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3 January 2006

JOURNALIST DEATHS ON THE RISE The Philippines has recorded the highest number of journalist deaths in the Asia Pacific region.The Committee to Protect Journalists says four journalists in the Philippines were murdered during the course of their work in 2005.Worldwide, Iraq recorded the most deaths.In 2005, 22 journalists died in Iraq and most were murdered.Cross fire had been the leading cause of death in the previous two years. Overall, 47 journalists were killed in their line of work in 2005.


NEPAL: Cease Fire Fails: Nepal's communist rebels called off their four-month-long truce yesterday but re-affirmed their commitment to a new alliance with political parties that has isolated King Gyanendra, the country's absolute ruler. The decision sets the stage for a bloody build-up to municipal elections on February 8 that both Maoists and political parties claim are a blatant attempt by the king to legitimise his power grab last February (Source Financial Times).

AFGHANISTAN: First Democratic Parliament commences Afghanistan's first democratically-elected parliament in more than thirty years has convened, with President Hamid Karzai hailing it as a crucial step towards securing the future of the war-ravaged country.(SBS )

PAKISTAN Aid Efforts Stalled by Winter Relief flights have been grounded for a third day in northern Pakistan's earthquake zone due to bad weather. There has been heavy rain and snow and some makeshift camps are reported to have been flooded, while tents are collapsing under the weight of the snow. Three million people were made homeless by last October's major earthquake, which claimed at least 73,000 lives.Health officials report that 35 children have died of pneumonia in three mountain villages since last week, where temperatures have plummeted to minus 10 degrees celsius.

24 January 2006


PAPUA: Asylum seekers allege Indonesian abuse

Calls are growing for Australia's immigration department to grant immediate protection visas to 43 Papuan asylum seekers who arrived in far north Australia last week. The group is now being held on Christmas Island, many of them at one of Australia's offshore immigration detention centres. Supporters of Papua's independence movement say the group fled their homeland because of human rights abuses by the Indonesian military Activists say they can confirm that four teenagers were shot dead by Indonesian troops in the province of West Papua, one of them closely related to a member of the group that fled to Australia earlier this week.
Nick Chesterfield of the Australia-West Papua National Authority has told SBS that five young teenagers were walking to school when Indonesian TNI troops jumped out of a van and shot them. However Indonesian authorities say only one person was killed, and it was during a clash outside a police station after three people complained about being prevented from begging. Mr Chesterfield said the incident occurred in the Paniai region of West Papua's Western Highlands, where some of the asylum seekers who landed on Queensland's Cape York peninsula come from. (ABC Pacific / SBS)

NEPAL: Crisis intensifies in Himalayan kingdom

Western nations have expressed alarm about weekend events in the crisis-wracked mountain Kingdom of Nepal after major clashes between the government and pro-democracy demonstrators. Hundreds of people including senior politicians, student leaders and rights activists were arrested for defying a ban on political protests imposed by King Gyanendra seized power almost a year ago blaming the failure of political parties to stop a Maoist insurgency. But it's a challenge he's now facing with as many as 25 people killed in the latest Maoist attack. (Asia Pacific ABC)


AUSTRALIA : Serbian Army Commander could be extradited

Australian police have arrested a former Serbian army commander accused of committing war crimes during the Balkan conflict who could now be extradited to Croatia to face trial, officials said.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock confirmed that Dragan Vasiljkovic, also known as 'Captain Dragan', was detained in Sydney after the Croatian government request his arrest. Zagreb suspects Mr Vasiljkovic of being responsible for the torture and killing of Croatian civilians and prisoners of war in the rebel Serb stronghold of Knin in 1991 as well as in the southern village of Bruska in 1993. (SBS)

PAKISTAN: Air Strike denied by US

The Pakistani government has summoned the United States' ambassador to complain about an air strike on a village near the Afghan border, apparently targetting Al-Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Pakistani officials said it was unlikely that Al-Zawahiri was among the 18 people killed in the attack. The US military has denied any knowledge of the strike, which American media outlets are reporting was carried out by the CIA. Pakistani police have used tear gas to break up anti-US demonstrations at the site of the attack.

PALESTINE: Elections this week

Palestinian political parties have wrapped up their campaigning ahead of Wednesday's parliamentary election, with polls predicting a tight race between the ruling Fatah party and militant group Hamas. Two days ahead of the vote the gap between the two main parties was narrow, but pollsters said Fatah appeared to be making a last-minute surge in the race for the 132-seat Palestinian parliament. A poll by the West Bank's An-Najah university predicted Fatah should win 42 percent of votes against 34 percent for Hamas, with three smaller parties holding the balance of power. (SBS)

31 January 2006 – Special features

Google Follows Chinese Rules

California–based Google has launched its China search engine,, revealing that it will go the way of other U.S.-based tech giants and adhere to Beijing's censorship requirements to gain a slice of the country's burgeoning Internet market.

The Chinese government already has a well-established Web monitoring and filtering system, partly relying on switching equipment supplied by U.S.-based Cisco Systems.

The search term "Falun Dafa" on Google's U.S.-based Chinese-language search engine brings up Web sites run by followers of Falungong around the world.

Filters are attuned to a long list of “bad words,” which include search terms related to pornography and online fraud. This also includes terms that are politically distasteful to the regime, such as “democracy,” “June 4, 1989,” “Falun Gong,” “independence” in relation to Taiwan, Tibet, and the country's minority Muslim Uyghurs.

An initial search for “Falun Dafa” on Google's U.S.-based Chinese-language search tool,, the Chinese for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, yielded Falun Gong sites from around the world, where information provided by the movement about its philosophy and practices was freely available.

A search on Google's new China search engine brings up government-sponsored sites attacking the Falun Gong's beliefs.

The same search conducted on the new China search engine, at, showed a series of government-sponsored sites criticizing the group as a dangerous and evil cult.

Likewise, with the search term “June 4,” denoting the 1989 crackdown that ended the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, yielded archived coverage of the crackdown from international news Web sites from the U.S.-based Chinese Google, while the China-based Google showed no mention of the incident.

One difference between Google's self-censorship and that of Yahoo and MSN is the appearance of a message informing the user that filtering has taken place.The U.S.-based search for 'June 4' yields international media reportage of the massacre. “In order to comply with local laws and regulations, some of your search results will not be shown,” the notice reads at the bottom of a page of search results using a censored key word.

Rights groups have already slammed Google's move as a violation of free speech. Last year, Internet giant Yahoo! caused an outcry when the company handed over personal details of Shi Tao, who was subsequently jailed for 10 years for e-mailing a human rights organization overseas about government attitudes to memorial events for the Tiananmen crackdown.

On the Google China search engine, 'June 4' yields no results about the pro-democracy movement or the bloodshed. And late in 2005, Microsoft removed a blogger from its blogging services who had irritated government officials with his controversial views.

From Nothing to Zero

Letters from Refugees in Australia's Detention Centres

From Nothing to Zero presents edited extracts from letters written by asylum seekers held in Australia's detention centres. These letters provide a rare glimpse into the world of refugees who have fled war and persecution in their own countries. Several of the contributing detainees have been held for more than three years, often with no end to their incarceration in sight.

This compelling book gives voice to people whose thoughts and experiences are only rarely heard.

