The Union Flag and European Union flag fly in Parliament Square in central London, September 9, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The prospect of the UK crashing out of the European Union without an agreement – a so-called “no-deal Brexit” – looms ever larger.

If there is no deal in place on March 30, 2019, the residency status of almost five million people will be plunged into uncertainty. It would leave many of the 3.8 million EU citizens living in the UK, as well as the estimated 1 million UK citizens living in other EU countries, in legal limbo.

The UK government has promised that even without a deal people won’t be “turfed out” of the country they call home, or lose rights that come from residence, including to work, send their kids to school, or see a doctor. But even with good faith on both sides, the current lack of clear legal guarantees is deeply worrying.

A no-deal Brexit could also cause significant hardships in the UK in the short-term. Civil servants have done contingency planning for fuel, food, and medicine shortages.

There is also a risk of a spike in hate crimes similar to that immediately after the June 2016 referendum vote. Social tensions could be exacerbated by shortages and disruption that a no-deal Brexit could bring.

What about human rights currently protected under EU law? The UK has legislated to incorporate into domestic law almost all EU laws on Brexit day, including protection against discrimination, and for workers’ rights. This takes effect even without a deal.

Unfortunately, the UK government chose to discard the EU charter of fundamental rights, which guarantees EU-based protections in employment, equality, and privacy. Scrapping this means a future UK government could legislate, for example, to weaken rights for pregnant women and parents at work, or make it harder for people with disabilities to prove discrimination.

Voices in the ruling Conservative party speak of Brexit as an opportunity  to “whittle away” rules to reduce the “burden” on businesses and cut “massive” numbers of EU regulations to attract trade and investment. If a no-deal Brexit happens, and the UK economy stagnates, calls to deregulate could increase, including weakening EU-derived workers’ rights in the name of “competitiveness.”  

The UK’s political parties are deeply divided over the UK’s future relationship with Europe. But that cannot be allowed to obscure the collective responsibility to protect people, deal or no-deal.

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Wednesday round-upIn a speech yesterday referring to “the contentious events in Washington of recent weeks,” Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized the independence of the Supreme Court. Andrew Hamm covers Roberts’ remarks for this blog. Additional coverage comes from Josh Gerstein at Politico, Robert Barnes for The Washington Post, Brent Kendall for The Wall Street Journal, and […]

The post Wednesday round-up appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

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The graduation ceremony at Middle Eastern Technical University, Ankara, July 6. 2018. The banner carried by students accused of insulting Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is among the hundreds laid out at the ceremony.

© 2018 Batuhan Dereli

(Berlin) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has chosen to drop a complaint against four Ankara students he accused of “insulting the president” for holding up a satirical banner, Human Rights Watch said today. The students’ trial is due to begin on October 22, but the prosecutor is likely to seek their acquittal following the announcement that the president has withdrawn his complaint. While the move is a positive and welcome development for the four students scheduled for trial, it does not address the wider problem of thousands of similar ongoing cases in the courts which blatantly violate freedom of expression, the organization said.

“‘Insulting the president’ should not be a crime, and students holding up a satirical banner obviously should never have faced prosecution,” said Benjamin Ward, Europe and Central Asia acting director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkish courts have convicted thousands of people in the past four years simply for speaking out against the president. The government should stop this mockery of human rights and respect people in Turkey’s right to peaceful free expression.”

The case is one of many such prosecutions for the same offense over the past four years and relies on article 299 of Turkey’s penal code, a provision rarely used before Erdoğan was elected president in 2014. Human Rights Watch first reported a rising number of prosecutions for “insulting the president” in 2015, and the numbers are increasing.

The students, D.C.Y., B.A., F.E.D., and Ö.K., identified only by initials for their protection, were detained after their July 6 graduation ceremony at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. There is a university tradition that graduating students mark the ceremony by holding up humorous and satirical banners, many of them reflecting current developments in Turkey. Among the hundreds of banners, three students carried a banner with the caption “Now it’s ….Kingdom of the Tayyips,” depicting animals drawn with the president’s face. The caricature was based on a 2005 cover image from Turkey’s satirical magazine Penguen.

