator Vanstone told the ABC that Nak's father had his original spouse visa cancelled on grounds of "character". A stunned Nak interrupted his farewells to say he knew nothing of the allegation. He had said previously that his father's earlier spouse visa was cancelled at the request of his father's former partner, with whom he fell out. For more details go: http://www.abc.net.au/ra/asiapac/programs/s1310927.htm

 

NEPAL: Regional Rights Bodies Urged To Take Joint Actions Over Nepal

National human rights institutions in the Asia-Pacific region must act swiftly together to help ensure the safety and freedoms of their fellow rights activists in Nepal, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urged on Monday. Human rights defenders in the Himalayan kingdom face growing threats and dangers under the absolute rule assumed by the king since February 1, the Hong Kong-based rights group said. In a letter to the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, the AHRC called on the umbrella group of 15 rights bodies in the region to jointly condemn the king of Nepal for destroying human rights and democracy in the country. "A concerted and energetic response from all national human rights institutions in the Asia Pacific, together with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Nepal, is urgently needed," said Basil Fernando, executive director of the AHRC. "The AHRC is particularly concerned about looming threats to the NHRC of Nepal," Fernando said. At least two members of the NHRC of Nepal are among those people denied their fundamental right to freedom of movement amid the tightening of security. Hundreds of opponents and activists have been arrested by the authorities. New travel restrictions have also been imposed to prevent rights defenders and government critics from leaving Kathmandu, the capital. (source Asian Human Rights Commission)

















14 March 2005

CHINA Parliament passes law allowing the right to attack Taiwan. China's parliament has passed a law giving its military the legal right to attack Taiwan if it moves towards independence, a day after Chinese President Hu Jintao told the army to be prepared for war. However the president said the newly-adopted law, which takes effect immediately, is not a "war bill", but rather aimed at "strengthening relations." The National People's Congress also passed a resolution naming President Hu as the head of the Chinese military. The controversial anti-secessionist legislation was passed by an overwhelming majority of 2,896 votes for and none against, with only two abstentions. The law gives the communist-led government the right to engage in "non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," should "Taiwan secede from China under any name or by any means". While Taiwan has enjoyed de facto independence from the mainland, Beijing sees the island as its own territory. The anti-secessionist law has drawn criticism within Taiwan and from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. At the same time, the parliament rubber-stamped a 12.6 per cent increase in military spending to 244.65 billion yuan (A$37.3b), although actual defence spending is estimated to be two or three times the publicised amount. This will be necessary "in the event that the 'Taiwan independence' secessionist forces should act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan's secession from China," the law said. It does not specify what is meant by "non-peaceful means" but analysts believe it would cover anything from a naval blockade to surgical missile strikes and an all-out invasion. This comes a day after President Hu instructed his army to prepare for war to safeguard his country's territorial integrity. “We shall step up preparations for possible military struggle and enhance our capabilities to cope with crises, safeguard peace, prevent wars and win the wars if any,” Mr Hu said. He was appointed to lead the government military panel after a vote of 2,886 to six, with five abstentions, effectively completing the transfer of power to a younger generation of Communist leaders. Mr Hu, who took over the largely symbolic military commission post from former President Jiang Zemin, has shown no sign of diverging from Jiang's hardline stance toward Taiwan, currently a democratically-ruled island. Taiwan split from the mainland after a civil war more than 50 years ago, and Beijing has long threatened war if Taipei takes formal steps toward independence. “We must... always place the task of defending national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and safeguarding the interests of national development above anything else,” he told the National People's Congress. (source World News and SBS)

PAKISTAN: Women and men march to protest light sentencing for gang rape. A high-profile Pakistani gang-rape victim has led an International Women's Day rally in the central city of Multan, just days after her alleged attackers were acquitted by a court. Several hundred women carrying banners and placards walked behind Mukhtiar Mai on the eve of the UN awareness day, according to witnesses.
"I shall continue my struggle for the rights of women till the last breath of my life and I will not bow before tyranny, exploitation, tradition or customs," she said in a speech to marchers. Five men earlier sentenced to death for attacking her were on Thursday freed, with a sixth's man's sentence commuted to life imprisonment. Ms Mai said she has received death threats since promising to appeal the court's decision. Many men also attended the rally, a move observers say is rare in Pakistan, particularly in a conservative city like Multan. The 30-year-old was raped for more than an hour in the village of Meerwala in Punjab province in June 2002, as punishment for her brother's alleged affair with a woman of a powerful rival clan. The gang rape was allegedly ordered by the village council. She was then forced to walk home naked before her father was finally able to cover her with a blanket. Ms Mai said the five should not be released before her appeal is heard by the Supreme Court, as she is afraid they will flee the country. "This rally has encouraged me and now I think millions of women are with me and I am not alone," she said. Marchers shouted slogans against the Pakistani police and justice system, calling "We will stand by Mukhtiar Mai" and "Stop killing women in the name of honour". At a press conference on Saturday in Islamabad, Ms Mai said the court's decision had saddened her. "There's a lot of danger now for me, even though I have policemen protecting me. But I am going to go back to my village, I have to go back there," she said. Pakistani women are often subject to "honour punishments", which can range from acid-burning to rape and murder, as payback for alleged crimes of relatives. Since the rape, Ms Mai has used her compensation money to set up her district's first ever schools: one for girls and one for boys. (source : World News)

THAILAND: Major network pushed to increase freedom of the press following lawsuit win. iTV newsroom staff who won a legal battle over unfair dismissal yesterday urged the station's management to incorporate freedom of the press in editorial policy. Twenty of the 21 staff who were fired four years ago for forming a labour union to protest against alleged political inference by the government reported for work yesterday in compliance with the Supreme Court's order. On Tuesday, the court ordered the station to rehire all 21 staff and to pay wages owed since the date of their dismissal. Suwanna Uyanant, one of the staff members, said the group had proposed freedom of press as a condition during a meeting with management who told them not to worry and leave the past behind. ``We all agree to push this as the station's policy,'' she said. However, she said the group wanted to talk to the station's news editors about policy and work methods before deciding whether to take their jobs back. Sakoldej Silapong, another group member, said the staff were undecided since they were happy with the new jobs they had found. ``Moreover, the station's programming has changed. It has become an entertainment channel. That's something we find hard to accept,'' he said.The staff also believed the station's management should be held responsible for lost opportunities and hurting their reputations.The station, owned by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's business empire Shin Corp, fired the editorial staff on Feb 7, 2001.Songsak Premsuk, the station's executive, said management was happy to comply with the court order, with some changes to be discussed with the staff. He said the details would be ironed out on March 21 when they were scheduled to fill out registration forms and begin work.He said the station would also pay compensation of about 20 million baht to them on that day.After the meeting the group was offered a tour of the station and each given a staff manual. (source Bangkok Post)

NEPAL: ICRC will be allowed to meet with Nepal's detained
Nepal's army chief Pyar Jung Thapa Tuesday told the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Tuesday that the ICRC and human rights activists were welcome to meet people under detention. In talks with ICRC Asia-Pacific delegate general Reto Meister, Thapa also said it was not possible to place all those arrested for terrorism since King Gyanendra power grab inside "normal jails.""However, those arrested for terrorist activities have been detained at different barracks and if the members of the ICRC and human rights activists want to meet them, then they are always welcome," a military statement said."General Thapa also told the ICRC team that the security forces were always ready and determined to see that human rights of the people are respected and punish those who violate them."Gyanendra sacked a four-party coalition government last month to tackle a growing Maoist insurgency that has claimed more than 11,000 lives since 1996, the ICRC had urged both the new regime and the Maoists to respect human rights. (Source : AFP)

EAST TIMOR: Government 'blacks out' daily newspaper Government has severed relations with newspaper over report of famine deathsEast Timor's government, angered by published reports of famine deaths it denies, has severed relations with one of the country's two daily newspapers, Suara Timor Lorosae ."It is our right to maintain relations with serious and independent media and not with propagandists that have no objectivity", Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri told Lusa Thursday, explaining the government's cutting relations with the newspaper. Suara 's deputy director, Domingos Saldanha, said the official "blackout" against his publication was impacting on its advertisement revenue but that the paper would not bow to "power pressure".The dispute arose after Suara , or "voice" in English, reported that 53 people recently died from hunger in the village of Hatubuiliko in Ainaro district.The paper cited a local administrator, who said it was the second time in two years that famine had claimed lives in the area, as its source for the story.Dili's state secretary for labor and welfare, Arsénio Bano, denied the report. Bano acknowledged that about 20,000 people in that area faced food problems due to a lack of rains and delayed harvests, but denied there was a famine or that people had died from hunger. ( source: Pacific Media Watch)

22 March 2005

AUSTRALIA: Possible Review of Mandatory Detention for Asylum Seekers Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, has confirmed the government is reviewing its policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers.Mr Howard says the government is looking into the cases of 30 long-time immigration detainees, after some converted to Christianity since arriving in Australia. The Prime Minister says while the government's immigration policy is not biased in favour of Christians, concerns about religious persecution are taken into account."The idea that we have introduced something that is peculiar only to people that convert to Christianity, that is not correct," he said.But the opposition Labor Party's Laurie Ferguson is sceptical."To basically have a situation here now where a great possibility is given to those people who convert, I think we are going to find a few more conversions quiet frankly," he said.The government is also considering a plan to release detainees who have served more than three years in detention and cannot be repatriated. Under the proposal, more than 100 hundred detainees who pass security checks could be entitled to some form of temporary protection visa while the refugee claims are being assessed.
Hope for Australia's longest-held detainee
Supporters of Australia's longest-held immigration detainee, Peter Qasim say they are heartened by news that the government may be considering the policy changes that could see him released.Mr Qasim has been in detention for more than six years after arriving in Australia without a visa, seeking asylum.A long time supporter of Mr Qasim, Kris Latona, says lobbying by Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith and other well-known people have helped the case for his release."They have been very supportive and they have examined evidence that Peter [Qasim] is completely consistent and has endeavoured to be entirely truthful with the Department of Immigration. He is certainly been given some harsh treatment by them," Kris Latona said.
Concern for detainees outside mainland Australia
Australia's minor opposition Greens Party says a review of immigration detention policy should also consider bringing home long term detainees on Nauru and Christmas Island.Greens leader, Bob Brown, says detainees from both Nauru and Christmas Island should be brought "into the Australian metropolitan community to become Australian citizens."Senator Brown points out that there are 48 adults and six children who have been held in Nauru since 2001.Australia's 1958 Migration Act requires that all non Australian citizens who are unlawfully in Australia be detained.There are currently 939 people held inside five detention centres on mainland Australia and one facility on Christmas Island. (source ABC )

PAKISTAN: Temple Hit by Rockets, 18 Hindus killed: Rockets have ploughed into a Hindu temple in southwestern Pakistan, killing 18 members of the minority community during clashes between tribal rebels and soldiers.Local officials say five children and three women are among the victims of the fighting in the town of Dera Bugti, while another 30 have been injured.Full details of the battles have been slow to emerge and it is unclear whether the weapons, which hit a number of homes as well as the temple, were fired by clansmen or Pakistani paramilitary forces.Pakistan's Interior Minister, Aftab Sherpao, says eight security personnel and 21 tribesmen, including two Hindu minority members, have been killed in the battles, while 34 people were injured. (source ABC Asia)

JAPAN: Australian Foreign Minister in talks over Japanese and Australian involvement in Iraq: Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has arrived in Japan to hold talks with government leaders amid deepening military cooperation in Iraq.Mr Downer will meet Japan's Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, before leaving Japan on Wednesday.The AFP newsagency says the Japanese government is expected to thank Mr Downer for a recent announcement by Australia to send about 450 more troops to Iraq to help protect Japanese forces stationed there.Japan has had about 600 troops on a non-combat mission in the southern Iraqi city of Samawa to help with humanitarian reconstruction work since December, 2003. Dutch troops which have been maintaining security in southern Iraq have begun pulling out of Samawa.