Editor: Janet Austin
Preface and chapter introductions: Julian Burnside QC

Publisher: The Lonely Planet, Footscray VIC
Published April 2003
ISBN: 1740 596 684, 193 pages
Part of the series: Journeys: travel literature

All profits from the sale of this book will be donated to the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre , Footscray (VIC)

"These extracts from letters from asylum seekers will help Australians see the refugees' many human problems. They have their hopes, their fears and their concerns for the future, as we all do. Their stories should create an understanding that people from different countries, different cultures and different religions have very similar concerns and interests to ourselves."
- Malcolm Fraser

"This book makes a moving and memorable contribution to the debate over the treatment of asylum seekers. It provides direct evidence of the cruel and inhumane consequences of mandatory detention – evidence we ignore at the peril of our national pride."
- Geoffrey Robertson QC

"Past history tells us that when this shameful period in our history becomes past history it will quickly be covered up – and there'll be no saying 'sorry'. All the more reason to read this remarkable book."
- Phillip Adams

6 February 2006


AUSTRALIA West Papuan Refugees Indonesia's ambassador to Australia has warned that relations between his country and Australia will be affected if Canberra grants asylum to a group of West Papuans. Indonesia's ambassador to Australia, Teuku Mohammad Hamzah Thayeb, says there's no reason for the group of 43 Papuans, who arrived in north Queensland last month, to seek asylum. The Papuans, including seven children, we picked up in Cape York after a five-day sea voyage from the Indonesian province of Papua. All were transferred to the immigration processing facility on Christmas Island, 2,360 km north-west of Perth. The group are seeking asylum in Australia, saying they are independence activists and will be killed if they are returned home. Mr Thayeb said the Papuans are not criminals, therefore have no need to seek asylum. Asked by the ABC if granting asylum to the group would strain Australia-Indonesia relations, Mr Thayeb said: "I would hope it will not but it certainly would have an effect. That's why we have to manage this together and find a solution." Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had guaranteed the group's safety should they return, Mr Thayeb said. On Thursday, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the federal government would consider asylum claims by the group if they lodged them.
The minister also said she did not believe it would damage Australia's relationship with Indonesia if they were granted protection. "It might cause some embarrassment as arguments or disagreements sometimes do," she said. (sbs news)

Pakistan: Bomb Blast on Bus A bomb has exploded on a bus in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 13 people and injuring 20.The attack in Kolpur, about 60 kms south of Baluchistan's capital, Quetta, is the latest incident in worsening separatist violence in the province which borders Afghanistan and Iran. Baluchistan police chief Chaudhry Mohammed Yaqoob says the explosion was caused by a time bomb planted near the rear of the vehicle.Hours earlier, eight people were killed when militants fired rockets into a town in the province near the country's main gas field.(abc pacific)
Tribesmen in Baluchistan have been fighting Pakistan's security forces for more than a year, demanding autonomy for the western province and a greater say in the exploitation of its natural resources, particularly its vast gas reserves. Thousands of troops have been deployed to Baluchistan since a rocket attack left eight people dead in January, 2005.

AUSTRALIA Lawyer fears for David Hicks mental state. David Hicks, the former Adelaide man in US detention at Guantanamo Bay, is seeking a meeting with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer after visiting the terror suspect.David McLeod said he wanted to talk with Mr Downer about Hicks, who was now in his fifth year of detention and was increasingly anxious to be released. "David's physical condition is dogged by back and neck problems, feet problems and failing eyesight," Mr McLeod told ABC radio."His physical condition really is pretty much the same as it has been over the last year."What his real concern is, of course, is his mental outlook. "David is haunted by the persistent knowledge that one of his fellow countrymen and nine British nationals have been discharged (and) released from Guantanamo Bay, now a year ago."Mr McLeod said Hicks was aware he had won the first round in London of his claim for British citizenship bid but was not aware of a pending appeal to the High Court."His reaction is dulled by just about all events. His hope and despair is palpable," he said."The Australian government has shown a willingness to review David's position from time to time."I've had a very good, open relationship with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I hope that upon return (to Australia) I can again see him and he can relay what I put to him to his colleagues in cabinet." (sbs news)

FREE SPEECH OR RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE? Afghan police shot dead four people protesting on Tuesday against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that have unleashed waves of rage and soul-searching across the Muslim world and Europe.U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) head Ekmelettin Ihsanoglu and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana jointly condemned violent protests but also urged respect for religion.Tens of thousands of Muslims demonstrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa over the drawings, first published in Denmark, then Norway and then several other European countries. Some Muslim leaders urged restraint.The 12 cartoonists whose work touched off the firestorm were reported to be in hiding, frightened, and under police guard. Iran's best-selling newspaper launched a competition to find the best Holocaust cartoon.In Iran, locked in a nuclear stand-off with the West, a crowd pelted the Danish embassy with petrol bombs and stones for a second day. Protesters hurled a petrol bomb and broke windows at Norway's mission.Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller called his Iranian counterpart "and demanded in clear terms that Iran does all it can to protect the embassy and Danish lives," a spokesman said. Iran has cut trade with Denmark and pulled out its ambassador.

13 February 2006


MALAYSIA Newspaper licence revoked after publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Malaysia will suspend the publishing licence of a daily newspaper after it printed the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have enraged Muslims worldwide, news agency Bernama reported yesterday.Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi ordered the licence of the publisher of the Sarawak Tribune to be suspended indefinitely with immediate effect.The publisher was not immediately available for comment.The paper ran the caricatures last weekend to illustrate a story on its inside pages about the global fury in what it called an "oversight" by a non-Muslim night editor.The incident embarrassed the mainly Muslim country's government, which is headed by an Islamic scholar who chairs the world's largest grouping of Islamic nations, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference."Cabinet members...unanimously agreed with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the reproduction of the offensive cartoons was a serious offence which demanded stern action from the government," the New Straits Times newspaper said.The suspension is pending the outcome of an investigation by the Internal Security Ministry, the newspaper said.Tens of thousands of Muslims have demonstrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa over the cartoons, first published in Denmark, then other countries in Europe and elsewhere.One caricature showed the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Many Muslims consider any portrayal of their Prophet as blasphemous, let alone one showing him as a terrorist.The Sarawak Tribune is published in the eastern state of Sarawak on the jungle-clad island of Borneo. It is one of the few Malaysian states where Muslims are in a minority (source Asia Media)



CAMBODIA Exile returns: Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy has met Prime Minister Hun Sen for the first time since a royal pardon allowed him to return home from exile.Sam Rainsy told the AFP newsagency he wants to make a new political culture to find national solutions.He says that in a democracy, the prime minister and opposition leader always meet and talk to each other because they put the people's interest first.The two are expected to attend the conclusion of a three-day peace march at the ancient royal capital of Oudong Mountain today, in their first joint public appearance since Sam Rainsy's return.Sam Rainsy, who was sentenced in December to 18 months in prison, in part for defaming Hun Sen, ended his self-exile on Friday after the premier successfully petitioned King Norodom Sihamoni to grant him a pardon. The move came following international criticism over the government's clampdown on dissent ahead of next month's key donor meeting. (Asia Pacific News)

INDONESIA Islamic Teacher Arrested on Suspicion of Terrorism . An Islamic teacher suspected of links to a key leader of a Southeast Asian terrorist organisation has been arrested in central Indonesia.The state Antara news agency says, Sahal Alamri is suspected of links to Noordin Mohammad Top, a Malaysian wanted for allegedly masterminding a series of deadly attacks in Indonesia in recent years. Noordin was a key leader of the Al Qaeda-linked regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), but experts believe he may have created an even more hardline group. JI has been blamed for most deadly attacks in Indonesia in recent years, including the Bali bombings in 2002, which killed 202 people. (Asia Pac News)

AUSTRALIA Request of extradition of suspect war criminal Croatia has formally requested the extradition from Australia of a former Serb paramilitary leader wanted on charges of war crimes.The Australian Federal Police arrested Dragan Vasiljkovic last month on a provisional extradition request, and he was denied bail by a Sydney court.Mr Vasiljkovic, 51, an Australian citizen, is accused of committing atrocities during Croatia's war of independence from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.Croatian judicial authorities allege he was involved in the torture and killing of Croatian civilians in the rebel Serb stronghold of Knin and in the southern village of Bruska.Mr Vasiljkovic has denied the charges.

