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News digest: 24 January 2013

ALBANIA: Grassroots civic activists grab reins in Albania (Balkan Insight): "As foreign funds for civil society organizations shrink, local activists and artists are combining and discovering new ways to tackle Albania’s many social ills"

BELGIUM: Judges deny anti-GMO activists a fair trial (GMWatch): "In the presence of a huge crowd of supporters from a range of organisations, the court of Dendermonde (Belgium) has denied 11 anti-GMO activists the legal right to a defence in court. The court refused to allow defence witnesses to give their statements, and also refused to allow video footage to be shown. This is in violation of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees defendants the right to a fair trial. In response, the 11 field liberators and their lawyers decided unanimously to leave the court room."

BELGIUM-TURKEY: Belgium, Turkey sign police, judicial cooperation agreement (Kuwait News Agency): "Belgium and Turkey Tuesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding on police cooperation to fight terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking, illegal trafficking of drugs and money laundering. They also signed a Joint Statement on Judiciary Cooperation to establish technical consultations on legal assistance, in full respect of national and international obligation." See also: Belgium-Turkey trilateral ministerial meeting (New Europe)

Croatian journalist jailed for dodging trial (Balkan Insight): "A Zagreb court jailed reporter Jasna Babic for a month to ensure that she attends a libel trial against her initiated by a Croatian businessman"

CZECH REPUBLIC: Lawyers: Proposal for amnesty's abolition has no chance (Prague Daily Monitor): "Prague Municipal Court's decision that the recent presidential amnesty should be abolished has no chance of succeeding, according to legal experts whom CTK addressed Wednesday"

DENMARK: Anti-torture body recommends new prison in Greenland (New Europe): "Greenlandic prisoners currently being held in Denmark should be given the opportunity to be moved back to their own country, if only prison facilities were available, a new report has said." See: European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Estonian President: EU citizens should trust the state on data rights (EUobserver): "Estonia's President told data protection experts in Brussels on Wednesday (23 January) that the state is the only "fundamental guarantor of a citizen's digital life."" See also: EU data supervisor wants greater powers

EU: Google Transparency Report shows rise in data requests (BBC News): "Data from Google shows the number of requests for user information from law enforcement agencies are at an all time high." See: Google Transparency Report

EU: Mounting tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean over migration and asylum: a European problem, according to PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe): "Given the mounting tensions over asylum and irregular migration into Greece, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has underlined the need to rethink responsibilities here and deal with what should be recognised as a European problem and not one confined to a single or a few European States"

EU: Reding: "A modern set of data protection rules in good for growth" (New Europe): "The European Union Justice Ministers met in Dublin on 18 January 2013 to discuss about the reform of EU data protection rules and cross-border insolvency law. Data protection reform is a main priority of the Irish Presidency. “The reform will not only serve to reinforce privacy for citizens, but it will also increase the trust and confidence of consumers in doing business online. And more people doing business online is good for growth” said the European Justice Commissioner and Vice-President of the Commission, Viviane Reding"

EU: Serbia urges EU to set a starting date for accession talks (New Europe): "Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister for European integration, Suzana Grubjesic appeared yesterday before the Foreign Affairs Committee of MEPs and stated that there is no alternative to dialogue and pragmatic cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo. In addition, she urged for the establishment of a starting date for EU accession talks"

EU-LATIN AMERICA-CARIBBEAN: Summit of the Peoples Demands Solidarity and Sovereignty (Inter Press Service): "More than 400 social organisations from Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean will gather on Jan. 25-27 at a Summit of the Peoples called as an alternative to the bi-regional meeting of heads of state and government to be held at the same time in the Chilean capital"

EU-MONTENEGRO: European Parliament praises Montenegro's progress (Balkan Insight): "Foreign Affairs Committee welcomes Montenegro's progress, while urging it to do more to tackle media freedom issues, women's rights and gender equality." See: Montenegro on track for EU membership, says Foreign Affars Committee MEPs (European Parliament press release)

FRANCE-MALI: French military condemns soldier for wearing skull mask (The Raw Story): "The French army regards a photograph of one of its soldiers in Mali shown posing in a skeleton mask as “unacceptable” behaviour, a military spokesman said Monday"

GREECE: Athens mall bombing raises terrorism stakes (Greek Reporter): "The detonation of a bomb at the Athens Mall, the country’s largest shopping center may have been the work of at least four people and has raised fears that terrorism is escalating in the wake of more austerity measures being imposed and a government crackdown on the use of abandoned buildings by Leftist and Anarchist groups believed to be staging areas to carry out violence, authorities said." See also: New Democracy says SYRIZA incites violence