12 April 2005

AUSTRALIA : Australia shut out of ASEAN for refusal to sign non aggression treaty : Australia will not be invited to the first East Asian summit later this year, unless it signs a non-aggression pact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).Malaysia will host the inaugural East Asia summit in December. The invitation list currently extends to the ten ASEAN members plus China, Japan and South Korea. Australia, New Zealand and India all want to attend as well - but there is a catch. A statement released at the end of an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in the Philippines says prospective summit partners must accede to ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which bans signatories from using violence to settle conflicts in the region. Australian officials were asked to sign the treaty during last year's ASEAN summit in Laos to dispel concerns about Prime Minister John Howard's threats to carry out pre-emptive strikes on foreign terror bases. (source ABC news)

NEPAL: UN monitors allowed into the country: Nepal has agreed to immediately allow United Nations monitors into the country to help prevent human rights abuses. The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, announced the move, saying that breaking the cycle of serious and systematic abuses will be the first essential step toward achieving peace and reconciliation in Nepal. The agreement was signed at the weekend with Nepal's Foreign Minister, Ramesh Nath Pandey. However, the move was marred by the near simultaneous announcement by Nepal's King Gyanendra that he is extending emergency laws allowing sweeping powers of arrest and detention, by six months. The king sacked the government and declared emergency rule on February the 1, to tackle a Maoist insurgency. Human rights groups say hundreds of people have since been arrested, and disappearances and beatings have been reported. (source: SBS )

JAPAN/CHINA; Tensions remain after anti-Japanese demonstrations in China: Two days of anti-Japanese protests continue to strain diplomatic relations between Japan and China, with the Japanese ambassador calling on the Chinese government to take stronger measures to protect its citizens. The call came as Tokyo demands an apology for violent demonstrations outside its embassy in Beijing. The protests have now spread to the south of China, with around 10,000 people marching on the Japanese consulate in the city of Guangzhou, burning Japanese flags and waving banners demanding the country face up to its wartime past The rallies were sparked by new Japanese schoolbooks, which many Chinese say whitewash Japan's occupation of much of China during the 1930s and early 1940s. Anti-Japanese sentiment has also been fuelled by Japan's campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Another 10,000 people gathered outside a Japanese supermarket named Jusco in the nearby city of Shenzhen. An eyewitness in Guangzhou and a protester in Shenzhen said many protesters were wearing T-shirts and carrying banners reading "Don't buy Japanese products," "Terminate Sino-Japanese relations" and "Don't alter history" .More than 19 million people, mostly Chinese, are reported to have signed internet petitions opposing Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Opened a week ago, the petitions are being carried on the three main Chinese portals on the Internet with the blessing of Chinese authorities. (sources: Asia Pacific Media, ABC Australia )

INDIA /CHINA : India and China sign peace accord: India and China have signed a historic accord setting out guiding principles to resolve their decades-old border dispute.The deal is expected to boost economic cooperation and bilateral ties between the two Asian giants. The border accord, signed in the presence of visiting Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Monday, sets out a road map to settle the dispute without the use of force. The two countries have also set themselves a target of increasing bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2008 from $14 billion at present, they said in a joint statement on Monday. India hailed Wen's four-day visit, which ends on Tuesday, saying a "strategic partnership for peace and prosperity has been established". (Source: Aljazeera )

12 April 2005

AUSTRALIA : Australia shut out of ASEAN for refusal to sign non aggression treaty : Australia will not be invited to the first East Asian summit later this year, unless it signs a non-aggression pact with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).Malaysia will host the inaugural East Asia summit in December. The invitation list currently extends to the ten ASEAN members plus China, Japan and South Korea. Australia, New Zealand and India all want to attend as well - but there is a catch. A statement released at the end of an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in the Philippines says prospective summit partners must accede to ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which bans signatories from using violence to settle conflicts in the region. Australian officials were asked to sign the treaty during last year's ASEAN summit in Laos to dispel concerns about Prime Minister John Howard's threats to carry out pre-emptive strikes on foreign terror bases. (source ABC news)

NEPAL: UN monitors allowed into the country: Nepal has agreed to immediately allow United Nations monitors into the country to help prevent human rights abuses. The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, announced the move, saying that breaking the cycle of serious and systematic abuses will be the first essential step toward achieving peace and reconciliation in Nepal. The agreement was signed at the weekend with Nepal's Foreign Minister, Ramesh Nath Pandey. However, the move was marred by the near simultaneous announcement by Nepal's King Gyanendra that he is extending emergency laws allowing sweeping powers of arrest and detention, by six months. The king sacked the government and declared emergency rule on February the 1, to tackle a Maoist insurgency. Human rights groups say hundreds of people have since been arrested, and disappearances and beatings have been reported. (source: SBS )

JAPAN/CHINA; Tensions remain after anti-Japanese demonstrations in China: Two days of anti-Japanese protests continue to strain diplomatic relations between Japan and China, with the Japanese ambassador calling on the Chinese government to take stronger measures to protect its citizens. The call came as Tokyo demands an apology for violent demonstrations outside its embassy in Beijing. The protests have now spread to the south of China, with around 10,000 people marching on the Japanese consulate in the city of Guangzhou, burning Japanese flags and waving banners demanding the country face up to its wartime past The rallies were sparked by new Japanese schoolbooks, which many Chinese say whitewash Japan's occupation of much of China during the 1930s and early 1940s. Anti-Japanese sentiment has also been fuelled by Japan's campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Another 10,000 people gathered outside a Japanese supermarket named Jusco in the nearby city of Shenzhen. An eyewitness in Guangzhou and a protester in Shenzhen said many protesters were wearing T-shirts and carrying banners reading "Don't buy Japanese products," "Terminate Sino-Japanese relations" and "Don't alter history" .More than 19 million people, mostly Chinese, are reported to have signed internet petitions opposing Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Opened a week ago, the petitions are being carried on the three main Chinese portals on the Internet with the blessing of Chinese authorities. (sources: Asia Pacific Media, ABC Australia )

INDIA /CHINA : India and China sign peace accord: India and China have signed a historic accord setting out guiding principles to resolve their decades-old border dispute.The deal is expected to boost economic cooperation and bilateral ties between the two Asian giants. The border accord, signed in the presence of visiting Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Monday, sets out a road map to settle the dispute without the use of force. The two countries have also set themselves a target of increasing bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2008 from $14 billion at present, they said in a joint statement on Monday. India hailed Wen's four-day visit, which ends on Tuesday, saying a "strategic partnership for peace and prosperity has been established". (Source: Aljazeera )

18 April 2005

Academics take on immigration detention investigation

Academics are beginning their own inquiry into immigration detention in Australia by taking evidence in Port Augusta, in South Australia, at the end of the month.

The Australian Council of Heads of Social Work Schools says the move has arisen from community frustration with the Federal Government's handling of the Cornelia Rau affair.

Linda Briskman from the School of Science and Planning at Melbourne's RMIT University says they will take evidence from anyone who has had involvement with detainees in the Baxter detention centre.

"We're expecting that in that location it will be mainly visitors to detention. People who live in Port Augusta, Port Pirie, Whyalla and surrounds," she said.

"We'll be giving the results to the Government and also making them available widely. Our report will be on the public record."

Associate Professor Briskman says the gathering of their evidence will be broad-based.

"I think the comparison is the Stolen Generation inquiry into Indigenous children who were removed from their families," she said.

"There'll be a lot of oral testimony, confidential oral testimony and research-based evidence that people will be able to refer to for a long time."

New Wave of anti-Japanese protests across China



18apr05

A NEW wave of anti-Japanese protests erupted in cities across China yesterday as Japan's Foreign Minister arrived to discuss the worst crisis between the east Asian neighbours in decades.

About 10,000 people protested against Japan in the southern city of Shenzen for the third weekend, while more than 1000 met outside the Japanese consulate in the industrial city of Shenyang in the northeast.

27 April 2005

THAILAND: International Conference on Criminal Justice opens in Thailand: Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime told the Eleventh United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice told the meeting that in the “Bangkok Declaration” had been agreement that the Declaration should call for the fast track universal ratification of the crime and terrorism-related conventions and protocols.  The Declaration might also address the uneven implementation of the standards and norms regarding the treatment of prisoners, as well as the still infant legislation to shield the victims of crime.  Given the internationalization of terrorism, cooperation on a global level was also necessary.  He, therefore, called on States that had not yet done so to sign and ratify the international instruments against terrorism. Thailand strongly supported the sanctity of criminal justice, Chidchai Vanasatidya, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, said in opening remarks for the high-level segment.  As a developing country, Thailand believed that criminal justice should always be put on equal footing with crime prevention.  Preventing crime, however, meant that the root cause of the problem – poverty -- would have to be eradicated.  Thailand had declared war on narcotic drugs, poverty and corruption.  In the area of corruption, he said his country aimed at good governance and a trustworthy security stock market.  Thailand was honored to have commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of United Nations Crime Congresses by hosting the Eleventh Congress. (newslink)

NEPAL Political Prisoners released. Nepal has released 61 people held under house arrest since February 1, when King Gyanendra sacked his government and seized absolute power.Those released include former deputy premier, Bharat Mohan Adhikari, the leader of the Nepal Communist Party-United Marxist and Leninist, (NCP-UML). The move came just hours after Amnesty International reported that three thousand people had been detained in Nepal since the king took power.Amnesty says it also has detailed reports of torture. AFP newsagency says Mr Adhikari has immediately demanded that political parties forge an alliance to fight for democracy. He is also reportedly demanding the release of all other political detainees, including NCP-UML general secretary, Madhav Kumar Nepal. (source AFP ABC and Amnesty )

NORTH KOREA : UN warns of food shortages in North Korea . The United Nations World Food Programme has warned that North Korea will face serious food shortages if supplies don't reach the country soon. Concern that food has been siphoned off by government officials and the military have caused some major donors to limit aid, raising fears that the WFP will not be able to provide for the 6.5 million people it helps in North Korea. For the last two years, the WFP says it has been able to feed all of its beneficiaries.But in the last few months 900,000 elderly people and 600,000 children have lost their cooking oil rations. And it says another 2.5 million people are expected to have their rations cut as early as June because of recent shortages in aid.
This year the WFP aims to provide half a million tonnes of food to North Koreans (source ABC Pacific)

JAPAN: Lawsuit increases tension between China and Japan. A Japanese court has thrown out a lawsuit seeking damages for visits by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara to a controversial war shrine, in a ruling that could reignite regional tension. The Tokyo District Court also rejected a request to rule on the constitutionality of their visits to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. Japanese courts have thrown out a series of suits seeking damages for Mr Koizumi's visits, often filed by people who said his pilgrimages caused them psychological anguish. The legal action claimed pilgrimages to the Yasukuni shrine violated the separation of religion and state ensured by the Japanese constitution. "Visits to such a shrine by public figures such as Prime Minister Koizumi and Tokyo Governor Ishihara are not only unconstitutional, but offend Asian people hurt by Japanese colonialisation and invasion," the plaintiffs said in a statement. Since taking office four years ago, Mr Koizumi has made an annual pilgrimage to the Shinto sanctuary. The site is dedicated to the two and a half million Japanese who died during World War II, including 14 convicted war criminals. The issue of Japan's war-time history has seen relations with China sink to their lowest ebb in three decades, with Beijing claiming such visits are proof Tokyo doesn't sufficiently regret its bloody conquest of the region in the 1930s and 40s. Chinese President Hu Jintao again raised the issue in weekend talks with Mr Koizumi in Jakarta. While he stressed the importance of Japan-China ties, Mr Koizumi wouldn't comment on whether he would make a future pilgrimage. Mr Ishihara, an outspoken nationalist, visited the shrine in 2000 and 2001 on the August 15 anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. "I visit Yasukuni shrine to pay respect and to mourn war dead as a Japanese individual. It is pointless to distinguish whether a visit is official or private in nature and attempts to stop it are eccentric in themselves," Mr Ishihara said after the decision. (sbs)

9 May 2005

 

PHILIPINES: Thirteen Die in Clashes between rebels and the military The Philippine military says 13 members of the communist New People's Army have died in weekend clashes. On Sunday, four guerrillas were killed during a clash in the southern province of Surigao del Sur. A military spokesman, Colonel Buenaventura Pascual, said the fighting lasted for about half and hour and resulted in the recovery of a truckload of explosives with detonating devices, assault rifles and revolvers. On Saturday, nine guerillas died in a firefight in Camarines Norte province, about 200 kilometres southeast of the capital, Manila. The police director for the region, Jesus Versoza, said the identities of the nine men had yet to be established. He said several firearms were recovered at the scene. The 8,000-strong New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has been waging an armed struggle for a communist state for 36 years. Peace negotiations with the rebels have been suspended since August last year, when the United States classified the party as a terrorist organization.

 

THAILAND: Military Accused of Human Rights Abuses : Thailand's human rights commission has accused the military of "violent breaches of human rights" in its handling of a demonstration which resulted in the death of 85 Muslim protesters.The incident took place in October in the town of Tak Bai, in the southern province of Narathiwat.Most of those who died were in military detention at the time. A government probe in December 2004, two months before a general election, cleared the army of wrongdoing, saying there was no evidence that the deaths were deliberate.
The human rights commission says the government must compensate the victims and their relatives. It also calls on the government to take steps to ensure similar incidents do not happen again, and to bring those responsible to justice. Meanwhile, the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, says his government is considering lifting martial law imposed on much of southern Thailand since a Muslim revolt which erupted there in January 2004. The head of a reconciliation commission tasked with coming up with a peace plan for the region has suggested that martial law come to an end as a gesture of reconciliation. Martial law gives military authorities expanded powers, including the ability to search and arrest without warrants, to impose states of emergency and to enforce curfews. Mr Thaksin says the government will consider whether other laws could be passed to give authorities limited martial law powers while officially declaring a return to normal rule. Martial law has been enforced in most districts of the southern provinces of Songkhla, Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani since January 5. Violence in the region has led to the deaths of over 600 people in the region in the past 15 months.