Police detained the students at their homes following a complaint by a lawyer acting for Erdoğan. On July 11, 2018, an Ankara court ordered they be placed in pretrial detention pending trial. A fourth student, Ö.K., who helped the others transport the banner to the campus, was also charged with the same offense and remanded to custody a day later. The court ordered the four released on August 10. Ş.D., manager of the stationery shop that printed the banner, was charged with the same offense and faces trial with the students on October 22.

Prosecutions under article 299 of the Turkish penal code for “insulting the president” require the Minister of Justice’s permission and carry potential prison sentences of one to four years. They have risen dramatically from 132 in 2014 to more than 6,000 in 2017. Courts have often suspended sentences or converted them to fines. Using the article to prosecute journalists, academics, juveniles, and ordinary people for social media postings, a phenomenon since Erdoğan became president, is a direct assault on freedom of expression and critical speech devoid of advocacy or incitement to violence.

When the images were first published by Penguen on February 24, 2005, Erdoğan, then prime minister, lodged a complaint of defamation and sought damages from the magazine of 40 thousand Turkish Lira (approximately US$31,000). An Istanbul court rejected the law suit and ruled that the caricature fell within the boundaries of freedom of expression and was not defamatory.

On July 17, 2018, the chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu tweeted the “Kingdom of Tayyips” caricature, saying, “You must tolerate criticism and humour, you have to! You cannot stop criticism and humour by putting them in prison.” The next day, the Ankara prosecutor’s office initiated a preliminary investigation against him for insulting the president. Other CHP parliamentarians also shared the caricature on Twitter to support the students. Erdoğan’s lawyers have filed a criminal complaint against 72 CHP parliamentarians for insulting the president because they tweeted the banner image. Members of parliament enjoy immunity and cannot be questioned by the prosecutor’s office while they are serving parliamentarians, unless that immunity is stripped in accordance with the law.

Turkey is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and legally bound under both to respect freedom of expression. The European Court of Human Rights has made clear that any efforts to protect a head of state “cannot justify conferring on him or her a privilege or special protection vis-à-vis the right to … express opinions about him or her.” Satirical speech enjoys special protection as a form of artistic expression and social commentary, and the court routinely finds that charges of “insulting the president” violate the Convention, noting that criminalization of satire would have a deterrent effect on free debate of questions of general interest. United Nations and regional experts on freedom of expression have called for repeal of all laws that provide special protection for public figures.

 “Turkey should stop throttling free speech through misuse of the criminal law and behave like a democratic society based on rule of law and respect for human rights,” Ward said “Decisions by prosecutors and courts to start or drop cases should not rest on the word of the president.”

For more details on specific cases, please see below.


A Sharp, Ongoing Rise in Prosecutions Under Article 299

According to the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate of Judicial Records and Statistics, the number of people prosecuted for article 299 has rapidly increased since 2014. The records reveal that 132 people (including 1 minor) were prosecuted in 2014, that there was a sharp increase to 1,953 (including 76 minors) in 2015, and that in 2016, the number of cases more than doubled, with 4,187 persons (including 148 minors) prosecuted. In 2016, 54 of the minors prosecuted were aged between 12 and 15. A further huge leap occurred in 2017, when prosecutions rose to 6,033, with 340 cases concerning minors (42 aged between 12 and 15). According to the ministry’s statistics, the number of convictions also rose over the same period. While 40 persons were convicted for insulting the president in 2014, 238 were convicted in 2015, the number almost quadrupled to 884 in 2016, and jumped to a staggering 2,099 convictions in 2017.

According to a report by Bianet, a media monitoring and online news organization, at least eight journalists were convicted for insulting the president in the first three months of 2018.

