Saudi Arabia abolishes flogging as form of punishment
April 26, 2020
Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court announced on Saturday that it was abolishing flogging as a form of punishment, as part of reforms aimed to advance human rights in Saudi Arabia.
These reforms follow “unprecedented international criticism” that Saudi Arabia received in 2019 for its human rights record, which included 184 executions, 84 of which were for non-violent drug crimes.
This decision follows years of condemnation from civil rights groups, especially following the high-profile flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in 2012 and 2013. Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 floggings and 10 years in prison.
Court-ordered floggings sometimes extended to hundreds of lashes, and the punishment could be imposed for offenses ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peace to murder. In the future, the courts will have to choose between fines, imprisonment, or non-custodial alternatives, such as community service.
This decision is the latest step in a series of reforms to modernize the country’s legal system.
Scotland proposes new hate crimes law to abolish blasphemy and expand protections
April 26, 2020
The parliament of Scotland introduced a bill on Friday to modernize hate crimes laws, including a section that would abolish the crime of blasphemy.
The purpose of the proposed legislation is “to modernise, consolidate and extend existing hate crime law,” updating the list of protected characteristics, including for the first time adding age to the list. Protected characteristics also include disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These characteristics would be included under “stirring up of hatred” offenses, which until now have only applied to the stirring up of racial hatred.
The bill would also abolish the common law offense of blasphemy. No one has been prosecuted under the blasphemy law for over 175 years, and the bill’s authors note that the offense “no longer reflects the kind of society in which we live.” The last recorded charge was brought against publisher and book seller Thomas Paterson in 1842, for displaying placards in his shop window advertising his periodical The Oracle of Reason, dedicated “to examine, expose, and overthrow that by which priests live – namely, religion; not forms of worship, but worship itself – not the attributes, but the existence of deity.”
Cambodia accused of suppressing free speech amid COVID-19 outbreak
March 24, 2020
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday called on Cambodian authorities to stop arresting people for expressing concerns about COVID-19’s impact in Cambodia and claiming they are spreading “fake news.”
Phil Robertson, HRW Deputy Asia Director, said that the Cambodian government is misusing the COVID-19 outbreak to lock up opposition activists and others expressing concern about the virus and the government’s response. Robertson called on the government to “stop abusing people’s free speech rights and instead focus on providing the public with accurate and timely information about COVID-19.”
HRW has documented the arrests of 17 people since late January 2020 for sharing information about COVID-19 in Cambodia. Among those arrested are four supporters of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), all of whom remain in pretrial detention. The authorities further arrested a 14-year-old girl who expressed concerns on social media about COVID-19 cases at her school. Twelve were released from detention after signing pledges not to spread “fake news” in the future and to apologize.
On March 18, the Information Ministry claimed that 47 Facebook users and pages had spread misinformation regarding the virus, with the intention of causing fear in the country and damaging the government’s reputation. On March 20, Interior Minister Sar Kheng warned that those who spread misinformation about COVID-19 would face legal action.
As of March 22, 86 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the country.
Argentina president announces bill to legalize abortion
March 03, 2020
Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández announced in a speech to the National Congress on Sunday that he plans to present a bill to legalize abortion within the next 10 days.
Currently in Argentina, abortion is only available in cases of rape or when the mother’s health is at risk, otherwise having an abortion can result in jail time. Fernández said, “A state should protect citizens in general and women in particular. And in the 21st Century, every society needs to respect the individual choice of its members to decide freely about their bodies.” Fernández mentioned the lack of deterrence provided by current abortion laws. According to Fernández, many women, often with fewer resources, resort to secretive abortive practices which can put health and lives at risk.
If Argentina passes an abortion bill it will become one of only four Latin American countries to do so. Currently, Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana are the only Latin countries to allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy. Several other countries permit abortion in the cases of rape or risk to the mother’s health, but El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua have banned it completely.
Fernández also used his speech to the National Congress to address upcoming talks with the International Monetary Fund and other creditors about restructuring of its more than $100 billion debt.
Colombia top court declines to rule on abortion case
March 03, 2020
The Corte Constitucional, Colombia’s highest judicial body, on Monday dismissed a high-profile abortion case, declining to rule on the issue.
The move effectively preserves the legal status quo for abortion rights in Colombia, with access to abortion only in cases of threats to the mother’s life, rape or fatal medical problems for the fetus. The case, which was brought by a hardliner opposed to even those carve-outs for abortion, presented the court an opportunity to either further restrict abortion, as the plaintiff sought, or to further expand it to be generally allowed in the early months of pregnancy. By a 6-3 vote, the court elected neither path.
The dissenting judges wrote opinions asserting that they would have expanded legal access to abortion, an approach that appeared to motivate the court’s initial willingness to hear the case. By electing to dismiss the claim, however, the court’s majority also declined to rule in any new way on the matter. This absence of further clarity, while a setback for abortion rights groups, leaves the door open for further legalization efforts because it created no additional legal barriers.
Russia court rules facial recognition technology does not violate privacy rights
March 04, 2020
A Russian court ruled Tuesday that facial recognition technology does not violate the privacy rights of its citizens.
The Russian government has partnered with Ntechlab to provide facial recognition software. Ntechlab created the app FindFace, which can be used to identify random individuals with 70 percent accuracy. All that is needed is an individual’s photograph and social media account. Chiefly, FindFace utilizes Vkontakte, a Russian social media network similar to Facebook.
The country has already spent $50 million dollars on hardware to operate the technology. Over 105,000 surveillance cameras have the software.
The plaintiffs in Tuesday’s ruling argued that the surveillance software violates privacy rights. Specifically, the software allows for the mass collection of data that could be monitored by authorities without any suspicion of wrongdoing. The plaintiffs also point to the Russian government’s history of abuse. The government responds by claiming that it is needed to stop and resolve criminal activity.
The ruling comes after a summer with widely covered demonstrations in Moscow. More than 1,300 individuals were arrested. Organizers protested against the decision of election authorities to prevent opposition candidates for running for local elections in the city. Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that unsanctioned protestors will be given jail time.
Kirill Koroteev, one of the lawyers in the case, stated that “this ruling shows there are no legal defenses for facial recognition complaints.”
Australia top court rules Aboriginal people cannot be deported
February 12, 2020
The High Court of Australia ruled Tuesday that Aboriginal Australians cannot be deported even if they do not hold Australian citizenship.
In a 4-3 decision the court stated that “Aboriginal Australians … are not within the reach of the ‘aliens’ power conferred by s 51(xix) of the Constitution.”
The case surrounded two Aboriginal men born overseas who were ordered to be deported from Australia because they each had a criminal conviction. The plaintiffs argued that while the two men are not citizens, because they are Aboriginal Australians, they cannot be aliens. The plaintiffs contend that the Australian common law recognizes a unique connection which Aboriginal people have with land and waters in Australia, and because “that connection is so strong … Aboriginal persons belong to the land.” This argument creates a new category of person described as “non-citizen non-aliens.”
The court stated that the constitutional term “aliens” conveys otherness, being an “outsider” or foreignness. The constitutional term “aliens” does not apply to Aboriginal Australians, the original inhabitants of the country, as an Aboriginal Australian is not an “outsider” to Australia. “Failure to recognize that Aboriginal Australians retain their connection with land and waters would distort the concept of alienage by ignoring the content, nature and depth of that connection. It would fail to recognize the first peoples of this country.”
Indigenous Australians have lived on the continent for over 50,000 years and make up 3 percent of the population.