20 February 2006

PAKISTAN: Pakistanis defy cartoon rally ban Police in the Pakistani capital have used tear gas t0disperse people who defied a ban on protests over cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad. Hundreds of protesters armed with sticks and stones evaded cordons and roadblocks to rally in Islamabad.

The cartoons, first published in Denmark in September, have angered Muslims across the world. Several people have died in protests.

Islamic tradition prohibits any depiction of Allah or the Prophet.

An all-day curfew has been imposed in Nigeria's north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where 16 people - mainly from the Christian minority - were killed in riots on Saturday. (bbc)

Guantanamo Bay : The White House on Thursday rejected a scathing United Nations report that says the United States should shut down its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and either release or put all the detainees on trial. Only a handful have appeared before military tribunals, including Omar Khadr, the only Canadian held there. The 54-page report blasts the "arbitrary detention" of some 500 suspected terrorists, while taking aim at the special military tribunal system, saying the U.S. government "operates as judge, prosecutor and defence counsel." Secretary General Kofi Annan backed the report, saying Washington should close the prison as soon as possible. "I think sooner or later there will be a need to close the Guantanamo (camp), and I think it will be up to the government to decide, and hopefully to do it as soon as is possible," Annan said. White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed the report, by five human rights experts and 18 months in the making, as a "rehash" of allegations from lawyers for some of the detainees. (reuters)

HONG KONG : Straits Times Journalist Still in Jail The deadline for China's prosecutors to decide whether to put Straits Times journalist Ching Cheong on trial passed yesterday.It has been nearly 10 months since Mr Ching, who is this newspaper's Chief China Correspondent, was detained in China.The 56-year-old was formally arrested on Aug 5 on charges of spying for Taiwan.The case should have been handed over to prosecutors two months after the arrest, but this did not take place until Dec 30.Under mainland criminal law, the prosecutors would have a month to decide whether or not to try Mr Ching. They could extend this by half a month, citing special circumstances, which would bring the deadline to yesterday.Legal experts told The Straits Times the case could drag on for at least four more months. This is because prosecutors can cite "insufficient evidence" as a reason and send the case back for further investigations."This could take at least one month, before it goes back to the prosecutors, who can then take another month to decide," said a source, adding that the process can be repeated twice.A former mainland judge told Ming Pao Daily News that the case could be delayed "indefinitely" should approval be given, in special cases, by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), or parliament.Mr Allen Lee, a Hong Kong delegate to the NPC, told The Straits Times it was "strange" that the case was taking such a long time."I don't know what's going on...they seem to be deferring it again and again for no reason," said Mr Lee, who has personally asked NPC chairman Wu Bangguo to intervene in the case.Meanwhile, Ms Mary Lau, who has not seen her husband since his arrest last April 22, remains positive."Friends tell me how long the case may actually drag on, but I want to think that news will be coming soon, hopefully in weeks, rather than months," she said. (Strait Times)

1 March 2006

AUSTRALIA: Changes to Detention of Asylum Seekers do not go far enough The Federal Government has announced a raft of changes to the Immigration Department in a bid to prevent more cases of wrongful detention.The changes come after a series of blunders by the department, including the case of Cornelia Rau who was wrongfully held for 10 months.Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone ongoing improvements have changed the department's culture. "It is a different department," she said.Senator Vanstone says the Government will offer a separate contract for the provision of mental health services at detention centres. But she says she can not guarantee there will not be further instances of mentally-ill patients being wrongly detained. "Mental health is a very problematic issue for the whole community and no less so for people running a detention centre," she said. "People who have a mental illness don't always recognise they have it themselves and don't always manifest symptoms."Refugee advocates also say the planned changes will not prevent more mistakes in the future.Kate Gauthier, from A Just Australia, says while the changes are welcome, they do not go far enough."When you've had so many claims of abuses, human rights abuses, in the centres and the Government is not willing to have an open and independent investigation of those claims, that makes us very suspicious about how real these reforms are," she said. (ABC News)

CHINA: Torture Reform China will introduce a new law banning police from using torture to extract confessions, state media said on Tuesday.The Law on Penalties for Offences against Public Order, effective from March 1, would also bar evidence obtained with threats from being used to pursue prosecutions, Xinhua news agency said. Ke Liangdong, director of the legal affairs bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, was quoted as saying the law stipulated an "illegal evidence exclusion principle" that "evidence obtained by torture, threatening or cheating could not be used as the basis for penalties". Police brutality is common in China, despite clear regulations and guidelines on detention and interrogation procedures.State media have reported that police investigators last year found 12,000 cases of inappropriate handling of detainees.In one case reported recently, a newspaper editor who was severely beaten by police died from multiple injuries earlier this month. Wu Xianghu was beaten up and arrested a day after he published an article criticising traffic police for charging arbitrary fees for electrical bicycle licences. (AFP)

CHINA :Reporters Without Borders Criticise Yahoo collaboration with Chinese Government A global media watchdog says court documents prove that US Internet giant Yahoo has collaborated with Chinese authorities in sending a second political dissident to jail. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says a copy of the court verdict on Li Zhi shows Yahoo and Chinese Internet firm Sina supplied information to prosecutors.Li, 35, was jailed for eight years in December 2003 on subversion charges for posting anti-government essays on the Internet and contacting overseas branches of the outlawed China Democracy Party.The verdict, issued by a court in Dazhou city in Sichuan province, was posted on the group's website. Although the verdict lists Li's Yahoo account as evidence in the trial, it does not say specifically if any of the emails sent through his account have been used as evidence against him. Yahoo first came under fire last year when it was revealed that Internet records it handed over to police helped to convict another Chinese political activist, Shi Tao. He was jailed for 10 years for subversion. Yahoo said it was unaware of the case of dissident Li Zhi when Reporters Without Borders first raised the issue early this month, while dismissing what it said were mischaracterisations of its past practices in China. Officials in Yahoo's Beijing office could not be reached for comment on the latest allegations. Li used to work in Dazhou city's Finance Department but was arrested in August 2003 after posting an essay on an overseas website accusing Sichuan officials of corruption. In the essay, he made references to China's Minister of Public Security, who recently served as Communist Party secretary for Sichuan province. Other major US Internet and tech firms, such as Google, Microsoft and Cisco, have also been criticised for complying with, or aiding in, China's censorship efforts. (Reporters Without Borders)

13 March 2006

Australia: Australian Man tortured in Iraq The Australian Government says it is taking seriously allegations of torture raised by a Sydney man who has been imprisoned in Iraq without charge for 18 months.The Foreign Affairs Department has confirmed Ahmed Jamal, 22, was detained by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in 2004 on the basis of security concerns.Australian consular officials, who were only recently granted access to him, say he claims to have been tortured immediately after his arrest while on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 2004. Stephen Kennym, Mr Jamal's lawyer, says his client had asked officials not to publicise the matter for fear he would suffer further torture. But Mr Kennym says remaining silent on the issue puts his client at greater risk.He says it is now vital the Federal Government acts appropriately to protect him."If the Australian government now fails him then of course he is at greater risk," he said. "The responsibility lies with the Australian government." (ABC Australia)

Thailand: Bomb blast in the South Police in Thailand say suspected Muslim militants have shot dead a Buddhist man in the south. They say the 44 year old man was shot by two militants riding on a motorcycle in Pattani province -- one of three plagued by insurgents over the past two years . In a separate attack, a bomb exploded in front of a Buddhist temple in Pattani, wounding a woman and her 11-year-old daughter.(ABC Asia )

Pakistan: Militants killed near Afghan border Pakistani security forces backed by helicopter gunships have attacked a hideout of Islamist militants in a tribal region near the Afghan border, killing up to 30 guerrillas.
The military says the overnight attack in the North Waziristan tribal region was ordered after intelligence reports suggested that militants were gathered in a compound along with a huge cache of arms, ammunition and explosives.
North Waziristan has been the scene of fierce battles between security forces and Islamist militants this month.