Among the recent prosecutions and convictions under article 299, the following cases against well-known public figures stand out. Numerous other cases against ordinary people are never reported in the media and are therefore difficult to document. 

Ahmet Yıldırım, former member of parliament for the Peoples’ Democratic Party
On September 12, 2015, Yıldırım gave a press conference in the eastern town of Muş regarding a blanket curfew in the city of Cizre. In his speech, he referred to the president as “that would-be sultan in the palace.” Yıldırım’s parliamentary immunity was lifted in May 2016 along with other MPs from his party, and he was convicted of insulting the president by a court in Muş. An appeal court in Erzurum confirmed his conviction on January 22, 2018, and on February 27, Yıldırım was stripped of his parliamentary seat because of the conviction. He is the first parliamentarian in Turkey to have been stripped of his seat for insulting the president.

The Turkish singer known as Suavi
In a speech on October 29, 2016, Suavi said, “there is no difference between Fethullah Gülen and Tayyip Erdoğan.” Suavi was tried before the Izmir Criminal Court of First Instance for insulting the president. On April 17, the court convicted Suavi, sentencing him to 11 months and 20 days in prison. The sentence was converted to a fine of 14,000 Turkish Liras (US$3,410) and 2,180 Turkish Liras ($531) for the president’s legal fees. The case is on appeal.

Abdullatif Şener, Justice and Development Party founding member and deputy prime minister from 2002-07
Abdullatif Şener was indicted for insulting the president in March 2018 for several Twitter posts. In his testimony, Şener said that his account was hacked and that he did not write the tweets in question. The case continues. 

Adnan Keskin, former Republican People’s Party parliamentarian
On February 13, 2018, an Antalya court convicted Adnan Keskin of insulting the president. He was sentenced to 11 months and 20 days in jail, suspended on condition he does not commit a similar offense in the next 5 years. The case concerned a speech by Keskin made at the opening of a party office in 2016 including the words “fascist” and “thief.” A lower court had acquitted him, but the prosecutor appealed the acquittal.

The singer Zuhal Olcay
During a concert in Istanbul on August 5, 2016, Zuhal Olcay inserted Erdoğan’s name in a song entitled “I have given up on this world,” and someone lodged a complaint. After examining video of her performance, the Anadolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office prosecuted the singer for publicly insulting the president. On July 12, 2018, an Istanbul court convicted the singer and handed down a suspended prison sentence of 11 months and 20 days. Erdoğans’s lawyers appealed the decision to suspend the sentence, arguing that the singer should serve the prison sentence. The appeal is pending at the Court of Cassation. 

Writer Ahmet Altan
Altan, currently imprisoned, has faced many cases, including a February 28, 2018 conviction for “insulting the president.” Altan criticized the government and the president in a June 14, 2016 article he wrote about government policy in the mainly Kurdish southeast and military operations in the region. He was given 2 years and 11 months, in addition to 3 years for spreading terrorist propaganda, for which he was convicted at the same trial. In another case on April 26, 2018, Altan was acquitted of insulting the president. 

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Chief Justice Roberts emphasizes Supreme Court’s independenceSpeaking at the University of Minnesota Law School in Minneapolis on Tuesday afternoon, Chief Justice John Roberts took a few minutes to address the “contentious events in Washington of recent weeks.” “I will not criticize the political branches,” Roberts began, choosing instead to “emphasize how the judicial branch is—how it must be—very different.” Unlike public […]

The post Chief Justice Roberts emphasizes Supreme Court’s independence appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

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Some say governments should tell companies how to retool, but that’s not the right approach.


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(Bangkok, October 17, 2018) – Vietnam should reverse the draconian sentence imposed on a veteran environment and democracy activist, Le Dinh Luong, and release him, Human Rights Watch said today. The appeals court is scheduled to hear his case on October 18, 2018, in Nghe An province.

“Le Dinh Luong’s 20-year sentence is one of the harshest in the government’s crackdown on peaceful activists,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “This is an opportunity for the court to right this wrong, distinguish between criticism of the government and actual threats to national security, and defend everyone’s right to free expression.”

