Russia charges Greenpeace activists with piracy

Five of 30 Greenpeace activists arrested last month for a protest at a Russian oil platform in Arctic waters were charged Wednesday with piracy, media reported.

Russian authorities filed the charges against activists from Brazil, Britain, Russia, Sweden and Finland, the Interfax news agency reported citing an attorney for the environmental watchdog.

Greenpeace lawyer Mikhail Kreindlin said the piracy charges, which are punishable by up to 15 years in prison, were “completely unfounded, arbitrary and illegal”.

“Our activists had no intention of seizing anyone’s property. No crime was committed,” the attorney added.

All of the activists were ordered held in preventive detention by a court in the northwestern Russian port city of Murmansk for allegedly trying to seize Russian state energy giant Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil platform Sep 18.

Russian prosecutors said a group of activists on board Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise icebreaker were carrying a large haul of equipment for an unspecified purpose when they breached the platform’s 500-metre safety zone.

Greenpeace said its vessel did not enter the safety zone and that activists who approached the platform on board inflatable rafts and attempted to scale it posed no threat to the oil workers.

A day after the protest in the southeastern portion of the Barents Sea, the Arctic Sunrise was boarded by Russian border guards and the activists were arrested and taken to Murmansk.

Gazprom claims the Greenpeace action endangered the health and lives of workers on oil platform.

Greenpeace said that Gazprom’s plans to begin crude production with that rig in the first quarter of 2014 would increase the risk of an oil spill in an area that contains three natural reserves protected by Russian law.

The piracy charges were filed even though Russian President Vladimir Putin said after the activists were detained that, although they broke the law, it was clear they were not pirates.

(Source: IANS )

We forced Shinde to write letter: CPI-M

Welcoming union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde’s missive to state chief ministers urging them to ensure that no Muslim youth is wrongfully harassed in terror cases, the CPI-M Wednesday said it forced Shinde to take that stand.

“We raised the issue several times. We raised it at the Sep 23 National Integration Council meeting also. We forced the home minister to write such a letter,” Communist Party of India-Marxist central committee member Mohammed Salim said here.

He said empirical data from the past 10 to 12 years suggest that young Muslim men were wrongly implicated in terror cases.

A number of courts have also made similar observations, said the CPI-M leader, who opposed Bharatiya Janata party chief Rajnath Singh’s comments that the letter went against the spirit of the constitution.

He said Rajnath Singh should have instead culled more information about the context in which the letter was written.

“The letter is very much within the framework of the constitution, as the judiciary has, on a number of occasions, made similar observations,” he said.

Salim said that while his party was for strong action against those involved in terrorism cases, it could not remain oblivious to the communal profiling and attitude of a section of the police and security forces. Innocent Muslims youths have suffered harassment and imprisonment, he said.

(Source: IANS)

Himachal hails Delhi HC ruling in favour of apple growers

The Himachal government Wednesday hailed the Delhi High Court ruling against the six percent commission fruit merchants in Delhi’s Azadpur market were charging on the apple growers.

Horticulture Minister Vidya Stokes said the growers would get a major relief as they would not have to pay extra for selling their produce in Delhi.

The relief given by the Delhi high court was due to relentless efforts of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who pursued the matter persistently, the minister said in a statement here.

According to the minister, as huge quantities of apples and vegetables from the state are sold through the commission agents in Azadpur, one of the biggest wholesale markets in Asia, the marginal farmers suffer huge losses.

Stokes herself is a prominent apple grower in Himachal Pradesh.

Horticulture is a vital sector in the state’s economy as it generates more than Rs.3,200 crore annual income.

Apple constitutes about 93 percent of the state’s total fruit produce. Besides apple, other fruits like pear, peach, cherry, apricot, kiwi, strawberry, olive, almond and plum are the major commercial crops of the state.

(Source: IANS)

Gang-rape acquittal verdict rocks Sweden: activists cry foul

Sweden is presently in deep moral throes after the Svea Hovsrätt, the Swedish Court of Appeal, acquitted six teenagers who had been earlier convicted in a lower court for abducting and gang-raping a 15-year old Swedish girl.

The acquittal is being branded countrywide, by all sections of Swedish society, as “failed justice” and “totally unacceptable in a civilised humane society”.

