[JURIST] Hungarian prosecutors on Monday charged long-time Nazi suspect, Sandor Kepiro, with war crimes committed during the 1942 Novi Sad massacre in Serbia. Kepiro was convicted both in 1944 and 1946 and sentenced to 10 years for involvement in the raids. He was, however, released, and promptly fled to Argentina. The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) [advocacy website], a Jewish human rights organization committed to finding and prosecuting Holocaust war criminals, is responsible for finding the former Hungarian military officer in 2006 helping bring him into the custody of Budapest officials. SWC Israel director Dr. Efraim Zuroff, expressed the importance [press release] of convicting their top-listed Nazi criminal and its impact on Hungarian society:
It is they [the families of victims] who so deserve that justice finally be achieved in this case, so that they can finally achieve a measure of closure, even if it is many years after the crimes.
The indictment of Kepiro also sends a powerful message that the passage of time does not diminish the guilt of the killers and that old age should not protect those who committed such heinous crimes. ... [W]e finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Kepiro has denied all charges. His lawyers have expressed confidence that the Hungarian prosecutors will not produce sufficient documentation to uphold his conviction.
One of the major goals of SWC is to prosecute Nazi criminal suspects before they die. Kepiro, 97, is at the top of the list for oldest Nazi criminal suspects that have been convicted for war crimes. In November, Nazi guard Samuel Kunz [Trial Watch profile], 89, passed away [JURIST report] in his home before he could be brought to trial. He was accused of aiding in the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jewish people at the Belzec concentration camp [HRP backgrounder]. In November, alleged Nazi death camp prison guard John Demjanjuk, 90, [TIME profile; JURIST news archive]accused the German judges [JURIST report] conducting his trial of bias [text] after the they rejected a number of 23 defense petitions to discontinue his trial. His family and physician argued that Demjanjuk, was too frail and in too much pain to make it through the trial.
[JURIST] The Iranian government will set up a special court to try media and culture crimes, state news agency IRNA [official website, in Persian] reported Sunday. The judiciary has set up a special prosecutors office [AP report] to handle alleged offenses committed in media and cultural platforms. Both the court and office will operate under the supervision of Tehran's chief prosecutor. The head of Iran's Government Employees Court, Abbas Zagholi, said the new court is necessary because of advances in mass media [CNN report]. Opponents, however, worry that the new court will be used to crack down on dissidents. The new court is set to begin operations next month.
[JURIST] A Pakistani court on Monday indicted police guard Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, accused of assassinating liberal politician and governor of Pakistan's Punjab province Salman Taseer for opposing the nation's blasphemy law [text; JURIST news archive]. Qadri reportedly told the court that he did not murder anyone intentionally [AFP report] but had taught a lesson to an apostate. The next hearing is scheduled for February 26, and witnesses and evidence will be presented. Taseer's assassination has increased tensions in Pakistan, as the nation's religious right has publicly praised Qadri for his actions, bringing the liberal elite's reform efforts to a halt. Pakistan has never executed anyone under its blasphemy law, and most sentences are overturned or commuted by appellate courts. This is the most high-profile assassination in Pakistan since the 2007 assassination of former prime minister and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) [official website] leader Benazir Bhutto [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive].
Taseer was shot and killed [JURIST report] on January 4, while getting into his car at Islamabad's Kohsar Market by one of his own security guards, apparently because of his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the guard immediately surrendered to police and confessed to shooting Taseer because he had spoken against the blasphemy law. Controversy surrounding Pakistan's blasphemy law has recently been reignited over the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive] during an argument with other women in her village last year. Tasseer had spoken in Bibi's defense. In December, the Lahore High Court (LHC) [official website] ordered [JURIST report] a stay against any amendments to Pakistan's blasphemy laws pending further proceedings. The blasphemy laws were introduced in 1986 as a way of protecting Muslim beliefs from insults. In response to the repeated calls for repeal, Pakistani Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti [official profile] has said the laws may be amended to prevent misuse, but they will not be repealed. Advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch [JURIST report], as well as LHC advocate Saroop Ijaz [JURIST op-ed] have called for the laws to be repealed.
