A lawsuit, filed on behalf of four different men, blames the United States of violating their rights by keeping them on the no-fly list after they declined to spy on local Muslim communities, notably in New York, New Jersey and Nebraska. Some view the move as a punishment, though more likely this is a rigid coercive tool, plaintiffs argue.
“The no-fly list is supposed to be about ensuring aviation safety, but the FBI is using it to force innocent people to become informants,” said Ramzi Kassem, associate professor of law at the City University of New York, adding the practice looks more like an extortion.
The four plaintiffs have different stories to tell, however sharing one common feature: all the four point to US authorities over-policing the local Muslim society.
Awais Sajjad, for instance, a Muslim, lawfully naturalized US resident living in the New York area learnt he was on the no-fly list after he was turned back at the boarding zone at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
At the airport, FBI agents questioned Sajjad, a Muslim, before he was finally released. But later returned with an offer. In exchange for working for them, the FBI could provide him with US citizenship and compensation. To score a deal, the agents reminded Sajjad, it was up to the FBI to decide who was on the no-fly list.
“The more you help us, the more we can help you,” FBI agents said, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Another plaintiff, Naveed Shinwari, hasn’t seen his wife in more than two years, ever since they got married, he living permanently in the US, while his wife being an Afghan citizen. He strongly suspects it’s due to his refusal to become an informant for the FBI.
Returning back from the wedding, before he could even get home to Omaha, Nebraska, he was twice detained and questioned by FBI agents. These, he recollects, asked if he knew anything about national security threats. A third FBI visit followed when he got home, with the officer wanting to know about the “local Omaha community”, if he knew “anyone who’s a threat.”
Next time he was denied a boarding pass on a domestic US flight as he was to embark on a temporary job in Connecticut. Police told him he had been placed on the US no-fly list, although he had never in his life been accused of breaking any law.
Two more stories slightly varied from the previous ones, in that they contain a certain straight-forward directive, in line with the Muslims’ belief that law enforcement at times considers them a target, particularly thanks to mosque infiltrations and other surveillance practices.
Jameel Algibhah of the Bronx alleges that the FBI explicitly asked him to infiltrate a Queens mosque and pose as an extremist in online forums.
Their case follows at least one other, brought by the ACLU in Oregon, according to which the FBI attempted to leverage no-fly selectees into informants. Most sadly, the agency that’s behind the practice ever since no-fly lists emerged, is uniquely responsible for taking names off them. What all the four Muslims, who have never been convicted of a crime seek for, is to be cleared of the unjust punitive measures.
The FBI refused to comment Tuesday. But the process used to place individuals on the no-fly list has always been considered legal and well founded by officials, who said the practice relies on credible intelligence. Notably, MI5 in Britain openly thanked those Muslims who contributed to spying on others.
Russian authorities have denied reports that Ukrainian MP and former Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev had been slapped with a 5-year entrance ban to Crimea. Dzhemilev claims he was given a travel restriction order on the Russia-Ukraine border.
A spokesman for the Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) told Ukrinform that the agency does not have any information on the travel ban imposed on the Ukranian MP from the Batkivshina Party and a former head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Mustafa Dzhemilev, to enter Russian territory.
“We do not have such information. Therefore, why do you think that we have banned him from entering the Russian Federation? I can send you the same document, you can also send it to me. I’ve seen it, and there is really nothing to comment on here.”
The FMS representative called the ‘document’ that Dzhemilev claims he was handed on Tuesday and posted on Mejlis website “just a piece of paper.”
“It’s just a piece of paper that someone wrote to someone without attaching an official seal or a signature,” said the spokesman, as cited by Ukrinform. “We do not comment on such papers.”
The Crimean parliament has also denied allegations of issuing such a ban on Dzhemilev, saying that his name is not included in the officially compiled travel restriction list which now has over 340 names.
“The State Council did not take any decisions restricting entry and exit of Mustafa Dzhemilev to the territory of Crimea,” the Deputy Chairman of the Crimean parliament Konstantin Baharev told Ria Novosti.
“Earlier, the Presidium of the Crimean parliament formed a list of more than 300 persona non grata from Ukrainian MPs who opposed the Crimean initiative to hold a referendum on self-determination.”
The apparently fake ‘Notification of non-permission of entry to the Russian Federation’ without any official insignia or seal was allegedly handed over to Dzhemilev early on Tuesday morning on the border of Russia and Ukraine when the MP was en route from Crimea to Kiev.
Unsigned and without letterhead, the paper said that “Mustafa Dzhemilev … citizen of Ukraine” was barred entry to Russia on the basis of federal law for five years or until April 19, 2019.
Dzhemilev was quick to spread the forged paper online commenting that the alleged ban serves to show “nothing more than an indicator of how ‘civilized’ is the state we’re dealing with,” referring to Russia, local media quoted him as saying.
But speaking to Ukraine’s Channel 5 TV, Dzhimilev acknowledged the lack of signature and said he was not certain that the document came from the Russian government, because the man who handed over the alleged ban did not identify himself. He said he intends to continue his travels to Crimea.
Premature accusations of Russia being behind the ban is “cheap anti-Russian populism and nothing more,” member of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, Vladimir Shaposhnikov told Ria, adding the MP should first get acquainted with the document he received, double check the laws, and then make accusations.
“Now I can only see much ado about nothing. Before raising the cry Mr. Dzhimilev is should have first of all checked the law ‘On the Procedure for Exit from the Russian Federation and Entry into the Russian Federation’ and read the article on the basis of which he was allegedly denied entry,” said Shaposhnikov.
But Washington was quick to support Dzhimilev’s statements that he has made after his return from Crimea, in particular accusations the Russian Security Service is keeping a close watch on the Tatar poulation of Crimea.
