Newscast for Tuesday, April 2, 2013

  • NRA proposes government funds for armed school guards as Congress, states weigh gun safety bills
  • Families of Guantanamo prisoners rally in Yemen, Kuwait as hunger strike spreads
  • Russia’s raids on human rights, NGOs draw condemnation abroad
  • Prisoners at India’s Tihar jail find expression through music album

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Israeli conscientious objector jailed for eighth time since November

An Israeli teenager is back in jail today for the eighth time in the past six months.  A military court  sentenced Nathan Blanc to 14 days in jail today after he refused to serve in the military. All non-Arab citizens and permanent residents of Israel are required to serve in the military when they turn 18. Blanc says he refuses because of what he calls the non-democratic, civil inequalities between Israelis and Palestinians that he doesn’t see an end to. Blanc also refuses to manufacture an acceptable excuse. Since November, 2012 the Israeli military has ordered Blanc to report eight times. Each time he arrives at the recruitment center, he states his objection to service and is jailed. Once released, the military calls him up again and the cycle continues.

Palestinian prisoners protest inadequate health care after inmate with cancer dies

Palestinians jailed across Israel are protesting today, following the death of prisoner Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh. Three days ago,  Abu Hamdiyeh, who suffered from esophageal cancer, was transferred to the hospital following claims of inadequate medical care in an Israeli jail.  Demonstrators rallied in Hebron and a three-day fast was called by other Palestinian detainees. Three Palestinian prisoners remain on long-term hunger strikes. One of them, Samer Issawi, is reportedly near death.

UK’s finance minister calls criticism of  welfare “ill-informed rubbish”

Earlier today Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, defended changes to the UK’s welfare system that took effect this week. Critics of the cuts include churches, charities and advocacy groups. Roxanne Escobales reports from London.

In a speech to supermarket workers, George Osborne called criticism of the welfare reforms “ill-informed rubbish” and “shrill, headline-seeking nonsense.” Osborne characterized the changes to the benefits system as fair to those currently employed while rewarding people who are trying to reenter the job market. They would, he said, make the UK a competitive country for the future while helping to cut the deficit. The first of a series of reforms took effect yesterday. Housing benefits in both social and private housing are now capped,  and people  living in public  housing will be penalized for spare bedrooms. The government estimates that 660-thousand people will be affected, saving the government nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in the first year alone. This weekend, a group of major churches attacked the government’s reforms, saying they will penalize the most vulnerable people. Housing charities have also hit back, saying that people in low-paid work, the unemployed and the disabled will be pushed into homelessness. Roxanne Escobales, FSRN, London.

UN passes landmark arms treaty; now it’s up to individual countries to ratify

The United Nations overwhelmingly passed the first global treaty on arms today. Last week, three countries, Iran, Syria and North Korea, blocked consensus on the deal. But in a vote at the General Assembly today the resolution passed 154 to 3, with 23 nation states abstaining. The treaty calls for countries to adopt laws to control exports of arms ranging from light weapons to battleships, but stops short of banning such sales to non-state entities.  Last month the US Senate opposed a similar symbolic treaty. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that while the US did vote for the treaty, a full review is due prior to ratification

“As is the case with all treaties of this nature, we will  follow normal procedure to conduct a thorough review of the treaty text to determine whether to sign it.”

The treaty also does not regulate imports or domestic gun sales. We’ll have more on US gun control measures later in the newscast.

Indiana law professor questions constitutionality of so-called ag-gag bill

An Indiana University  law professor is questioning the constitutionality of Indiana’s so-called Ag-Gag bill – a measure that would criminalize filming at factory farms and in slaughterhouses without permission.  Supporters say  the law would  protect farmers from exploitation by activist groups. Leigh DeNoon has more.

Senate Bill 373 will be heard next on the floor of the Indiana House after passing a committee with a major amendment last Thursday. House sponsor, Representative Bill Friend’s amendment makes it a Class A misdemeanor to photograph at a farm or business without written permission from the owner. Indiana University law professor Seth Lahn believes the bill violates the First Amendment

“Whether you come at it from a position of food safety or working conditions or animal cruelty, it gets into a number of areas that, I think, the courts have always recognized – and common sense tells you – is an issue the public has an interest in hearing about.”

Lahn says there already are legal ways to get at prohibited conduct: charges of trespassing, fraud, and destruction of property. Friend’s amendment also added a new crime to the bill – lying on a job application with the intent of harming a business. No public comment was allowed on the amendment before the bill passed out of committee 9 to 3 on a party line vote.

India fines UK mining group $20 million for pollution, yet stock goes up

India’s Supreme Court fined UK-based Vedanta mining group almost $20 million dollars today for environmental damages caused by its copper smelter in Tamil Nadu state. But the high court also overturned a 2010 order that the plant shut down. Despite the hefty fine, Vedanta stock went up today on the news. The plant did temporarily close last week after nearby residents reported breathing problems and complaints of a gas leak.



NRA proposes government funds for armed school guards as Congress, states weigh gun safety bills

In Washington DC, the National Rifle Association unveiled a plan today to funnel state and federal dollars toward providing armed guards in schools, reinforcing doors and windows and installing more surveillance equipment on campuses. The move comes a day after Connecticut lawmakers announced a gun violence package that includes expanding background checks and the assault weapons ban, and as Congress prepares to continue its own work on gun control. In Washington, DC, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein has more.


Families of Guantanamo prisoners rally in Yemen, Kuwait as hunger strike spreads

The number of Guantanamo prisoners taking part in a nearly-two-month-long hunger strike is on the rise, according to lawyers and the US military. After initially denying the strike was taking place, the US military said Monday that 39 men were refusing food, though prisoners describe it as more widespread. The government also said 11 prisoners were being force-fed, which requires inserting a tube into the person’s nostrils or throat. The International Red Cross said in a statement that force-feeding violates international protections of prisoners. The Red Cross has sent a team to monitor the situation. On Monday, families of Yemeni detainees rallied outside the US Embassy in Sanaa. In Kuwait, hundreds of protesters demanded the return of their nationals outside the US Embassy over the weekend. Of the 166 prisoners that remain at Guantanamo about half have been cleared for release. For an update on the hunger strike we’re joined by Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, a military commissions attorney for several of the Guantanamo prisoners.


Russia’s raids on human rights, NGOs draw condemnation abroad

The Russian government’s raids on human rights and other non-governmental organizations are drawing condemnation from the United States and the European Union. The raids are taking place amid a change in national laws to increase regulation of the groups. One NGO says government officials told them during a raid not to release a report about environmental and social problems connected with next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. From St. Petersburg, FSRN’s Ekaterina Danilova reports.


Prisoners at India’s Tihar jail find expression through music album

Tihar jail in New Delhi is South Asia’s largest Prison. Among its more than 10,000 inmates are some of India’s most notorious and high profile prisoners. But recently the prison has drawn attention for an unusual event. Behind its high walls, a group of prisoners produced what is perhaps the first commercial music album by prison inmates. Although it’s being cited as a step forward in addressing poor prison conditions, serious reforms in the country’s prison system are still lacking. FSRN’s Bismillah Geelani reports.

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