Newscast for Thursday, February 7, 2013

  • At Senate confirmation hearing, CIA chief nominee Brennan comes under scrutiny for role in US drone killing program
  • At memorial for Aaron Swartz, calls to reform federal computer fraud law
  • Federal court in Manhattan hears challenge to indefinite detention in NDAA
  • In India, social media opens space for dialogue on long-running Nagaland conflict

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Police raid journalist home looking for protest footage

German police raided the homes of freelance photojournalists across the country yesterday. They’re searching for photographs of a demonstrator who allegedly attacked a police officer in an anti-capitalist protest in Frankfurt, in March 2012.  But the raids have called into question the freedom of the press in Germany and drawn criticism from politicians and the German Journalist’s Association. FSRN’s Cinnamon Nippard has more from Berlin.

German photojournalist, Thomas Rassloff, just got back from two weeks in Syria. He’s the photographer who captured the shocking images of over 70 bodies by the river in Aleppo, which is the largest recorded mass execution of the Syrian civil war. Returning to Berlin last night he discovered that police had raided his apartment. They confiscated his computers, hard-drives, SD-cards, USB-sticks, and cellphones. “I have told the police six months ago I haven’t any picture of this crime scene in this demonstration.” Rassloff remembers the demonstration, where he was at the front with the other photojournalists. “But the violence was at the back of the demonstration so no photographer was there. So I don’t know why the police is thinking we have pictures. We couldn’t take pictures.” Rassloff says he has seen increasing police violence against journalists and photographers at demonstrations. The German police have accused some photographers of being members of the left-wing scene. The German Journalist’s Association has condemned the raids, as have the German Greens Party.  It is unclear when police will return the files and equipment, but they say they will if their suspicions are incorrect. Cinnamon Nippard, FSRN, Berlin.

Russian NGOs say new crackdown on their staffs violates European human rights laws

A group of Russian human rights organizations is challenging a law that requires them to register as foreign agents because they engage in political work that is supported from abroad. They sent the claim to the European Court of Human Rights today. FSRN’s Ekaterina Danilova reports.

Eleven human rights and environmental groups involved in the suit say the law violates the European Convention on Human Rights. They say it essentially labels them as spies and that organization risks sanctions or closure for violating the complicated bureaucratic requirements. Oleg Orlov is the head of the human rights group “Memorial.” “From our point of view all this set of unclear, absurd demands was done only for one purpose – to groundlessly denigrate certain organizations in the eyes of Russian society.” The foreign agents law is part of a larger effort to restrict the activities of organizations, particularly those with ties to the United States. The latest law prohibits Russians who have American citizenship from heading Russian NGOs. Ekaterina Danilova, FSRN, Russia.

Vietnam releases human rights lawyer as crackdowns continue on activists

Vietnam has released a prominent human rights lawyer from prison, but has also intensified its crackdown against activists and bloggers.  FSRN’s Mike Ives reports from Vietnam.

Authorities here released Le Cong Dinh Wednesday after he served 3.5 years of a five year term. Dinh studied at Tulane University and served as vice chairman of Ho Chi Minh City’s bar association. He was arrested in 2009 on subversion charges after calling for political pluralism.The US Embassy said Thursday it applauded the government’s decision. But this leniency by the Vietnam’s one-party government contrasts sharply with its recent crackdowns on dissent. Thirty-five activists have been jailed in the last month, including 22 who received sentences Monday, ranging from 10 years to life.  Rights advocates say the one-party state has intensified its crackdown on dissident in recent months. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said releasing Dinh just before Tet, Vietnam’s Lunar New Year holiday, is no excuse for jailing political dissidents on specious charges. “The important thing to remember also is that these people are being put away for things that shouldn’t be considered crimes in the first place.” In other news, Vietnam last week deported Nguyen Quoc Quan, an American pro-democracy activist who was arrested at Ho Chi Minh City’s airport last April. Quan is a leading member of Viet Tan, a non-violent, pro-democracy group that Hanoi labels a terrorist organization. Mike Ives, FSRN, Hanoi.



At Senate confirmation hearing, CIA chief nominee Brennan comes under scrutiny for role in US drone killing program

President Obama’s nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan, faced a senate committee today, with much of the focus on Brennan’s role in the controversial drone killing program. In his opening statement, Brennan was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. One woman held a sign that read “Brennan = drone killing.” Committee Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein cleared the room and refused to let “Code Pink associates” re-enter. Brennan withdrew his bid to become CIA chief in 2008 after rising criticism about his role in the Bush Administration’s torture and extraordinary rendition program. According to a report last month from Reuters, Brennan had “detailed, contemporaneous knowledge” of the CIA’s use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including water-boarding. For more, we’re joined by Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

At memorial for Aaron Swartz, calls to reform federal computer fraud law

Since the suicide last month of open-Internet activist Aaron Swartz, many of his friends and colleagues are calling for changes to the federal law under which he was charged: the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Some of them gathered this week in Washington, DC for a memorial service, including Dan Goodwin, Swartz’ coworker at the organization ThoughtWorks. He said the harsh sentences from the decades-old law don’t appropriately distinguish between people who take intellectual property for their own gain and those like Swartz who download content to share with the public.

GOODWIN: Because so many years in prison can be threatened, it makes it extremely difficult for someone to take a principled stand, and say, “No that’s not what the law say. That’s not what the law should say.” Instead, they are pressured to take some lesser punishment, and the entire injustice of the law isn’t put to the test.

Several Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate were also at the memorial. There, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein spoke to California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, who recently wrote a bill she named “Aaron’s Law.” In the spirit of open access that Swartz championed, she shared a draft of the bill and asked for feedback on Reddit, the website he helped found. That was California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, speaking to FSRN’s Alice Ollstein. Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden plans to introduce a version of “Aaron’s Law” in the Senate. Speaking at the memorial service, he promised to continue Aaron’s “march for freedom and a more just world.”

WYDEN: When Aaron hacked, a poorly written law called him a dangerous criminal. Common sense and conscience knows better. And we are going to change this unjust law. Because of Aaron and because of his family.

Federal court in Manhattan hears challenge to indefinite detention in NDAA

The federal court of appeals heard arguments this week about the constitutionality of the National Defense Authorization Act.  Lawyers for plaintiffs in the case Hedges v. Obama argued against the U.S. government defense of a section of the 2012 NDAA that critics say would allow the indefinite military detention without charges of U.S. citizens. FSRN’s Linda Perry Barr reports.

In India, social media opens space for dialogue on long-running Nagaland conflict

Nagaland is home to one of India’s oldest ethnic conflicts. Naga separatists in the country’s northeast have been fighting for independence since 1947. The conflict has caused continued economic, social and political instability in the region. Many civilians avoid public dialogue. But now the Internet and social media are giving young Nagas a platform to discuss and debate politics openly. With assembly elections scheduled later this month, the online community is raising some key issues. FSRN’s Gayatri Parameswaran and Felix Gaedtke report from Nagaland.

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