“Today, Crimean Tatar community leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev, who has been in Washington a couple weeks ago and had meetings here in this building, gave some alarming remarks. And he said that – warned today that possible bloodshed in Crimea and southern Ukraine is coming up, and he also stated that some of the FSB officers from Moscow who hope to promote new deportation of the Tatars,” State Department’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporter on Tuesday.
On Monday president Vladimir Putin signed a decree ruling Stalin’s 1940s deportation of Crimean Tatars and other ethnic minorities on the peninsula was illegal.
“We must make sure that as part of Crimea’s integration into Russia, Crimean Tatars are rehabilitated and their historic rights restored,” the Russian leader said during an official meeting in Moscow. The decree also allowed Tatar education in their native language.
This is not the first time over the last few weeks the US has backed its rhetorical comments for the Western media with questionable documents presented as hard evidence. … Full article
JERUSALEM – Dozens of Palestinian worshipers were wounded and dozens were detained after clashes broke in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday morning with Israeli forces who had stormed the courtyards firing stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.
The raid comes amid frequent clashes in recent days after right-wing Jewish groups urged Jews to flock to the compound — which they believe is the site of a former Jewish temple — and conduct Passover rituals inside.
Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Omar Kiswani told Ma’an that more than 400 police officers stormed the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque through the Moroccan Gate and the Chain Gate escorting Ultra-Orthodox Jews other Jewish visitors into the compound.
Israeli forces, Kiswani said, “besieged” worshipers in the southern mosque “attacking them with clubs and pepper spray,” after clashes broke out with Palestinian worshipers in the compound.
Dozens of Palestinians sustained injuries during the assault, while several others suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation. Twenty five young men were reportedly detained by Israeli forces.
Kiswani said that Likud member of Knesset Moshe Feiglin had also entered the compound during the raid, accompanied by special security units. Feiglin has visited the site frequently in recent months, and he has vocally supported the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the compound.
Earlier on Sunday morning, clashes erupted outside the Lions’ Gate (Bab al-Asbat) and Gate of Remission (Bab al-Hutta) of the Al-Aqsa compound when Israeli police denied hundreds of worshippers access to the compound.
Witnesses said that Israeli officers had denied all Palestinian residents of Jerusalem under the age of 60 access to the compound, including students who attend schools inside. Men and women were also attacked with clubs and pepper spray, witnesses said.
Israeli forces detained a young man after he was beaten brutally.
Israeli police spokesman said in a statement that police had detained 16 Palestinian “rioters,” adding that they were all detained “as they threw stones/blocks at officers at the scene this morning.”
He also said that two police officers lightly injured in the clashes, which broke out after the Palestinians threw stones as “tourists visited.”
About 100 Muslim worshipers have decided to stay inside the compound day and night throughout Passover after right-wing Jewish organizations called for Jewish worshipers to enter the area en masse for religious festivities.
Because of the sensitive nature of the Al-Aqsa compound, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls it to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, leading to tension with Palestinian worshipers.
The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam.
It is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Al-Aqsa is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.
Israeli police reportedly blocked a top UN diplomat, alongside other diplomats and Palestinians, entrance to a pre-Easter Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which Israeli authorities called a ‘micro-incident.’
Robert Serry, the UN special envoy for Middle East peace, said he and Palestinian Christians were making their way to attend the ‘Holy Fire’ ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried before rising from the dead.
Despite earlier promises of unrestricted access to the church, Israeli police refused to let the group of worshipers pass, saying they had orders to that effect.
Serry said he, along with Italian, Norwegian and Dutch diplomats, were forced to wait for up to 30 minutes, crushed by the excited crowd against a barricade, while Israeli officers ignored his request to speak with a superior, according to Reuters.
“A precarious standoff ensued ending in an angry crowd pushing their way through,” Serry said, lashing out at “unacceptable behavior from the Israeli security authorities.”
“It became really dangerous because there was a big crowd and I was pushed against a metal fence the police put up there, the crowd tried to push really hard,” the diplomat said, adding they might have been trampled had police not finally let them pass.
Serry in a statement called on “all parties to respect the right of religious freedom, granting access to holy sites for worshipers of all faiths and refraining from provocations, not least during religious holidays.”
The incident comes as the Holy City, which is of religious importance to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, prepares Pope Francis’s Holy Land visit next month.
Israel dismissed the UN diplomat’s complaint, calling it an attempt to exaggerate a “micro-incident” while crediting police with maintaining order as crowds of worshipers descended on the city.
Later on Saturday, Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry dismissed Serry’s account as “an odd communique on a non-event.”
“Christian dignitaries of the highest level have this evening thanked the Jerusalem Police Department for its efficient service, which has enabled the Holy Day’s celebrations to take place without any hindrance,” the ministry said.
“Had any harm come to the pilgrims due to uncontrolled crowd movements, Mr. Serry would have been prompt to cast responsibility on the same police which he now condemns for doing its job properly,” the Israeli statement added.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Jerusalem in May, an event that may be overshadowed by a breakdown in US-brokered peace talks between Israeli and Palestinians, who face an April-29 deadline to resolve their differences.
A journalist for Russia’s LifeNews has been released after being detained and questioned for 15 hours by Ukraine law enforcement. Police allegedly “kicked” the reporter and “other peaceful civilians” during an armed confrontation in Mariupol on Wednesday.
Kristina Babayeva was detained following an armed confrontation between anti-government protesters and soldiers stationed at a military base in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Wednesday. Her colleague, camerawoman Maria Povalyaeva, still remains at the local police station.
“She is being actively interrogated,” Babayeva told RT.
Babayeva said she was working at the scene when the shooting began. She said the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and police then “launched an operation,” throwing her and other peaceful civilians on the ground.
“Many were kicked, including me. They were talking to us really harshly and said that if we moved a finger they would shoot to kill,” the journalist said, adding that she received several bruises.
According to the reporter, there was “total chaos” and police were shooting in different directions. Once anyone flashed a torch, they “fired at that direction without a warning,” Babayeva said, adding that real bullets were used – not rubber ones.