7 June 2005

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A suspicious packet was sent to the Indonesian embassy in Australia on Tuesday and the mission was shut down for the second time in a week, police said. Besides the two scares at the embassy, Australia's national parliament also received a suspicious packet by mail on Friday. The incidents come as a public backlash rages against the conviction of an Australian woman on drugs charges in Bali. Security at the Indonesian embassy had been stepped up in recent weeks after staff received threats over the drugs case. Police said they received a telephone call about the latest packet at 9:48 a.m. (2348 GMT Monday). Emergency services were at the scene a short time later and closed off the street where the Indonesian embassy is located, which backs onto the U.S. embassy in the national capital Canberra. "We had a report of a suspicious package," an Australian Federal Police spokeswoman told Reuters. One emergency services worker in a protective suit later went through a decontamination shower in the Indonesian embassy yard. An embassy worker said the mission received the packet on Tuesday morning, but new procedures meant the security scare was contained to a small area and had not affected all staff. The Indonesian embassy was shut down last week and its 46 staff quarantined for 12 hours after it received a package containing a white powder and a note written in the Bahasa language.(Source Reuters)

AUSTRALIA: Hao Keit Refugee pleads with Australian Minister

Amanda Vanstones recent offer of a 'sorry cake' to Vietnamese asylum
seeker, Ngoc Bich Nguyen, 18, who had her birthday cake refused entry by
GSL officers at the gates of the remote detention camp on Christmas
Island, has been declined and a request has been made, by the young
women, for a visit by the Immigration Minister.Giau wrote in her short letter to the Immigration Minsiter (copy
available on request):

       "please come to visit me don't worry about the cake"

Refugee Advocate said, Giau called me the other day really frightened
after she had been called into the Immigration Offices in the detention
camp and quizzed about what sort of cake she wanted and at the same time
Giau was suffering from the news that her family were not part of the 25
people deemed refugees last week that came with her aboard the Hao Kiet
in 2003.""Giau is normally very talkative and articulate with a good command of english however when she called me she was clearly very distressed to
know that her family are left behind in the detention camp to suffer the
effects of what can only be described as a gas chamber with the flame on
low." Mrs Bernard said. "I believe that it is critical for Minister to
undertake some field work for her portfolio and in order for her to make
informed decisions she really needs to get out from behind her desk and
visit Christmas Island.""The Minsiter has a duty to intervene in these matters since she and the head of her Department have 'fessed up' to a culture that has seen Giau and the remaining Vietnamese Asylum seekers not having their matters considered objectively," said Mrs BernardThe Immigration Minister is yet to respond to Giau's request for a visit.A spokesman for Senator Vanstone would not comment on the specific cases but said the remaining detainees on Christmas Island should make a fresh application for ministerial intervention if they wish to do so.

AUSTRALIA: Chinese Diplomat goes into hiding

Chinese diplomat who claims Beijing has a spy network in Australia has gone back into hiding after the Australian government said he wouldn't get special treatment in his request for asylum. Chen Yonglin, 37, says he fears for his life after defecting from the Chinese Consulate-General in Sydney 10 days ago. China's ambassador to Australia has denied Mr Chen's claims that more than 1,000 Chinese spies are in Australia, with Chinese people being kidnapped and returned to Australia, calling them "quite wild stories". Ambassador Fu Ying said he would be fairly treated if he returned to China. Mr Chen, who made the claims at a rally in Sydney on Saturday, was first secretary at the Chinese consulate-general in Sydney before resigning late last month. Immediately afterwards Mr Chen disappeared with his wife and six-year-old daughter. He has applied to Australia for political asylum, saying he can no longer stand by while his country represses democracy activists and members of the Falun Gong movement. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, he accused Australian immigration officials of immediately informing Chinese officials of his decision to seek political asylum and of immediately rejecting his request. He said Australian authorities turned him down 11 days ago within 24 hours of making the application, and also repeatedly urged him to return to the Chinese consulate in Sydney. He also said they repeatedly urged him to return to the Chinese consulate despite his pleas that he was in grave danger. The Chinese mission has denied his claims, saying Mr Chen was making the stories up because he was due to return home after four years in Australia and wanted to stay. The Chinese ambassador said Mr Chen has little to fear in China, saying there is not reason for Beijing to want to punish him. "China is not a country behind a bamboo curtain anymore, it is a normal friendly country like any country in the world," said Ms Fu. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said Mr Chen would not receive special treatment and his application for political asylum would be considered on its merits. She said his claim is still being assessed.(Source: SBS World News)

CHINA: Tiananmen Square Anniversary

Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong have held a vigil to mark the 16th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Hundreds were believed to have been killed when China's People's Liberation Army moved in to clear the square after weeks of protests demanding greater political freedoms. Protesters in Hong Kong called on the current Chinese leadership to reassess the way their predecessors dealt with the protests. China has consistently defended the use of force against the demonstrators, many of whom were students. In Tiananmen Square itself, extra police were deployed to deal with possible protests. Human rights group Amnesty International has called on China to release dissidents imprisoned after the 1989 protests.

(Source: SBS)

CHINA: Reporter under house arrest

Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong is being held under house arrest in Beijing, his wife said yesterday.Mary Lau Man-yee said a Security Bureau notification signed by the Hong Kong police commissioner on June 2 was delivered to her on Friday night.A document listing the conditions of Ching, issued by the Beijing National Security Bureau on April 23, was attached to the notification.The notification stated that Ching was under house arrest in Beijing. He was not being detained or arrested, Lau said. Under mainland law residential surveillance, a form of house arrest, or detention usually precede a formal arrest, after which charges can be laid.Lau said she did not have direct contact with her husband, who went missing after a trip to Guangzhou in late April.The Security Bureau has refused to comment on why it took six weeks for the notification to be made, or when the government first became aware of the case.Meanwhile, a campaign to demand Ching's release, organised by the Hong Kong Journalists' Association and Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) has collected more than 2,000 signatures.The association's head, Cheung Ping-ling, said the association would meet again today to discuss further action to help Ching. Legislator Leung Kwok-hung also held a signature campaign in Mongkok yesterday to demand the release of Ching. Ching, senior China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times, has been accused of accepting large amounts of money in return for spying for an unidentified overseas intelligence service.Legislator Leung Ka-kit of the Article 45 Group said the mainland government should disclose the proceedings of the case if Ching was under arrest. The chairman of the Legislative Council's security panel, James To Kun-sun, last night called for the government to liaise with mainland authorities to either let the couple get in touch or send someone to check on Ching's safety.

(source: Asia Media)

The Hao Keit group of refugees from Vietnam have been imprisoned on Christmas Island Detention Centre by the Australian Government.  They have been behind bars and razor wire for two years

June 15, 2005

 

AUSTRALIA: Australia allows interrogation by Chinese officials of Chinese Asylum seekers in Detention: Detainee questioning 'an outrage' The Federal Government's decision to allow Chinese officials to interrogate their nationals held in Australian immigration detention centres was an outrage, Australian Greens senator Bob Brown said today. Senator Brown said he had been aware of reports which surfaced today suggesting that about 50 Chinese nationals in Australian detention centres had been interrogated by officials from the Chinese Government. The detainees were placed in isolation for up to two-and-a-half weeks and interrogated last month, according to Fairfax newspapers. Another 25 detainees were interviewed at Baxter and Port Augusta detention centres in South Australia. The Immigration Department has said those interviewed did not have asylum claims pending and were being assessed for passports.But Senator Brown said you did not need Chinese officials to go into detention facilities to check for passports. "It's outrageous, it is totally outrageous that we have Chinese officials entering Australian detention facilities, questioning people who are not even being assessed for return to China," Senator Brown said.He questioned how authorities gained access to the detainees, saying it was a matter for an independent inquiry. "What we're starting to uncover, apparently, is a very widespread favour given to the Communist Chinese regime in Beijing, to the authoritarian government in Beijing, by the Australian Government," he said.

"This has got to come from ministerial level, this has got to come from Senator Vanstone, this has got to have been husbanded by the Howard Government all the way down the line. "It is unconscionable and it must be investigated."

Tasmanian Labor backbencher Duncan Kerr said today's claims supported the notion a royal commission was needed to force a culture change from the top down in the Immigration Department. "I'm very surprised at those claims but they do appear to have some potential credibility and I think they do need to be investigated," he said.

"Plainly, when a person makes a claim for asylum, they are saying they fear persecution in their country of origin."It's entirely inconsistent with that claim that you report them to the authorities of that country and allow them be interrogated against a background where, in the end, they may be sent home."

20 June 2005

AUSTRALIA: Changes to Detention Laws Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced a raft of changes to the country's controversial immigration detention policy, including agreeing to release children from detention centres and move quickly to process asylum claims. The policy back flip comes in response to pressure from rebel members of his government who had threatened to read a private members' bill in parliament next Monday. Mr Howard spent seven or eight hours in talks with the dissenting MPs, led by Liberal Petro Georgiou. Mr Howard said the changes do not undermine the government's core policy of mandatory detention, describing them as a sensible advancement on the current arrangements. "They don't in any way undermine the existing policy." "We will maintain our strong position on border protection," he said, adding that includes turning boats around and offshore processing. The government has in the past refused to release children, saying such a move would encourage people smugglers to target families with young children. It is believed 65 children are currently housed in detention centres.
The key changes include:

Migration Act to be amended to allow families seeking asylum in Australia to be released from camps and placed in the community instead.

Long-term detainees to have their cases referred to the Commonwealth Ombudsman for review after two years.

Primary refugee applications to be dealt with within three months.

Faster processing of temporary protection visa holders, with all outstanding cases to be completed by October 31 this year.

Three-month deadline for the immigration department to make initial visa decisions.

Three-month deadline for the Refugee Review Tribunal to review cases.

Regular reports to parliament on cases not met within the time limit.

There are about 4,000 outstanding cases of people on temporary protection visas. "They will look at the documentation and unless there is disposition to reject it then it won't be necessary for a further interview to take place," Mr Howard said. The prime minister said the implementation of the changes will be overseen by an interdepartmental committee chaired by Peter Shergold, secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

AUSTRLAI Australia's longest-serving immigration detainee, Peter Qasim, could soon be freed.

Mr Qasim has spent almost seven years in detention and is now in a psychiatric hospital in Adelaide.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has invited another 50 long-term detainees to apply for the revised Removal Pending Bridging Visa - for detainees who cannot be returned to the countries they came from.

Senator Vanstone has confirmed Mr Qasim is one of them and he could be released within days.

"It depends on Mr Qasim accepting the visa and I assume it would depend on what arrangements he wants to make with his health advisers," she said.

"There's no delay in any of these. These are offers if they're accepted. Well there's health and character checks, so there's that delay, but we hope that won't take long," she said.

The Minister says she is very happy with the negotiations between the Prime Minister and a group of rebel backbenchers, leading to changes to immigration detention.

She says she cannot say exactly when changes to the Migration Act negotiated by Liberal backbenchers last week will come into effect.

But she says the bill will be drafted and introduced to the Parliament this week.

The changes will mean families with children are released from detention and a speedier processing of all detainees.

Senator Vanstone says the legislation will be introduced as soon as possible.

"This has got the highest priority for drafting that I've seen, but the detail needs to be just polished and put in before Parliament and then it's up to Parliament," she said.

Cautious welcome

Supporters of Mr Qasim have welcomed news he could be freed within days, but say he is likely to be suspicious of what is being offered.

Changes announced last week mean detainees who want to apply for a "removal pending" visa no longer have to forego legal action, or seeking other forms of visas.

Mr Qasim is one of 55 long-term detainees invited to apply for the revised visa.

Justice for Refugees chairman Don McMaster says it is likely Mr Qasim and other detainees will want more details before accepting the invitation.

"Their hopes have been dashed so many times that any time there's a change...they're very suspicious of it and quite rightly so," he said.

Australia's longest-serving immigration detainee, Peter Qasim, could soon be freed.

Mr Qasim has spent almost seven years in detention and is now in a psychiatric hospital in Adelaide.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has invited another 50 long-term detainees to apply for the revised Removal Pending Bridging Visa - for detainees who cannot be returned to the countries they came from.

Senator Vanstone has confirmed Mr Qasim is one of them and he could be released within days.

"It depends on Mr Qasim accepting the visa and I assume it would depend on what arrangements he wants to make with his health advisers," she said.

"There's no delay in any of these. These are offers if they're accepted. Well there's health and character checks, so there's that delay, but we hope that won't take long," she said.

The Minister says she is very happy with the negotiations between the Prime Minister and a group of rebel backbenchers, leading to changes to immigration detention.

She says she cannot say exactly when changes to the Migration Act negotiated by Liberal backbenchers last week will come into effect.

But she says the bill will be drafted and introduced to the Parliament this week.

The changes will mean families with children are released from detention and a speedier processing of all detainees.

Senator Vanstone says the legislation will be introduced as soon as possible.

"This has got the highest priority for drafting that I've seen, but the detail needs to be just polished and put in before Parliament and then it's up to Parliament," she said.