Japan: Locals vote to reject US Marine Base. Voters in the western Japanese city of Iwakuni have rejected a plan to bring more planes and troops to a nearby US Marine base.
About 87 per cent of those who took part in the referendum voted 'No'.
Residents were asked to vote on a plan to transfer 57 carrier-based planes and about 1,600 military personnel to Iwakuni, which would have made it one of the biggest US air bases in northeast Asia.The referendum was the first on a realignment plan to reorganise the nearly 50,000 US troops in Japan.The plan has met with opposition from Iwakuni and other communities who say more US troops means more noise and more crime. Japanese government officials have suggested the overall plan would be implemented whatever the outcome of the referendum.(ABC)


Malaysia: New Sharia Laws come under criticism There has been an angry reaction in Malaysia to remarks by the daughter of the former PM comparing Muslim women to black South Africans under apartheid. Conservative Muslim women's groups say Marina Mahathir brought shame on the country by saying new Islamic laws have made local women second class citizens. Her remarks were published with cuts in her regular newspaper column on Friday after being held back for several days. Marina Mahathir is a prominent campaigner for women's rights. At the centre of this row is a newly introduced Islamic family law act. It was intended to help standardise the rules affecting Muslims across all of Malaysia's 13 states. Opponents say it did so by dropping standards to the lowest common denominator, allowing men to divorce or take up to four wives more easily while giving husbands greater control over their wives' property. (BBC World)


AUSTRALIA: Chinese security officials allowed access to asylum seekers in Australia

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has confirmed that Chinese security officials came to Australia and interviewed people who had applied for asylum in Australia.

Refugee advocates have complained that allowing Chinese officials to question the group is a breach of international conventions.

But Senator Vanstone says all but one of those people interviewed had had their applications rejected and Chinese officials were identifying them so they could be sent home.

She says one man had lodged an appeal and was granted an Australian visa.

"But the advice I had then, and I have no different advice at this point, is that the remaining people interviewed had had their claims heard and had no further actions on foot," she said.

"That is the matter's been resolved and it's now a question of who are you so we can return you to where you ought to go." (ABC)

AUSTRALIA More Papuan asylum seekers in detention in Australia Three men from the Indonesian province of Papua are in detention after being found on an island in the Torres Strait off the far north Queensland coast.Immigration officials found the men on Boigu Island, 10 kilometres off the Papua New Guinean mainland last Saturday.They have now been taken to Horn Island.Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says they men not entitled to seek protection as they arrived at an excised place and are "offshore entry people". She says the men travelled from Papua to Papua New Guinea before heading to Australia and they may be returned to PNG. Greens Senator Kerry Nettle says the men should be processed in Australia."They should be treated like any other asylum seeker seeking asylum in Australia," she said. "They should be processed in Australia, by Australians, following international law."The decision in March to grant protection visas to 42 Papuans who arrived in Cape York sparked a diplomatic row with Indonesia. Indonesia has withdrawn its ambassador from Australia in protest (AFP)

THAILAND Thailand's Constitutional Court nullifys election Thailand's Constitutional Court has nullified last month's controversial election and ordered a new vote, in a bid to end the country's months-long political crisis.
The court's judges agreed in an 8-6 decision that the April 2 snap parliamentary elections were unconstitutional, court spokesman Paiboon Varahapaitoon told reporters. They also agreed in a 9-5 decision to nullify the results and call new elections. "Because the election was unconstitutional, a majority of nine judges voted to nullify the election from the beginning of the process through the certification of the winners by the Election Commission. They also agreed to order new elections," Paiboon said. "The court said they would have to coordinate with the Election Commission to determine a new election date," he added. The widely expected ruling came after the nation's revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, sternly suggested last month that the top courts find a way out of what he called the country's political "mess."
Mr Thaksin dissolved Parliament in February and called snap polls three years ahead of schedule to defuse anti-government street protests and growing calls for his resignation. His Thai Rak Thai party won 57 percent of the vote, but an opposition boycott left the lower house without the full 500 lawmakers required for Parliament to convene. But public anger continued after the election and hundreds of legal complaints were filed alleging that the vote was undemocratic and unconstitutional. Days after the election, Mr Thaksin announced he was taking "a break" from politics to restore national unity and passed his duties to his deputy, Chitchai Wannasathit.
The verdict on Monday involved a case brought by academics that argued the election was scheduled too hastily after Mr Thaksin dissolved Parliament, not giving all parties proper preparation time. The Constitutional Court's ruling was expected to put an end to a flurry of legal activity that had saddled two of the country's high courts with hundreds of lawsuits filed against the elections. (afp)

SOLOMON'S ISLANDS Rini's resignation eases Solomon's crisis

The resignation of the Solomon Islands' prime minister, Snyder Rini, has considerably eased tensions in the capital, Honiara.The Solomons' Governor-General may agree to lift the night-time curfew later today.The curfew has been in force since extra Australian soldiers and police were flown into Honiara to help quell the riots that followed Mr Rini's election as prime minister last week.Yesterday, after just eight days in the job, Mr Rini resigned.He made the decision after facing certain defeat in a no confidence motion in Parliament.The Solomon Islands' Police Commissioner, Shane Castles, says some of the pressure is now off.He will meet the Governor-General and the Attorney-General this morning to recommend a possible lifting of the curfew.Nominations for a prime minister to replace Mr Rini open today.The leader of the Social Credit Party, Manassah Sogavare, whose defection with supporters to the Opposition stripped Mr Rini of his Parliament majority, is expecting to be the Opposition's nominee.(sbs)

NEPAL: Clashes continue Hospital officials in Nepal say at least 150 people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators who defied a curfew to march in the capital, Kathmandu, to reject King Gyanendra's offer to return power to the people. Opposition parties have dismissed the king's offer as inadequate and said they would continue their demonstrations to demand a new constitution to decide the monarchy's fate. Tens of thousands of people headed to the city centre, ignoring a shoot-on-sight curfew ordered by King Gyanendra, who seized power in February.
The authorities cut off mobile phone networks. The protest petered out after the capital was hit by torrential rain. The latest clashes follow more than two weeks of protests that have left at least 14 people dead. (SBS)

CHINA: Tiananmen Square Compensation A Chinese mother whose son died in the aftermath of the 1989 pro-democracy protests has received a payout from the authorities, a rights activist says. Tang Deying was given 70,000 yuan ($8,745) in "hardship assistance" by officials in the south-west city of Chengdu, local activist Huang Qi said. Zhou Guocong,15, died in police custody in Chengdu days after the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests. But other relatives say they doubt this marks a start to compensation payouts. The Chinese authorities have consistently claimed their actions in June 1989 were justified. Huang Qi hailed the payout as a "breakthrough", saying Tang Deying had campaigned for justice for the last 17 years. "It's the first time that compensation has been paid for a victim of the 1989 events," he told the AFP news agency. The award was welcomed by Beijing activist Ding Zilin whose son was killed during the protests, but she said it was unlikely to indicate a softening in the government's stance. "This is a first, but I must point out that hardship assistance does not amount to compensation," she told the Associated Press news agency. "Compensation would signify that the government admitted it had wrongly killed someone, but I don't see such an admission in this case". Hundreds of demonstrators were killed when the authorities sent in tanks to Tiananmen Square on 3-4 June 1989 to break up the mass protests calling for greater freedoms. In the days that followed, police carried out a nationwide crackdown of protesters and bystanders caught up in similar movements in other cities around the country. Mr Zhou is thought to have been beaten to death while in police custody. Although he was cremated, photos of his body showing the cuts and bruises later emerged.