People were kept on the ground, their faces down, for about half an hour, before they were placed in a van to be taken to a local police station, Babayeva said.
She was questioned for 15 hours by the SBU and police officers, who attempted to accuse her of complicity in the armed seizure of the military base located in the turbulent Donetsk region.
Babayeva said police were aware that she is a Russian journalist and saw all her documents, seized her microphone, and two phones.
“They saw that I had made calls to activist – on the eve of the incident we were filming a report near the city council building. That’s why they accused me in complicity to the armed seizure, as they put it,” she said.
No violence was used against her at the police station, she said.
According to LifeNews, the journalist demanded that she be provided with a lawyer and given an opportunity to speak to a Russian consul, but law enforcers refused to do so.
PA police coordinate with Israeli border police to control Palestinian access to Jerusalem at the Bethlehem checkpoint. (Photo: ActiveStills.org)
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Ze’ev Elkin, is a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and his predominantly rightwing cabinet. In a recent interview with The Economist, Elkin used the familiar tone of being conceited and oblivious to such notions as international or human rights, and reaffirmed his rejection of a Palestinian state.
Instead, Elkin wants Israel to annex a chunk of the West Bank. There is nothing new here, as such language is now official Israeli discourse. But one statement stood out, one that many Palestinians would find bewildering and exasperating.
These days, said Elkin with a chuckle, the West Bank is “the most stable part of the Middle East”.
The bewilderment would stem from the fact that the West Bank is an occupied Palestinian territory. Its population is held at gunpoint; they have no freedom, and enjoy no rights. Their land is seized by force to make room for more settlements and illegal Jewish settlers, now numbering well passed the half million mark.
Needless to say, the West Bank should not be stable.
Instead, Palestinians should be leading their own revolution until they achieve their full rights and freedom. This is not a call for violence, but a natural human course. However, Palestinians are not rebelling. Many factors are holding them back, one of which is the very Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Its troops are in constant ‘security coordinations’ with Israel. Its ‘elite forces’ are trained by US generals and Arab armies. The PA mission is not to liberate Palestine, but to ensure the subservience of the Palestinians while Israel carries on with a colonial project that has extended for decades.
Deputy foreign minister Elkin knows this. Netanyahu himself, along with every Israeli official, understands that the PA, despite Mahmoud Abbas’ occasional attempts at appearing defiant and rebellious, is no threat to Israel, nor will it ever be. This will be so even if the US-imposed April 29 deadline for a ‘framework’ agreement between the Israeli government and the PA passes and even if Abbas took the seemingly daring step of signing the applications to join 15 international organizations. Abbas and his men understand that there are red lines which they cannot cross under any circumstances.
Abbas may be weak, but he is clever. He knew that Kerry’s peacemaking efforts would not go anywhere and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would find a way to thwart the process. If Abbas were lucky, Kerry could even blame Israel for derailing the peace process, as he already has. Then, Abbas would do what many would find reasonable; seek further international recognition for the state of Palestine. This might frustrate the Americans a little, anger the Israelis a lot, but it would give his supporters reason to promote the 79-year-old leader as another Yasser Arafat, heroic and defiant to the very end.
The Israelis still need Abbas. He is important in maintaining ‘stability’ in the West Bank. This means the continuing of the security coordination that ensures the safety of the armed settlers, providing an extra layer of protection to Israeli soldiers as they kill at will, seize more land, demolish homes and trees, erect walls, dig trenches, and level mountains. So what if some imaginary state existed on papers in the files of some international body in Geneva or Brussels. For Israel, the law is that of its military, and reality is what is taking place in Area C, not in some European capital.
This is why Elkin is chuckling. He is at ease, in the same way the Israeli political establishment is. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, a deal was struck between Israel and what became a pervasive, controlling and corrupt Palestinian political class. Israel maintained its military occupation, carried on with its colonial project and continued to disfigure the occupied territories in any way that it found consistent with its ‘security’ needs. Palestinian elites were granted economic privileges and access that is denied to the vast majority of the Palestinians.
The PA’s constant challenge is to maintain a level of legitimacy. True, it uses its monopoly on force, which is readily sanctioned by Israel, in order to arrest, torture and kill resisting Palestinians when necessary. It uses the logic of trickle-down economics to hold the bulk of Palestinians hostage to winning their daily bread. But that is not enough. It needs a brand to market itself as the exclusive harbinger of freedom for Palestinians. It uses slogans, flags and kuffiyas to promote that brand through its control of the media. Many PA supporters dance to that tune and playact that Abbas and only Abbas is capable of exacting the coveted liberation of Palestine from the obstinate hands of the Israeli prime minister.
Palestinian officials are proficiently inflating Abbas’ image to ensure that Palestinians don’t question the wisdom of their aging leader, after the latest and predictable failure of the peace process, which was never truly meant to succeed anyway. A Palestinian official spoke of Abbas’s refusal to heed a call by US Secretary of State John Kerry to halt applications to join international treaties. He claimed that Kerry warned Abbas of a ‘strong (Israeli) response to Palestinian action. Abbas replied: “Israel’s threats scare no one. They can do what they like.”
The words were repeated in Palestinian media. The Abbas image is being overstated once more. There is no space for those who question the man’s credibility, legitimacy or failed methods. More posters of the old man are now erected in the occupied Palestinian towns. His latest antics will help perpetuate the myth that the PA is a platform for resistance, not capitulation.
As long as the West Bank is ‘stable’, and as long Abbas, and those that follow him continue to sell Palestinians old illusions of revolutions that never took place, and heroes that only exist on colored posters hung around the streets of Ramallah, Elkin will continue to chuckle.
And as long as the West Bank is ‘stable’, Palestinians will never achieve their freedom, for submission achieves no rights; only resistance does.
- Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, UK. His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).