[JURIST] Five Japanese citizens filed suit in the Tokyo District Court [official website, in Japanese] on Monday challenging the constitutionality of a civil law that forces married couples to choose a single surname. The plaintiffs claim that Article 750 of the Japan Civil Code, requiring a husband and wife to assume the same surname when married, violates Articles 13 and 24 of the Japanese Constitution [texts], which ensures respect for individuals and equality between husband and wife in a marriage. Filing the first lawsuit challenging the surname requirement, the plaintiffs argue that, while the constitution requires equal rights between partners, the civil code requires the bias of one by forcing them to choose a single surname. The case also challenges the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan [official website, in Japanese], whose Democratic party, when elected in 2009, promised, but failed to pass legislation amending the one-surname law. The plaintiffs, four women and one of their husbands, are demanding that local government offices accept marriage certificates listing different surnames and seek six million yen (USD $70,000) in damages [AFP report] from the government for emotional distress.
[JURIST] The Hawaii House of Representatives [official website] on Friday voted 31-19 to pass a bill [SB 232 text,] that would recognize same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archive]. The bill will now advance to the state Senate [AP report] for a vote before reaching the desk of Hawaii's new democratic governor, Neil Abercrombie [official website], who has previously voiced his support for civil unions. If successful, the bill will not only recognize civil unions, but will also provide partners lawfully entering into them with "all the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law" as are granted to individuals entering into marriage. A similar bill was vetoed [JURIST report] in July by former governor Linda Lingle (R), who felt that, because it was an issue of "such significant societal importance," it was better suited for a vote in a public referendum. Hawaii would be the seventh state to offer essentially the same benefits and protections afforded to marriages to civil unions.
Earlier this month, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) signed a bill [JURIST report] legalizing same-sex civil unions in the state. The "Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act," seeks to provide "adequate procedures for the certification and registration of a civil union" as well as to provide "persons entering into a civil union with the obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses." Additionally, it would allow religious institutions within the state to choose whether to observe or officiate the union. Opponents fear that this bill will move Illinois closer to legalizing same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] and threaten the sanctity of marriage. The new law is set to take effect on June 1. In contrast, last month the Wyoming Senate voted 20-10 in favor of a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] that would prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from any jurisdiction. The decision, which was split down party lines, will advance to the state House of Representatives, where it needs a two-thirds vote to succeed. If approved there, it will need to be signed by Governor Matt Mead (R) and then appear as a referendum item on the 2012 ballot. The following day, the House Judiciary Committee also voted 5-4 [Star-Tribune report] to defeat House Bill 150, which would have recognized civil unions in the state.
[JURIST] Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said Monday the government will end the 19-year-old state of emergency laws amidst growing protests in Algeria and the ongoing protests in Tunisia and Egypt. Medelci told French radio station Europe 1 that the state of emergency will end in a few days [Al Jazeera report] but dismissed concerns that Algeria could end up like Tunisia and Egypt. The announcement comes after large demonstrations erupted across the country, with thousands violating a police ban by protesting in the capital Algiers. Medelci said that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was considering making concessions and adjusting the government. Bouteflika's comments earlier this month also suggested an end to the state of emergency.
Algeria has been under a state of emergency since 1992 when the military canceled elections [WP report] fearing a win by religious fundamentalists. The state of emergency was declared [DOS backgrounder] after it became apparent that the militant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) would win control of the government. The FIS grew in popularity after Algeria's new constitution in 1989 that allowed multiple political parties. Bouteflika came to power, winning the presidency in 1999 with 70 percent of the official vote and appearing to have the backing of the military. Algeria has struggled to maintain a stable government since gaining its independence from France in 1961. Voters in France overwhelmingly approved self-determination [JURIST backgrounder] for Algeria on January 8, 1961, by a 75 percent margin, ending nearly a decade of fighting in the French-Algerian War. On July 1, 1961, Algerians elected to become an independent nation by a near-unanimous margin.