Cautious welcome

Supporters of Mr Qasim have welcomed news he could be freed within days, but say he is likely to be suspicious of what is being offered.

Changes announced last week mean detainees who want to apply for a "removal pending" visa no longer have to forego legal action, or seeking other forms of visas.Mr Qasim is one of 55 long-term detainees invited to apply for the revised visa.Justice for Refugees chairman Don McMaster says it is likely Mr Qasim and other detainees will want more details before accepting the invitation."Their hopes have been dashed so many times that any time there's a change...they're very suspicious of it and quite rightly so," he said.

AUSTRALIA Australia's longest-serving immigration detainee, Peter Qasim, could soon be freed. Mr Qasim has spent almost seven years in detention and is now in a psychiatric hospital in Adelaide.Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has invited another 50 long-term detainees to apply for the revised Removal Pending Bridging Visa - for detainees who cannot be returned to the countries they came from.Senator Vanstone has confirmed Mr Qasim is one of them and he could be released within days."It depends on Mr Qasim accepting the visa and I assume it would depend on what arrangements he wants to make with his health advisers," she said."There's no delay in any of these. These are offers if they're accepted. Well there's health and character checks, so there's that delay, but we hope that won't take long," she said.The Minister says she is very happy with the negotiations between the Prime Minister and a group of rebel backbenchers, leading to changes to immigration detention.She says she cannot say exactly when changes to the Migration Act negotiated by Liberal backbenchers last week will come into effect.But she says the bill will be drafted and introduced to the Parliament this week.The changes will mean families with children are released from detention and a speedier processing of all detainees.Supporters of Mr Qasim have welcomed news he could be freed within days, but say he is likely to be suspicious of what is being offered.Changes announced last week mean detainees who want to apply for a "removal pending" visa no longer have to forego legal action, or seeking other forms of visas.Mr Qasim is one of 55 long-term detainees invited to apply for the revised visa.Justice for Refugees chairman Don McMaster says it is likely Mr Qasim and other detainees will want more details before accepting the invitation."Their hopes have been dashed so many times that any time there's a change...they're very suspicious of it and quite rightly so," he said.

 

BURMA Aung San Suu Kyi turns 60 under Burmese detention Supporters of jailed Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi are marking her 60th birthday amid renewed calls for her release. In the capital, Rangoon, events were low key, with security around Ms Suu Kyi's home reportedly tightened. Buddhist monks held prayers at her party's headquarters, and world leaders sent messages of support. Ms Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been under house arrest since May 2003. She has spent 10 of the last 16 years in confinement.

AUSTRALIA Australia 'no safe haven' for international students According to a new study many of the international students Australian universities rely so heavily on for revenue feel unhappy and unsafe in Australia.Monash University has found that of the more than 200 international students it surveyed, nearly 60 per cent of female students reported some form of discrimination, while many students of non-European descent have been physically assaulted. There are around 295,000 international students studying in Australia, boosting the coffers of universities - they pay upfront - and generally adding to the economy.Although they and their wallets are valuable additions to university communities, a study by Monash University shows many feel unhappy and unsafe in Australia.The principal researcher involved in the study, Professor Simon Marginson, says what has been discovered about the treatment of many of these students should sound alarm bells. "Mostly off-campus, problems of discrimination and bad treatment, which most people of non Anglo-Australian appearance will experience at some stage during a long stay in Australia," he said."The persistent finding of our study was that when international students were seeking flats or houses, through private rental market, they tended to get put back in the queue, where there was a shortage of accommodation."Professor Marginson says the most alarming finding of the study is that one in 10 students said they felt unsafe in Australia.Of those, 23 per cent of them were in Sydney."When we interviewed students in Sydney, we did meet students who had been bashed or robbed, and there's no doubt about the power of those experiences to determine how they felt about studying in Australia," Professor Marginson said."And it did seem to be happening more often to students who didn't look European. Students mostly from East and South-East Asia but also to some extent, also students from India seem to be targets in a way that European, American students were not. "None of the European and American students said they felt unsafe, and very few of them talked about discrimination."The findings accord with previous studies that have shown that many international students are not reporting a sense of belonging during their time in Australia.The Monash study acknowledges that universities are doing a lot in the area of student care and safety. But Professor Marginson says Australia is still in transition from a white Australia to a genuinely cosmopolitan international environment. The study's findings may provide a clue as to why the number of international students at Australian universities has fallen by nearly two-thirds this year compared to last year.The president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, Professor Terry Lovatt, fears racism and discrimination may be a reason."A lot of the societies where we used to draw our international students from are now themselves in the business of setting up to be international ports," he said."In many ways they're conscious of some of the weaknesses of issues of racism in countries like Australia, for instance, and so doubling their efforts to make international students of all sorts feel welcome." (AM news)

AUSTRALIA: Detainees injure themselves At Villawood Detention Centre on the weekend 13 Chinese detainees deliberately injured themselves. Seven people had to be taken to hospital. Refugee advocates say the self-harm incidents were sparked by Chinese officials interviewing 25 detainees last month as part of the Federal Government's moves to send them back to China. Refugee groups say many of the detainees who were interviewed last month fear their lives would be at risk if they were sent back to China.

27 June 2005

SAMOA: Slaves make American clothes A man has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for enslaving, beating and starving his workers in American Samoa.Former garment factory owner, Kil Soo Lee, has also been ordered to pay $1.8 million US dollars in restitution.
Mr Lee was convicted more than two years ago of conspiracy, extortion, money laundering and eleven counts of involuntary servitude at a factory which made clothes for the American company J.C. Penny and other retailers.
It was the biggest human trafficking case in U.S. history with Mr Lee said to have held more than 200 victims from China and Vietnam as forced labourers at his factory. Each worker paid a fee of between $5,000 and 8,000 US dollars to get a job at the factory.

AUSTRALIA: Anti Chinese Government protest in Sydney More than 500 people have gathered in Sydney today to protest against China's communist regime and an alleged network of spies monitoring Chinese asylum seekers and Falun Gong followers in Australia.
Chen Yonglin, a dissident Chinese embassy official, emerged from hiding for today's event, one month after defecting from what he claims is an evil political regime. Mr Chen is convinced Australia has traded its human rights policies for its lucrative trade deal with China, by allowing more than one thousand spies operate a deadly regime here. "Democratic countries like Australia should not be lured by the Chinese communist party and set aside the basic value of democracy and freedom and human rights." Mr Chen says Chinese people are gradually rebelling against the communist party, and he's calling on Australia to do the same.

AFGHANISTAN: People still being killed in Afghan War The bodies of 76 suspected rebels have been found after days of fierce fighting in the mountains of southern Afghanistan, according to the Defence Ministry. It brings to 178 the number of insurgents killed in one of the deadliest engagements by US and Afghan forces since the Taliban fell in 2001.
Afghan commanders say their troops are pursuing rebels fleeing on horseback and motorcycles. Meanwhile, government and US military leaders have met about 35 tribal chiefs, urging them to cooperate with troops fighting Taliban guerrillas. (source sbs world news)
NORTH KOREA : Defections continue as drought worsens in North Korea A North Korean family is being questioned in South Korea after defecting from the North by boat.The South Korean navy picked up the couple and their nine year old son after they crossed the maritime border in the Yellow Sea.A growing number of North Koreans have defected to South Korea, mostly via China, to escape famine in the North.Last month, the United Nations World Food Programme warned that more than five million people would be without food by August unless urgent food assistance was given. (ABC Pacific)

SRI LANKA : Aid deal brings hope of Peace
Sri Lanka has entered a landmark tsunami aid-sharing deal with Tiger rebels and raised hopes of saving a Norwegian-led peace bid, but Marxists vowed to bring the government down and Muslims expressed anger over the pact.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government, which was reduced to a minority last week when a Marxist coalition partner walked out, said the deal could revive peace talks which have been on hold since April 2003. Peace broker Norway welcomed the deal and said it was of "major political significance." "This is the first time in over two decades of armed conflict that the parties have agreed to cooperate in a political-administrative structure that comprises the national, regional and district levels," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said. President Kumaratunga, who promised to conclude to deal at a meeting of aid donors last month, said it was not possible to postpone it any further "without bringing into disrepute the credibility of the government." "She appeals to all concerned to put aside divisive and confrontational politics and work as a team to alleviate the sufferings of those affected by the tsunami," her office said in a statement. However, her former ally, the Marxist JVP, or People's Liberation Front, described it as a stepping stone for the break-up of the island and legitimising the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

ACEH: Aceh gamblers caned in public

Fifteen people were caned for gambling offences outside a mosque in the town of Bireuen on Friday. Aceh implemented partial Sharia law in 2001, as part of an autonomy deal offered by the Jakarta government. The province has a higher proportion of Muslims than other areas of Indonesia, and many Acehnese practice a stricter version of Islam. The 15 men were flogged with a rattan cane on a specially-constructed stage in front of the Grand Mosque following midday prayers on Friday. Another 11 people are due to be caned at a later date. Partial self-rule The Jakarta government allowed Aceh to implement Sharia law as part of a 2001 package offering the province limited self-rule. The package was designed to end the long-running insurgency by separatist rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, Gam. Although the peace process broke down in May 2003, the province continued to implement the new laws. The people of Aceh are banned from gambling, adultery and drinking alcohol, and both men and women are expected to dress modestly. But analysts say that some of the harsher punishments imposed in other Sharia states, such as amputation of hands and feet or even stonings, are extremely unlikely to be carried out in Aceh. It is unclear how much support the imposition of Islamic law has in the province. The rebels have made it clear they are not fighting for an Islamic state and are opposed to the new measures. Since the Indian Ocean tsunami last December, which devastated huge swathes of Aceh and left 160,000 people dead or missing, both the Jakarta government and the rebels have renewed their efforts to negotiate a peace settlement. But on the ground the conflict continues, and analysts fear it could hinder the post-tsunami reconstruction. (source bbc news)

6 July 2005


THAILAND Free Flak jackets offered by Education Department A policeman is the latest victim in a terror campaign of beheadings in southern Thailand. He's the first member of the security forces to be decapitated in a string of such attacks over the past month. The series of decapitations comes amid an Islamic separatist insurgency in the predominantly Muslim southern tip of Buddhist Thailand. No one has claimed responsibility for the beheadings.
The unrest is being blamed on Islamic separatists and big drug smugglers operating across the border with Malaysia. Thousands of Buddhist teachers and residents are fleeing the region. As incentives to stay, the Education Ministry is offering free flak jackets and faster licenses for 1,700 teachers waiting to buy guns. (ABC Asia)

PHILLIPINES Philippine police have arrested three Filipino members of the regional terror group, the Jemaah Islamiyah , on the southern island of Mindanao. Authorities have been hunting down 40 J.I. operatives, some of them foreigners, who are said to be undergoing clandestine training operations on the Island. Police say the arrested Jemaah Islamiyah members include a local liaison officer of the regional terror group for central Mindanao island. The suspects have been linked to two bombing incidents in Mindanao last year. Philippine and Indonesian police are cooperating closely to capture J.I. militants, including two Indonesian suspects in the deadly Bali bombing. These Indonesians have recently been sighted in the southern Philippines and are believed to be plotting new attacks and organizing terror training with Filipino insurgents. (ABC Asia)

New aviation security laws have led to 70 people being detained and questioned by Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers at airports across the country.The regulations came into effect in March and make it illegal for people at airports to make inappropriate comments about aviation security.AFP manager of aviation security Mandy Newton says many of those detained have claimed they have bombs, guns or other weapons in their luggage.She says while such comments are often made in jest, all must be taken seriously."The person's luggage has to be checked, we have to check it for explosive detection material and if that luggage has gone to the cargo area of the aircraft, in the hold, then the aircraft has to actually be held until that luggage is checked," she said.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott says the inquiry into the wrongful detention of Australian resident Cornelia Rau has "embarrassed" the Government.The sister of Ms Rau says a draft Palmer Inquiry report shows the Immigration Department needs major reforms.Draft excerpts of former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer's report were tabled on Tuesday in the Queensland Parliament by Premier Peter Beattie.The draft says the department breached its own guidelines in the treatment of Ms Rau, and had the mentally ill woman received proper care during her 10 months in detention, she would have been admitted to hospital. Instead Ms Rau, an Australian resident, was kept at South Australia's Baxter detention centre where Mr Palmer says the standard of mental health care was inadequate by any standard. Mr Abbott says the Government will look closely at the report when it is released and take appropriate action."This has been a very unhappy episode from start to almost finish. I don't think any government or any institution can be anything other than embarrassed about what's happened to this poor woman," he said. "As far as the Federal Government is concerned, we will carefully study the report, we will learn the right lessons and we will act upon them. Labor's immigration spokesman Tony Burke says it adds to the case for a royal commission. The final report is expected to be handed to Ms Vanstone next week.