The government arrested Le Dinh Luong, 53, in July 2017 and charged him with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The People’s Court of Nghe An province originally scheduled Luong’s trial for July 30, 2018, but postponed the hearing at the last minute. Though the trial was supposed to be open to the public, only Le Dinh Luong’s wife and younger brother were allowed into the courtroom. Foreign diplomats who tried to attend were barred. 

On August 16, the People’s Court convicted him and gave him an extraordinarily long prison sentence of 20 years, to be followed by an additional five years of probation with severe restrictions on his movements. In an unusual move, the court imposed a longer sentence than the 17 years the Nghe An prosecutors office recommended. 

Le Dinh Luong has participated in various activities that the Vietnamese authorities consider politically unacceptable, including religious and environmental protests. He has joined various environmental demonstrations, including against Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a Taiwanese company that has dumped toxic waste in the ocean and polluted Vietnam’s central coast, causing massive fish deaths and an environmental disaster. 

Police and army newspapers repeatedly accused Le Dinh Luong of being a “dangerous reactionary” connected to the Viet Tan, a US-based political party. His case has raised many fair trial concerns.

In August 2017, the police rejected a request to have Ha Huy Son serve as Le Dinh Luong’s defense lawyer. The police claimed that a person suspected of serious national security violations would not be allowed to have a lawyer until the investigation was completed under then-article 58 (now article 74) of the Criminal Procedure Code. He was not given permission to be represented by defense lawyers until early July. On July 17, his daughter-in-law, Nguyen Thi Xoan, told a reporter for Defend the Defenders that the family had been given no information about him since his arrest. 

Freedom of expression and the right to be represented by counsel are guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a party. The appeals court should immediately release Luong and other activists who have been wrongly imprisoned and allow them to peacefully express their views. 

The US State Department, the European Union, and various non-governmental organizations have urged the Vietnamese government to ensure that Le Dinh Luong and other human rights defenders obtain a fair trial as guaranteed by Vietnamese and international law. 

“A 20-year prison sentence for peaceful protest is outrageous,” Robertson said. “It should not matter if someone is protesting in favor or against the government’s preferred position. Vietnam’s actions, in this case, will show its real attitude toward the rule of law.”

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A mural in Xinjiang reads “Stability is a blessing, Instability is a calamity,” Yarkand, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China on September 20, 2012. 

© 2012 Getty Images

(New York) – The Chinese government should release to their families children held in orphanages in Xinjiang because their parents have been arbitrarily detained, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Financial Times and the Associated Press have reported on the removal of children of detained Turkic Muslims from their extended families and placed in state institutions. Human Rights Watch’s September 2018 report on mass detentions in Xinjiang detailed one such case. One million Turkic Muslims are credibly estimated to be detained in unlawful political education camps in Xinjiang, along with an unknown number arbitrarily held in detention centers and prisons, under China’s abusive “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism.”

“China’s authorities are cruelly putting the children of some of Xinjiang’s political detainees in state institutions,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “This is part of a perverse government program to take Turkic Muslim children from their extended families in the name of children’s material well-being.”

In November 2016, Xinjiang’s Chinese Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo ordered local officials to place all orphans from Xinjiang into institutions by 2020 as part of a range of development initiatives for the region. The order involves “concentrating” (集中收养) orphans previously cared for in “a scattered manner” – including by their extended families – and placing them in institutions to “improve their living standards.”

The regional policy broadly defines orphans as “children who have lost their parents or whose parents cannot be found;” in some regions this includes those whose one or both parents are detained or imprisoned.

Under Xinjiang’s regional implementation policy, issued in January 2017, local officials are encouraged to “channel” children it considers orphans into state orphanages, including by filling all empty beds in existing orphanages and upgrading and building new facilities. Some of these new facilities appear designed to house 100 or more children, according to media accounts. The government’s goal is to move from 24 percent institutionalization rate of “orphans” in Xinjiang to 100 percent between 2017 and 2020.