[JURIST] Russian Judge Viktor Danilkin, who convicted [JURIST report] former Russian oil executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website profile; JURIST news archive] of money-laundering and embezzlement in December, did not write the verdict and was coerced into reading it [interview text, in Russian], Danilkin's assistant said Monday. Natalya Vasilyeva made the allegations in an interview she gave to Gazeta.ru website [official website] and the TV channel Dozjd. According to Vasilyeva, Danilkin, a judge for the Khamovnichesky District Court [official website, in Russian], was pressured and coached by officials from the Moscow City Court. "When something happened, when something went wrong, he had a duty to provide information to the Moscow City Court and, accordingly, received certain instructions on how to behave," she said. At the end of the trial, Danilkin wrote a verdict, but Vasilyeva said it probably "did not satisfy the higher ups" and he was therefore given a different verdict, which he was ordered to issue. Danilkin has responded to Vasilyeva's comments calling them slander [RFE/RL report].
In December, Danilkin sentenced [JURIST report] Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev [defense website profile; JURIST news archive], to six additional years in prison, extending their imprisonment to a total of 14 years. Their defense counsel staunchly criticized the ruling, claiming [press release] that the court blocked significant amounts of testimony and evidence submitted by the defense and systematically quashed objections to their omission. The verdict drew vehement international criticism [JURIST report], including from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official profile], who said [press release] that the ruling "raises serious questions about selective prosecution." The Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs [official website, in Russian] dismissed critics, saying [press release, in Russian] that "[a]ttempts to exert pressure on the court are unacceptable." The men are currently serving eight-year prison sentences for fraud and tax evasion [JURIST report], to which they were sentenced in 2005 for the same money laundering from Yukos. In May, former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov [BBC profile] testified [JURIST report] that Putin ordered Khodorkovsky's arrest for political reasons, indicating that Khodorkovsky had funded the Communist Party [party website, in Russian] without first getting approval to do so from the president. In March, Khodorkovsky criticized Russia's justice system [JURIST report] as an "assembly line" that inevitably finds the government's political enemies to be guilty.
[JURIST] The trial of Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir [CFR profile] began Monday in the District Court of South Jakarta. Bashir is charged with operating a terrorist training camp [Jakarta Globe report] in the mountains of the northwestern province of Aceh to prepare Islamic radicals to carry out attacks in the capital of Jakarta. Prosecutors allege that this group was also planning attacks modeled after the Mumbai attacks [JURIST news archive] and were targeting high-profile members of the Indonesian government, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono [BBC profile]. It was also charged at the opening of the trial that Bashir aimed to establish an Islamic state [Al Jazeera report], using the province of Aceh as a base from which to conduct operations. He also allegedly amassed Rp1 billion (USD $112,285) to purchase weapons for the group, and sought to justify robberies and murder to his followers as a necessary tool in waging a holy war, according to the prosecutor. In addition to multiple terror charges, Bashir is also charged with mobilizing people to commit terrorist acts [BBC report], charges that carry a potential death sentence. Following Monday's proceedings, the trial adjourned until Thursday when the defense will begin preliminary arguments. Bashir has maintained his innocence, arguing that the charges against him are part of a US conspiracy.
Bashir was originally charged in August [JURIST report], and was suspected of links to al Qaeda [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. He is also suspected of ties to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) [CFR backgrounder], a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda that has been implicated in a multitude of attacks in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing [JURIST news archive] that left more than 200 people dead. In 2006, the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned [JURIST report] Bashir's conviction on conspiracy charges connecting him with the 2002 Bali bombings. He was released from prison [JURIST report] earlier in 2006 after spending 26 months in jail on different charges related to the bombings.
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