Maryam al-Khawaja, co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and a leading rights defender in Bahrain—now exiled from her homeland—spoke in New York City July 30, at a small gathering organized by the MENA Solidarity Network. It was hosted at Moustache Pitza Middle Eastern restaurant in the East Village. Al-Khawaja spoke about the ongoing protests and extreme repression in her country—and how the Arab regimes are exploiting sectarianism to pit the regional revolutions against each other.
We know we're going to be accused of alarmism, but please follow the logic. First, however self-serving it may be, the accusation of a Russian intelligence hand in the WikiLeaks dump of hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee is plausible. Famously, the e-mails reveal DNC staffers pulling for Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders, prompting the resignation of the supposedly neutral body's chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The DNC had apparently been hit by Russian hackers, and Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook is now openly charging that Moscow is trying to boost Donald Trump.
The terror attacks on the airport and a subway station near the European Union headquarters in Brussels have left at least 34 dead, and some 170 injured. Amaq News Agency, an ISIS propaganda organ, issued a claim of responsibility. (Long War Journal) This was of course good news for the Republican presidential contenders in the US, helping to shift the debate from domestic economic suffering to the international jihadist threat. Ted Cruz wasted no time, saying in a statement: "We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." This was of course a call for bringing back the NYPD surveillance program that targeted Muslims before it was shut down in the wake of outcry and litigation. It was all the more galling that Cruz made his comment on a visit to New York City, where he was quickly blasted by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. "If he's that short-sighted, I can understand why the American public would repudiate his efforts to run this great country," said Bratton. (Daily News)
In Brazil's biggest protests since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, thousands have poured into the streets in cities cities across the country to denounce President Dilma Rousseff's appointment of her predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, as chief of staff. Days of nationwide demonstrations reached a climax as Lula was sworn in on March 17. In Brasilia, riot police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters who massed outside the presidential palace, chanting "Dilma out!" Demonstrators say Rousseff transparently appointed Lula in order to give him immunity as he comes under investigation in a corruption scandal at the state oil company Petrobras.
Thousands of people in Poland on Jan. 23 protested the government's planned changes to the legal code that would increase its surveillance over Polish citizens. The proposed changes to the law, initiated by the ruling Law and Justice Party, would expand the government's power to access digital data and loosen restrictions of using surveillance in law enforcement. The Law and Justice Party has been making moves to gain more control over the judiciary since it took office in November. The European Union has taken notice, launching an investigation into allegations that the Polish government is undermining democratic principles. If Poland were to be found guilty of these allegations, the country would lose voting rights in the EU for a specified period of time.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) came to a settlement agreement on Jan. 7 in two civil rights lawsuits accusing the NYPD of wrongfully monitoring Muslims after the 9-11 attacks. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in October revived the civil rights lawsuit filed by a coalition of Muslim groups that accused the NYPD of conducting unjustified surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. The police department has agreed to reinstate a civilian attorney to a panel that will ensure that no first amendment rights are violated during all surveillance. The appointee will be an outside observer with no connection to the police department and appointed by the mayor. The department has also agreed to place a time limit on investigations and to uphold the existing NYPD policy that it is illegal to profile based upon religious activity. The NYPD has not acknowledged improper monitoring of Muslims and has made no admission of guilt within the settlement. The department states that the changes enforce already guiding principles in use.
A lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department's surveillance of Muslims can proceed, the Third Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled Oct. 13, opening the way for a trial on the constitutionality of spying on New Jersey mosques, schools and businesses. Likening the surveillance program to the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Third Circuit found that it was based "on the false and stigmatizing premise" that Muslim religious identity 'is a permissible proxy for criminality." Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the suit in 2012 on behalf of 11 individuals or organizations, including business owners, students and a decorated Iraq war veteran, who said they had been harmed by the surveillance. Plaintiffs alleged that NYPD detectives monitored stores, schools, restaurants and at least 20 mosques in Paterson, Newark, Rutgers University, and other New Jersey locations. The surveillance program, ostensibly suspended last year, was first reported in a Pulitzer-winning Associated Press series. The Third Circuit reversed a February 2014 dismissal of the suit, remanding it to a US District Court in New Jersey.
Key provisions of the USA Patriot Act expired June 1 after a late Senate vote failed to establish an extension. The provisions that expired were in Section 215 of the act and included: the "Bulk Data Collection" provision, which allowed the government to collect data, the "Lone Wolf" provision, which allowed surveillance on individuals not directly tied to terrorist groups, and the "Roving Wiretaps" provision, which allowed the government to surveil all of a suspected terrorist's communications. The Senate gathered to vote on the bill late May 31, but fierce debate pushed the vote into the early hours of the next morning. Although the Senate failed to establish an extension for the Patriot Act, they are set to vote on the USA Freedom Act which is supposed to serve as a limit on government surveillance.