18 July 2005

THAILAND Prime Minister Invokes new Security Laws Thailand's cabinet has passed emergency laws giving Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra additional powers to tap phones, censor newspapers and detain suspects without charge, as further violence rocks the restive south. (Reuters)

AUSTRALIA Palmer Report Slams Government Australian Prime Minister John Howard has apologised to Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez for their treatment by immigration authorities, and announced the department will undergo a massive shake-up after a report found serious problems. The Palmer report was released in Canberra today, which investigated the circumstances surrounding the wrongful detention of Australian resident Cornelia Rau, who was locked up inside the Baxter immigration detention camp, and the wrongful deportation of Australian citizen Vivian Alvarez. "Both Cornelia Rau and Mrs Alvarez are owed apologies for their treatment, and on behalf of the government I give those apologies to both of those women who were the victims of mistakes by the department," said Mr Howard. The prime minister, along with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone, released the Palmer report which catalogues a list of failures that led to the bungles. Senator Vanstone said the pair would receive financial assistance, including health support. Former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer in his long-awaited report found systematic weaknesses in the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, which led to mistakes made in both the cases. "The government acknowledges these mistakes and accepts that changes need to be made within the department," said Senator Vanstone. "Mr Palmer has identified systemic weaknesses in DIMIA which contributed to the length of Ms Rau's detention, the failure to establish her identity and meet her mental health needs. "He finds that the same systemic problems are involved. The government regrets that DIMIA systems have failed in these cases," she said. Mr Palmer recommended DIMIA put new case management systems in place and review its contract with the private company that runs detention centres.(SBS )

FINLAND Aceh Peace Accord - Indonesia's government and Aceh rebels have reached a peace deal to end a 29-year insurgency in the tsunami-devastated province, a top Indonesian official said Sunday. A draft peace deal submitted by the rebel Free Aceh Movement was approved Saturday by the Indonesian president in Jakarta, said Communications Minister Sofyan Djalil, one of the lead negotiators at peace talks in Finland. On Saturday, negotiators from both sides said they had reached a tentative agreement to end one of the world's longest-running wars. (Guardian)

AUSTRALIA Longest serving Detainee granted visa Peter Qasim tasted liberty less than an hour after immigration officials told him at 6pm on Saturday he had been granted a visa.The 31-year-old orphan from the Kashmiri village of Gopalnagar spent three hours away from Adelaide's Glenside psychiatric hospital and celebrated over wine with a friend at a city restaurant. Mr Qasim's eight-year path to freedom began in May 1997 with a plane ticket from New Dehli to Singapore, paid by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. It included 14 months in Papua New Guinea, a dangerous journey by boat to Australia, an audacious escape from detention in Western Australia, and ended with deep depression at the Baxter detention centre in South Australia. After six years and 10 months, Australia's longest-serving detainee spent his final weeks of incarceration being treated at the Glenside psychiatric facility. The day before his visa was granted, Mr Qasim spent five hours being interviewed by Australian spy agency ASIO to pass security checks for the Removal Pending Bridging Visa he accepted on June 21. (Australian)

26 July 2005

NORTH KOREA Nuclear talks resume. Representatives from six nations meet for talks in Beijing today in an attempt to resolve the issue of North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Representatives from America, North and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia today begin nuclear disarmament talks in Beijing. The U.S. is pushing for progress after three rounds of talks have failed to end North Korea's efforts to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea pulled out of the process a year ago, and later declared it had nuclear weapons. (ABC Pacific)

BOUGAINVILLE Bougainville secessionist leader Francis Ona dies. Ona, the self-proclaimed king of the island who opposed the recent election of a new autonomous government, has died of malaria. Papua New Guinea's National Broadcasting Corporation said that Bougainville's new president, Joseph Kabui, has expressed sadness at Mr Ona's death. PNG's Bougainville Affairs Minister Peter Barter also expressed sadness, saying in a statement his greatest wish was for Mr Ona to play a real part in Bougainville's peace process, which he had done indirectly. "Regardless of our opposing positions, I have always respected Francis for what he believed in." (Reuters)

PHILLIPINES Opposition MPs in the Philippines have filed an impeachment complaint in parliament against President Gloria Arroyo on the same day she is to deliver her State of the Nation address. The complaint centres around vote-rigging claims and allegations Mrs Arroyo's family received pay-offs from illegal gambling syndicates. The document says she "stole, cheated and lied" to remain in office. It accuses the president of 10 major crimes including election fraud and corruption, and claims she can be impeached on at least four grounds. (SBS)

AUSTRALIA Children released after bungled detention Two siblings have returned to school in Sydney after being detained inside the Villawood detention centre, where one witnessed at least three suicide attempts, according to lawyers. Ian Hwang, 12, and his sister Janie, 6, were taken to the centre in March after their mother allegedly overstayed her visa. Janie was born in Australia and the children grew up here, however immigration officials pulled them from their classrooms at Sydney's Stanmore Public School and took them to Villawood in March. Their mother, Young Lee, was arrested on the same day for overstaying her visa, and has been in detention with them. The family was meant to be deported to South Korea in March, however the Refugee Action Coalition sought a Federal Court injunction so they could remain. The Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs said the children's cases were "legally complex and not immediately apparent". Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has denied there was a bungle, saying the children's mother had requested they be with her.
Lawyer Michaela Byers has accused the government of bungling the case, saying the children were on legal bridging visas at the time of their detention. "Their release is an admission DIMIA made a mistake, but it's one that should never have been made."

She described Ian as traumatised after witnessing horrors inside the centre. (SBS)

1 August 2005

AUSTRALIA Government 'quietly' excises more islands The federal government has quietly excised hundreds of islands, including tourist destinations, from Australia's migration zone, the opposition party of Labor says.The move was completed by regulation last Thursday after a hostile Senate rejected earlier attempts at excision.The excising of the islands prevents potential asylum seekers who reach them from invoking Australia's refugee protection regime. The list includes tourist destinations Magnetic and Dunk Islands in Queensland, as well as Groote Eylandt, the Tiwi Islands, Bathurst and Melville islands in the Northern Territory and Barrow Island in Western Australia. In 2001, the opposition sided with the government to excise Cocos and Christmas Islands and Ashmore and Cartier Reefs from the migration zone..Labor's immigration spokesman Tony Burke said the latest decision showed the government was unwilling to implement cultural change despite a series of immigration bungles. Mr Burke said."The Howard government seems to have abandoned the concept of border protection and replaced it with border surrender. “ A Just Australia (AJA) national coordinator Kate Gauthier said that if the government was bringing in genuine reform of asylum seeker policy, it would not at the same time be finding ways to cut the ability of people to claim asylum."AJA remains firmly against any excision, on the basis that it is a backdoor method of dodging our responsibilities under the (United Nations) Refugee Convention to people who are in need of our protection as a democratic country," she said. "Either Australian territory is Australian or it isn't."

THAILAND Thailand's newspaper editors have vowed to fight new emergency security laws giving the Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, the power to censor or ban news organisations as well as tap phones in the name of curbing violence in the country's three southernmost provinces.The ongoing insurgency in Muslim-majority provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat has claimed the lives of more than than 800 people since January 2004. However, it is still seen as a local, not internationally driven, insurgency.Thailand's National Reconciliation Commission held an urgent meeting yesterday to draw up counter-proposals to put to the government. The commission's chairman, former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, called for slower implementation of the decree, warning quick but wrongful applications could aggravate the situation.The new law lets Mr Thaksin impose curfews, detain people without charge, close premises and ban public gatherings. The cabinet, not the parliament, will decide how and where the special powers should be used. (Asia Press)

JAPAN Resource centre on wartime sex violence to open in Tokyo
In a bid to keep wartime sexual violence against women in people's minds, women's activists in Japan are set to open a museum in Tokyo to collect and display materials mainly about those who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. The Women's Active Museum on War and Peace, established by public donations, will present videos and written materials in which former “comfort women," as they are euphemistically called in Japan, from the Asia-Pacific region testify about their suffering.(Japan Today)

PAKISTAN President orders closure of madrasas to crack down on ‘terror' President Pervez Musharraf says foreign students attending Islamic religious schools in Pakistan will be ordered to leave as part of a drive to stamp out terrorism and religious extremism. Security forces have detained more than 600 people in the past week after Mr Musharraf ordered a crackdown on militant groups, mosques and religious schools, or madrasas.
The president, who has banned 10 extremist groups, said the raids had aimed not at rounding up large numbers of people but at catching the leaders of the Islamic radical underground. The crackdown was ordered after the July 7 bomb attacks on London, which police said were carried out by three Britons of Pakistani descent and a fourth Briton of Jamaican origin. One of the men, Shehzad Tanweer, visited a madrasa during trips to Pakistan over the past two years. The number of foreign students attending madrasas in Pakistan has fallen sharply since the government imposed tougher visa restrictions after the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001. "All those who are here — there are about 1,400 — they must leave. We will not issue visas to such people,” Mr Musharraf told reporters in Rawalpindi. "An ordinance to this effect will be adopted in the next coming days, General Musharraf said, as part of new rules requiring all seminaries to register with the government by the end of the year. There are about 12,000 madrasas in Pakistan, often providing education, shelter and food to boys from poor families. (Reuters / SBS )

9 August 2005

 

 

CAMBODIA Cambodian opposition lawmaker, Cheam Channy, has been sentenced to seven years in jail after being found guilty of plotting to overthrow the government. A military court judge said the court had been presented with enough evidence to support the allegations that Mr Channy tried to build an armed force, aiming to extract secrets from the military and to destroy the military of the government.Fellow Sam Rainsy Party member Khom Piseth was tried in absentia after being granted political asylum in Norway. He has been given a five year sentence.Cheam Channy was arrested after the national assembly lifted his immunity, along with that of Sam Rainsy and a third party member, Chea Poch. The other two men fled the country immediately.The February lifting of parliamentary immunity for the MPs drew sharp criticism from local activists, the United States, the United Nations and US-based Human Rights Watch.(ABC Pacific)

 

INDONESIA Trial begins of killer of human rights activist A Garuda Airlines pilot, accused of murdering Indonesia's best known human rights campaigner, is due to go on trial in the capital, Jakarta.The pilot is charged with poisoning Munir, who for years had criticised Indonesia's security and intelligence forces for their alleged role in murders and disappearances. Prosecutors say they have based their case on the testimony of Garuda flight crew who say off-duty pilot, Pollycarpus Priyanto, placed arsenic in a glass of orange juice given to Munir on the first leg of his flight to Amsterdam, last September. Munir died within hours. It is alleged Mr Pollycarpus had earlier phoned Munir to discover his flight plans, and had arranged to have the victim moved to business class when he boarded the plane. The indictment says Mr Pollycarpus couldn't accept Munir's criticism of elements of the government and his support for human rights.It makes no mention of allegations outside the court that the defendant was working for Indonesia's Intelligence agency BIN when the crime was committed.(SBS)

 

PAPUA NEW GUINEA Will not change constitution for Australian police Papua New Guinea's foreign minister, Rabbie Namaliu, says PNG will not amend its constitution to grant immunity to Australian police in the country if a stalled aid program is re-negotiated.About 150 Australian officers were sent to PNG under the $750-million Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP), aimed at fighting lawlessness and corruption in PNG.But the officers were withdrawn in May after immunity granted to them was declared null and void by the PNG Supreme Court.Sir Rabbie says the ECP will not continue under its previous arrangements.He says despite Australia's insistence on immunity for its officers, PNG's laws will not be altered.Sir Rabbie says PNG's internal security minister, Bire Kimisopa, will travel to Australia later this month to discuss ways of continuing the program under a different arrangement."We would find it very difficult to obviously continue with the program as it is, or as it was before the court decision was made," he said. "We believe it is a bad precedent to have to amend our constitution just to accommodate one particular package or program. "And I think the Australian government could see that and appreciate that position."The bilateral ECP aimed to fight lawlessness and corruption in PNG.(ABC Pacific)

 

JAPAN Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has called an election for September 11 , after parliament's upper house rejected one of his core economic reforms. Mr Koizumi met with leaders of his bitterly divided Liberal Democratic Party and said he would dissolve the lower house for an election. "We will select candidates for all electoral districts," he said, according to Jiji Press. He said he would not approve those who opposed reforms to the postal service, rejected by parliament including some members of his own party. Analysts say the LDP has governed for most of the past 50 years and is in danger of losing at the polls. The prime minister has been trying to push an aggressive reform agenda, including a plan to split Japan Post into four units under a state-owned holding company in 2007. The reforms were voted down 125-108 after they were narrowly passed by the lower house last month. Around 22 anti-reform LDP members reportedly joined with the opposition in voting against the bills, indicating the depth of divisions within the party. Mr Koizumi has reportedly said he will destroy the old-style party and forge ahead with a new LDP, according to public broadcaster NHK. Mr Koizumi is Japan's longest-serving prime minister in two decades. He has said privatisation is vital to make investment flows more efficient ands to remove distortion from the financial system. Japan Post has nearly 25,000 offices and 260,000 employees. Many people use it as a bank and it has more than three trillion dollars in assets. (Asia Pacific News)