In a development bordering on the aftermath of the Delhi rape case, the Swedish legal establishment seems to have woken up to social realities. The new ruling has prompted many to speak out and call for the introduction of a specific law which says that consent must be given before sex.

Leading the protests, most vociferously and dramatically, is the global feminist movement, FEMEN, claiming that “Sweden has become the rampant unparalleled rape paradise in the world”.

The case has rocked Sweden since March 2013, when the 15-year-girl was abducted, locked up in a wardrobe and sexually assaulted by six boys in their late teens at a party in Tensta, a northern suburb of Stockholm, densely populated by North African and Arab immigrants.
Tensta is deemed “the largest ghetto in Europe” in Swedish as well as international press.

“That all the boys come from these ethnicities gravely aggravates the case; that, and the highly unnatural type of sex they indulged in,” an activist, Hans Eriksson, told a news agency.

While the boys were initially convicted of “aggravated rape” by a lower court in Solna, Stockholm, they have been acquitted by the Svea Court of Appeals which ruled that, according to “operational Swedish law the victim could not have been deemed to be in an ‘incapacitated state’ and ‘therefore was not helpless at the time of the incident'”.

While the prosecutor claimed the girl was so scared that she was in a “helpless state of fear”, the court decided that “to be considered in a helpless state, the girl’s fear should have been as strong as unconsciousness, excessive drunkenness, or physical injuries”.

On Tuesday, FEMEN protesters, all young girls, staged a bare-all protest at the court. Two of then succeeded in entering the courtroom with slogans like “No. Don’t legalise rape” boldly painted on their bare bodies.

They explained that they were on hand to continue to push the message that the ruling was wrong and, in a final effort, to get the case taken to the Swedish Supreme Court (Högsta Domstolen).

“It’s hilarious that they’re freeing rapists,” one of the protesters, Sara, screamed. “We invite the judge, Fredrick Wersall, to experience the same treatment. We will happily oblige.”

While one teen was on hand distributing condoms, another, Moa, said: “FEMEN is backing the victim all the way to the Svea Hovsrätten and justice. We hope that this 15-year-old girl sees she is not alone and has practically all of Sweden behind her.

“Most rape charges in Sweden just get dropped,” she added.

“There has been a rape case against an adult in which he was set free by a Swedish court contending that the victim did not put up adequate defence. My God, the victim, in question, was a barely two-year-old child.”

A list of signatures to move the Supreme Court in the 15-year-old girl’s case has, reportedly, already crossed the 100,000-mark by Tuesday afternoon.

(Source: IANS )

115,000 killed in Syrian conflict till now: activists

More than 115,000 people have lost their lives in the 30-month conflict between rebels and the forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, according to activists.

Of this total, 6,000 victims are children, and 4,000 women, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday.

Besides civilians, tens of thousands of soldiers and rebel fighters have been killed in the conflict which began in March 2011 and has escalated into a gruesome civil war, the watchdog noted.

In the month of September alone, 5,000 people died in the fighting, it said.

Mass killings have not ceased with the Russian-US deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal after the Aug 21 poison gas attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians, it added.

A total of 47,000 soldiers and pro-Assad militiamen have been killed in the fighting and around 23,000 rebels, including deserters from the Syrian army, according to the watchdog.

Of the 41,000 civilians who have been killed, 3,000 have never been identified, said the Observatory, which relies for its information on a network of activists and doctors inside Syria.

(Sour ce: IANS)

Rasheed Masood jailed for four years, MP no more

Congress MP Rasheed Masood was sentenced to four years in jail here Tuesday for fraudulently nominating undeserving students for MBBS seats when he was a minister in 1990, becoming the first MP set to lose his seat under a new Supreme Court ruling.

The Rajya Sabha member, a party hopper from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, remained calm as Special CBI Court judge J.P.S. Malik held the 67-year-old guilty of cheating and corruption. He was also fined Rs.60,000.

Once the verdict was pronounced at the Tis Hazari court, Masood was taken away to the Tihar Central Jail to begin his sentence — a landmark event in Indian politics.

A jail official said Masood will share space with other convicts in jail no. 5.

Also held guilty were former IPS officer Gurdial Singh and retired IAS officer Amal Kumar Roy. They too were sentenced to four years in jail, and fined Rs.1 lakh each.