The New York Police Department is disbanding the unit that mapped New York’s Muslim communities, their places of worship, and businesses they frequent – based on nothing but their religious beliefs and associations. To this we say: Good Riddance.
But the end of the Zone Assessment Unit – better known by its former, more apt name, the Demographics Unit – doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the NYPD’s unconstitutional surveillance of New York’s Muslims.
The NYPD’s discriminatory spying program has many components, of which the Demographics Unit was just one. (The ACLU, along with the NYCLU and CLEAR Project at CUNY Law School sued the NYPD over the program – read about our case here.) Before we celebrate the end of bias-based policing, we need to ensure that the other abusive tactics employed by the NYPD meet the same fate as the unit. For example:
- Use of informants: A wide network of NYPD informants have infiltrated community organizations, mosques, restaurants, bookstores, and more to monitor, record, and take notes on innocent people and innocuous conversations. This needs to stop.
- Designation of entire mosques “terrorism enterprises”: The NYPD has used “terrorism enterprise investigations” against entire mosques to justify the surveillance of as many people as possible. That unmerited designation has allowed the police department to record sermons and spy on entire congregations.
- Discriminatory use of surveillance cameras: Cameras have been set up outside mosques and community events – even weddings – to record community members’ comings and goings and collect license plate numbers of congregants and attendees.
- Radicalization theory: The NYPD must disavow its debunked “radicalization” theory, on which discriminatory surveillance is based. This misguided notion, which we’ve described in detail here, treats with suspicion people engaging in First Amendment-protected activities including “wearing traditional Islamic clothing [and] growing a beard,” abstaining from alcohol, and “becoming involved in social activism” – meaning, basically, anyone who identifies as Muslim, harbors Islamic beliefs, or engages in Islamic religious practices.
- Discriminatory surveillance by other units: The Demographics Unit’s discriminatory mapping activities shouldn’t be carried out by other parts of the NYPD and its Intelligence Division.
The Demographics Unit has sown fear and mistrust among hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers – creating “psychological warfare in our community,” Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York told the New York Times. Shutting it down is a welcome step, but it’s only the first one. New York’s Muslims — and all its communities — deserve more and better from their police force than bias-based policing.
Translator’ note: Liliany Obando is a sociologist, documentary film maker, and single mother of two children. She was serving as human rights director for Fensuagro, Colombia’s largest agricultural workers’ union, when, on August 8, 2008, Colombian authorities arrested her. A week previously, Obando had issued a report documenting the murders of 1500 Fensuagro union members over 32 years. Prosecutors accused her of terrorism and belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)
After 43 months, Obando left prison on March 1st 2012. She remained under court jurisdiction, because she had not been sentenced or convicted. Eventually, in 2013, a judge, accusing Obando of serving on the FARC’s International Commission, convicted her of “rebellion.” She was sentenced to five years, eight months of house arrest and fined 707 million pesos, ($368,347 USD). The charge against Obando of handling “resources relating to terrorist activities” was dropped.
On April 3, 2014, Obando learned that the Supreme Court had rejected her appeal. Her fine stands. She must serve one more year of house arrest. The government’s case against Obando and other prisoners rests on files taken from computers of FARC leaders seized during a military attack on a FARC encampment in Ecuador on March 1, 2008. In 2011 the Colombian Supreme Court invalidated the legal standing of such material. Obando and her family continue to experience police surveillance, harassment, and media slander. – Translated by W. T. Whitney Jr.
Although we Colombians, especially those of us who belong to social, human rights, and political organizations and labor unions, are used to carrying out our work in risky situations, sometimes things get worse. This is one of those unlucky times. It coincides with the pre-election contest.
In a cycle that repeatedly sends us back to a repressive past – one they don’t want to close down – we are witness to a perverse return to obscurantism and forced unanimity, to dissident thinking being considered subversive, to social protest having to be silenced at whatever cost, and where opposition guarantees are only a chimera. These are practices far removed from the duty of a state, especially one proclaiming itself as the continent’s oldest, most solid “democracy.”
Many years ago, and in tune with the U. S. obsession for transforming the idea of security into state policy, one outcome being anti-terrorism, the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez during his first term (2002-2006) instituted in Colombia the politics of “Democratic Security.” That gave rise to a series of actions damaging to the right to liberty, to guarantees like equality, legality, and judicial norms, and, generally, to an international framework for human rights.
The strategy of arbitrary detentions imposed under the pretext of maintaining security of the state, and for “good citizens,” has its origins there. The modalities used were illegal interceptions, the network of informants, the Law of Justice and Peace and its accusers, and intelligence reports – or battlefield reports. They fueled judicial set-ups.
During 2002-2004, this strategy of the Uribe government entailed the practice of massive incarcerations carried out nearly always within the context of military operations or joint operations involving the attorney general, the police, and military forces. Primary backing came from Decree 2002 of 2002 relating to internal upheaval and also from an attempt at constitutional reform. In the beginning, these incarcerations were confined to supposed “zones of rehabilitation and consolidation.” Their boundaries were set through Decree 2929 of December 3, 2002. Then they spread the length and breadth of the national territory.
Later, from 2004 on, in a change of strategy, massive detentions were converted into selective detentions against specified sectors of the population: unionists, defenders of human rights, social and populist activists from academia, and/or opposition militants. These people were considered dangerous to the state politics of “Democratic Security” then being advanced as part of a return to the dark era of Turbay Ayala and his “Statute of Security.” (1)
That’s where all this recent wave of stigmatization, persecution, criminalization, judicial processing, and incarceration came from. It’s directed against social, labor, and human rights organizations, and opposition political parties. Their members, leaders, and activists at the base are pointed to as being little else but the activists, “civilian guerrillas,” or at least collaborators of the insurgencies, that is to say, their social base. As regards these last, Uribe disregarded their political character and classified them as “terrorist” groups. Once more the concept of political crime was being manipulated.