UNITED NATIONS UN official pleads guilty to fraud A veteran UN procurement official has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering charges after investigators found evidence he took nearly $1 million in illegal payments from the winners of UN contracts worth $79 million. UN purchasing officer Alexander Yakovlev was charged on Monday in a federal court filing with receiving "at least several hundred thousand dollars" in illicit payments from firms seeking to secure UN contracts, David Kelley, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. The quick guilty plea, which came just hours after his arrest, often means the accused is cooperating with federal prosecutors. Yakovlev worked on the controversial grant of a UN contract to Swiss firm Cotecna, a company that employed Kojo Annan, the son of the UN secretary-general. The UN-established Independent Inquiry Committee, set up to look for corruption in the oil-for-food programme, is still investigating whether Kofi Annan influenced the award of that contract to Cotecna, said Paul Volcker, the former US Federal Reserve chairman who heads the inquiry. Volcker did not link Yakovlev to the Cotecna contract at a Monday news conference at which his panel released its third interim report on the inquiry into the now-defunct $67-billion aid plan for Iraq. Instead, it said the money identified so far as given to Yakovlev came from contracts outside the oil-for-food plan. Yakovlev faces 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 -or twice the gross gain resulting from each offence -for each of the three counts to which he pleaded guilty. He was released on a $400,000 bond. The Volcker panel said it initially uncovered evidence that Yakovlev, working with a friend, French national Yves Pintore, used his UN post to solicit a bribe from Swiss firm Societe Generale de Surveillance SA, in return for confidential information on a pending oil inspection contract. While investigating that case, the inquiry said it discovered $950,000 in illegal payments from the winners of an undisclosed number of UN contracts worth $79 million. The money was paid into an offshore bank account controlled by Yakovlev in Antigua, West Indies. (Aljazeera)

28 August 2005

AUSTRALIA: Australia may echo UK anti-terror law Australia's law chief said Tuesday he was considering a far broader new anti-terrorism law. Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock said the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard was considering new broader anti-terror legislation to outlaw the incitement of acts of terrorism, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.He said the government was still investigating the matter, but he had discussed the option of banning people from writing newspaper articles that encourage acts of violence.The British Government is creating a new law to make it an offence to "foment" terrorism by encouraging or glorifying it. Ruddock said there was great merit in the British proposal and Australia could adopt similar measures. "They are contemplating legislating in this area and the precise form of words you might use and what conduct you are seeking to include is a matter in which we have not concluded our deliberations but we have said it is an issue that we believe is appropriate for us to consider," he said. (UNP Press)

 

AUSTRALIA Woman dies 'after DIMIA harassment' A Melbourne doctor has blamed the Department of Immigration for contributing to the death of an elderly woman by forcing her to make a stressful trip for a medical examination against his advice.

Chris Towie says harassment and intimidation by the department contributed to the death of Syrian grandmother Aziza Agha, 79, two weeks ago."I believe that Mrs Agha would not have died if it was not for the harassment by the Department of Immigration," Dr Towie, a general practitioner, said on ABC radio."She was an elderly lady who was in no condition to be dealing with the bureaucratic requirements that were placed on her."She was really very frail and very distressed, begging for mercy."Dr Towie said that despite his warnings that Mrs Agha was not fit to leave her home, the department insisted she make a 30-minute trip to Melbourne's CBD to see one of its own doctors.She died from a heart attack two days later.Immigration has defended its actions, saying it was reasonable to request its own medical assessment to determine whether Mrs Agha was fit to travel.Mrs Agha arrived in Melbourne from Lebanon in September last year to visit her family.She was granted a six-month visitor visa and the ABC is reporting that a request to extend that visa, made on medical grounds, was refused.Dr Towie said he had referred her death to the Victorian coroner and would also be contacting the police."I wrote a letter to the Department of Immigration when they requested that they medically examine her fitness to travel," he said."I was very concerned that if she was forced to undergo a trip to the city in a strange country in a strange environment with great fear in her heart, that the stress could be fatal to her."Dr Towie said he had no doubt that the department contributed to Mrs Agha's heart attack."She died two days after being forced to undergo a medical examination in the city by the Department of Immigration," he said."And so I wrote on her death certificate that the cause of her heart attack was being harassed by the Department of Immigration."She was forced to undergo an examination contrary to my medical advice to them that it was of great detriment to her health."Dr Towie said he did not know why immigration did not listen to his warnings that Mrs Agha was not to leave her family's home. (AFP)

PHILLIPINES/AUSTRALIA Aust, Philippines strengthen anti-terror cooperation

Australia may provide surveillance equipment and ships to help the Philippines tighten its maritime borders as the two countries boost cooperation against terrorism, Philippine and Australian officials have said. Australia, the second biggest foreign provider of training to the Philippine military, will also open 80 extra training slots for Filipino troops over the next year to boost the country's counter-terrorism and maritime security capabilities. About 70 officers are already due to get military training this year under Canberra's $2.37 million defence cooperation program for the Philippines. "We are working collectively and effectively with each other to build up the Philippines' capacity to eradicate terrorism," Tony Hely, Australia's ambassador to Manila, told reporters after a two-day defence meeting with Philippine officials. He said one of Australia's goals was to help the Philippines meet international security standards in guarding its seaports in the troubled southern Philippines. "We do remain concerned about the security situation in the Asian region, concerned about developments in Indonesia, within southern Philippines and in southern Thailand," Mr Hely said, affirming Australia's increasing anti-terror aid to the region. In 2004, Australia announced a five-year $9.9 million counter-terrorism package for the Philippines, offering training and other forms of assistance in policing, immigration, port security and forensic bombing investigation. Manila can access extra funds from Australia's $40 million regional counter-terrorism package. The Philippines received about $60 million last year from the United States, its biggest provider of military assistance. Philippine Defence Secretary Avelino Cruz said Australia would send a team of experts to the southern Philippines to review the security situation and study what equipment was needed to help Manila patrol its porous borders.

-Reuters

ACEH Aceh rebels leave mountain hideouts At least 60 separatist guerrillas have left their mountain hideouts in a rebel stronghold in Indonesia's province of Aceh. The move comes after a peace pact was signed in Helsinki last week. The state news agency, Antara, says the members of the Free Aceh Movement have been leaving their jungle hideouts in small groups since the signing. The agency says a rebel sub-district military commander and his deputy are among the guerrillas. The peace pact has paved the way for an end to a 29-year conflict in which up to 15,000 people have been killed.-AFP

13 September 2005

 

AUSTRALIA Yet More Security Laws Australian police will be able to use electronic tracking devices to keep tabs on terror suspects, and detain people for up to 48 hours without charge under new security laws unveiled on Thursday. Prime Minister John Howard said Australia would also make it a crime to incite violence against the community or against Australian soldiers serving overseas or support Australia's enemies, under a law which will replace existing sedition laws. Howard said the changes, which came after a review of Australia's counter-terrorism laws following the July 7 London bus and subway bombings, were needed to give authorities "contemporary and necessary weapons" to fight terrorism. "We are, unfortunately, living in an era and time when unusual but necessary measures are needed to cope with an unusual and threatening situation," Howard told reporters, adding that the changes would not trample on individual rights. "There is nothing in these measures that can be regarded as creating a quasi-police state. "Civil rights advocates condemned the changes and said the new laws could lead to people facing indefinite detention without charge, and could see people forced to wear electronic tracking bracelets, similar to those worn by prisoners on home detention. "This raft of reforms is about removing any justice process and putting in place a system of administrative punishments," said Cameron Murphy, from the Australian Civil Liberties Council.

Under the new detention new laws, the Australian Federal Police will be given the power to hold people for 48 hours. At present, only people being questioned by intelligence agencies can be held for extended periods without charge.Howard said Australia's six state governments would be asked to extend laws to allow state police to detain people for up to 14 days."It could become a revolving door, where people could be held for 14 days, be released and then held for another 14 days," said civil liberties spokesman Murphy.Police would also be given wider powers to stop and search people, while it would become a crime to leave any baggage unattended at an airport.Citizenship laws would also be strengthened to make immigrants to Australia wait three years instead of two before they would qualify to become Australian citizens.

 

AUSTRALIA: Activist Deported From Australia: Moves to deport an American activist raise the question of whether the government is responding to pressure from Washington, the Australian Democrats said.Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said Scott Parkin was a peace activist who had been told only that his tourist visa had been cancelled on national security grounds.Not even his lawyers had been told exactly why, she said."We need to get some information. We have no information that he has broken any Australian laws or indeed that he has acted in a way that is inappropriate," she told ABC radio."So it begs the question - is this political pressure from Washington on our government?"Where has the information come from or is it simply a case of our government not liking what a peace activist is up to in holding workshops in Melbourne, for goodness sake."Or is that they have received information from their political counterparts in Washington."Mr Parkin, from Houston, Texas, entered Australia on a tourist visa last month. He has now been detained and faces deportation after the Australian Security intelligence Organisation (ASIO) reported that he posed a security risk.According to the Houston Independent Media Centre website, Mr Parkin had been camping and hiking in Australia as well as working with Greenpeace. "He also recently has been participating in some anti-corporate protests in Australia and has given presentations to Australian activists about strategic organising, street theatre and non-violent direct action," it said.Senator Stott Despoja said governments did have to act on security reports and there was an argument for the media and politicians not being provided all information in such cases." But surely his lawyers and the suspect himself, so-called, should be entitled to that information," she said. "Why is it that this man was granted a six month visa and suddenly information has come to hand that he can't be made aware of that he has somehow failed to fulfil the character requirement? "There is a big difference between being a peace activist and involved in debates and discussions and workshops here in this country and suggesting somehow that this is not meeting the character requirements of our immigration laws." (source AAP News)

JAPAN : Victory in Election, domestic change but foreign policy stays still Koizumi's election triumph means continuity in Japan's foreign policyPrime Minister Junichiro Koizumi promised reform on his way to victory in parliamentary elections, but there are some things he probably won't change: Japan's rocky relations with its Asian neighbors and its tight ties with the United States.Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party strengthened its majority in the powerful lower house of Parliament in Sunday's vote, giving the maverick prime minister a mandate for his plan to split up and sell off the postal system's mail, insurance and savings services.The prime minister's single-minded focus on postal reform sidestepped discussion of foreign policy during the campaign, however, despite its increasing importance as Japan assumes a more assertive diplomatic and military role in the outside world.Relations between Japan and China sank to their lowest level in decades this year, anti-Japanese sentiment is still strong in South Korea, and efforts to resolve the cases of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea are stalled.Meanwhile, Japan has ramped up its military cooperation with the United States, providing logistical support in Afghanistan and dispatching non-combat troops to Iraq despite strong reservations in public opinion."Japan's foreign policy is in a crisis, but there has been absolutely no debate," said Yoko Kitazawa, an independent international relations expert."Koizumi's not thinking about anything seriously at all, except for postal reform -- not China, not North Korea, not the abductee problem," she added. "That's what's scary."Tokyo's troubled relations with its neighbors, particularly Beijing, are a rising economic as well as political worry in Asia, triggering concerns of a mounting competition between Japan and China over regional influence, natural resources, and security.Violent protests broke out in Chinese cities in April after Japan's Education Ministry approved a middle school history textbook that critics said glossed over Japan's atrocities during its conquest of East Asia in the 1930s and '40s.The anti-Japanese violence was the culmination of simmering tensions between the two Asian powers that have been exacerbated by Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni war shrine, which cherishes executed war criminals along with 2.5 million Japanese war dead.Koizumi has refused to say whether he would continue the visits -- he's made four since becoming prime minister in 2001, the last in January 2004. His main rival, Katsuya Okada, head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, pledged not to go to Yasukuni.Koizumi's future course in Iraq was also not discussed in the campaign. While Okada pledged to withdraw the 550 Japanese troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah by the end of the year, Koizumi made no announcements on the deployment.But it's clear that the prime minister would continue the path he apparently chose in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States -- that it is in Japan's interests to stand by Washington."Koizumi's victory means Japan will now, more than ever, take orders from the United States in its foreign policy -- including keeping troops on in Iraq," said political analyst Minoru Morita."Japan will let itself become an integral part of the U.S. global military strategy," he added.Koizumi, however, did appear to back away from one of his goals: amending the so-called peace constitution, which was drafted by U.S. authorities after World War II, to modify the clause barring Japan from military action overseas.The move is opposed by his coalition partner, the New Komei Party, and he said Sunday night that he didn't have enough time left in office to achieve it. He is scheduled to step down next September."It won't be possible," he said of the amendments. "It cannot be achieved only between the LDP and the Komei Party, but we need a broad discussion, with Democrats as well, and it is not doable in one year."At the same time, Tokyo's campaign to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council has lost steam, in part because of opposition by China. The United States has argued that while it supports Japan's efforts, overall reform at the U.N. is a higher priority than expansion of the council. (AP)

NEPAL Police detain protestors Some 120 protestors were detained by police in Kathmandu on 9 September after protests against the policies of Nepal's King Gyanendra. The protests follow the announcement of a ceasefire by Maoist rebels who have been waging a prolonged revolt against the government. In February, King Gyanendra sacked the country's government and began direct rule, accusing Nepal's mainstream political parties of failing to control the Maoist rebellion. (Source: Reuters, 9 Sept 2005)

