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European court orders Turkey to free ex-Kurdish party leader
Legal Watch | 2018/11/23 07:41
The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday called on Turkey to release the former head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition from detention. Turkey's president responded by claiming his country was not bound by the court's rulings.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the Strasbourg, France-based court said Turkey had violated Selahattin Demirtas' right to be promptly brought before a judge, his right to a speedy review of his case as well as his right to be elected and to sit in Parliament.

Demirtas, the 45-year-old former co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, was arrested in November 2016 on terrorism charges. He ran in Turkey's presidential election in June from his high-security prison in Edirne, northwest Turkey. He also campaigned for a constitutional referendum in 2017 from behind bars.

In September Demirtas was sentenced to four years in prison for supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and engaging in terrorist propaganda in one of several trials against him. He is appealing his conviction.

Asked to comment on the European court's ruling, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "We are not bound by the (European court's) decisions."

He added: "We'll make our counter-move and finish it off." He did not elaborate.


Legal groups argue in court against Trump asylum ban
Legal Watch | 2018/11/21 07:39
Legal groups suing the Trump administration over its ban on asylum for anyone who illegally crosses the U.S.-Mexico border have argued their case before a federal judge in San Francisco. U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar did not immediately rule Monday on the groups' request to stop the administration from enforcing the ban.

President Donald Trump issued a proclamation on Nov. 9 that says anyone who crossed the southern border would be ineligible for asylum. That would potentially make it harder for thousands of people who enter the U.S. to avoid deportation.

Trump issued the proclamation in response to the caravans of migrants that have started to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. The American Civil Liberties Union quickly sued, saying U.S. law makes clear that people can seek asylum regardless of how they enter the country.



S. Korea court upholds conscientious objection to military
Legal Watch | 2018/11/01 13:28
South Korea's top court ruled Thursday that South Korean men can legally reject their mandatory military service on conscientious or religious grounds without punishment.

The landmark ruling is expected to affect the cases of more than 930 conscientious objectors on trial. Hundreds of young South Korean men, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are imprisoned every year for refusing to serve in the military.

All able-bodied South Korean men must serve about two years in the military under a conscription system aimed at coping with potential aggression from North Korea. The court broke with its own 2004 verdict that rejecting military service because of religious faith was illegal, saying at the time that confrontation with the North made South Korea's draft an indisputable necessity.

The ruling was great news for Jehovah's Witnesses and others who call for improved individual rights and freedom of opinion in South Korea. But many conservatives are likely to criticize it, saying it inadequately considers the North Korean threat.

When South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled in June that the government must provide alternative social service for conscientious objectors by 2019, a heated debate erupted over whether it is the proper time for such a measure because North Korea's nuclear threat remains unchanged. There are also worries that some might exploit alternative service to evade the draft.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court said it quashed a lower court's sentencing of a conscientious objector to 18 months in prison. It said it ordered the lower court to review its earlier verdict. Supreme Court officials said there is little chance the lower court would not abide by the decision.

The majority opinion of a panel of Supreme Court judges is that "conscientious objection of military duty ... can be a valid reason" to avoid military service, the top court said in a statement.

"Forcing a military duty ... with criminal punishment or other punitive measures is an excessive restraint of freedom of conscience," the majority opinion read. "Free democracy can have its legitimacy when it tolerates and embraces minorities though it is run by the principle of majority rule."

Supreme Court officials said lower courts are not officially required to make the same ruling when they handle other cases of conscientious objections, but they are widely expected to do so.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korea has sent about 19,350 Jehovah's Witnesses to prison for refusing to serve in the military. In recent years, about 500-600 Jehovah's Witnesses went to prison every year and spent 18 months behind bars on average. According to the group and the Supreme Court, Thursday's ruling won't apply to 96 Jehovah's Witnesses currently in prison.


Bomb suspect set for Florida court appearance
Legal Watch | 2018/10/26 13:14
Bomb squads were called to a post office in Atlanta on Monday about a suspicious parcel, just hours before a court hearing for a Florida man accused of sending packages containing explosive material to prominent Democrats.

The FBI did not identify to whom the most recent package was addressed, but CNN President Jeff Zucker announced that a suspicious package addressed to the cable television network was intercepted Monday at an Atlanta post office.

Zucker said there was no imminent danger to the CNN Center. Another package was delivered to the cable network's New York offices last week, causing an evacuation.