Juan Manuel Santos, as defense minister in the Uribe government, first made his mark chiefly by implementing “Democratic Security.” Now as president he continues it. He will be able to change its form, but not its essence. Indeed, Santos has turned to acknowledging that armed conflict does exist in Colombia and also, on that account, that the insurgencies have a political character, although he doesn’t say it openly. If it were otherwise, the current process of peace negotiations in Havana would have been inconceivable. Yet he has not altered the treatment of politically – oriented persons facing prosecution, nor does he accept the very existence of political prisoners.
In 2012, Santos, mocking his given word, blocked international oversight of prisons and verification of the situation of political prisoners as called for by the group PeaceWomen Across the Globe. The government had agreed to accept the FARC’s handing over the last prisoners of war they were holding in return for that group’s good offices. (2) The opportunity ended once more with an official denial that political prisoners exist in Colombia.
Judicial handling of persons criminalized under the strategy of “security” and anti-terrorism changed substantially, much to the disadvantage of people being porosecuted. Indeed, a person being investigated for supposed ties with insurgents used to be processed for the political “crime” of rebellion. Beginning with Uribe and then Santos, however, they are now being handled under the logic of anti-terrorist struggle. As a result, members of the social and political organizations who face prosecution are now being blamed for one or more NON – political crimes having to do with terrorist activities. That’s over and above their being judged as rebels. This signifies, primarily, that for persons being prosecuted under this approach, guarantees like due process, legitimate defense, technical defense, and presumption of innocence – among others – amount to very little.
Consequently, we attend audiences of our comrade detainees in specialized courtrooms, not the ordinary ones. In these special sessions, investigations are carried out directed at very serious crimes, thereby removing the allegations from the area of “political crime.” And more: investigation and trial periods end up being extended over a long time and sentences are more onerous.
And as a matter of fact, Colombian justice applies the presumption of guilt, not of innocence. At the start, those involved in such processes are classified as “dangerous for society.” Therefore, having been charged, they know beforehand they are going to prison for a long time and there have to prove their innocence. But inside prison and incarceration establishments, they are treated just like those who have already been convicted. This is contrary to international law dealing with prison populations, which in Colombia is a dead letter. One must not forget, furthermore, that Colombia is one of the countries in the world that most abuses preventative detention. As a result, many people in this situation choose to accept charges against them and thus reduce their time in dark Colombian prisons and not have to wait long years while they prove their innocence.
And as if that were not enough, the institution that, by definition, should keep watch on the state so it fulfills its mandate to guarantee respect for citizens’ fundamental human rights, that is to say, the attorney general, acts in a perverse way. That office has switched over to being an inquisitorial entity that persecutes even public functionaries already absolved through having served their prison terms. Their political rights and rights as citizens are seriously affected.
By way of putting a face on this political tragedy, here are some of the leaders and activist members of social and political organizations who have recently endured judicial processes and are imprisoned: Unionists – Campo Elías Ortiz, Héctor Sánchez, José Dilio, Darío Cárdenas, Huber Ballesteros; From the Patriotic March social and political movement - Wilmar Madroñero; Professors - Francisco Tolosa, Carlo Alexander Carrillo, Miguel Ángel Beltrán Villegas, Fredy Julián Cortés, William Javier Díaz; Students – Erika Rodríguez, Xiomara Alejandra Torres Jiménez, Jaime Alexis Bueno, Diego Alejandro Ortega, Cristian Leiva Omar Marín, Carlos Lugo, Jorge Gaitán; Human Rights defenders – David Ravelo Crespo, Liliany Obando.
The number of political prisoners in Colombia – prisoners of conscience and prisoners of war – exceeds 9500. The worst of it is that there is no calm after prison. The trailing, the threats, the stigmatization continue until many of those who are released – if they are lucky – have to leave the country. And many others remain marginalized and no longer part of their previous social and political organizations, which is regrettable. So too is that purpose of the overall strategy which is to weaken social organizations and the political opposition, and dismember them.
Such are the perverse effects of politics in Colombia centering on judicial processes and criminalization of critical thinking, social protest, and political opposition. We are called upon actively to confront politics like these if we want to put a check on such abuse of power.
Silence is no alternative, nor is inaction.
Freedom for Colombian political prisoners!
Long life for butterflies! (3)
1. Julio César Turbay Ayala was the Liberal Party President of Colombia in 1978-1982.
2. The international women’s group facilitated the unilateral freeing of ten soldiers and police by the FARC in 2012 through the women’s promise they would visit political prisoners in Colombian jails.
3. The reference, used in connection with recent conferences and mobilizations in Colombia on behalf of political prisoners, commemorates a movement for freedom for political prisoners that developed in the Dominican Republic in 1959. The expression does honor to the Mirabel sisters there who were jailed and murdered.
Liliany Obando, Political prisoner, under judgment (subjudice) Defender of Human Rights, Colombia, April, 2014.
I decided I needed to do a refresher on basic Old Testament material. I reread the entire books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I doubt if many folks have read these two documents, but they are in the Bible, so they must be worthy of our attention.
The material is not unfamiliar to me, but I was jarred anew at the absurdity and the violence, that are contained in the two books. The Ten Commandments and commands to love God and neighbor are found in these writings, but they are not the central themes of the two books.
The first portion of Leviticus lays out detailed instructions about the slaying and burning of animals to appease and please God. Not exactly a topic of current interest.
If a sacrifice was properly executed, sins were forgiven and the odor of the burnt meat was pleasing to the nostrils of God. Other portions of Leviticus describe how priests practiced health care and what a woman must do to become “clean” after giving birth to a child.
The last chapters are known as “The Holiness Code” and describe the details of the life that is acceptable to God. Blasphemy is out. Sabbath keeping is in. Permanent ownership of land is out. Keeping feast days is in.