More than 1,000 Indonesian police have been readied to depart Aceh a day before an international monitoring group begins overseeing the surrender of weapons by Acehnese rebels. The 1,300 members of the elite police mobile brigade descended on the port of Lhokseumawe, on Aceh's northern coast, in preparation to board a navy vessel and return home. Their departure is seen as a gesture of goodwill, coming ahead of the Aceh Monitoring Mission's (AMM) operation to decommission weapons in the province. From September 15 to 17, the AMM's 160 European and Asian observers will ensure Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels honour the historic August 15 peace deal and hand over their firearms. (Source SBS news)

19 September 2005

NORTH KOREA A Shaky Accord continues The issuance on Monday of a joint statement in Beijing by representatives of the six nations that had taken up North Korea's nuclear-weapons programs has come as relief to those who have been watching the talks with both trepidation and expectation. If the talks had failed, the United States, one of the two main protagonists in the talks with North Korea, probably would have taken the issue to the United Nations Security Council to press for economic sanctions against the North, a move that could have further heightened tensions in East Asia. Although the six nations, which also include China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, have followup work to do, their patience in negotiating has been rewarded so far.China's efforts as chair of the talks and the wisdom of the U.S. and Japan in compromising on North Korea's demand for a light-water nuclear reactor should be noted. As chief U.S. negotiator Mr. Christopher Hill said, "It is a big decision for them, but it is absolutely the right decision for them." If North Korea has emerged from the talks with the realization that its prosperity does not depend on nuclear weapons but instead on improved relations with other countries, as Mr. Hill also suggested, it will be something to heartily welcome.In the joint statement, North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and return at an early date to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards, while the U.S. made it clear that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention of attacking or invading North Korea with nuclear or conventional weapons.South Korea reaffirmed its commitment not to receive or deploy nuclear weapons in accordance with the 1992 joint declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and affirmed that nuclear arms do not exist within its territory.Apart from the nuclear issue, another welcome outcome is that Japan and North agreed to take steps to normalize relations in accordance with the Sept. 17, 2002, Pyongyang Declaration, which had called for an early resumption of normalization talks. It is hoped that both parties will make a serious effort to resolve pending issues such as North Korea's missile program and the fate of all Japanese nationals believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents in the past. (Japan Times)

AUSTRALIA: Senator Vanstone says Asylum Seekers self harm to be very minor . Sydney academic Denise Leith has obtained figures under freedom of information which show there were 878 attempts at self-harm or threats of self-harm by asylum seekers in Australian detention centres over the past three years.But Senator Vanstone said the figures must be seen in the context of detention centre populations.She also described some self-harm incidents as "very, very minor"." Senator Vanstone said today."Against a detainee population over that period of some 20,000, I think puts it in a bit more perspective." People who want to stay in Australia will always resort to, some will try and resort to, a very unattractive type of protest in order to draw attention to themselves and hopefully to pressure the government through the media to give them the outcome they want."But Australia has a very good record of not giving in to such protests" The head of Psychological Medicine at Adelaide's Women's and Children's Hospital, Jon Jureidini, has assessed detainees at Baxter and said the figures were no surprise."After people have been in detention for extended periods of time, almost all people that I've come across have harmed themselves in some way."Prolonged detention in these kind of environments drives people mad."(source AAP)

26 September 2005

Chinese Government Tightens Its Grip on Online News China said today it is imposing new regulations to control content on its news Web sites and will allow the posting of only "healthy and civilized" news.The move is part of China's ongoing efforts to police the country's 100-million Internet population. Only the United States, with 135 million users, has more.

The new rules take effect immediately and will "standardize the management of news and information" in the country, the official Xinhua News Agency said today.Sites should only post news on current events and politics, according to the new regulations issued by the Ministry of Information Industry and China's cabinet, the State Council. The subjects that would be acceptable under those categories was not clear.Only "healthy and civilized news and information that is beneficial to the improvement of the quality of the nation, beneficial to its economic development and conducive to social progress" will be allowed, Xinhua said."The sites are prohibited from spreading news and information that goes against state security and public interest," it added While the communist government encourages Internet use for education and business, it also blocks material it deems subversive or pornographic. Online dissidents who post items critical of the government, or those expressing opinions in chatrooms, are regularly arrested and charged under vaguely worded state security laws.Earlier this month, a French media watchdog group said e-mail account information provided by Internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. helped lead to the conviction and 10-year prison sentence of a Chinese journalist who had written about media restrictions in an e-mail.As part of the wider effort to curb potential dissent, the government has also closed thousands of cybercafes -- the main entry to the Web for many Chinese unable to afford a computer at home.Authorities in Shanghai have installed surveillance cameras and begun requiring visitors to Internet cafes to register with their official identity cards.
The government also recently threatened to shut down unregistered Web sites and blogs, the online diaries in which users post their thoughts for others to read. (Source: Associated Press )

Papua New Guinea: Anti- corruption campaign targets new bills. Anti-corruption campaigners in Papua New Guinea say they have broad public support for their plans to challenge two controversial bills, scheduled to be debated in parliament next month.The Community Coalition Against Corruption has launched a campaign opposing the legislation that would protect politicians convicted of corruption and increase MPs' discretionary spending.The president of the PNG Media Council, Peter Aitsi, says the petition and media campaign is supported by the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International.And he says community groups and businesses in PNG have already indicated their opposition to the bills."We've had a statement from one of the superannuation bodies they have circulated to a thousand employers and there is initial support of it," Mr Aitsi said."And if you think about how many people employers employ, it puts the number at around 70,000 people."We've also heard from the Catholic bishops conference that the petition has been circulated through the Catholic network as well. "The catholic network and the congregation represents about 1.2 million people so there's a potential there to register a large number of people who oppose this bill."

AUSTRALIA New anti-terror laws without safeguards? Australia's state and territory leaders have begun a counter terrorism summit with Prime Minister John Howard. The premiers and chief ministers are to discuss tougher anti-terrorism laws with Mr Howard, including a provision for police to detain suspects for up to 14 days without charge.Chief Minister in the Australian Capital Territory, Jon Stanhope, isn't sure the tougher laws are needed. "It will be helpful to receive from the prime minister some detailed understanding of why it is we need to go down this path," he said. Premier of the state of Queensland, Peter Beattie, also wants an explanation ."Clearly what they have to demonstrate is that there is a need for these proposed powers - that has to be the first thing," he said .Representatives from the nation's intelligence agencies are also attending the meeting.

CHRISTMAS ISLAND : Concern has been raised about a $US226 million detention centre being built on the Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.A senate inquiry into immigration laws and the adequacy of mental health services in detention centres has been told that the isolation of the island will have a devastating effect on detainees.The centre is expected to be ready by the end of next year, but a government spokesman for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says there are no plans to move detainees, already in Australia, to the island.Christmas Island Shire President, Gordon Thomson, says the fears are relevant because there are no psychiatric services on the island."It's $A1,800 ($US1,360) return economy airfare from Perth to Christmas Island so it's a prohibitively expensive exercise for anybody who fancies themselves in an advocacy role, particularly anybody offering psychiatric services," he said.

4 October 2005

BALI Bombings Three separate bombs tore through restaurants packed with Saturday evening diners. Two were outdoor seafood eateries on Jimbaran Beach and one a steak bar at Kuta Beach.The Bali hospital count of the killed was revised downward to 22 from an earlier 27, matching a police estimate, and the number of wounded to 90 from 122.Asked on Monday if Jemaah Islamiah militants appeared to be behind the blasts, Ansyaad Mbai, a top Indonesian counter-terrorism official, said: “Yes, the investigation is moving to that direction.”A senior anti-terrorism official said the investigation was focusing on Islamic militants linked to the Al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, who have been blamed for previous bombings in the world's most populous Muslim nation.A large contingent of Australian police officers arrived in Bali to join the hunt. Japan also dispatched a police counter-terrorism unit to the resort island, Kyodo news agency reported.At least one national from each country was killed in the blasts, while others were injured.Chilling video footage released by investigators late on Sunday showed a man in a black shirt and jeans strolling into a restaurant, followed almost instantly by an explosion. (Reuters)

 

Bangladesh Three courts hit by bombs . Two people have been killed and nine wounded after bombs exploded at three court buildings in Bangladesh.One man died in Chandpur, 170km southeast of the capital, Dhaka, police superintendent B M Harunur Rashid said Three people, including a lawyer, were wounded in Monday's blast, and that two people suspected of carrying the bomb were detained. Also on Monday, another man was killed and six were wounded in a bomb blast at a court building in nearby Laxmipur town, police said. And one or more bombs went off at a court in the port city of Chittagong, police added. There was no immediate word on casualties there.  Police said they were checking a report of bomb blasts in one or two other places.  About 500 small bombs exploded across Bangladesh on 17 August, killing two people and wounding nearly 100. The authorities blamed the attack on Jamaat-ul-Mujahidin, an Islamist group they banned last February, along with another group, Jagrata Muslim Janata. (Bangladesh News)


AUSTRALIA : Anti-Terror Laws concern Universities University staff are concerned they may be unfairly targeted under the Federal Government' latest anti-terror laws. The President of the National Tertiary Education Union, Carolyn Allport, says her members fear the Government may also copy British laws requiring universities to effectively spy on staff and students. She says such a move would interfere with university business, and infringe on privacy. "They would report on things like which people were enrolled in certain courses - which may allow them to learn how to make a bomb - or what books they're borrowing from the libraries, what books they're purchasing as part of their course, what research areas staff are working on. All of this is done with no evidence, not even basic suspicion of an act, or prior knowledge of someone," she says. (SBS News)

14 October 2005

Nauru detention centre stays open

Prime Minister John Howard says the Federal Government will keep its Nauru detention centre open, even though just two detainees are now likely to remain on the Pacific island.

The Government has announced 25 of the 27 asylum seekers currently on Nauru will be brought to Australia. Thirteen will be released into the community after gaining refugee status and the other 12 will have their status assessed from detention centres on the mainland. A spokesman for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says two people will remain on the island after they received an adverse security assessment. Labor says it will cost taxpayers $36 million a year to keep the two remaining detainees on Nauru. However, Mr Howard says the centre is an integral part of government policy. "This Government has stopped illegal immigration and our measures have included the 'Pacific solution'," he said.

"And without it, and without the other measures, we'd still have a problem.

"It's been an outstanding success. "The United Nations' refugee agency has welcomed the decision. UN High Commissioner For Refugees representative Neil Wright says the Government has responded to concerns about conditions on Nauru. "I went to Nauru myself in April and reported back saying I was concerned at that stage about the situation they were in and how untenable it was and I'm very happy to hear that this decision has been taken," he said.

Refugee advocate Marion Le, who has represented all 25 people who are being moved to Australia, says it is win for democracy.

"By the pressure that's come on from the community in Australia, the Prime Minister has had to change his position," she said.

"And this Minister from the beginning took a pragmatic look at what was going on in Nauru and said, well look if we can't send people back, we'd better have another look at this in the light of the changed situation, so that's been a very positive thing."

The International Organisation for Migration's regional representative, Denis Nihill, says it is a good result.

"If you look for example at the Vietnamese in the Philippines the residual caseload of those 25 years later have only just left the Philippines, so I think that it's good that the Government has taken the position to wrap this up," he said.

Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett has criticised the decision to keep the centre operating.

Senator Bartlett says it is a waste of taxpayers' money to keep the remaining two detainees on Nauru.

"It's just pouring more money down the drain for it to be kept open and kept at a state of operational readiness," he said.

"We should be providing assistance to Nauru, there's no doubt about that but it should be direct assistance."

Greens Senator Bob Brown has also called on the Government to end its policy of keeping detainees offshore.

"It's very important that the two remaining asylum seekers there be brought to Australia and have access to everything that Australia has to give them, and that we close these camps, and we never do that again," he said.

