March 20, 2012

  • Supreme Court debates whether life in prison is cruel and unusual for juveniles
  • Hundreds sentenced in Bahrain’s military courts as UN criticizes deadly use of tear gas
  • Restaurant workers in New York press for fair wages and conditions
  • Controversial burqa ban in the Netherlands is criticized

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State and Federal agencies to probe Trayvon Martin killing

Florida’s Seminole County State Attorney announced today that a grand jury will probe the killing of Trayvon Martin, a unarmed black youth shot last month by self appointed crime watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman has not been charged. After a concerted public awareness campaign and resulting outcry, late yesterday the US Justice Department announced a Civil Rights investigation into Martin’s death. The FBI is now looking at the case as well.


Pakistan commission demands end to drone attacks

In Pakistan today, lawmakers heard the results of a fourth month review of US-Pakistan relations. Committee Chair Raza Rabbani called for an end to both overt and covert US operations in the country, including all drone attacks. Further, the commission wants a formal US apology for airstrikes along the Pak-Afgahn border that killed 24 soldiers. The report indicated the supply route for US troops could reopen, but at an increased cost. The Parliament was scheduled to debate the recommendation this week, but has postponed discussion until next Monday.


Hundreds arrested at nuclear plant protest in India

In India, hundreds of protesters were arrested  after the government allowed work to resume at a Nuclear power reactor in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Bismillah Geelani reports.

More than 2000 fishermen and farmers including women and children began an indefinite sit-in protest near the nuclear reactor in Kudankulam. The protesters started gathering here last night, soon after the state government gave its nod to the project and hundreds of policemen escorted scientists and other workers into the reactor. The project is in the final stage of completion but all the work was halted a few months ago when protests against it intensified, with the state government supporting the protesters. The national government says the reactor will begin power production within a few months, but  anti-nuclear activists leading the protests say local residents are not prepared. SP Udaikumar is coordinator of the People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy

“The people in the 30-kilometer radius of the Kudankulam plant have not been trained in disaster management or evacuation. Without doing this they cannot upload the nuclear fuel rods. The central government and the state government will be held liable for this criminal activity.”

Nearly 200 protesters have been arrested so far. The area has been put under curfew-like restriction but the protest continues.  Bismillah Geelani, FSRN, New Delhi.


Illinois Republicans cast primary poll, Greens excluded

In partisan elections in Illinois, voters can choose either a Republican or Democratic ballot. Today voters in the state will get a republican ballot on which they can indicate their favorite presidential candidate. But it’s really the 54 delegates they will elect today who will choose Illinois’ republican hopeful at the party’s  convention this summer. The two main parties are the only ones on the ballot. Voters from the state’s green party, which is blocked from the ballot, chose their candidate in an online poll last month. Dr. Jill Stein garnered 71 percent of the vote. She spoke in Philadelphia last night.

“We need fair elections. That means getting the money out as well as allowing people access to the ballot. You’re facing an incredible uphill battle to get on the ballot in the first place if you’re not a part of the major party system here.”

Dr. Stein is running on a platform that is based on New Deal-like initiatives that she says would jump start the national economy and reduce the political influence of oil.


Russia shifts on Syria, HRW says both sides guilty of human rights violations, protest leader killed

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said today that Russia is ready to sign on to Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Syria. The specifics are not yet public, but the proposal is not an ultimatum to President Bashar al Assad. Rather, it’s a “basis for accord” between government and opposition groups. Human Rights Watch released an open letter today to the Syrian opposition, accusing armed rebel fighters of kidnapping, torture and executions of government supporters, including civilians, saying that brutality by one side does not justify the same by the other. The Local Coordinating Committees say that at least 27 more people died today, including Abdul Rahman Orfalli, who was one of  the organizers of the initial protests in March of 2011.


Mexico struck by magnitude 7.6 earthquake

A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck along Mexico’s Pacific coast this afternoon. The epicenter was near the border between Guerrero and Oaxaca states and was felt as far away as Mexico City. So far, there are no reports of injuries and no tsunami warnings have been issued.




Supreme Court debates whether life in prison is cruel and unusual for juveniles

The US Supreme Court debated today whether sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is cruel and unusual punishment. Since the majority of young people serving such sentences were convicted under mandatory sentencing guidelines—the court also considered whether making life in prison without parole mandatory for certain crimes violates the right to due process. FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports from the high court.


Hundreds sentenced in Bahrain’s military courts as UN criticizes deadly use of tear gas

In Bahrain, more than 100 demonstrators are behind bars due to lengthy government-run military courts, according to human rights groups in the country. The findings are released to coincide with a report submitted to Bahrain’s King Hamid bin Isa Al Halifa today on the ongoing crackdown on protesters who have been advocating for democratic reforms for more than a year.

The report, conducted by the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, says that total sentences handed down through the military tribunals to date are about 500, with more than 100 of those receiving harsh sentences, such as life in prison or the death penalty. More than twenty are either teachers or medical staff.

Also today, the UN’s Human Rights office expressed concern about the government’s excessive use of tear gas to suppress protests, which has led to an estimated 30 deaths.

Speaking today in Geneva, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said the disproportionate use of force by Bahrain’s security forces was “worrying” and called on the government to investigate the incidents.

“Reliable sources indicate that the civilians who died from tear gas suffered complications from gas inhalation, and that security forces have been firing metal tear gas canisters from grenade launchers into crowds. We call on the Government of Bahrain to investigate the alleged use of such excessive force.”

Colville also called on the government to protect the health of prisoners, such as Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who is on a 40 day hunger strike. Khawaja is protesting a life sentence he received last summer.

The U.N. human rights office said it is sending an expert team to Bahrain at the end of the month for talks with the government.

An investigation from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, a group set by the royal government that officially called itself independent, found that government forces were responsible in some incidents of torture, detention and violating the rights of hospital patients. The commission released its findings last December and today’s report submitted to the King follows up on the recommendations, which include compensating the victims of torture and detention. It also said, quote: “The State should never again resort to detention without prompt access to lawyers, and without access to the outside world for more than two or three days.”

According to Al Arabiya, the government pointed to reforms, such as the increased inspection of detention centers by the Red Cross. But activists cited continued violations of human rights.


Restaurant workers in New York press for fair wages and conditions

Today we continue our coverage of a worker-led campaign aiming to improve working conditions in restaurants. Workers are challenging wage theft and what they say are barriers in advancement for women and minorities. Yesterday we heard from workers in Los Angeles, and today we go to New York where the famous Darden restaurant chain also operates. FSRN’s Salim Rizvi reports.


Controversial burqa ban in the Netherlands is criticized

The Dutch parliament is getting ready to vote on a new bill that would outlaw the Muslim burqa. Although there are at most only a few hundred women in the country who wear the face covering, the proposed legislation has been hotly debated, with opponents saying it goes against the country’s centuries-long history of tolerance. FSRN’s Hermione Gee reports from Amsterdam.

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