October 16, 2006

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Civil rights lawyer Lynn Stewart was sentenced today to 28 months in prison today in prison for enabling a former client and convicted terrorist to communicate with his followers. Stewart was convicted last year of providing material support to terrorists after she passed along a 2000 press release in which her former client, Omar Abdel-Rahman expressed an opinion about a cease fire by Islamic militants in Egypt. Stewart claimed that Abdel-Rahman had a constitutionally protected right to express his opinion, despite an order barring any contact between the blind, Egyptian sheik, and his followers. Stewart’s arrest came six months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In addition to the material support conviction, the lawyer was also convicted of defrauding the government and making false statements by breaking a promise to keep Abdel-Rahman from communicating with his followers. Last year, Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer. The court delayed sentencing so she could undergo treatment.

With strong backing from the United States, Guatemala is likely to win a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Haider Risvi reports from the UN.

Despite three rounds of secret ballots held by the UN General Assembly this morning, Guatemala has so far failed to win sufficient votes. It needs at least two-third of the total votes from the General to replace Argentina as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. In the fourth round, Guatemala won 110 votes against Venezuela’s 75. The voting will continue unless one of the contenders wins a clear majority. Observers say Guatemala’s lead over Venezuela suggests that US influence in Latin America continues to prevail despite recent political victories for left-wing governments in the region. Other new Security Council members that were elected today are Indonesia, Belgium, Italy and South Africa.

One hundred and three Sri Lankan sailors were killed today when an explosive laden truck slammed into a military convoy. The suicide attack is being blamed on the Tamil Tigers. Ponniah Manikavasagam reports from Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan government forces suffered a second heavy blow from rebels this week. All together, 230 security personnel were killed this week as key international backers moved to salvage international backers moved to salvage a 2002 truce and arrange talks later this month. Hours before today’s attack, visiting Japanese envoy Yasushi Akashi met with President Mahinda Rajapakse and other political leaders to hold talks to promote the peace efforts. After today’s suicide attack, many fear that peace talks scheduled for the end of the month in Switzerland may not happen. The government described the attack on the sailors as a barbaric act but the rebels declined to claim responsibility. For Free Speech Radio News, I am Ponniah Manikavasagam from Sri Lanka.

Protests continue at Gallaudet even after 133 students were arrested Friday night to break up a three day shut down of the internationally renowned school for the deaf. The students are not in agreement with the appointment of Jane Fernandez as the next president. Nan McCurdy has more from Washington, DC.

Although the school was reopened Saturday after a week of intense protests, the students, proudly wearing their arrest numbers, continue to protest and camp out in tents on the front lawn. More that a dozen tent cities have sprung up at universities around the world in solidarity with the protests. The students have support of many alumni, faculty and staff.  Leaders of the National Association of the Deaf, said in a letter to the University Board of Trustees on Saturday that the arrests are evidence of a growing chasm between the administration and the students, faculty, staff and alumni, and called for the Board to intervene in the crisis The two main issues for students, who have been protesting since last May are audism and racism. They don’t want Fernandez as president because they say she did not implement a mandate to improve the quality of signing by professors.  Second year student Leala Holcomb, said through an interpreter (sound) “We’ve come here to a University dedicated to the deaf and hard of hearing, I’ve come all the way from California 3000 miles away to get an education that’s fully accessible and that’s not happening.” Faculty plans to meet this afternoon to decide if they officially want to back the protesters. For Free Speech Radio News, from Washington DC, I’m Nan McCurdy.

In Britain today, the first ban on the wearing of the veil by some Muslim women was issued in a Birmingham city hospital. Naomi Fowler has more from London.

France was widely condemned by other European nations for its decision back in 2004 to ban the wearing of ‘overtly religious dress’ in schools and other public institutions; until now it wasn’t anticipated that other countries would follow suit. Some fear today’s ban on the wearing of the veil by medical students in hospitals in Birmingham, Britain’s second city may begin a chain reaction in other employment sectors. The wearing of a veil (or the niqab) that covers part of the face and hair by some British Muslim women has long been a normal sight in Britain’s multi-ethnic cities. Public debate on the subject was non-existent – until Member of Parliament and Leader of the House of Commons Jack Straw sparked what many believe is an Islamophobic debate, accusing the wearers of creating ‘community divisions.’ Lady Uddin is the first female Muslim to serve in the House of Lords. (sound) “Of course, I defend the rights of women who choose to wear the hijab or niqab because we do pride ourselves in living in a free, British society. We cannot pick and chose which rights we accept and which we don’t.” The British government has yet to comment publicly. This is Naomi Fowler in London for Free Speech Radio News.

A Florida judge is threatening to fine the State’s Department of Children and Families for failing to serve mentally ill inmates. Roxanne Escobales reports from Tampa.

The Florida Department of Children and Families, or D-C-F, is spending 6.8 million dollars to add 84 beds for people deemed mentally ill by the courts. But judges and the county jails where the insane and incompetent end up say that those efforts are not enough. Under state law, the Florida D-C-F has 15 days to find beds for mentally ill patients who would otherwise be sent to jail. But a lack of resources has left over 315 mentally ill inmates who should be in state care deteriorating behind bars, with over 250 of them waiting longer than the 15 day limit. Experts such as Pinellas County Jail medical director Dr Tim Bailey say that the stressful environment of jail only exacerbates mental disorders. (sound) “They might go into acute crisis or maybe become psychotic or just get worse.” In Bailey’s jail one mentally ill inmate gouged out his eye while waiting to be transferred. A judge in that county threatened to fine the D-C-F one thousand dollars each day an inmate who needs care spends in the jail over the mandated limit. The D-C-F says it needs more time and more money to add the necessary beds. For FSRN, I’m Roxanne Escobales.

The American Civil Liberties Union is holding its annual membership conference in Washington DC. In what has been a turbulent time for civil liberties in the United States, one of the things they are highlighting as an abuse of power is the surveillance of anti-war protestors around the country. And as FSRN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports, last week, they received proof that such surveillance was going on.

With Congressional elections just three weeks away, and candidates are abuzz with talks about the Iraq War or scandals in Washington DC. A poll released today says voters are also deeply concerned about issues close to home, but politicians are not talking about them. Yanmei Xie has the story in Washington DC.

Israel’s President Moshe Katsav did not attend the opening of Israel’s parliament today, following police recommendation to charge him with sex crimes. The police have recommended the president be charged with a variety of crimes including rape and sexual assault of women who worked in his office over a number of years. The police are also recommending Katsav be charged with fraud and betraying the trust of Israelis. If the prosecutor follows these recommendations, these will be the most serious charges ever leveled against an Israeli head of state. Irris Makler reports from Jerusalem.

Conservative banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa unexpectedly topped presidential voting in Ecuador this weekend, but fell far short of the majority needed to avoid a November runoff with leftist populist and economist Rafael Correa. Diletta Varlese reports from Quito.

An Indian woman is staging an extra-ordinary protest against an extra-ordinary law. 34 year old Sharmila Irom has been on hunger strike for 6 years demanding the repeal of Armed Forces Special powers Act, a law that gives extra-ordinary powers for Indian Army in the insurgency affected areas along its border with China and Burma. Sharmila is being force-fed through a pipe in her nose on the orders of the Indian government. Still, her health is failing fast, and she has become a symbol for Manipuris who live along the border and also got nominated for Nobel peace prize. Our correspondent Vinod K. Jose met her in police custody in a Delhi hospital.

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