31 October 2005

JAPAN: Amnesty Urges Compensation for “Comfort Women” . Amnesty International renewed Friday an effort to call on the Japanese government to accept full responsibility for wartime crimes committed against women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. "Japan should immediately implement effective administrative mechanisms to provide full reparations to all survivors and remove legal barriers toward bringing claims before Japanese courts by reforming national laws," said Purna Sen, director of the London-based human rights watchdog's Asia-Pacific Program. (Source Japan Today)

AUSTRALIA: Labour in turmoil over anti-terror legislation Kim Beazley faces an internal Labor Party revolt on two fronts today over failing to argue against "draconian" anti-terrorism legislation and unveiling his own proposal to ban books that promote hate and violence. A meeting of the ALP's national Left faction passed a motion yesterday warning state premiers and Mr Beazley that proposed anti-terrorism laws could breach the ALP's platform. The meeting, attended by numerous state and federal MPs, including Julia Gillard, Kim Carr and deputy leader Jenny Macklin, demanded that "all ALP state premiers, chief ministers and members of the federal parliamentary Labor Party act consistently with the ALP's platform and Australia's international law obligations". Senior ALP figures were also exasperated by Mr Beazley's decision to announce his own vilification laws yesterday, saying he was "mangling the message". The proposal to link the terrorism laws with his separate reforms to ban racial and religious vilification also angered colleagues because the confusing laws had not been discussed with the front bench. The Howard Government is attempting to push through the laws on Melbourne Cup day in Australia. (source News com )

AFGHANISTAN: Girl's School burnt down by Taliban Loyalists . Another girls' school has been torched in Afghanistan, which is battling insurgents loyal to the ousted fundamentalist Taliban regime that banned education for women.The primary school, 65 kilometres from Kabul in Logar province, was under renovation and the girls were studying in tents.The building was the fourth to be burnt in the same district since the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001. A string of similar incidents in southern and southeastern Afghanistan has been blamed on loyalists of the Taliban, which banned girls from going to school. Another girls' school has been torched in Afghanistan, which is battling insurgents loyal to the ousted fundamentalist Taliban regime that banned education for women.The primary school, 65 kilometres from Kabul in Logar province, was under renovation and the girls were studying in tents.The building was the fourth to be burnt in the same district since the collapse of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001. A string of similar incidents in southern and southeastern Afghanistan has been blamed on loyalists of the Taliban, which banned girls from going to school.

INDIA Bomb Blasts in New Delhi An unknown group calling itself revolution has claimed responsibility for three blasts in New Delhi which killed more than 60 people. A senior police officer says the group has links with hardline Islamic guerrillas operating in Kashmir.UN Secretary General Kofi Annan led international condemnation of the bombings Mr Annan described the attacks as a "terrorist outrage". Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed terrorists and said the explosions at crowded marketplaces were timed to cause maximum damage with people shopping ahead of religious festivals next week. Pakistan was among the first to condemn the bombings, describing them as "a criminal act of terrorism" and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. (source India Times)

SOUTH KOREA: Information about North Korean Defectors leaked from Sung Ui DongjihoeThe personal information of thousands of North Korean defectors living in South Korea has been revealed, hurting their remaining family members in the North, according to a petition filed at the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea. The commission announced on October 27 that Han Chang Gwon , the executive director of the Gyorye Missionary Society (a North Korean defectors group in South Korea), petitioned the commission against the National Police Agency release of the personal information of 4,000 members of Sung Ui Dongjihoe, the biggest North Korean defectors group in South Korea. Han said, “In July, I obtained the list of members of Sung Ui Dongjihoe from another defectors group. It contained detailed information about the members, including their names, dates of birth, home addresses in South Korea, contact numbers, jobs, and even their occupations before their defection.” He explained, “Sung Ui Dongjihoe was regularly given a list of North Korean defectors from the National Police Agency until 2003. There are rumors that North Korea's National Security Agency attained the list of defectors settling in South Korea, and most defectors lost contact with their families in the North.” He also claimed that another defectors' list aside from the one he gained access to has been in circulation from last May and that it even states their former addresses in North Korea. He added, “I reported the leaking of the list to the National Police Agency and the National Intelligence Service and called on them to do something, but they didn't. That's why I submitted the petition to the commission.” In response, a police official said, “We told Han that we will embark on a formal investigation when he takes legal action, but he hasn't done so. It is true that we provided the list of some 1,100 North Korean defectors to Sung Ui Dongjihoe.” Sung Ui Dongjihoe was established in November, 1980. Up until recently, all North Korean defectors coming to South Korea had to join the group after finishing programs in Hanawon, a government institution that helps North Korean refugees settle in South Korea. It recently altered regulations for voluntary entry. The group has some 4,800 members and receives eight million won in monthly subsidies from the Police Agency. (source: donga.com )

INDONESIA: Three Christian School Girls beheaded Indonesia has sent hundreds of police officers to the island of Sulawesi after three Christian schoolgirls were beheaded on Saturday near the town of Poso. Two hundred police reinforcements were flown to the region on military transport planes, and 300 more are expected to secure the region. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has condemned the attacks and vowed to track down those responsible for the deaths, which mark an escalation of the violence against non-Muslims in the Central Sulawesi province.

15 November 2005

AUSTRALIA/ Guantanamo Bay : Hicks to face US Military Court The Pentagon says it is planning to proceed with the military trial of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks unless it is told not to by a US judge.The first stage of the trial is due to begin later this week. Plans are finalised for the Hicks hearing despite a recent Supreme Court decision to hear an appeal by another Guantanamo Bay detainee against the constitutional validity of the military commission process. A spokesman for the Pentagon says the hearing, scheduled to begin in four days, will proceed unless a US District Court judge orders a stay of proceedings. Hicks's military lawyer, Major Michael Mori, has asked for the stay, arguing it would be irresponsible for the commission to start while it is still under a legal cloud. The Pentagon points out the Australian Government has expressed its desire for Hicks to be tried before a military commission and the US is proceeding on that basis. Hicks, originally from Adelaide, has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. The 30-year-old convert to Islam was captured in Afghanistan where he allegedly fought alongside the ruling Taliban against US-led forces who invaded after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. He faces charges of conspiracy to commit war crimes, attempted murder by an unprivileged belligerent and aiding the enemy.

SOUTH KOREA Protests ahead of the APEC Summit Thousands of South Koreans have joined a trade union-organised protest on the streets of Seoul signalling their hostility to the coming visit by Pacific Rim leaders such as U.S. President George W. Bush. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit opens this week in the South Korean port city of Pusan. Traditionally a forum for discussing economic issues, APEC's scope has broadened recently to include trade liberalization, fighting corruption and counter-terrorism. For the first time, leaders will also discuss a global response to the growing threat of a bird flu pandemic. Leaders attending the summit are expected to adopt agreements on information-sharing and other measures to enhance preparedness and fight the virus. Ministerial-level meetings on bird flu have also been flagged for the first half of 2006, and consider a proposal to host an infectious diseases symposium in China next year. Security at airports has been beefed up amid fears some of the 7,000 odd shoulder launch missiles missing around the world could be used to target high profile leaders such as President Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin or Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

AUSTRALIA Court continues to hear evidence against alleged terror suspects A group of men charged with terrorist-related offences in Australia had been stockpiling large quantities of chemicals and other materials used to make explosives and may have been planning an attack on a nuclear reactor, according to a police statement made public Monday.

After an 18-month investigation and the largest antiterrorism raids in Australia's history, 8 men were charged last week in Sydney, and 11 in Melbourne. Lawyers for the defendants and other critics of the government have charged that the arrests were politically motivated, coming at a time when Prime Minister John Howard has asked Parliament to enact a new antiterrorism bill that would give the police sweeping new powers to arrest suspected terrorists.There is nothing in the evidence released Monday indicating that any of the Sydney defendants had trained with Al Qaeda. One of the men trained with the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has been declared a terrorist organization, according to the police statement. The Sydney defendants range in age from 24 to 40, are either Australian citizens or longtime permanent residents and are of Lebanese, Indonesian and Yugoslav descent, according to the statement.The men were followers of a radical imam in Melbourne, Abdul Nacer Benbrika, also known as Abu Bakr, an Australian born in Algeria who is one of the Melbourne defendants. A few days before the arrests last week, Australian officials said that an attack was imminent. But the Statement of Facts, which was presented to the Sydney court last Friday, gives no indication that the men were close to an attack. The Sydney defendants have not been charged with planning an attack, but with "conspiracy to do an act in preparation for a terrorist act," according to the charges. The Melbourne defendants have been charged only with membership in a terrorist organization.

 

 

21 November 2005

West Timorese in island detention

THREE West Timorese asylum seekers are the sole occupants of the Christmas Island detention centre after a family with two infant children were released yesterday.

The seven, the first boat people to reach Australian soil since 2003, were detained after they waded ashore near the West Australian Aboriginal community of Kalumburu on November 5.

Last Thursday, they were transferred from Darwin to remote Christmas Island, 2600 kilometres north-west of Perth.

It is not clear why the seven Indonesians are seeking asylum. The Immigration Department had planned to deport the group but changed its mind after issues were raised.

The second secretary of the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, Dino Kusnadi, said the embassy was seeking clarification. "They were supposed to be returned, but on their return flight two were denied entry on the plane and it was deemed not safe for them to be flying on that flight," Mr Kusnadi said. "At the final minutes they were not to be returned."

An Immigration Department spokesman said the family, with children aged one and two, would live in the Christmas Island community while their applications for protection visas were assessed. "The placement of women and children in detention is always a last resort and the department is committed to finding alternatives for families," he said.

Refugee advocate Kaye Bernard said she was concerned about the welfare of the men left behind in the reopened detention centre, which had been mothballed in July after 53 Vietnamese asylum seekers gained temporary protection visas.

"Everyone accepts detention makes people sick," Ms Bernard said. "These three men are being discriminated against simply on the basis of their gender. If they do not pose a threat to Australian security, why should they be held in a prison?"

She said a social worker tried to visit the men, but had been refused access because her name was not on their visitor list.

Christmas Island Shire President Gordon Thompson said he was pleased about arrangements being made for the family. But he said the three men should also be released and he questioned why all seven had been brought to Christmas Island.

Singapore will hang 25-year-old Australian drug smuggler Nguyen Tuong Van on December 2, despite numerous pleas by Canberra for clemency, his Australian lawyer said on Thursday.

Lawyer Lex Lasry said the Singapore government confirmed the date of execution in a letter sent to Nguyen's mother. Nguyen was convicted last year of trying to smuggle 400 grams (0.9 lb) of heroin from Cambodia.

"The letter was received at 2 p.m. this afternoon," Lasry told Reuters, adding Nguyen's mother would be allowed extra visits in the days leading up to his execution. Nguyen, from the southern Australian city of Melbourne, was arrested in December 2002 at Singapore's Changi airport while in transit for Australia.

Australia had asked Singapore to reconsider clemency for Nguyen -- who said he was carrying the drugs to help his brother pay off debts to loan sharks -- because he had co-operated with authorities and could be a witness in future drug cases.

Nguyen will be the first Australian executed for drugs charges since Michael McAuliffe went to the gallows in Malaysia in 1993 for trafficking.

Two other Australians, Mai Cong Thanh, 46, and Nguyen Van Chinh, 45, are on death row in Vietnam after being convicted of drug smuggling.

Amnesty International said in a 2004 report that about 400 people had been hanged in Singapore since 1991, mostly for drug trafficking, giving the city-state of 4.2 million people the highest execution rate in the world relative to population. (Reuters)

5 December 2005

HONG KONG The March for Democracy Hundreds of thousands of people have joined a march in Hong Kong to demand a fully democratic political system. The demonstrators included trade unionists, activists and ordinary citizens, some carrying banners denouncing China. They called for universal suffrage to be introduced to elect want the Chinese autonomous territory's next leader. Organisers, the Civil Rights Front, said 250,000 people took part in the march while police said the figure was nearer to 63,000. It was the biggest show of public anger since the new leader, Donald Tsang, took office in June. (source sbs)

SINGAPORE – State censors Play about Death Penalty Singapore has ordered a theatre director to remove all references to the death penalty in a play to be staged on Saturday, a day after the city-state executed an Australian, a Singapore newspaper said.

The government's Media Development Authority (MDA) demanded that "Human Lefts," a play about the hanging of Singaporean drug courier Shanmugam Murugesu in May, make no mention of the death penalty and no reference to any political leader, the play's director was quoted as saying.

Benny Lim, artistic director of The Fun Stage, told Today that all reference to the death penalty had been omitted in a new script that won MDA approval. (Reuters)


AUSTRALIA Anti-Terror Laws threaten free speech Laws that could impinge on free speech will be introduced into federal parliament today and are expected to pass this week after dissident MPs agreed to vote for the bill.
Despite concern from MPs on both sides of politics, civil libertarians and lawyers over tough sedition laws banning subversive speech, the Government appeared to have secured passage of the bill after agreeing to some concessions. Despite the deal, Liberal senator George Brandis was still unsatisfied with the sedition provisions, which, he said, "limit free speech". Prime Minister John Howard said he was astonished at criticism, arguing that sedition laws had been in place for 50 years without restricting free speech.

Critics have argued the provisions would hinder the free expression of artists, journalists and satirists. At the urging of Senator Brandis and Liberal backbencher Malcolm Turnbull, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has agreed to an inquiry into the sedition provisions next year. Mr Ruddock has also stressed the public interest clause in the provisions, saying they would act as a safeguard against rampant prosecutions. Labor has argued the provisions should be excised from the anti-terrorism bill until after the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry. That position was backed last week by a senate committee led by moderate Liberal Marise Payne. The Law Council of Australia placed full-page ads in today's newspapers as a "final assault" in its campaign against the laws. "The new laws, which will likely impact on the daily lives of every single Australian citizen, are draconian and disproportionate. The legal profession is profoundly disturbed by their introduction," president John North said. (Source the Australian

(Click here for the Law Council Ad)


 

   


















 

 

 

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