23 May 2006

EAST TIMOR: Unrest increases

The Australian government says parts of East Timor are descending into violence.Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says Australia is ready to offer help if it is requested by East Timor's government or by the United Nations.
He says the resurgence of violence underlines the importance of East Timor's independent commission on the grievances of 600 dismissed soldiers.
Mr Downer has told Australia's parliament that there had been a brief pause in the unrest in East Timor during the congress of the ruling Fretilin Party in Dili last weekBut he says there are now new reports of violence breaking out in parts of Dili and other areas of East Timor. Mr Downer says Australia has pre-positioned navy ships, aircraft and troops in northern Australia to respond to any crisis.He says Australia could respond rapidly to assist with evacuations.
(Australia Radio)

PHILLIPINES Philippine reporter gunned down A prominent Philippine journalist has become the latest in a series of reporters and rights activists to be killed in recent months. Fernando Batul, 36, was gunned down by two men on a motorbike in Puerto Princesa city, his colleague said. Batul had recently criticised city officials over the contracts of Filipinos whom he said were mistreated when they were sent to Taiwan. He had already been the target of a recent attack. Last month two unexploded hand grenades were found in front of his home. Next to the grenades was a note warning him to "stop what he is doing, otherwise you will die," his work colleague Lenny Escaro told DZRH radio. The mayor of Puerto Princesa, Edward Hagedorn, denied any involvement in Batul's death, saying he "had been dreading that this would happen". Mr Hagedorn also promised a reward to anyone who could give information that would lead to the arrest of Batul's killers. Batul is thought to be the fifth journalist to be murdered in the Philippines this year. Seven were killed in 2005. In its annual report for 2006, the group Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) said that "after Iraq, the Philippines is the most dangerous country for journalists".

AFGHANISTAN Fifty people killed in bombing raid : Coalition warplanes bombed a village in southern Afghanistan, killing around 50 people, the US-led coalition and witnesses said. The US military said those killed were all Taliban militia, however residents said civilians were among the dead, in southern Kandahar province. One witness said 24 of his relatives were killed, and dozens of people were wounded.
The bombing came amid some of the worst violence since the 2001 fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, with between 200 and 300 people killed this week — more than twice the number killed in Iraq. (afp)


AUSTRALIA : Indigenous Crises The Thamarrurr Council at Wadeye says damaged and unsanitary housing has left more than 400 locals homeless. The Northern Territory's largest Indigenous community has been paralysed by rioting gangs who threaten each other with spears and set fire to houses.The council's deputy chief executive, Dale Seaniger, says an assessment conducted this morning found 28 houses are uninhabitable.Mr Seaniger says that has put extra pressure on already overcrowded safe houses."Given that there's 16 per house on average we've got between 400 and 450 people who are displaced and who are homeless right now," he said. "And we need to put some measures in place to accommodate these people safely and in a healthy environment with food and water." Mr Seaniger also says homeless people are going hungry because they cannot get access to welfare payments.He says the Centrelink office in the community has been open for one day in the last fortnight."We've got Centrelink management down here today," he said. "They're saying basically that they need the community to operate the Centrelink agency and obviously they can't do that, and so people are going without their entitlements and consequently they're going without food." But the federal Minister for Human Services, Joe Hockey, says people in Wadeye are receiving welfare payments.Mr Hockey says Centrelink staff were temporarily withdrawn from the community because of concerns about their safety.But he says a visiting service is currently doing house-to-house checks to make sure people have access to their payments.

13 June 2006

AUSTRALIA : Refugees held in Torres Strait. The Refugee Council of Australia (RCA) says three men from the Indonesian province of Papua who are being held in the Torres Strait should be brought to the mainland.The men have been detained on Horn Island since they were caught by Customs officers after arriving from Papua New Guinea (PNG) a month ago.They are not entitled to claim asylum because they arrived outside Australia's migration zone.The Immigration Department says negotiations with the PNG Government to take them back are continuing.Refugee Council president John Gibson says their case highlights the problems with the Federal Government's migration policy."There are no limits on how long people can be held and how long the processing will take, if it does take place," he said."Of course there's no necessary solution in terms of resettlement in some third country, because other countries would look upon this as our problem."Mr Gibson says PNG has accepted more than 10,000 refugees from Papua in the last 20 years. "The number of West Papuans arriving in Australia is just minuscule compared to the burden carried by Papua New Guinea," he said."We are not setting a good example, either as a significantly more powerful state and as a state that has subscribed to the Refugee Convention." (abc news)

19 June 2006

East Timor : Police to be flown in More international police will soon be heading for East Timor following recent deadly violence, as three local police officers gunned down last month were laid to rest.
Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison said the plan was for a "multinational approach to policing" that would "involve a number of countries and this could well expand." "In a week's time we would be seeing a number of police coming into East Timor," Mr Ellison told reporters after meeting East Timor's Interior Minister Alcino Barris. He said Malaysia will send another 250 police to the troubled country, in addition to 250 already sent, but did not specify how many extra officers other nations will provide. "We discussed a joint policing headquarters," Mr Ellison said, stressing that it had the backing of the United Nations and will eventually be led by Australian Federal Police who are now on the ground. He said a working group has been set up to pave the way for a gradual shift "from a military style of operation" to one that is police-led.
"As police numbers grow, military numbers could recede in time," Mr Ellison said.
Situation still “tense”
Australia's federal police chief Mick Keelty said that while there has been no fresh wave of violence, the situation remained "tense" with thousands of firearms from the local police and military barracks now in the hands of civilians. "The situation can change very quickly...we wouldn't want to anticipate the early withdrawal" of foreign peacekeepers, Mr Keelty said.
He said the local police force has failed to prevent the spread of violence and it was crucial it be revamped.
Asked how many weapons could be in the hands of civilians, Mr Keelty said: "They are in the thousands. You are talking of a tradition here of bearing arms and it's a different prospect of what we've faced in other places."
More than 2,200 troops or police from Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Portugal are already here.
About 200 Australian federal police have also been sent and more are set to come, Mr Ellison said. The nation was plunged into unrest when Prime Minister Alkatiri in March sacked 600 soldiers, nearly half the tiny nation's armed forces, after they deserted their barracks complaining of discrimination.
The sackings later triggered violent clashes between rebel soldiers and loyalists and between troops and police, along with gang warfare.
A total of 21 people were killed and around 130,000 people fled their homes in fear. Renegade forces led by Major Alfredo Reinado surrendered their weapons to Australian troops on Friday. (sbs)

AUSTRALIA Poll shows over seventy per cent are against processing asylum seekers off shore . The majority of Australians are opposed to Federal Government plans to change the way some asylum seekers' applications are processed, a new poll shows.The Newspoll quizzed 1,200 Australians about the plan to process offshore all asylum seekers who reach Australia by boat. Seventy-four per cent of respondents said they preferred the current laws, while only 15 per cent support a law change. The poll was commissioned by businessman Ian Melrose, who recently funded a similar survey about self-determination for Papuans and bankrolled TV ads attacking the Government's handling of oil and gas negotiations with East Timor. The latest poll has been timed to coincide with the Government's attempt to pass its controversial legislation in this fortnight's sitting of Parliament.

A Senate inquiry is also due to report back tomorrow on the proposed changes.Former NSW attorney-general and supreme court judge John Dowd heads the International Commission of Jurists in Australia, one of a coalition of refugee advocacy and church groups who say the poll bolsters their campaign against the tougher bill."It's a surprisingly high number of Australians that are conscious of the issue. People are not stupid, they know that this is to appease the Indonesians," he said. Mr Dowd says the question in the survey was fair and not loaded, even though it asked if the changes would improve Australia's relations with Indonesia."I think it's a very reasonable question because it goes right to the essence of what's happening now," he said."We're doing this to appease the Indonesians. There's no evidence that they will be appeased of course but we're doing it to please them and this is what the question is aimed at." Mr Dowd says good relations with Indonesia are important but that Australians have some serious misgivings."I think they don't like the laws being changed because they know our legal obligations are being watered down and they don't just appease Indonesia because there's no evidence that appeasing indonesia achieves anything at all," he said."They also don't want to discriminate against one particular group of people who are obviously in need of refugee protection as against people from other parts of the world."