Nine students, who got admission in medical colleges and were convicted for cheating, were sentenced to a year’s imprisonment each. They moved for bail.

The Central Bureau of Investigation sought seven years’ jail term for the MP, saying the “lawmaker has become the law-breaker”.

Born on the day India became independent, Masood, who studied law in the Aligarh Muslim University, has been associated with several political parties including the Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Janata Party, Lok Dal, Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and Congress.

Tuesday’s sentencing brought the curtains down on a case that began in 1990 when Masood was the health minister in the National Front government of V.P. Singh from April to November 1990.

Using his authority, Masood was accused of fraudulently nominating undeserving candidates from across the country to the MBBS seats allotted to medical colleges in Tripura from the central pool.

Masood loses the right to contest elections for 10 years as a convicted leader cannot fight elections for six years from the date of release from prison.

He will lose membership of the Rajya Sabha as an MP and a state legislator stand disqualified if convicted for crimes with punishment of two years or more and under some other laws even without jail sentence.

An embarrassed Congress reacted blandly to the development. Party spokesman Meem Afzal said the party does not comment on court decisions.

“The law will take its own course,” he said, adding that Masood had a right to approach a higher court.

The Bharatiya Janata Party claimed credit for the sentencing. Spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain said the corrupt will now fear the consequences. “We had kept up the pressure.”

Masood was found guilty under the Prevention of Corruption Act and for criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery. He was acquitted of the charge of using a forged document.

As the media was not allowed inside the CBI court, the defence lawyer read out the verdict to the media.

“Rasheed Masood four years, Roy four years, Gurdial Singh four years. The student beneficiaries one year,” said the lawyer, Harpreet.

On July 10, the Supreme Court struck down a provision in electoral law that provided protection to incumbent MPs and legislators by allowing them to continue in their posts if they appeal against a lower court conviction and secure a stay order within 90 days.

Tuesday’s verdict came a day after a Ranchi court convicted former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad and 44 others for illegal withdrawal of millions of rupees from undivided Bihar’s animal husbandry department in the early 1990s.

Lalu Prasad, who is now in jail, will get to know his prison sentence Thursday. Depending on the sentence, he too is expected to lose membership of the Lok Sabha, where he represents Saran constituency.

(Source: IANS)

NGO for homeless and helpless is rendered roofless

Maya, a 32-year-old mentally challenged woman, cannot comprehend the complexities of life but she is deeply disturbed by the fact that she no longer has over head the roof she shared with a hundred others.

“Our home is gone,” she muttered repeatedly gazing vacantly at the ground where until Monday stood the bamboo-tarpaulin-plastic structure that sheltered senior citizens, homeless children, HIV+ people, victims of rape, and destitute women for the past five years.

The ashram, on an acre of land in south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, was run by some Good Samaritans who got together under NGO The Earth Saviour’s Foundation to uphold their right to live. The sanctuary ceased to exist Monday, and those to whom it provided succour have been cast onto the roadside.

“We had taken the land on lease for a period of five years. The lease expired yesterday (Monday) and we had to come here in the morning. We have no other option but to stay by the roadside,” Ravi Kalra, founder-president of the NGO, told IANS Tuesday.

Kalra said the leased plot of land belonged to a private person, and without any alternate site in sight the ashram had to move to the wide median on the Nelson Mandela Road opposite Ambience Mall in south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj.

That’s where around 100 old and infirm, mentally and physically disabled residents of the ashram and 40 staffers have taken refuge. Kalra said that when the lease was coming to an end, he had presented his case to Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, then Lt. Governor Tejendra Khanna and even Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

“They all acknowledged my good work and appreciated me. I was promised an acre of land by Sheila Dikshit as well as the governor many months ago, but nothing happened and we are here,” he said. Kalra said that his organization was not asking for any charity from the government and was ready to pay rent for any piece of land that it could offer to provide shelter to “these people”.

“I am worried for these people, it’s not safe to stay here in the open in the middle of the road,” he said. “Delhi is under the grip of dengue and if anything happens to these people, who will be responsible?”said a furious Sultan Singh, a volunteer working with the NGO for the past couple of years.

Educating the underprivileged, providing shelter to the abandoned or campaigning against noise pollution, Kalra and his NGO have been working towards solving the city’s problems by engaging concerned citizens since the organisation was formed in 2008.