GREECE: Golden Dawn MP allowed to attend Council of Europe (Ekathimerini): "After consideration and despite opposition, Eleni Zaroulia, a deputy for Greece’s neofascist Golden Dawn party, has finally been given the green light to participate in the Council of Europe proceedings, the organization said Tuesday." See also: Council of Europe wants 'racist and anti-semitic' members ousted (euractiv)

GREECE: Government condemns racist violence in wake of Pakistani labourer's murder (Ekathimerini): "The government has issued a condemnation of the murder of a 27-year-old Pakistani man in central Athens last week. In a statement, Alternate Interior Minister Charalambos Athanasiou said that violent attacks and racism should be met with “zero tolerance”." See also: Greek police launches initiative to curb race attacks and Justice Ministry setting up working group for human rights

GREECE: Plight of young migrants in Greek ports earns Italian photographer prestigious award (Ekathimerini): "Images of a young Moroccan migrant being hit by a speeding car in a race attack in the port town of Corinth, migrant youths waiting for the right moment to jump a fence to board a ferry to Italy in Patra and the squats set up in disused trains and industrial areas by irregular migrants biding their time until they find a way out of Greece, have earned Italian photographer Alessandro Penso the prestigious Terry O'Neill TAG award, it was announced on January 18." See: Escape from Greece by Alessandro Penso

GREECE: Teenager dies trying to cross border into Greece (Ekathimerini): "A 16-year-old boy was found dead of exposure early on Tuesday on the banks of the Evros River in Didymoteicho, near the Greek-Turkish border"

IRELAND: Britain warns that IRA dissidents pose a deadly threat (Irish Independent): "IRA dissidents remain a serious threat with lethal intentions, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has warned. Dissident republicans have reportedly met former leading members of the Provisional IRA, MPs heard, as Ms Villiers warned terrorists in the North were still capable of violent attacks"

IRELAND: Fears grow over number of gangs in youth prison (Irish Independent): "A worrying growth in the number of gangs in the State's main juvenile centre is posing a major problem for the authorities"

ITALY: Mafia 'entrenched' in country's institutions, says Crocetta (Gazzetta del Sud): "Sicily Governor Rosario Crocetta said on Wednesday that the Mafia was entrenched in the country's institutions and "not only in Sicily". "Paradoxically, some Mafia members should be charged with 'external association' while other politicians are more entangled in the mob than mobsters themselves," Crocetta said speaking at an ANSA news agency forum"

ITALY-GREECE: Italy ships migrants back to Grece (Greek Reporter): "Italy’s policy of sending unaccompanied migrant children and adult asylum seekers back to Greece means they will face a dysfunctional asylum system and abusive detention conditions, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Jan. 22." See: Turned Away: Summary returns of unaccompanied migrant children and adult asylum seekers from Italy to Greece (Human Rights Watch): Full report (pdf) and Press release: Summary returns to Greece violate rights (pdf)

ITALY: Right-wing extremists arrested in Naples for attacks (Gazzetta del Sud): "Right-wing extremists were arrested in Naples and other cities Thursday for allegedly organizing street brawls and recruiting young militants to their violent anti-semitic cause. Roughly 10 people were arrested in Naples, Salerno and Latina near Rome for crimes including attacks on political adversaries in Naples squares on various occasions in the spring of 2011"

KOSOVO: Council of Europe urges Kosovo to improve rule of law (Balkan Insight): "The resolution called on the authorities in Pristina “to ensure co-operation with the relevant [EU rule of law mission] bodies exercising executive law enforcement functions in Kosovo, including its war crimes and organised crime investigation units, as well as with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.”" See: PACE to intesify and expand dialogue with the Assembly of Kosovo (Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe)

Macedonian opposition resumes street protests (Balkan Insight): "Opposition Social Democrats said they will resume roadblocks after a meeting of political leaders on Tuesday failed to defuse the political crisis in the country"

MALTA: CoE calls for tougher action by Malta against human trafficking (Times of Malta): "A Council of Europe expert group on human trafficking has expressed concern at reports that victims of human trafficking in Malta have been punished by the authorities for acts committed when they were under te control of their traffickers and/or deported withot being identified as victims of trafficking." See: Report concerning the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by Malta (pdf)

MALTA: Drug trafficker awarded €6,000 as European Court backs complaint against Malta (Times of Malta): "The European Court has awarded €6,000 to a convicted drug trafficker after upholding a complaint he made over a judgement by the Maltese courts. The Chamber judgement is not final." See also: Judgment in case of Camilleria v. Malta (Application no. 42931/10) (pdf)

NETHERLANDS: Bird flu studies, halted over terrorism fear, to resume (AlertNet): "Scientists around the world declared an end on Wednesday to a moratorium on researching mutant forms of the deadly H5N1 bird flu that had raised international biosecurity concerns"