The latest suspicious package comes just hours before a federal court hearing was to begin for Cesar Sayoc, 56, who faces five federal charges.

He is accused of sending bubble-wrapped manila envelopes to Democrats such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. The packages were intercepted from Delaware to California. At least some listed a return address of U.S. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former chair of the Democratic National Committee.



Trump Foundation lawsuit paused until higher court weighs in
Legal Watch | 2018/10/24 13:16
A New York judge on Thursday mothballed a lawsuit over President Donald Trump's charitable foundation until a higher court rules in an unrelated case whether a sitting president can be sued in state court.

State Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla commented after hearing arguments from a Trump attorney who wants her to dismiss the lawsuit brought by New York state's Democratic attorney general.

She said she'll wait to decide whether the lawsuit proceeds after an intermediate state appeals court rules whether Trump must face a defamation lawsuit brought by a 2006 contestant on "The Apprentice."

Supreme Court Appellate Division justices did not immediately rule after hearing arguments last week on claims by ex-contestant Summer Zervos, a California restaurateur, who says Trump defamed her when he called her a liar for accusing him of unwanted kissing and groping in two 2007 incidents.

Trump's lawyers, seeking to dismiss the lawsuit or delay it until he is no longer in office, say a sitting president can't be sued in state court over conduct outside official duties.

A key question will be whether a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court ruling forcing then-President Bill Clinton to face a federal sexual harassment lawsuit concerning an alleged encounter with an Arkansas state employee while he was governor applies to state courts as well.

Scarpulla said that if the state appeals judges decide that the Clinton ruling is "good law, then I think this case will continue."

The lawsuit alleged Trump and his foundation used his charity's money to settle business disputes and to boost his 2016 presidential campaign.

Brought against Trump and three of his children who serve as the foundation's directors, the lawsuit seeks $2.8 million in restitution and the dissolution of the foundation.

On Thursday, Scarpulla seemed sympathetic to some of the New York state arguments, but she repeatedly said she was required at this stage of the litigation to accept its claims as true.

Attorney Yael Fuchs, arguing for New York state, said the foundation "broke some of the most basic laws that apply" to charitable foundations when it took actions in 2016 at the direction and for the benefit of the Trump presidential campaign.

Representing Trump and his children, attorney Alan Futerfas said the state's claims were exaggerated and distorted. He suggested that even magnanimous steps taken by Trump for charitable purposes were being recast in a negative light.


Young climate activists say their lawsuit should go to trial
Legal Watch | 2018/10/22 11:30
Young activists who are suing the U.S. government in a high-profile climate change lawsuit say the case poses important constitutional questions that should be fully evaluated at trial next week.

The 21 young people issued a response Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily put the trial on hold. Lawyers for the young people, ages 11 to 22, argue that the move "will disrupt the integrity of the judiciary's role as a check on the political branches and will irreparably harm these children."

The trial had been set to start Oct. 29 in federal court in Eugene, Oregon. The lawsuit filed in 2015 argues that government officials have known for more than 50 years that carbon pollution from fossil fuels was causing climate change and that policies on oil and gas deprive the young people of life, liberty and property.

They also say the government has failed to protect natural resources as a "public trust" for future generations. The lawsuit wants a court to order the government to take action to quickly phase out carbon dioxide emissions to a certain level by 2100 and develop a national climate recovery plan.



Former FIFA official Makudi at court for ban appeal hearing
Legal Watch | 2018/10/11 18:00
Former FIFA executive committee member Worawi Makudi is at the Court of Arbitration for Sport challenging his ban for forgery ahead of a Thailand soccer federation election.

Makudi said outside the court on Thursday he was "very confident. I didn't do anything wrong."

The former Thai federation president appealed against a 3 1/2-year ban by FIFA that expires in April 2020. He was also fined 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,100).

FIFA's ethics committee found him guilty of forgery, falsifying documents, and not cooperating with investigators. Makudi was alleged to have altered federation statutes before his 2013 re-election campaign.

He was convicted in a Bangkok criminal court, though said on Thursday that case was resolved in his favor.

"You know very clearly that the court in Thailand already decided I won the case, OK?" he said.

Makudi was a long-time ally of Qatar's Mohamed bin Hammam when sitting on FIFA's ruling committee for 18 years until 2015. He was voted out by Asian federations.



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