Slavery is in. Men lying with men is out. Adultery is out, as is incest. Loving your neighbor is in. Cloth woven with two different kinds of yarn is out. Tithing is demanded. Loaning money for interest is out. Eating pork is out.
Even the most ardent Fundamentalist picks and chooses what to embrace and what to reject from these ancient rules written hundreds of years after Moses and hundred of years before Jesus.
Deuteronomy has a different character. The book is a retelling of the basic Moses/Law story with an emphasis on the blessings of obedience to God’s law and the consequences of disobedience.
The Ten Commandments are repeated and the details of the righteous life are spelled out. Some items are redundant to Leviticus. Obedience to God’s laws is a big concern, and long passages lay out the consequences of disobedience.
In the 14th chapter the unbending nature of God’s law and the severity of punishment for disobedience are made plain.
“If your brother, or your son, or your daughter, or your wife, or your friend, who is as your own soul, entices you by saying ‘let us go and serve other Gods,’ you shall not yield to him or listen to him, but you shall kill him.
“You shall take the lead and the hand of all the people shall join you. You shall stone him to death because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God.”
This is dangerous material in the hands of a religious Fundamentalist. And another example:
In the retelling of the story of the Israelites, the Deuteronomy writer reports that the conquering Israelites entered Palestine from the south, in obedience to the instructions of Jehovah God.
They “captured all the cities and utterly destroyed them and all men, women, and children. We left none remaining.”
This report of violent destruction is repeated and the violence was justified each time because they were taking land that had been given to them by God. Never mind that people had been living there for centuries.
As I read about the strange rituals of Leviticus and the harsh, seemingly senseless injustice and violence of Deuteronomy, I reacted strongly. This does not describe the moral and ethical life that I embrace as a follower of Jesus from Nazareth.
I am not alone in my protest. Micah was a prophet who was contemporary with the animal sacrifice system described in Leviticus. Micah was outraged.
He wrote, “With what will I come before the Lord? Shall I come with burnt offerings? Shall I come with year old calves? Will the Lord be pleased with ten thousand rams? The Lord has shown people what is good and what he requires. Do justice! Love mercy! Walk humbly with your God!”
Jeremiah and Isaiah also were protest prophets. They too were contemporary with people who sought moral comfort through ritual and ignored justice in favor of might.
It is my understanding that Jesus was a prophet, who took up the mantle of Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and carried the protest tradition of the Bible in his own day.
In 2009, I have become wary of saying “The Lord’s Prayer” too many times, of singing “The Star Spangled Banner” too many times, of reciting creeds and confessions of faith too many times, of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance too many times.
I believe they deaden the very senses that are needed to make me a better Christian, a better American and a better contributor to a more just world. I cannot believe building a bigger, more effective military, that can lose fewer of us and kill more of them, is the answer to a safer world.
What should I read next? Revelation?
The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is email@example.com.
New documents released by the FBI show that the Bureau is well on its way toward its goal of a fully operational face recognition database by this summer.
EFF received these records in response to our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for information on Next Generation Identification (NGI)—the FBI’s massive biometric database that may hold records on as much as one third of the U.S. population. The facial recognition component of this database poses real threats to privacy for all Americans.
What is NGI?
NGI builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data. NGI combines all these forms of data in each individual’s file, linking them to personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc. This immense database is shared with other federal agencies and with the approximately 18,000 tribal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States.
The records we received show that the face recognition component of NGI may include as many as 52 million face images by 2015. By 2012, NGI already contained 13.6 million images representing between 7 and 8 million individuals, and by the middle of 2013, the size of the database increased to 16 million images. The new records reveal that the database will be capable of processing 55,000 direct photo enrollments daily and of conducting tens of thousands of searches every day.
NGI Will Include Non-Criminal as well as Criminal Photos
One of our biggest concerns about NGI has been the fact that it will include non-criminal as well as criminal face images. We now know that FBI projects that by 2015, the database will include 4.3 million images taken for non-criminal purposes.
Currently, if you apply for any type of job that requires fingerprinting or a background check, your prints are sent to and stored by the FBI in its civil print database. However, the FBI has never before collected a photograph along with those prints. This is changing with NGI. Now an employer could require you to provide a “mug shot” photo along with your fingerprints. If that’s the case, then the FBI will store both your face print and your fingerprints along with your biographic data.
In the past, the FBI has never linked the criminal and non-criminal fingerprint databases. This has meant that any search of the criminal print database (such as to identify a suspect or a latent print at a crime scene) would not touch the non-criminal database. This will also change with NGI. Now every record—whether criminal or non—will have a “Universal Control Number” (UCN), and every search will be run against all records in the database. This means that even if you have never been arrested for a crime, if your employer requires you to submit a photo as part of your background check, your face image could be searched—and you could be implicated as a criminal suspect—just by virtue of having that image in the non-criminal file.
Many States Are Already Participating in NGI
The records detail the many states and law enforcement agencies the FBI has already been working with to build out its database of images (see map below). By 2012, nearly half of U.S. states had at least expressed an interest in participating in the NGI pilot program, and several of those states had already shared their entire criminal mug shot database with the FBI. The FBI hopes to bring all states online with NGI by this year.
The FBI worked particularly closely with Oregon through a special project called “Face Report Card.” The goal of the project was to determine and provide feedback on the quality of the images that states already have in their databases. Through Face Report Card, examiners reviewed 14,408 of Oregon’s face images and found significant problems with image resolution, lighting, background and interference. Examiners also found that the median resolution of images was “well-below” the recommended resolution of .75 megapixels (in comparison, newer iPhone cameras are capable of 8 megapixel resolution).
FBI Disclaims Responsibility for Accuracy
At such a low resolution, it is hard to imagine that identification will be accurate.1 However, the FBI has disclaimed responsibility for accuracy, stating that “[t]he candidate list is an investigative lead not an identification.”