NETHERLANDS: Dutch activist Joke Kaviaar sentenced to four months in prison for incitement (Indymedia UK): "Today the bench chamber of the court in Haarlem ruled in the case of incitement by speech and word against Joke Kaviaar. The court rejected all of the defense pleas of her lawyer and sentenced Joke to four months in prison. This is less than the six months imprisonment the Public Prosecutor had asked for. Joke Kaviaar will appeal the conviction and announces that she will not let herself be silenced. She will continue to speak out against the Dutch migration policy"

NETHERLANDS-RUSSIA: Arrests outside Dutch embassy in Moscow (Dutch News): "Eight people have been arrested outside the Dutch embassy in Moscow during a protest about the suicide of a Russian activist in a Dutch refugee deportation centre, Nos television reports." See also: Mother of dead Russian activists asks queen Beatrix for help (Dutch News)

POLAND: Foreign minister wins 'anti-semite' defamation case (The News): "An appeal court has ruled that Poland's foreign minister need not apologise to a right-wing Polish businessman who he described as an anti-semite"

SPAIN: Catalan parliament approves sovereignty declaration (El Pais): "In the first plenary session of the new legislature, the Catalonia regional assembly approved a declaration proclaiming the Catalan people a “sovereign political and legal entity.” The text also calls for a referendum to be held to allow Catalans their say on independence for the northern Spanish region." See also: Catalonia's parliament adopts declaration of sovereignty (euronews)

UK Border Agency has backlog dating back 10 years, inspector finds (The Guardian): "A "completely unacceptable" UK Border Agency backlog of more than 16,000 applications from migrants for permission to stay in Britain, some of them dating back almost a decade, has been uncovered by the chief inspector of borders and immigration." See: The Independent Chief Inspector’s report on an inspection of applications to enter, remain and settle in the UK on the basis of marriage and civil partnerships (pdf) and The UK Border Agency’s response (pdf)

UK special forces active in Mali (The Guardian): "Small team is providing non-combat support during French military action against jihadi groups in country, says source." See also: UK to consider boosting French Mali operation support (BBC News)

UK: Big Brother (and HMRC) is watching you (The Spectator): "It’s the anniversary of George Orwell’s death today – and HMRC seem to be marking the occasion with adverts in cashpoints celebrating their emerging status as the Big Brother of Britain"

UK: Bodybuilder 'was Tasered four times in under a minute' (The Telegraph): "A bodybuilder died after he was Tasered four times in under a minute by police as they struggled to arrest him, an inquest has heard"

UK: Data watchdog fines Sony £250,000 over PlayStation ID hack (The Guardian): "Information commissioner fines company for security failures after millions of gamers' details were leaked online in 2011"

UK: David Cameron promises in/out referendum on EU (BBC News): "David Cameron has said the British people must "have their say" on Europe as he pledged an in/out referendum if the Conservatives win the election." See also: EU speech: let's talk, says Merkel after Cameron's referendum gamble (The Guardian) and Video: 'Nightmare for Ireland' if UK opts out of EU (Irish Independent)

UK: Liberty intervenes in case of autistic child heavily restrained by Met Police (Liberty): "This week Liberty intervened in the case of “ZH”, a severely autistic child who was heavily restrained by police officers while he visited a local swimming pool"

UK: Met police use fingerprint scanners to identify suspects on the street (Evening Standard): "Police in London are using mobile fingerprint scanners that can detect suspects within two minutes. About 350 devices are being used in police response cars to carry out roadside checks on people’s identities"

UK: Police corruption: Criminals 'give officers steroids' (BBC News): "Dozens of police officers are being investigated for using anabolic steroids supplied by criminals in gyms, a report has revealed. It also says some officers abuse their power to obtain sexual favours." See: Benchmarking police integraity programmes (Transparency International)

UK: Secret courts 'unjust' warns Law Society (Law Society Gazzette): "Extending secret courts to ordinary civil justice cases would see the UK ‘stoop to the level of repressive regimes’, the Law Society warns today"

UK: Stephen Lawrence's brother threatened after launching race claim against police (The Telegraph): "Stephen Lawrence’s brother Stuart was threatened after he launched a race discrimination claim against Britain’s biggest police force, it has emerged"

USA: Deception is futile when Big Brother's lie detector turns its eyes on you (Wired): "Since September 11, 2001, federal agencies have spent millions of dollars on research designed to detect deceptive behavior in travelers passing through US airports and border crossings in the hope of catching terrorists. Security personnel have been trained—and technology has been devised—to identify, as an air transport trade association representative once put it, “bad people and not just bad objects.” Yet for all this investment and the decades of research that preceded it, researchers continue to struggle with a profound scientific question: How can you tell if someone is lying?" See also: Spotting deception: Man against machine (Frontex)

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