Tensions with Indonesia appear to be easing, with Indonesia's ambassador Hamzah Thayeb returning to Canberra yesterday, 11 weeks after being recalled to Jakarta in protest at Australia granting asylum to 42 Papuans.Arrangements are also being made for the Prime Minister, John Howard, to meet the Indonesian president, later this month.However, negotiations with a small group of disgruntled Liberal MPs appear unsolved, with no indication from either side on how the impasse will be broken. One Coalition senator voting no could scuttle the bill.

PAKISTAN: 'Missing' journalist's body found. Hayatullah Khan went missing for seven months after reporting on air strike that killed Al-Qaeda commander has been killed. His body was found lying outside a village in Mirali in the restive North Waziristan tribal region on Friday afternoon. His hands chained, the 29-year-old Hayatullah Khan had been shot from behind, his brother Ihsanullah Khan Dawar told Dawn on phone. "He looked very weak, had grown beard while in captivity and wore the same brown clothes he had on when he went missing. He appeared to have received five gunshots, looks like he was shot from behind while attempting to escape", Ihsanullah said. The body bore no torture marks.

He said that in one of the meetings with local intelligence operatives and government officials on May 15, he had been assured that the family would hear something about him on or about June 15.

"And this is what we have got: his body", 21-year-old Ihsanullah said. He said that he had been assured time and again that Hayatullah was alive and well, but had been detained on matters relating to national security.

"We knew it all along who or which agency had held him. There is not even an iota of doubt in our mind. He was wearing sarkari hatkari." He blamed an intelligence agency for the murder and vowed to avenge his brother's death.

Secretary, Fata Secretariat, Arbab Shehzad, said that while he was saddened by the tragic death of Mr Hayatullah, he did not know who was behind his kidnapping and subsequent killing. "It remains a mystery," he said.

Hayatullah, who worked for national dailies and a western wire photo service, was kidnapped by five armed masked men on December 5 last year.

He is the third tribal journalist to fall in the line of duty while covering militants' activities and the military operation in the region. Earlier, two journalists had been gunned down by masked men in Wana, South Waziristan, in February last year. Hayatullah's disappearance under mysterious circumstances has been a subject of discussion and speculation. It sparked protest demonstrations by journalists in Peshawar and prompted international organisations, including Journalist Sans Frontier and Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to issue statements urging Islamabad to secure his release.While initial suspicion fell on militants, they were quick to deny their involvement and informed his family he was not with them. There were also speculations that Hayatullah might have been detained by Pakistani intelligence agencies operating in the region.His family suspected that he had been picked up by an intelligence agency after he first released pictures of parts of US missiles that had killed senior Al Qaeda operative Hamza Rabia in North Waziristan on December 1.The pictures proving US involvement in the missile attack flew in the face of claims that the Al Qaeda operative had been killed in a blast in a house. (Asia Media)

JAPAN Japan grants asylum to Afghan Journalis t The Tokyo District Court granted refugee status Tuesday to an Afghan journalist, nullifying an earlier decision by the justice minister denying him asylum and ordering him deported.Presiding Judge Toshihiko Tsuruoka said the man, whose name was withheld to protect his identity, would face persecution in his homeland for reporting news stories critical of Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers and the Northern Alliance-led government that succeeded them."(The journalist) would be targeted because he has reported on the Taliban regime's public executions and on the robbing of cultural assets by the former Northern Alliance," Tsuruoka said.He said the Justice Ministry's decision to reject the application for refugee status was made five months after the collapse of the Taliban, and Afghanistan was under the rule of the Northern Alliance."He was facing the danger of persecution," Tsuruoka said.The man said after the ruling, "It's been a long time since I came to Japan. I cannot completely wipe out (my) concerns because the state may appeal."According to the ruling, the journalist wrote a story in a magazine around 1999 that criticized the former Northern Alliance for robbing cultural assets in Afghanistan.After entering Japan via Iran, the man applied for refugee status in December 2000, but the application was rejected in May 2002 and he was issued a deportation order. (Asia Media East Asia)

TIBET Chinese authorities detain Tibetans Chinese authorities have detained five Tibetans for allegedly handing out leaflets promoting Tibetan independence sources have told RFA's Tibetan service.Sources in the region identified the five as Kayi Doega, who was previously jailed for offering prayers for Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama; his eldest daughter Yiga, a former nun; Sonam Lhamo, currently a nun at the influential Geci nunnery; and two other women, identified only as Sonam Choetso and Jampa Yangtso.Yiga, Sonam Choetso, and Jampa Yangtso were detained in early June in Lhasa, the Tibetan regional capital, for allegedly handing out leaflets from a van promoting Tibetan independence to lunchtime crowds in Karze prefecture, the sources said.All five are natives of Karze, a Tibetan area administered by China's Sichuan province. (Radio Free Asia)

29 June 2006


East Timor: Rioting continues Stone-throwing youths attacked refugee camps and torched dozens of homes in East Timor, as thousands of supporters of ex-premier Mari Alkatiri camped outside the capital Dili.
Multinational troops forced apart rival factions in the latest outbreak of violence across the city, which dampened hopes that Mr Alkatiri's resignation on Monday would end weeks of crisis in the impoverished nation.
The attacks appear to have been prompted by television pictures of thousands of supporters of a defiant Mr Alkatiri at a rally just outside the capital calling for a march on Dili.
There had been hopes that his resignation under intense public pressure could end the factional fighting and bloodshed that has left at least 21 dead and driven nearly 150,000 from their homes. (sbs news)

Australia: Sex Slavery within Australia Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers are currently investigating up to 14 cases of sexual servitude in Australia, and say more than 50 women have been rescued across the country since 2004. But there is concern that figure could just represent the tip of the iceberg. Some estimates show about one million people are illegally trafficked around the world each year. The issue is being addressed at a trans-national conference in Canberra today, where countries including the US and Britain are discussing ways to improve detection and prevention methods.Federal Agent Grant Edwards says it is difficult to estimate the extent of the problem, because trafficking networks are often less organised than drug smuggling syndicates or other forms of trans-national crime."You don't have the ability to be able to focus specifically on groups," he said. "From our perspective here Thailand is our major source nation, to a lesser degree South Korea, so we're working along those strategies to identify those particular women who are coming here." The AFP says it has more than 50 officers based in Australia and overseas dedicated to stopping traffickers. Mr Edwards says this week's conference involves law enforcement agencies, non-government organisations and government bodies from several countries."The key point we seem to be getting out of this is a recognised need to work closely together and to develop some solid framework around exchange of information and working together for a common cause," he said.

BURMA: Red Cross blocked from visiting prisoners Burma's military junta is blocking regular visits by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and putting pressure on them to work in tandem with local groups approved by officials.“We have had no authorization to visit prisons or labor camps since the end of last year,” ICRC spokeswoman Fiona Terry told RFA's Burmese service.“We've been trying to discuss with the relevant authorities about restarting the detention activities…We've hopefully only been temporarily suspended.”Terry said the ICRC was continuing to give assistance to the families of prison inmates, so that they were able to visit their relatives in prison, but was unsure how long this would be possible without direct contact with the prisoners themselves.She said it was unclear precisely why authorization was being withheld, at a time when the entire Burmese government is in the process of relocating to the country's new administrative capital, Pyinmana.“Of course we are concerned about the repercussions for the detainees of not having ICRC visiting them, but we are at this stage still optimistic,” she said.Burmese government officials have repeatedly requested that ICRC representatives visit prison inmates alongside local organizations such as the Women's Federation, but the ICRC has refused.“We need to be able to conduct our assessments of what goes on and the physical conditions in the prisons independently of any organization or of the government,” Terry said.“That then enables us to have a completely objective view of what's going on and to be able to share our findings with the government. So that's what we can not really accept, is to be accompanied in the prison by any other organization.”ICRC believes that the best way that it can prevent or halt torture and ensure decent conditions of detention is by getting repeated and unrestricted access to prisoners, talking to them about their problems, and urging the detaining authorities to make any improvements that may be necessary. (radio free asia)