Because the system is designed to provide a ranked list of candidates, the FBI states NGI never actually makes a “positive identification,” and “therefore, there is no false positive rate.” In fact, the FBI only ensures that “the candidate will be returned in the top 50 candidates” 85 percent of the time “when the true candidate exists in the gallery.”
It is unclear what happens when the “true candidate” does not exist in the gallery—does NGI still return possible matches? Could those people then be subject to criminal investigation for no other reason than that a computer thought their face was mathematically similar to a suspect’s? This doesn’t seem to matter much to the FBI—the Bureau notes that because “this is an investigative search and caveats will be prevalent on the return detailing that the [non-FBI] agency is responsible for determining the identity of the subject, there should be NO legal issues.”
Nearly 1 Million Images Will Come from Unexplained Sources
One of the most curious things to come out of these records is the fact that NGI may include up to 1 million face images in two categories that are not explained anywhere in the documents. According to the FBI, by 2015, NGI may include:
- 46 million criminal images
- 4.3 million civil images
- 215,000 images from the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC)
- 750,000 images from a “Special Population Cognizant” (SPC) category
- 215,000 images from “New Repositories”
However, the FBI does not define either the “Special Population Cognizant” database or the “new repositories” category. This is a problem because we do not know what rules govern these categories, where the data comes from, how the images are gathered, who has access to them, and whose privacy is impacted.
A 2007 FBI document available on the web describes SPC as “a service provided to Other Federal Organizations (OFOs), or other agencies with special needs by agreement with the FBI” and notes that “[t]hese SPC Files can be specific to a particular case or subject set (e.g., gang or terrorist related), or can be generic agency files consisting of employee records.” If these SPC files and the images in the “new repositories” category are assigned a Universal Control Number along with the rest of the NGI records, then these likely non-criminal records would also be subject to invasive criminal searches.
Government Contractor Responsible for NGI has built some of the Largest Face Recognition Databases in the World
The company responsible for building NGI’s facial recognition component—MorphoTrust (formerly L-1 Identity Solutions)—is also the company that has built the face recognition systems used by approximately 35 state DMVs and many commercial businesses.2 MorphoTrust built and maintains the face recognition systems for the Department of State, which has the “largest facial recognition system deployed in the world” with more than 244 million records,3 and for the Department of Defense, which shares its records with the FBI.
The FBI failed to release records discussing whether MorphoTrust uses a standard (likely proprietary) algorithm for its face templates. If it does, it is quite possible that the face templates at each of these disparate agencies could be shared across agencies—raising again the issue that the photograph you thought you were taking just to get a passport or driver’s license is then searched every time the government is investigating a crime. The FBI seems to be leaning in this direction: an FBI employee email notes that the “best requirements for sending an image in the FR system” include “obtain[ing] DMV version of photo whenever possible.”
Why Should We Care About NGI?
There are several reasons to be concerned about this massive expansion of governmental face recognition data collection. First, as noted above, NGI will allow law enforcement at all levels to search non-criminal and criminal face records at the same time. This means you could become a suspect in a criminal case merely because you applied for a job that required you to submit a photo with your background check.
Second, the FBI and Congress have thus far failed to enact meaningful restrictions on what types of data can be submitted to the system, who can access the data, and how the data can be used. For example, although the FBI has said in these documents that it will not allow non-mug shot photos such as images from social networking sites to be saved to the system, there are no legal or even written FBI policy restrictions in place to prevent this from occurring. As we have stated before, the Privacy Impact Assessment for NGI’s face recognition component hasn’t been updated since 2008, well before the current database was even in development. It cannot therefore address all the privacy issues impacted by NGI.
Finally, even though FBI claims that its ranked candidate list prevents the problem of false positives (someone being falsely identified), this is not the case. A system that only purports to provide the true candidate in the top 50 candidates 85 percent of the time will return a lot of images of the wrong people. We know from researchers that the risk of false positives increases as the size of the dataset increases—and, at 52 million images, the FBI’s face recognition is a very large dataset. This means that many people will be presented as suspects for crimes they didn’t commit. This is not how our system of justice was designed and should not be a system that Americans tacitly consent to move towards.
For more on our concerns about the increased role of face recognition in criminal and civil contexts, read Jennifer Lynch’s 2012 Senate Testimony. We will continue to monitor the FBI’s expansion of NGI.
Here are the documents:
- 1. In fact, another document notes that “since the trend for the quality of data received by the customer is lower and lower quality, specific research and development plans for low quality submission accuracy improvement is highly desirable.”
- 2. MorphoTrust’s parent company, Safran Morpho, describes itself as “[t]he world leader in biometric systems,” is largely responsible for implementing India’s Aadhaar project, which, ultimately, will collect biometric data from nearly 1.2 billion people.
- 3. One could argue that Facebook’s is larger. Facebook states that its users have uploaded more than 250 billion photos. However, Facebook never performs face recognition searches on that entire 250 billion photo database.
In the wake of the American Studies Association’s December 2013 endorsement of the Palestinian civil society call for an academic boycott of Israel – and as two efforts to legislate against academic boycotts fail to move forward in the Illinois and Maryland state legislatures – the ASA has gained new members and support. Over the past several months, the ASA has welcomed more than 700 new members. The ASA has also collected more membership revenue in the past three months than in any other three-month period over the past quarter-century and its ongoing “Stand with the ASA” grassroots fundraising campaign has exceeded the association’s expectations thus far.
Last week, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, released a statement in support of the ASA’s boycott efforts. In it, he states that: “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. … The [anti-boycott] legislation being proposed in the United States would have made participation in a movement like the one that ended Apartheid in South Africa extremely difficult.” The day before his statement was released, an Illinois State Senate Committee rejected a resolution condemning academic boycotts. A bill to defund universities that subsidize faculty associations with organizations supporting boycotts was also scuttled in Maryland, where non-binding condemnatory language was instead inserted into the budget bill.