While the regional policy generally describes the targets of the policy as those who “wish to be institutionalized,” it otherwise gives no details concerning consent. It is unclear whether it is the children’s, the parents,’ or the extended families’ wishes that would be taken into consideration; which government agency would make the decision; and whether there are procedures for determining such consent or to challenge such determination.

A local government report in September 2017 states that children can stay with guardians who are unwilling to send them to orphanages. However, other localities have received hard quotas to be filled. In Jimsar County, officials were required to send 30 orphans to institutions by October 2017. In Xinyuan County, the authorities ordered officials to institutionalize 60 orphans by November 2017 or suffer demerits. In Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, a policy report acknowledges the difficulties in meeting those demands: “The orphans’ guardians are relatives such as grandparents…the guardians do not wish to give the children to the institutions. The guardians and the children are unwilling to be separated long-term, and do not trust that the orphanages to be a safe place for the children.”

Article 4 of China’s Adoption Law defines orphans as “those under 14 who have lost their parents, those whose parents cannot be found, and those whose parents have special difficulties and are unable to raise their children.” While article 43 of China’s Law on the Protection of Minors says that orphanages established by the Ministry of Civil Affairs have the responsibility to care for orphans, Chinese law does not empower government authorities to remove children from their relatives to place them in state care, nor any legal procedures to do so.

Reports of children being placed in orphanages against their families’ wishes are particularly alarming given the government’s sustained assault on the cultural identity of Turkic Muslim minority communities in Xinjiang, as Human Rights Watch and others have documented. In schools, authorities have long prohibited children from learning religion and have progressively marginalized the use of ethnic languages while promoting the use of Mandarin as the medium of instructions. All Muslim religious practice has been curtailed.

The preamble to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Chinese government has ratified, recognizes the family as the natural environment for the growth and well-being of children. The convention obligates governments to ensure that a “child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.” Such a determination may be necessary in a particular case, such as involving parental abuse or neglect.

Even when alternative care arrangements are necessary, care by close family members should be given priority. Removing a child from the family’s care is normally a measure of last resort and should, whenever possible, be temporary and for the shortest possible duration. Officials need to ensure that a child who is capable of forming their own views has the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting them. The child’s views should be given due consideration in accordance with their age and maturity.

All decisions concerning alternative care should take full account of the desirability, in principle, of maintaining the child as close as possible to their habitual place of residence, to facilitate contact and potential reintegration with the child’s family, and to minimize disruption of the child’s educational, cultural, and social life.

As information has emerged in recent months about mass, systematic human rights violations in Xinjiang, United Nations bodies, governments, and others have publicly expressed concern about China’s policies. The United States has been considering imposing sanctions on various Xinjiang officials and entities. Germany and Sweden have temporarily suspended deportations of ethnic Uighurs to China. But governments should take stronger steps, notably by creating an international coalition to gather evidence of serious abuses and press for accountability.

“By unnecessarily sending children in Xinjiang to state institutions, officials are adding to the trauma of China’s ‘Strike Hard’ Campaign,” Richardson said. “Governments that weren’t previously outraged by Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang should press China to change course immediately and limit the long-term harm of these policies.”

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by Peter Dreier

An unsung shero of the early 20th century, Rose Schneiderman organized women to fight for laws against sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.

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At the 22nd edition of the Forum 2000 that was held in early October in Prague it was clear that democracy defenders from around the world are increasingly uneasy, writes analyst Andreas… Read more »

The post Resilience and renewal: time to update democracy? appeared first on Democracy Digest.

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Deep fakes are a profoundly serious problem for democratic governments and the world order, according to Robert Chesney of the University of Texas School of Law, and Danielle K. Citron… Read more »

The post Deep Fakes: ‘disinformation on steroids’ appeared first on Democracy Digest.

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