10 July 2006

East Timor 's new Prime Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, says one of his first tasks will be to consolidate security so tens of thousands of refugees feel safe to return to their homes.Dr Ramos Horta, who replaces Mari Alkatiri, has been sworn in at a ceremony in Dili this morning. He will hold the post until elections in May next year. In his swearing-in speech, Dr Ramos Horta acknowledged the Government has made progress in areas such as health but has failed on internal security. He says his immediate task is to consolidate security across the country. "Our people have suffered and many who were poor before the crisis have lost the little that they had, but they also lost faith in state institutions and in the political leaders," the Nobel laureate said. "The Government action in the weeks and months ahead is to restore faith and hope, respect for our young democracy and for our young nation state." (abc)

Philippines: Six fugitive army officers allegedly linked to a failed mutiny against Philippine President Gloria Arroyo have been arrested in a dawn raid. The officers were seized at a house in Manila, and weapons and explosives were found at the scene, police said. The officers are accused of leading hundreds of soldiers who occupied buildings in Manila's Makati financial district in 2003. The mutineers surrendered less than 24 hours later, and no shots were fired. A civilian fact-finding commission concluded that the mutiny was part of a larger plot to replace President Arroyo with a military government.

July 20, 2006

Australia: David Hicks ad campaign in major Australian paper. Full-page advertisements calling for the return of terrorist suspect David Hicks to Australia have appeared in newspapers across the country today. The ads, featured in major metropolitan newspapers, have been taken out by national campaigning organisation GetUp! Executive director Brett Solomon said more than 35,000 Australians had signed a letter on the organisation's website calling on the Australian Government to repatriate Mr Hicks. "With the recent US Supreme Court decision that the process to try Hicks is completely flawed, we now need from our prime minister a timetable as to what he will do to stop Hicks rotting in jail for another four and a half years," Mr Solomon said. "If the British can get their citizens out of Guantanamo, why can't we?"

East Timor 's ex-prime minister Mari Alkatiri has been questioned by the prosecutor-general's office over allegations he authorised the arming of a hit squad tasked with eliminating his rivals. Dr Alkatiri, who did not make any comment to the media, was grilled for about two hours.Heavy security surrounding the office during his interview, with six tanks parked on the streets outside and about 20 Australian troops guarding him. About 50 demonstrators, including Opposition party members, rallied outside the office carrying banners and yelling in English, "Alkatiri is a traitor! Alkatiri is a dictator! Alkatiri is a predator!" Dr Alkatiri was summonsed for questioning in connection with the case late last month but initially refused to turn up.

Indonesia Rescuers are sifting through wreckage in the search for survivors of the tsunami that slammed into the Indonesian island of Java as the death toll near 400. The tsunami was triggered by a 7.7-magnitude undersea earthquake off the south coast of Java. There is no early warning system and many residents had no inkling of the tragedy to come. At least 396 people were killed and more than 700 people injured across six districts along Central and West Java provinces, the social affairs ministry said.

KOREA North and South Flooding and landslides on the Korean peninsula have been blamed for the deaths of at least 129 people and the International Red Cross is warning that thousands more are now homeless. In North Korea, more than while at least 29 people have been killed and another 32 are missing in South Korea after a week of torrential rain. In the last four days, a storm dumped more than 500 millimetres of rain in some eastern provinces of South Korea. The storm followed Typhoon Ewiniar which slammed into the Korean peninsula a few days earlier, and has washed away parts of highways. The torrent has also flooded subway stations and caused Seoul's Han River to spill over its banks. Tens of thousands of buildings have lost power and thousands of families have been evacuated from their homes. South Korean officials estimated the cost of the damage at more than A$402 million, adding that the final cost will certainly rise.

Thailand/North Korean Refugees: North Koreans fleeing hunger and oppression are increasingly making the risky journey through China to Laos, with the aim of entering Thailand and seeking political asylum, RFA's Korean service reports.“If they can make it to Thailand, they are safe,” Thailand-based missionary Jun-hwan Kim said in an interview.“If they are caught in Laos or Burma, they are sent to China. But if they are caught in Thailand, they are sent to the immigration camp,” said Kim, whose name has been changed to protect his identity.Conservative estimates by international non-governmental groups put the number of North Korean defectors in hiding in China in the tens of thousands, while others say hundreds of thousands may be more accurate.China regards North Koreans fleeing hunger and repression in the isolated Stalinist state as economic migrants, whom it repatriates under an agreement with Pyongyang.

24 July 2006

AUSTRALIA Canberra ACT government comes under pressure from Ruddock Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley says he hopes cooperation will be used in the row between the Federal Government and the ACT over the Territory's counter-terrorism laws.Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has threatened to over-ride the ACT laws, claiming they are not tough enough because the detention provisions do not extend to minors."I'm saying that if you look at the recent experience in Canada for instance, where a number of people have been charged with terror offences, they included minors," he said.Mr Beazley says he believes the Federal Government has been weak on introducing practical measures to deal with terrorism.But he says agreement was reached between the Federal Government and the states and territories over the introduction of uniform laws."As far as the law is concerned, we supported the agreement between the premiers and the Prime Minister and voted for it in Parliament," he said."I see that [Mr] Ruddock has said that he hopes that he can resolve this in discussions with the officials in the ACT - we hope so too."ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope says the Federal Government's criticism of the laws is "redneck scaremongering".He fears the Federal Government will again be interfering in ACT lawmaking."We've seen the experience just in the last month with Mr Ruddock and Mr Howard overriding the ACT's laws on civil unions," he said."To that extent it's probably consistent with despots all around the place - once they have a taste of it, perhaps just like alcoholics they can't let it go."


MALAYSIA Campaigners for more religious freedom in Malaysia plan to go ahead with a meeting on Saturday, weeks after a mob broke up a similar gathering. A group of NGOs, known as Article 11, is pushing for Malaysia to honour constitutional guarantees enabling all citizens to practise their faith. Relations between Malaysia's Muslim majority and members of other faiths have become increasingly strained. Matters were brought to a head by a recent series of court cases. In the most controversial case, an Islamic court ruled that a Hindu man be given a Muslim burial against the wishes of his family after Islamic religious authorities presented evidence that he had converted. Faced with such rulings and amid concerns that Islamists are trying to impose their values on the country, a number of civic groups have banded together with the stated aim of defending Malaysia's constitution. They say the constitution is secular and allows Malaysians to profess and practise the faith of their choosing. The group has championed the cases of Muslims who have fought to leave their faith. In turn, some Muslims are worried that their religion is under threat. Some have accused Article 11 of being part of an attempt to undermine Islam's place as Malaysia's official religion. A mob of 500 ethnic Malay Muslims forcibly stopped Article 11's last forum on Penang Island in May. The group says it intends to go ahead with the meeting in the southern city of Johor Baru on Saturday and hopes that any protests will be peaceful.

INDONESIA : An Indonesian journalist faces trial over his decision to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Teguh Santosa, online editor of Rakyat Merdeka, is charged with inciting hatred towards a religious group. Mr Santosa posted the cartoons in February at the height of international controversy over drawings which first appeared in a Danish newspaper. The images, including one which showed Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, sparked anger across the Islamic world. Islamic tradition explicitly prohibits any depiction of Allah and the Prophet. Denmark was forced to temporarily close its embassy in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, as days of protests peaked. Mr Santosa said he published the images to give readers the full story on the cartoons issue. "We just wanted to let people know about the cartoons, which were being strongly protested at that time," he told the Associated Press news agency. Mr Santos, who was formally arrested and charged on Thursday, faces up to five years imprisonment if found guilty, his lawyer said. Media freedom watchdog Reporters without Borders condemned his arrest and called for the charges to be withdrawn.