ASA President Curtis Marez stated, “Despite the backlash of the last few months, the ASA is thriving. The boycott vote is consistent with our longstanding support for human rights and opposition to war and militarism. Many Americans are now for the first time hearing about their government’s support for the occupation and discriminatory laws against Palestinians. I’m proud that the ASA helped open up discussion about BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) and the difference it can make.” Commentary by ASA leaders, members and supporters was published in the Los Angeles Times, Chronicle of Higher Education,Washington Post, New York Times, CNN.com, and the Chicago Tribune, among other news outlets.
In response to the legislative threats from politicians, threatened legal action, and physical threats from others, veteran attorneys have stepped forward to assist the ASA in responding to such legal bullying for taking a principled stand in support of Palestinian human rights. The ASA is not the only organization to face such bullying; in 2013 alone, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, an initiative built in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights,documented more than 100 cases of legal and other intimidation against Palestinian rights activists on U.S. campuses.
Incoming ASA president Lisa Duggan noted, “We are looking forward to our upcoming annual meeting in November, which will feature a wealth of panels and events presenting first-rate American Studies scholarship on topics ranging from the politics of settler colonialism and transnational Black studies to popular culture and contemporary performance art. We will be welcoming Palestinian and Israeli scholars along with large contingents of other international ASA members poised to continue addressing matters of global concern affecting all of us.”
Ukraine should recognize Crimea’s independence, reform the country’s constitution, regulate the crisis in its eastern regions and guarantee the rights of Russian speakers if it wants to get financial help from Moscow, Russia’s finance minister has said.
“If Ukraine fulfils these four conditions, then Russia will be able to propose further steps on additional help both on financial and gas issues,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said after meeting with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schauble, in Washington.
Deescalating tensions in eastern Ukraine should be peaceful, based on Ukraine’s legislation, “without discrimination against Russian-speaking population, without victims and bloodshed,” Siluanov said.
It is necessary for Ukraine to conduct constitutional reform, hold legitimate presidential elections and “form a government with which one may negotiate,” he said.
Ukraine’s gas debt is now estimated at over $2.2 billion. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin wrote letters to the leaders of 18 European countries, including Germany and France, warning that Ukraine’s debt crisis had reached a “critical” level and could threaten transit to Europe. He also called for urgent cooperation, urging Russia’s partners in the West to take action.
According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel “there are many reasons to seriously take into account this message […] and for Europe to deliver a joint European response.”
In total, Moscow has subsidized Ukraine’s economy to the tune of $35.4 billion, coupled with a $3 billion loan tranche in December. Due to Ukraine’s gas debts, Gazprom revoked all discounts and is now charging $485 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, a price Ukraine says it will not be able to pay.
The deteriorating economic situation is coupled with escalating tensions in Ukraine. The country’s Interior Ministry promised a harsh response to the riots in the east, especially in the “separatist regions” of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkov. The coup-appointed authorities said they would arrest all violators, “regardless of the declared slogans and party affiliation.”
Eastern and southern Ukraine have been showing discontent with the new government in Kiev for weeks. Tensions escalated Monday when protesters in several cities started seizing local administration buildings. Major protests took place in the cities of Donetsk, Kharkov and Lugansk, while smaller actions and some clashes were reported in Odessa and Nikolayev.
After Donetsk activists proclaimed the region independent and demanded a referendum on its future status, Ukraine’s coup-imposed president Aleksandr Turchinov ordered the sending in of armed personnel and armored vehicles to the east.
At least 70 activists have been arrested in the course of the crackdown launched by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry in the eastern city of Kharkov. Most of them remain in prison, with 62 people detained for at least two months.
Sanctions are ‘counterproductive’ for all
At the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Washington, sanctions against Russia’s alleged interference into Ukraine’s affairs dominated the background. While speaking with journalists, Siluanov said that he was against US and EU sanctions against Russian and that the widening of such sanctions would be “counterproductive” for all sides.
In the latest series of sanctions, leading Crimean officials were targeted; those, according to the US Treasury, who were responsible for organizing the March 16 referendum, which led to the peninsula leaving Ukraine and joining Russia.
Among the seven officials forbidden from entering the US or engaging in economic activity with America-based companies are acting Sevastopol governor Aleksey Chaliy, the head of the Crimean security service Pyotr Zima, and Mikhail Malyshev, the head of the electoral commission that oversaw the poll.
Additionally, US-based assets of Chernomorneftegaz, the former subsidiary of the Ukrainian state gas company located on the Crimean peninsula, will be frozen.
The US, the EU and several international groups have imposed sanctions on senior Russian officials. The US also introduced measures including a ban on exporting defense items and services to Russia to pressure Moscow over recent events in Ukraine.
The G7 group has voiced its readiness to introduce additional sanctions against Russia, if Moscow continues to “escalate” the turmoil in neighboring Ukraine, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry and parliament have repeatedly denounced the policy of sanctions as inappropriate and counter-productive.
Some Russian MPs have suggested the possibility of retaliatory sanctions against US businesses, but these ideas have not been implemented as they might harm all the countries.
“Sanctions hurt all countries. We do not intend to introduce reciprocal sanctions,” Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told reporters during the International Eastern Forum in Berlin.
Meanwhile, the meeting between Russia, Ukraine, EU and the US to discuss the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine will take place on April 17 in Geneva, the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said. Proposals for Ukraine’s constitutional reforms will also be presented in Geneva. However, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday expressed concern that Ukraine’s southeastern regions were not being invited to take part directly in the discussions on a new constitution for the country.
Siluanov said that similar concerns were voiced on Friday during a meeting with Treasury Secretary Lew.
He added that “Russia is ready to participate in supporting Ukraine together with the IMF and the European Union.” He also told Lew that Russia was concerned about Ukraine’s unpaid debt for supplies of natural gas.