Meanwhile, help in the form of food, drinks, clothes etc. is pouring in from all over. “I used to teach the children back in the ashram and when I got to hear this news in the morning I was shocked. So, I rushed here and also brought with me some food,” said Taruna Saha, a retired librarian from IIT-Delhi, who is associated with The Earth Saviour’s Foundation for about four years

. “I will spread the word about this and do whatever I can to help… I would be visiting the children everyday,” she added.

For any help or donations, contact Ravi Kalra on 9818171695, 9871675485 or svearth@yahoo.com.

(Source: IANS)

SC issues notice to ex-army chief for contempt

The Supreme Court has issued contempt notices to former Army chief General VK Singh for allegedly making adverse comments about the top court over the way it handled the issue of his age in the service records.

A bench, comprising Justices RM Lodha and HL Gokhale on Tuesday took suo motu cognizance of a newspaper report about Singh’s alleged dig at the court for ignoring his class 10 examination certificate in deciding his age and for allegedly claiming the judges were under pressure while dealing with his row with the government over the issue.

“Prima facie this scandalises the court, tends to scandalise the court and lowers the authority of the court,” Justice Lodha observed. The bench gave Singh two weeks to explain why contempt action should not be initiated against him for his remarks and the case will be heard again on October 23.

Although the maximum sentence under the contempt of court act is six months, the top court can hand out any sentence under its extraordinary jurisdiction. The Supreme Court bench also issued notices to the publisher of the paper which published Singh’s alleged statement. It also directed the Attorney General to assist the court in the case.

(Source: IANS)

Halt POSCO project, say UN rights experts

The construction of a mega steel plant in Odisha should be halted immediately, UN independent rights experts have urged, citing serious human rights concerns.

The project reportedly threatens to displace over 22,000 people in Jagatsinghpur district, and disrupt the livelihood of many thousands more in the surrounding area, a statement said.

“The construction of a massive steel plant and port in Odisha by multinational steel corporation POSCO must not proceed as planned without ensuring adequate safeguards and guaranteeing that the rights of the thousands of people are respected,” the group of eight experts stressed.

While India has the primary duty to protect the rights of those whose homes and livelihood are threatened by the project, the experts underlined that “POSCO also has a responsibility to respect human rights”.

They said that South Korea, where POSCO is based, “should also take measures to ensure that businesses based in its territory do not adversely impact human rights when operating abroad”.

“Forced evictions constitute gross violations of human rights,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik.

“(It) may only be carried out in exceptional circumstances and in a manner consistent with human rights law, including after a genuine consultation, without leaving people homeless or vulnerable to further human rights violations,” he said.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, warned that the forcible removal of people from their lands could be tantamount to depriving them of their means of subsistence.

“People who would be evicted for the POSCO project have relied on their lands for generations in order to obtain adequate food and sustain themselves and their families,” he said.

(Source: IANS)

Centre wants ban on nicotine-laced gutka, chewing tobacco

The government Tuesday pitched for a ban on all forms of chewing tobacco, gutka or supari laced with nicotine, saying these products fell under the prohibition prescribed under the food safety provisions.

“Gutka by its definition is a food added with nicotine and flavours” that is prohibited under the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on sales) Regulations, 2011, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Indira Jaising told the apex court bench of Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice C. Nagappan.

Jaising said all form of non-smoking tobacco products were being marketed by misbranding them as mouth fresheners which were in fact unsafe and poisonous.

“You say that they are misbranding,” court noted, asking Jaising: “How many cases you have filed against them?”

She said the burden of implementing the prohibition at the first level lay on industry, but it “does not mean if they don’t do it then the government will not act”.

The ASG told the court that through their misbranding the chewing tobacco companies were targeting “youth and poor people”.

Addressing the question from the tobacco industry as to why government was banning gutka and not the cigarettes, the ASG said there was a tendency that people generally didn’t use cigarettes because these were expensive and “culturally chewing tobacco in India is an acceptable norm”.

Appearing for NGO Indian Asthma Care Society, counsel Prashant Bhushan drew the attention of the court to the diseases like cancer caused by chewing tobacco.

The court would next hear the case Oct 4.

(Source: IANS)