AUSTRALIA Lawyers for Melbourne man Joseph Terrence Thomas have launched an appeal against his conviction on terrorism offences.Thomas was sentenced to a maximum five years in prison for receiving funds from Al Qaeda.Thomas' lawyers have told the Victorian Court of Appeal his 2003 Australian Federal Police interview should have been ruled inadmissible.The court has refused an application by an Amnesty International legal team, which sought to argue that Thomas' detention in Pakistan contravened international law. (abc)

1 August 2006

THE Refugee Review Tribunal has overturned the Department of Immigration's rejection of the asylum bid by the West Papuan David Wainggai, prolonging a saga that has already strained relations between Australia and Indonesia.

"We are pleased that justice has finally been done," said his lawyer, David Manne, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre.

"As we said from the start, the Department of Immigration had absolutely no basis in law or fact for their decision."

Yesterday the tribunal told Mr Wainggai and Mr Manne that the case was being remitted to immigration officials after the review failed to uphold the reasons for refusing him a temporary protection visa.

When, earlier this year, the Immigration Department gave protection visas to the other 42 arrivals by boat from the Indonesian province of Papua, the Indonesia Government expressed outrage.

The Immigration Department rejected Mr Wainggai's application on the grounds that he was able to claim residency rights in Japan.

Now that has been overturned, it will be seen whether the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, intervenes under "national interest" provisions.

The Sydney University research fellow John Wing, who has had a long involvement in West Papuan issues, said last night: "We would have to cross that bridge if we came to it. I don't think he would be likely to do that because it would not be fair. It would be a sad day for Australia if it came to that."

Mr Manne said the tribunal had found there was a real prospect of Mr Wainggai facing persecution if he were to be returned to Papua or any other part of Indonesia.

The Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, said last night that the Refugee Review Tribunal had made a direction that Mr Wainggai was a person to whom Australia had protection obligations under the international convention applying to refugees.

She said the tribunal was a final, independent merits review body and she was unable to direct its members.

22 August 2006

SRI LANKA Sri Lankan authorities are preparing to lift a blockade of the Jaffna peninsula in the country's north to allow much needed aid to reach tens of thousands in the war-torn region. A Red Cross cargo ship carrying food and medicine is scheduled to leave Colombo later tonight to arrive on Wednesday. About 500 thousand residents in Jaffna have been locked under curfew and are running low on provisions. The peninsula, controlled by the government since 1995, is considered the heartland of Sri Lanka's 3.2 million minority Tamils. Sri Lankan troops and Tigers are locked in fierce fighting over Jaffna, but analysts say the arid peninsula is of little real value to either party except as a symbol. Yet, more blood has been spilt over Jaffna than any other region in Sri Lanka. The latest fighting, which began 10 days ago despite a truce in place for the past four years, has seen at least 600 combatants killed on both sides. Government troops are using artillery and war planes to stall a rebel advance on the Jaffna peninsula, regarded by minority Tamils as their cultural home. For the government it is the fountainhead of Tamil separatism. (sbs)

INDONESIA The execution of three Islamic militants convicted over the 2002 Bali bombings will be delayed as the men file an appeal.
Amrozi Nurhasyim, Ali Gufron and Imam Samudra were among more than 30 people convicted in the 2002 nightclub bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. The three men were to be shot by firing squad tomorrow for their key roles in the attacks which were blamed on the Al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiyah extremist network. "It is better to delay the execution because we have to respect the legal rights of the defendants to file a judicial review appeal, and the process itself is already in motion," said the attorney-general's spokesman I Wayan Pasek Suarta.
The men's lawyer Qadhar Faisal said that court officials were present at a meeting with the prisoners last week when they decided to file the appeal, meaning the procedure was in progress and the execution could not go ahead. The appeal is being based on an argument that the terror laws introduced after the bombings, under which they were convicted, could not be used retroactively .
Last week twelve Indonesian prisoners convicted of helping orchestrate the blasts had their sentences reduced. (AFP)

JAPAN: Right wing arson attack on critic of government - A Japanese lawmaker house was burned down after he criticized the prime minister`s visit to a World War II shrine. Police believe a member of a Tokyo right-wing group was responsible for torching the house in Tsuruoka, Kato`s hometown in Yamagata Prefecture. It was the same day that Kato had appeared on television talk shows blasting Koizumi for visiting the shrine on the 61st anniversary of the end of the war, the Times said. (Japan Times)

31 August 2006

JAPAN Tokyo Court denies compensation. The Tokyo District Court has refused to award damages to eight Chinese women who were forced to be sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II. The court acknowledged, however, that the women from Hainan island - two of whom have died - suffered greatly, having been kidnapped, confined and raped as teenagers. Japanese courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits seeking compensation for wartime atrocities. Japan argues that bilateral treaties rule out any official payouts to individuals, although a private fund, supported by the government, has compensated hundreds of former sex slaves. Historians say at least 200,000 young women, mostly from Korea but also from Taiwan, China, the Philippines and Indonesia, were forced to serve as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels during the war. The compensation fund was established in 1995 by a left-leaning Japanese government but it uses money collected by donations. The fund is to be wound up in March 2007 after helping more than 360 women and determining that most other victims eligible for compensation will not come forward.

Many women remain too ashamed to discuss what happened to them.

Source AFP

AUSTRALIA: Banning order on Joseph Thomas decried by Magistrate. A magistrate has ridiculed as "farcical" a government order banning Melbourne man Joseph Thomas from contacting the world's most wanted man, Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Magistrate Graham Mowbray made the comment while hearing an application in the Federal Magistrates Court in Canberra to extend an interim "control order" placed on Mr Thomas after his conviction on terrorism charges was overturned on appeal.
The control order restricts Mr Thomas's movements, imposes a curfew and prohibits him from contacting a list of people - including Bin Laden, whom he is alleged to have met while training in Afghanistan. Political commentators have also scorned the inclusion of Bin Laden on the list, suggesting the government should instead be delighted if Mr Thomas could lead them to the man the US has been hunting for five years. Mr Thomas' lawyer Lex Lasry described the situation as "ridiculous", saying the list also included 13 people who were either dead or in custody at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. But lawyer Tom Howe, representing the government, disagreed with criticism of the inclusion of Bin Laden's name, saying Mr Thomas had allegedly met Bin Laden three times. "We couldn't safely presume there is absolutely no possibility of contact," Mr Howe told the court. The government used controversial new anti-terror laws for the first time on Monday to place the control order on Mr Thomas after an appeal court overturned his conviction and five-year jail sentence for receiving money and an air ticket from Al-Qaeda. SOURCE:  AFP

CHINA Court jails Reporter for ‘spying' A Chinese court has jailed a reporter from a Singapore newspaper for five years for spying. Ching Cheong, a Hong Kong-based China correspondent for the Straits Times , has been detained in China since April 2005 in a case that has highlighted Beijing's harsh control over the media.Ching was charged with spying for Taiwan, the self-ruled island over which Beijing claims sovereignty. He was detained in southern Guangzhou where he had travelled to collect documents related to disgraced former Chinese Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang. Court officials declined to comment on the verdict or sentencing in a trial which was held behind closed doors. Ching's wife could not be reached.

Ching's lawyer, He Peihua, and a family member walked into the courthouse and left by car.

When reached by telephone, the lawyer said the family had asked him not to give any details of the morning's proceedings to reporters. China jails more journalists than any other country, with at least 32 in custody and another 50 Internet campaigners also in prison, rights group Reporters Without Borders says. On Friday, a Beijing court dismissed charges that a Chinese researcher for The New York Times had illegally leaked state secrets, but sentenced him to three years for fraud. Zhao Yan, 44, had been accused of telling the US newspaper details of rivalry between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, over military appointments in 2004.- Reuters









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